A CARICOM leader’s “shuttle diplomacy” appears to be prompting governments to clear arrears in contributions to the University of the West Indies (UWI) as the Vice Chancellor reports progress in recouping millions of dollars.
Sir Hilary Beckles revealed this morning during a news conference at the Cave Hill Campus that the CARICOM leaders’ selection of Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis Timothy Harris – a UWI Cave Hill alumnus – to negotiate settlement of the receivables with fellow prime ministers was working well.
Harris’ role as emissary for the university to negotiate strategies to have the governments settle their debts was now paying off, he said.
And although Barbados is experiencing serious economic challenges, it is treating the money owed to the university as a national debt with a pledge never to renege on its financial obligation to the UWI, said the renowned historian and activist.
“In the last four months, Prime Minister Harris has spoken to all the Prime Ministers. He has put in place a system where his office is engaging all of them to speak about how to get these receivables made available to the UWI.
“So far he has made significant strides. A number of countries, especially in the Eastern Caribbean [have] paid significant blocks of revenue into to us as a result of his shuttle diplomacy,” Sir Hilary disclosed.
The Vice Chancellor noted that the methodology which the university had presented to the Government leaders proposed that where they could not give cash, performing assets would suffice to strengthen the UWI’s balance sheets and improve future revenues.
“After his engagement with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister [Keith] Rowley, who is a great supporter of this… in fact, in that meeting with the heads, Prime Minister Rowley is one of those who said ‘we have to make good… our financial relations with the UWI’. [Rowley] returned to Trinidad, he wrote a cheque, gave us some cash,” he said.
Sir Hilary told reporters that Rowley also signed an agreement with the university to transfer a brand new state-of-the-art public hospital in Couva, East Trinidad as a performing asset.
“Where we are now? The government and the campus at St Augustine [Trinidad] are working through a strategy to put a management system in place to run this public hospital so that the revenues would be streamed into the UWI. That is an example of the kind of model that we are looking for as well,” he said, adding that the hospital is an enormous investment in the university.
The Vice Chancellor said he had no doubt his institution could find the management structure to put the hospital on the market and rake in much-needed revenue.
He said that other Caribbean countries are working through other strategies.
“So where we are? We are in a position at this moment where government by government . . . [is] working through either a cash injection to pare down receivables or there is negotiations around assets, primarily land and other performing assets. So we are in a better position today than we were a year ago or two years ago… and clearly, the governments have answered to our call,” Sir Hilary told reporters.
He also disclosed that the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne has committed to writing a cheque every month for the next six months to the university.
“And so said, so done. The cheque came in on time from Antigua and Barbuda. Let me tell you, the prime ministers are responding. We are celebrating those who can. There is a sense now of commitment,” the Vice Chancellor stressed.