Time to pay up

Up until Tuesday, the start of the new academic year for some students was in peril after the Student Revolving Loan Fund (SRLF) turned down their applications for assistance.

It was not a mean-spirited act on the part of the officers of the SRLF, neither were the students at fault; there was simply no money to give.

But thanks to Government’s timely intervention in this year’s Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals of an immediate $5 million injection to the Fund, the students have been rescued.

On this occasion, Government deserves applause, but the fact is we are here yet again and we should not be.

Downright indifference, and dishonesty in some cases, have brought us once more to a bankrupt SRLF, which is owed some $30 million by defaulters.

The scheme was set up under the Student Revolving Loan Fund Act 1976-20 to replace the Higher Education Loan Fund. Its main purpose is to provide loans to eligible Barbadians to assist in financing study, including various academic, technical and vocational programmes.

Thousands upon thousands have benefitted from its largesse to improve their lives. But then thousands more conveniently forget to repay money urgently needed to pave the way for other Barbadians who require similar help to take forward their education.

We accept that some among us are finding it hard to cope, thanks to the prolonged economic slowdown.

We concede that sometimes life can take us on a different road and there are factors beyond our control.

But even this group has the responsibility of renegotiating a comfortable arrangement with the Fund. To leave it to chance or, worse yet, to hide is, frankly, deceitful.

At the same time, there are some truant borrowers who, despite having the capability to repay the money, simply do not.

Yet many buy a car, purchase a home and land and even travel for holidays, continuing their upward climb without looking back.

Too many of us treat the SRLF like we treat our garbage – it’s somebody else’s responsibility to clean up our mess. Thankfully, a national clean up has been announced. We hope it’s not the last and pray that all hands will be on deck to not only tidy up but also recommit to keeping our fair land clean.

But let us not digress.

The failure of borrowers to keep their end of the bargain to repay the SRLF is out of hand and urgent action is needed to rein in the situation. It is unconscionable to expect the Government to take up taxpayers’ dollars to bail out the scheme each and every time.

Delinquent borrowers must not be allowed to think they can continue to evade the lender and flout the law and expect Government to take up the slack, particularly while they are enjoying the fruits of higher education, including a better salary.

Last week, Minister of Education Ronald Jones made an impassioned plea for debtors to pay up.

Said Jones, “There is a simple principle – he who borrows should repay, especially in a loan revolving fund. You can’t keep looking for new money to bring in all the time when the fund should be revolving.”

Failure to pay debts has far-reaching consequences for the entire society. Scarce resources that are needed to fund other social programmes often have to be diverted.

Negligent borrowers are also unfairly endowing guarantors, who were merely acting in their interest, with a mountain of debt.

We assert that the SRLF must strengthen its capacity to recoup what it is rightfully owed. Hardly ever are defaulters taken before the law court. Maybe the time has come for authorities to name and shame shirkers, whether they be doctor, lawyer, teacher, bank manager or farmer.

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