Education ministry owes UWI millions in outstanding tuition fees - Thwaites says Reid politicising matter
A political spat appears to be brewing between Minister of Education Ruel Reid and his opposition counterpart Ronald Thwaites over $182 million in outstanding tuition payments that the Ministry of Education owes the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Thwaites has taken issue with comments, regarding the payments, made by Reid while speaking at a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) area council meeting last weekend.
"I discovered that the former minister left a bill for $182 million that he never paid the University of the West Indies, so I have that to deal with [it]," Reid told a gathering of JLP supporters on Sunday.
But Thwaites argued that Reid was politicising the situation.
"Ministers aren't responsible for bills, those are handled by the paid permanent secretary or financial officers of the ministry. It is really unfortunate he should have done that," he said in an interview with The Gleaner.
Thwaites further lamented that the issues had taken on political tones.
"There is no partnership in education, you know, I have tried to work with this minister. Why does he have to do this? He knows it's not true and it demeans my reputation, and then he sits down and talks about this great committee and how he's my good friend and how we are both Christians together. He ought to know that cheques are not signed by ministers; we give policy instructions to a permanent secretary," Thwaites added.
Reid's comments came against the backdrop of a June 20 letter sent to him by UWI principal, Professor Archibald McDonald, detailing the sums owed.
A copy of that letter, shared with The Gleaner by Reid, indicated that the $182 million has been owed for the past three years.
"The amount also includes a commitment of $100,000,000 made under a joint UWI-MOE Financial Assistance programme which was launched by the then minister of education at the UWI on or about February of 2015. Unfortunately, to date, the funds have not been paid over to the campus," the letter said.
When The Gleaner quizzed Thwaites about the why the sums have not been paid, he was adamant that honouring the commitments was the responsibility of the permanent secretary and was dependent on the financial position of the ministry.
"Once a commitment is made, it is due in my tenure, but ministers don't handle financial matters the permanent secretary and the appropriate officers do so. And the sums would have been paid over when the funds are available, and they are paid over a period of time," he explained.
Calls to Professor Archibald McDonald and questions emailed to Permanent Secretary Dr Maurice Smith remained unanswered up to press time.