Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Feeling vindicated that they are not averse to education at the expense of pork-barrel politics, parliamentarians on both sides of the political divide have declared that, though accurate, data on education disbursements supplied by the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) Programme Management Unit are merely the tip of the iceberg. They said it does not capture all the relevant assistance projects being undertaken in constituencies.
Reacting to yesterday's lead story in The Gleaner, some parliamentarians stressed that they have spent millions of dollars more on peripheral educational programmes in their constituencies.
Member of Parliament for South East St Andrew Julian Robinson has sought to clear the air on the discrepancy between the figures listed in a document The Gleaner received through the CDF and another he released Monday.
Robinson said the $3 million listed in the CDF document as education spending in his constituency is complemented by another $3 million he spent on a summer reading programme, which the CDF did not place in the same category.
"The figures provided by me include monies which have not been captured under the heading 'Education' … by the CDF. So, for example, in my own case, I had a summer reading camp with over 1,000 students participating over a two-week period," said Robinson. "That wasn't captured in the CDF heading as an educational project. However, it is an educational project. So, in my own case, education would have emerged as $3.1 million, but having spent an additional $3 million on my summer camp, which was an educational programme, that was added to the figure, bringing it to in excess of $6 million."
On the face of it, veteran Member of Parliament for East Central St James Edmund Bartlett does not appear to be a big spender on education. However, he stressed that he forked out $10 million this year alone on a scholarship programme he transferred from the Eastern St Andrew constituency he represented between 1980 and 1993.
"We couldn't do it alone with the $4 million from the CDF and that is why we have partnered with the private sector. Every year, East Central has a major fund-raiser for education to strengthen the education fund," Bartlett told The Gleaner. "The other $6 million comes from private sector support."
Bartlett stressed that education for the people he has served has been his main thrust over the past 32 years.
"We have developed a comprehensive education programme for the building of the human capital in the constituencies that I have served," Bartlett asserted.
He said the $10 million spent on the scholarship programme was the largest in its 32-year history, administered by an education council that is headed by the principal of the John Rollins Success Primary School, Yvonne Miller Wisdom.
"The council consists of the principals of all the schools, including high, in the constituency," said Bartlett.
Newcomer to representational politics, the Member of Parliament for North West St Ann, Dayton Campbell, told The Gleaner that he has pumped more into educational endeavours than is reflected in the CDF.
"I have already spent $4.5 million assisting with tuition and other education-related fees," said Campbell. "I have another programme valuing $5.1 million, which will be administered through the HEART Trust/NTA, to facilitate skills training at the community level."
Campbell also pointed to the establishment of homework centres in 10 communities across North West St Ann.
"I gave out 1,500 back-to-school vouchers for books and uniforms with a denomination of $2,000 each … . I held an awards luncheon in which the top boys and girls from all the schools in the constituency, without consideration to political colours … high-school students received grants of $10,000, and primary, $5,000 each."
He added: "Anyone who came to the office with a need, the only checks we made was to ensure that they are from the constituency."