As the chief executive officer of the now shuttered Washington University of Barbados sits on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison Dodds on several fraud charges, the Cabinet minister under whose watch the medical school set up shop has sought to wash his hands of the saga.
In breaking his silence, former Minister of Education Ronald Jones is asking that he be left out of anything to do with the arrest and charge of Rao Venkat Gopi, who is said to be a fugitive from justice in his native India.
While Jones insisted he had nothing to say either about the man behind the offshore medical institution or its establishment in Barbados, he however, sought to wash his hands of any action or inaction while Minister of Education, claiming his current status as private citizen.
“I have nothing to say. . . nothing to say. I am a private citizen now, lemme enjoy my private life. Not a word, I have nothing to say,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Today, Gopi, who ran the university from prominent entrepreneur Ram Mirchandani’s Casa Grande Hotel at Oldbury, St Philip, appeared before Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch.
But it appears he may have run afoul of Mirchandani’s business, leading to criminal liability, according to the Crown.
He is charged with three counts of evading liability from two Mirchandani firms: Casa Grande for three dishonoured cheques totalling $210,000; and Furniture Limited trading as Builders Value Mart for one dishonoured cheque worth some $30,000.
The Indian national, who is represented by Roger Forde QC, was not required to plea to any of the charges as they are all indictable.
He was remanded to prison, and will reappear in the District ‘C’ Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
Three months before the May 24 general election, Minister of Education Jones boasted that the island was making great strides as a hub for medical education. Among the earliest and brightest jewels of the Stuart adminstration’s thrust was the Washington University of Barbados.
But as recently as a month after the general elections, Washington appeared a university in name only, without any accreditation by the Barbados Accreditation Council, an arm of the Ministry of Education.
Subash Agarwal, who is also a parent of one of the students, told Barbados TODAY that Jones visited the campus and assured the staff and students that they would soon be accredited by the BAC, a consultant for the university, .
Having spent US$32 000 for his daughter to be educated here at the school, he was recruited by the Venkat’s company in India and was assured that the institution met all the necessary health requirements by a marketing video which was presented to the staff before their arrival in Barbados.
Appearing in the video were then Prime Minister Stuart and Minister of Health John Boyce guaranteeing that the institution met the necessarily stipulations.
Last evening, Prime Minister Mia Mottley told a meeting of her Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Christ Church South branch at St Christopher Primary School that Government had intervened to feed and house the mostly young Indian students who were left stranded without sustenance and electricity following the CEO’s arrest.
Mottley said her Government had a humanitarian obligation to ensure that students who were thousands of miles away from their homes and families were taken care of.
She said she was also seeking to protect the reputation of Cabinet and Barbados, noting that she was worried about the circumstances surrounding the existence of the medical school here.
“We have a duty now to ensure that first and foremost that human beings can live and eat. It’s a humanitarian responsibility. We are working to see which schools that are in fact accredited here because there are schools that are accredited and registered. Secondly, we are also working to ensure that we can speak to their governments because our responsibility first is just like if something happened to you overseas
. . . the first thing they would see is if they could get on to the Barbados Government for you,” the Prime Minister said.
Mottley contended that these things have to be done because the students are “somebody’s children. . .and we shall take care of them properly.”
Before this development, Government had been working since August on draft legislation to manage and monitor all offshore education institutions, particularly medical schools, she said.
“I have asked [Minister of People Empowerment] [Cynthia] Forde to have her department do a full social survey, because you cannot make decisions en masse,” she said.
The issue drew the Prime Minister’s revelation that a similar impact assessment appeared to be coming for an entirely different issue – the complaints by pensioners of adverse impact of the Government’s debt restructuring on their savings tied up in government paper.
“Just as we are seeking to do for those pensioners who are disadvantaged by the debt exchange because that’s the only way. Many hands make light work, one by one, by one, by one. . .we will assess, even if it takes us the next few weeks to do it working 20-hour days,” she emphasized.