St Catherine councillors peeved as ministry yanks tablets programme
St Catherine councillors have been left fuming after the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development decided to put the brakes on a tablet-distribution programme for students in the parish.
Joy Brown, the Jamaica Labour Party-aligned councillor for the Gregory Park Division, proved the lone dissenter during their monthly meeting on Thursday as 28 councillors from both sides of the aisle voted in support of a motion to seek the intervention of Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
The councillors argued that programme would have benefited 25 poor students from each electoral division in St Catherine and that they had gone ahead and indulged students and parents in anticipation of the September roll-out.
“This is an embarrassment to us and the poor students. As councillors, we have gone ahead and did all the due diligence just to be told at the last minute that the programme has been suspended,” said De La Vega City Councillor Enos Lawrence.
Waterford Councillor Fenley Douglas called on the Government to reconsider its decision given the psychological impact this move could have on the students and in light of the effort expended to identify the needy students and file the necessary paperwork.
“I don’t know how to go back to my division and say to the 25 students that I have prepared for this tablet and tell them they will not be getting a tablet again to help them to learn,” Douglas said.
He added that he was prepared to give up his Parochial Revenue Fund allocation to acquire tablets for the students in his division, and he urged his colleagues to do likewise if the ministry does not reverse the decision.
But while the councillors were angry about the notice, which did not outline precise reasons for the programme’s suspension, Brown said it was done because face-to-face learning has been resumed after the pandemic forced students to engage in online lessons for two years.
She told her colleagues that the ministry intends to use the funds to benefit the students in other ways.
“They all (councillors) have gotten other funds from the ministry, and none of them are talking about that, but because they all are scrambling to score political points, they are up in arms without engaging the minister to hear the reasons for the suspension,” Brown told The Gleaner after the meeting.
Meanwhile, Spanish Town Mayor Norman Scott, who moved the motion, wants Holness to intervene, saying that the initiative was important for families who could not afford to purchase devices.
“Councillors felt extremely shafted for the fact we went out of our way to get the information. It was a very strenuous activity on councillors and after going through all of this, we are told that the programme has been scrapped or cancelled, whatever term they want to use,” he protested.