Education gets big boost from NHT

JAMAICA – Prime Minister PJ Patterson has announced that the National Housing Trust is to make a $5 billion injection towards the Government’s major programme to revolutionise the education sector.

Mr. Patterson, who was making his contribution to the 2005/2006 Budget Debate in Parliament, said that the funds would make up a one-time contribution from the NHT.

“In respect of this $5 billion, there is no scope for juggling. It is going to be to transform the education system once and for all,” Mr. Patterson said to deafening applause within the Gordon House Chamber.

The Housing Trust, the Prime Minister said, had “recognised its social responsibility” in the wake of the creation of new housing schemes and a resulting population shift which has had implications for the accessibility of schools to students, according to the Jamaica Gleaner.

Mr. Patterson noted that the move would require a legislation amendment, and that drafting instructions had already been issued.

The money is to be placed in a subsidiary Consolidated Fund Account (to be called the Education Transformation Account) and will be used alongside International Development Bank funds for the replacement and expansion of several schools islandwide.

And while confirming that the Government would go along with a recommendation from the Task Force on Education to not eliminate cost-sharing in September as previously promised, Mr. Patterson assured the nation that a host of initiatives would be undertaken to help ease the financial burden on parents.

In this vein, he said, the Government had decided that school fees would remain frozen at the 2002/2003 level, when the September term begins, and that the Government would now take over the $1,000 payment of book rental fees.

The Government, Mr. Patterson said, will also give an across the board subsidy of $3,000 per year for each student in every high school.

“We have eased the burden considerably on everyone and ensured special protection for those at the bottom of the income ladder,” the Prime Minister said.

But during what was likely to be his final contribution to the annual budget debate, Mr. Patterson also took a slap at new Opposition Leader Bruce Golding.

Making reference to Mr. Golding’s presentation to the debate last week, the Prime Minister said the Opposition Leader had no authority to speak on behalf of the majority of the nation’s “shareholders”.

Mr. Golding had likened the nation to a company, and accused the Government of economic failures that hurt its “shareholders”.

But yesterday Mr. Patterson, to the delight of his Government colleagues, told Mr. Golding that he expected the people of Jamaica to extend the Opposition Leader’s “apprenticeship” at the next general election, so he could get more time to recognise the successes of the People’s National Party administration.

Among the successes the Prime Minister noted were investments in the tourism industry which have seen an increase in investment in new hotel rooms, from the previously announced 5,000 to 8,000.

The Fiesta Group, Mr. Patterson announced, will be establishing a 2,000-room resort development near Lucea, Hanover.

Mr. Patterson also pointed to investments in bauxite and alternative energy.