Stuart standing fidm on UWI tuition and House Speaker controversy
That’s how Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has described some of those who disapproved of his advice to Speaker of the House Michael Carrington to “get a lawyer” during his publicized legal dispute with a former client.
Speaking just as tough to critics of Government’s University of the West Indies (UWI) tuition fees policy, Stuart today made it clear that his administration would not be changing course on that matter to please any minority group, even in the face of a letter from the president of the Cave Hill Campus Guild of Students Damani Parris, “threatening” action if the decision was not reversed.
The Prime Minister laid out those positions at the Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) lunchtime lecture where he spoke extensively on the controversial decision by Government to stop paying tuition fees for Barbadian students.
“I know a lot of controversy has raged around this issue. I am not ashamed of any controversy and neither am I afraid,” declared Stuart.
“I know ultimately truth is not like milk; truth doesn’t spoil. No matter how long you keep truth it remains fresh. And as long as the truth is presented to people ultimately they will have to accept it as the truth and make the necessary adjustments.”
Parris, whose term as guild president will come to an end on March 31, told Barbados TODAY last month that he would be writing Government to express his “deep-seated concern about what appears to be an abandonment of education in the country and an abandonment of the youth of the country”.
“We got a letter from the president of the student body. It was copied to the Minister of Finance [Chris Sinckler] and the Minister of Education [Ronald Jones], threatening the Government that if it doesn’t do something by the 11th of February I think it is, that they are going to do something . . . I don’t remember what the threat is,” Stuart told the audience.
Defending his administration’s stance on the policy that went into effect last September, Stuart said while his Government was committed to tertiary education, the country had “a solid middle-class” that could now afford to pay its way.
“Certainly there will be no change under this Prime Minister, for the simple reason that I know what policies created opportunities for me and for people who share my courage and stature in life. And as a Prime Minister and politician I am committed to ensuring that Barbados continues to be a land of opportunity,” he said.
“The cynics who hear me say that will say ‘but how could you be saying that when your Government is now asking university students to contribute to their tertiary education?’
In a context where people are driving around 115,000 motor vehicles in Barbados, in a context where people have stone dwellings, houses [with electricity], water-borne facilities, and can carry their children to Disneyland, at some stage you have to let people look after themselves and carry a little more of the burden so that you are left with some room to look after people who cannot look after themselves yet.”
Stuart insisted that Government was still paying the economic costs for students – 80 per cent of their university bill.
“How could you consider that unreasonable in the year 2015?” he questioned.
Noting that primary and secondary education was compulsory but tertiary education was optional, Stuart said the country had created “the largest body of executive class” over the years.
And he suggested that Government did not owe them anything.
“Can a Government owe that class or category of person the same obligation as it owed to the people who were walking barefooted and going to the plantations with bags and hoes over their shoulders? Can it owe to the poor agricultural labour and the modern executive the same responsibility? We now have a class of people that can better look after itself in this country,” he contended.
The Prime Minister insisted that his Government was making decisions that would produce long-term benefits and not decisions for “the short-term advantage of catching the winds of popular favour”.
Making specific mention of the Student Revolving Loan Fund, he said a number of mechanisms were already in place for those who could not afford to pay for their own education. Stuart also blasted critics of his leadership style and the Municipal Solid Waste Income Tax, saying their comments were “just opportunistic noises”.
In relation to Government’s fiscal measures and structural adjustment policies, Stuart asked Barbadians to give the programmes time to work, saying he expected things to improve.