The harsh, bitter reality

Monday, May 19, 2014    

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AT Tacky High School in St Mary an estimated $50 million is needed to recover from destruction by arsonists and thieves.

Not unreasonably, school leaders and political representatives will seek to use the opportunity provided by the rush of goodwill to correct long-standing shortcomings, including inadequate classroom space.

At Bob Marley Primary and Junior High in St Ann things are so bad there isn't a single computer available to students. Worse, children are forced to use pit latrines.

"No child should come to school and be subjected to using a pit latrine. That is unacceptable and will have to be remedied soon," says the aggrieved principal Ms Roxanne Williams.

We agree entirely, even while recognising that there are scores of schools still reliant on pit latrines.

The above stories in yesterday's Sunday Observer are just two examples of the countless education development demands on Government at this time.

There is the case of early childhood education. We hear the pain of Mr Devon Evans, vice-president of the Jamaica Early Childhood Association, who describes the education ministry's plans for a 15 per cent increase in salary subsidy to basic school teachers as an insult. It reflects, he says, the "scant regard" for such teachers.

The backdrop to Mr Evans' comments is that currently, according to him, the monthly government allowance to basic school teachers ranges from a low of $14,000 to a high of $25,000 before tax deductions.

Obviously, basic school teachers should be getting much more and the many inadequacies in the education sector and across all sectors need to be fixed.

However, the real problem is the big picture: the absolute necessity to cut spending, pay the country's massive debt and so restructure the economy that Jamaica never again will be so dependent on other people's resources.

A quick look at the budgetary situation should make it easier for everyone to understand.

The very tight national budget as outlined in the Estimates of Expenditure tabled in Parliament in April amounts to $539 billion. Of that amount $233.4 billion is for debt repayment.

That leaves $306 billion for non-debt expenditures. Of that amount, $161.7 billion must go to cover public sector wages and salaries, which leaves less than $145 billion. Of that amount, just over $110 billion goes to other recurrent spending. That leaves a bare-bones, just-over $34 billion for capital/development spending.

It's instructive that behind the Ministry of Finance and Planning, the Ministry of Education is receiving the largest allocation among ministries -- $78.2 billion for recurrent and $2.1 billion for capital spending.

Mr Evans will have heard from the education minister that $14.1 billion or 18 per cent of the ministry's recurrent budget will go to early childhood education.

The demands from every sector are immense and the allocations cannot suffice.

However, the truth is that for years to come, the Government and people of Jamaica will have to walk a tightrope even as they strive to earn their own way via economic growth and development.

Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips must stay the course of expenditure constraint recommended by the International Monetary Fund and the "Spartan discipline" referred to in this space yesterday.

Failure to do so would spell disaster for the nation and its people.

This is something all Jamaicans need to understand as a matter of greatest urgency.





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