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Government owed millions in scholarship bonds

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 27, 2012    

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FINANCIAL Secretary Dr Wesley Hughes says that public servants might be forced to publish the names and photographs of their colleagues, who have skipped town without serving their Government scholarship bonds, to recover millions of dollars owed to the State.

"We discussed (publishing names and photographs of persons) we didn't pursue this at this point as policy but we may have to look at it again. To be frank there is a reticence on the part of public servants publishing the names and photographs of their colleagues in instances," Dr Hughes told a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament at Gordon House in downtown Kingston on Tuesday.

While noting that he was not trying to justify this action, Dr Hughes said: "We are dealing with human beings here and it is a relatively small society. But that should not deter us, in my view, if we have a policy. If there is no clear policy we should make a judgement at different points in time."

In her 2010/2011 report, Auditor General Pamela Monroe-Ellis pointed out that despite previous reports, a high delinquency rate still exists for the programme. As at March 31 last year, beneficiaries who failed to honour their bond agreement owed the Government J$36.8 million, CAD198,557, US$176,340 and £36,371.

She said despite the outstanding sums, "management was tardy in referring delinquent cases to the Attorney General's Department". For example, an August 2011 list of beneficiaries who forfeited their bond agreement between the period 2001 to 2006 revealed that the ministry had not reported the cases to the Auditor General's Department.

The ministry, in its response, said the delinquent cases were reduced from 157 in 2006 to 92 in 2011 a total reduction of 65 cases. It said as at June 2012 beneficiaries who failed to honour their bond agreement owed the government JMD37.1 million, CAD198,557.97, US$177,082.66 and GBP36,371.

Tuesday Dr Hughes, responding to queries from PAC Chairman Audley Shaw as to whether failure to report to the Attorney General's Department was adding to the ministry's non-compliance woes, said there were reservations about utilising this method as well.

"We did have internal discussions on this as to why we have not reported and there has been some reticence but we have taken a decision that we are going to be doing this more systematically to report these to the Attorney General's Chambers for legal action," he said.

He, however, pointed out that "very often a judgement is made as to the likely (legal) costs vis a vis payment and the possibility of tracking people".

In the meantime, he said a previous recommendation by the committee that it tries to collect through Students Loan Bureau (SLB) was explored, but led to a dead end. The financial secretary also said that the ministry was also suffering because of its inability to sufficiently track persons.

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