BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau email@example.com
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — A proposal for the Sydney Pagon Agricultural High School to be turned into a department of the University of the West Indies (UWI) has been put on hold pending what Education Minister Andrew Holness says will be consultations with "stakeholders" who have taken "adverse positions".
Word broke recently that the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA), teachers and community leaders including local politicians were objecting to plans to transform the agricultural school at Elim in North East St Elizabeth without prior consultation.
During a visit to St Elizabeth last Friday for Jamaica Day celebrations, Holness told Observer West that critics had been "premature" in their reactions to the proposal since no plan had as yet been "developed". However, he said, due consideration would be given to the expressed objections.
"This whole business has caused me now to put the plan on hold until I have brought in the stakeholders who have taken adverse positions and see whether or not I can't bring them to my understanding," Holness told Observer West following a Jamaica Day ceremony at the St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS).
Holness said the proposal which "originated with the Ministry of Agriculture and the University of the West Indies" grew out of the need to strengthen expertise at all levels of Jamaican agriculture.
The idea, he said, was for the "UWI in collaboration with the Ministry of Aghriculture and Ministry of Education to use one of the agricultural schools to create another institution to expand the research component while still providing a level of technical training and also delivering general agricultural education..."
Holness said the proposal had only reached the stage where "permission" had come from Cabinet "to proceed to develop a plan".
He emphasied that "there is no plan yet developed".
Holness told Observer West "that the adverse positions taken by various stakeholders in my mind is premature because I have not yet signed any plan to say this is our final position".
He argued that "Governments have to be given room to develop policies and plans before persons start to make comments and take adverse positions..."
He was critical of what he described as "the argument that persons were not informed and there were no consultations". Said he: "I scarcely could consult on an idea that has not yet developed..."
During the function at STETHS, North East St Elizabeth Member of Parliament Kern Spencer insisted that there was room for both the Sydney Pagon Agricultural High School to remain, alongside an agricultural department of the UWI at Elim.
"No way as Member of Parliament, I am fighting against an agricultural department of the University of the West Indies coming to the Sydney Pagon High School," said Spencer.
"I endorse the move 100 per cent for a campus to be set up in Elim, but I am saying -and I understand the community to be saying - that we do not have to dismantle the Sydney Pagon High School... there is sufficient land (in Elim) for both at the same time... so we can have the present Sydney Pagon Agricultural High School and also have the Department of Agriculture of the University of the West Indies," the Member of Parliament, said.
According to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) following the visit to STETHS, Holness, Spencer and Ministry of Education officials made the trip to Elim with the Minister giving assurances to staff of the agricultural school.
"... persons who may be concerned about their employment, I want to assure them that we have a duty to make sure that if there are changes, that their best interests are preserved," the JIS quoted Holness as saying during a news briefing.