Minister of Education Ronald Jones is charging that Barbadians who take comfort in promises that a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Government will reintroduce free education for citizens attending the University of the West Indies (UWI) and reverse the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) are fooling themselves.
In fact, Jones last night told a joint meeting of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Christ Church branches at Deighton Griffith Secondary School that BLP leader Mia Mottley had filled young people’s heads with a false promise in a desperate attempt to win their vote in the upcoming general election due by the middle of next year.
It was in reference to a number of pledges which Mottley made at the BLP’s 79th annual conference at Queen’s Park over the weekend, including the return of free university education, which the Freundel Stuart administration ended in 2014, and the termination of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which climbed from two per cent of the customs value of imported and locally manufactured products, to ten per cent from July 1.
“The promises have started to roll from their mouths. Everything is to be rolled back – the NSRL, they are going to give back all of the money to the University of the West Indies,” the minister told party colleagues.
“They have no knowledge of what the University of the West Indies asks for every year. I am not saying that we do not need University of West Indies in the Caribbean or any other university because our people need to be educated to the highest possible level to impact our development, but it is not an easy exercise,” he cautioned.
With Government facing a financial crisis, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler announced in his 2013/2014 Budget presentation that effective 2014, Barbadian students pursuing studies at the university’s three campuses would be required to pay their own tuition fees, while Government would continue to fund economic costs.
Sinckler said then that the decision would save Government $42 million a year, but it has been blamed for a significant drop in enrollment.
Jones explained last night that the operating cost for UWI jumped from $70 million in 2005 to $134 million in 2008, while tuition fees moved from $9 million to $34 million during the same period.
From the BLP platform on Saturday, Mottley also gave her word that should her party win the election, it would present an economic stabilization and growth plan “within six weeks of being elected as the Parliament of this country”.
The Opposition went as far as giving timelines, stating that on the first day of Parliament a bill would be tabled to decriminalize illegal vending and an Integrity Commission Bill would receive its first reading, as would legislation repealing the NSRL and the solid waste tax.
“We shall also be repealing the legislation requiring tax certificates for property transactions in this country – an iniquitous and vicious act that affects more poor people with savings than it affects large people who have cash in this country,” Mottley said.
“And whosoever shall have the pleasure of being the Minister of Education shall be rising to give their first ministerial statement and . . . they shall commit the Government of Barbados to paying fees for students of Barbados at the University of the West Indies from academic year 2018 to 2019,” she added.
However Jones argued that the Barbadian electorate was too well informed to fall for BLP’s “false promises”, stressing that the general election should be contested in the realm of the practical.
“Don’t mind all of this diddle doodling and double speak . . . A promise is a promise to a fool and they [BLP] are going to give you basket after basket of promises, but they are not going to relate to any realities in Barbados. They will promise to give you the heaven and the stars and they are doing that because they are not sure how the people are going to respond to them. So you are fooling people by promising to give them everything but we are not going to allow the Barbados Labour Party’s soft dumplings to carry away our rice. We are going to tell them that,” Jones stressed.