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Reid under fire - Opposition senators castigate minister for calling parliamentary committee 'talk shop

Published:Friday | April 7, 2017 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Ruel Reid

Education Minister Ruel Reid yesterday drew the ire of his Opposition colleagues in the Upper House for calling the process of setting up a joint select committee of Parliament "a talk shop". His unflattering tag came when he sought to recant on his own proposal of establishing a parliamentary committee to deliberate on the motion of funding tertiary education.

Leader of Government Business in the House Kamina Johnson Smith subsequently sought to clarify the issue by reassuring the parliamentary Opposition that the Government was willing to go with the proposal of establishing a joint select committee to examine the motion, which was moved by Senator Wensworth Skeffery.

Reid rose at the end of the debate to indicate that he had changed his previous position on the setting up of a joint select committee to examine the motion.

According to Reid, "Because we are already advanced - there are several initiatives we are already rolling out to facilitate the expansion of access to tertiary education. We are proposing an amendment to the vehicle - that instead of having a joint select committee of Parliament, we are proposing to have a multi-sectoral committee hosted by the Ministry of Education, that will accelerate the intention of this motion."

The education minister argued that "parliamentary time is very, very precious, if we want a talk shop ... ."

However, before Johnson Smith's intervention, opposition senators took Reid to task for suggesting that a joint select committee was a waste of time.

"A joint select committee of Parliament is not a talk shop; it is an important mechanism established by the Constitution and the Standing Orders of the Parliament," opposition senator Lambert Brown declared, after rising on a point of order.

... Parliamentary process open and transparent

Leader of Opposition Business Senator Mark Golding also chided Ruel Reid for his remark, noting that a joint select committee is "a forum which is appropriate for discussing a weighty matter that affects the future of our country in such a fundamental way as how tertiary education is to be financed".

Golding argued that this parliamentary process would allow stakeholders to make presentations, which are covered by the media. "There is proper recording of everything that is said; there is a clerk that ensures that the reports are prepared in a professional way and it is open and transparent."

Earlier during debate on the motion, Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns called for the Government to overhaul the Students' Loan Bureau (SLB).


Remove guarantor requirement


She argued that the Government should consider removing the requirement for a guarantor to make it easier for borrowers to access funding from the institution.

According to Frazer-Binns, the bureau shouldn't require borrowers to provide guarantors because loans are unsecured.

She said that this is not done by private financial institutions that offer similar loan products.

However, Government Senator Don Wehby suggested that the SLB should allow companies to stand as guarantors for students.

He also suggested that the interest SLB beneficiaries pay on their loans could go as a credit against their income tax returns.

At the same time, Wehby is also encouraging private-sector interests to come on board by offering paid internships, apprenticeships and scholarships to students as part of their corporate social responsibility.