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Aug 16, 2017

Education Ministry Spent Thousands on Tertiary Assistance; Minister Says He Can Explain

From Works to Education…The Ministry of Education also came under significant scrutiny for its handling of tertiary financial assistance grants during the period April 2004 to March 2012.  Examining various files and records, the report finds that the ministry’s authority for awarding funds for purposes other than tuition and scholarship fees was not clearly defined, and many grants were used for other purposes. Generally, grants were approved without the required documentation, and on the say-so of the minister via telephone call or signature to a request letter.  But the grants themselves were somewhat discriminatory, with some public officers denied assistance because they did not get a letter of support from their ministry, while others got assistance despite not having such a letter. Area representatives also got in on the act after 2008, but in some cases, approvals were done without any official document from the institution applied to, and for higher economic cost than available local programs. Examples include one hundred and two thousand dollars for a two-year undergraduate English program at University of South Florida from 2006 to 2008; fifty-six thousand dollars for certificate or diploma course in graphic design, and more than thirty-eight thousand to a daughter of the current Chief Education Officer for vocational nursing diploma and U.S. licensing nursing courses in Indiana. In some cases monies were not disbursed to the institution in question but to the student’s or their parent’s personal bank accounts. There was general inequality in the approval and disbursement of financial assistance.  A former tertiary officer and now diplomat got fifty-six thousand dollars for law courses in England from 2006 to 2012, but was not beholden as per usual to give service to Belize on her return. And Mayor of Belmopan Khalid Belisle collected more than twenty-one thousand dollars to study law without showing any official proof of attendance at his courses. He also failed to respond to queries about his intention with the money. There are many other inequalities reported. But today, Minister of Education Patrick Faber said that the auditors should have paid more attention to the ministry’s response in 2015 to their queries, which he says they did not take into consideration in producing the final report. Nonetheless, he stands ready to respond to any questions once the report is tabled.

 

Patrick Faber

Patrick Faber, Minister of Education

“When they found certain things they said, ‘well, Mr. C.E.O., could you answer to these things?’ Now, the way I understand it – and I might be completely wrong but I don’t think so – that once you get in there and you’re doing an audit and you find certain things, you give the entity an opportunity to respond. It may be misinterpretation; it may be a misunderstanding; and once that response is given, you factor that into whatever report you may put out. From what I’ve seen dealing with the report on the Ministry of Education, the questions that they raised, even though the Ministry provided a response which is tacked on as a kind of annex in the report – just ‘this is the Ministry’s response’ – nobody bothered to go and address those concerns, or to say that these concerns were valid or not valid in the report itself. And For me this is very distressing, because this report calls people’s names; they put people in there who are good people, who are productive people, and they drag people through the mud suggesting that there could be some kind of impropriety when that is not the case. So my ministry stands fully prepared, once people get into the details, to talk about the issues there. I encourage those who get a hold of the Audit Report to look at the response from the C.E.O. that is attached. But it seems to me that this is the practice; in fact if you look at the Immigration Audit Report that specifically deals with the immigration Department, that has been the complaint of the Government as well; that this was found, the way the process should work is that you should say to the people who are running that entity, can you explain X, Y, Z, and if that opportunity is not given then it must be unfair for you to call people’s names and tag in people’s names without first giving them a chance to clarify whether or not it is so before you put names in black and white.”

 

Our reading of the response the minister refers to in Appendix sixteen tends to largely accept the recommendations of the Audit Department and promises to follow up on certain unanswered questions. The full report once tabled goes before the Public Accounts Committee which is chaired by Opposition representative Julius Espat. 

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