Back-to-school burden lightened for some parents
Launtia Cuff, Gleaner Writer
With the first week of school behind them, some parents in south east St Elizabeth had their burdens made lighter, thanks to the efforts of the Member of Parliament Richard Parchment, through the aid of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
The member of parliament said that this assistance was even more crucial at this time than any other due to the severe drought that affected the section of the parish where the majority of the residents depend on some form of farming activity to send their children to school.
"The greatest threat to education is financing of education. You might have noticed that south east St Elizabeth has been going through one of the most severe droughts in our lifetime. It has decimated farming; which is the mainstay of income for people in south east St Elizabeth," Parchment said at the sixth annual St Elizabeth's Constituency Development Fund Annual Scholarship Award Ceremony held recently.
"It is an esteemed privilege for me to be here once again as member of parliament for South East St Elizabeth to spread a little joy on the faces of some of my students who [have] done exceptionally [well] in their academics, but more important, have consistently demonstrated exemplary discipline. It's not just about academics, but about discipline," he said.
At that function, 50 bursaries of $20,000 each were awarded to 45 students moving on to high school; five students already in high school who are past recipients who have maintained an average over 90 per cent; as well as one primary-school student.
Outside of that, 50 high-school students as well as 50 tertiary-level students were assisted based on the needs that were identified. Book vouchers were also provided for another 600 students; bringing the total to $4 million spent on education.
"It is becoming increasingly difficult for our parents to finance education. It is a serious thing to have to find the bus fare to Santa Cruz, Black River or Mandeville. It is a serious thing to pay that fee to go to Hampton or Munro. Sometimes I wonder how the parents manage because there is no income," the member of parliament said.
While admitting that he would like to be able to contribute more, he lamented that, oftentimes, deserving parents have to be turned away because there is not enough money. With that in mind, the member of parliament said that there needs to be a serious consideration for a restructuring of the way in which the CDF was distributed in each constituency.
"There is a great need to increase the CDF, but not just increase the CDF. We have to look at how the CDF is distributed [in each] constituency.
"I have a constituency with 30,000 people and if [there is] a constituency with 18,000 people, they still get the same amount of money. I have a constituency where I have to spend $2 million a year out of CDF to truck water; you have constituencies where there is no need for them to truck water.
"I have a constituency where I have to provide at least $2.5 million to support agriculture and you have some constituency where there is no farming and they still get the same amount of money. You have some constituencies where those people never go to an MP office before, while my office, sometimes ... I'm afraid to go there because of the crowd and we still get the same amount of money. So I want to say to the Government: use some objective assessment and look at the constituency needs, because some constituencies are more in need than some," Parchment added.
The member of parliament added that in order for parents to be able to send their children to school, the Government needs to fast track the rural bus service as it was unfair for the taxpayers in rural communities to be subsidising the cost for urban transit operations, while students in rural areas pay up to 10 times more in transportation cost.
"The Government has to fast track the rural bus service. If you are in Kingston and you are going to school, it costs you [$30] and they are complaining. When one of my students leaves from Congo Hole going to Manchester High School, it's $600 per day. So why in God's name a student in Kingston should be paying $30 go and $30 come - $60 a day - when my student has to be paying 10 times that?"questioned the member of parliament.