Statement by Minister of Education
Hon. Jerome Fitzgerald
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, and thank you for your attendance.
I decided to hold this press conference in response to recent comments made in the media by the former Minister of Education, Mr. Desmond Bannister. While I am not prepared to respond to everything this former Minister allows to loosely seep from his lips, there is a need to address the mistruths, deception and political maliciousness of this same Minister who only a few short months ago called my teachers “dumb”.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Press, here are the facts:
When I became Minister in May of 2012 I met a myriad of issues facing not only our education system but also the physical plant of the 162 public schools scattered throughout our archipelago. These challenges were not created over night or indeed over the past 120 days. I repeat… . In the same vein they cannot all be fixed overnight. Over the past 120 days we in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology have worked hard to address the issues that we thought we could fix immediately, and we have been successful. This is why I am extremely surprised that the man who occupied the post of Minister of Education for the past 3 years and who knows quite well what has been accomplished in this short space of time is now raising these issues. Many of the issues he now raises, he met in place more than 3 years ago, and he left them even though he had three years to correct them. You know, while I am open to constructive criticism and new ideas, I am not comfortable with hypocrisy, especially when it
1 – comes from persons who should have a higher degree of responsibility of character.
When I was appointed Minister of Education I invited Mr. Bannister for lunch to hear what was his vision for education and what programs he had instituted which he thought had merit.
During all of his ramblings over the past month or so I have yet to hear him offer comments either supportive or otherwise on the vision we in government have clearly and succinctly laid out for the future direction of education in our country. Unfortunately Mr. Bannister appears to be more concerned with petty politics than nation building. This is indeed sad, especially as it comes from a man who once held significant responsibility for charting the future course of our youth. It is now appears obvious that he is more wrapped up with his own political ambitions than the future of our children. It is shameful and desperate to say the least.
2 – The facts cannot escape anyone, including Mr. Bannister. During the summer months the MOE spent 5.6 million dollars on school repairs. Many of the repairs were a direct result of years of neglect. Our priority was to address the structural, electrical, plumbing and roof repairs. Many schools needing roof repairs had no work done to them since hurricane Irene in September of last year. The most serious included Crooked Island High School, and Gregory Town Primary… In Acklins we replaced a whole school over the summer and we were able to do so because the cost of a temporary structure was below $50,000 which did not require us going to the tenders’ board. These are pictures of the school in May and now in September.
With regard to the school in Crooked Island we are very much aware of the issue, however the cost to repair is above the $50,000 mark and it requires the tenders’ board approval. We received the scope of work on Aug 3rd from the Ministry of Works and have sent it out to tender. We indicated this to the District Superintendent for the MICAL District President Wilson 3 weeks before school opened that we intended to have the repairs done by the end of the year and they both accepted the Ministry’s position and were grateful that we are addressing a long outstanding issue.
If Desmond Bannister had taken the time out to speak with any of these individuals or with me directly he would have known the agreed position, and may have protected some of his dwindling credibility.
I want to assure Mr. Bannister and the general public that the principals, teachers, students and the Union are fully aware of the extraordinary efforts made this year, more so than any other year in recent memory, to prepare the physical plant for the students return.
What I find so disingenuous about Mr. Bannister’s comments is that in his last year as Minister of Education all of these issues were present. Yet he found it necessary to spend 1.7 million dollars on schools in North and Central Andos and 2.1 million dollars on the rest of the Family Islands.
4 – In Crooked Island he spent only 32,500 dollars. Where was his concern then? What was his rationale for spending such a disproportionate amount in a constituency where he was the standard bearer for the FNM? How can he rationalize spending 1.7 million on 1480 students in North and Central Andros and 2.1 million on the remaining 15,700 students throughout our family Islands.
I will have more to say about this matter when we return to the House of Assembly in mid-October as I deem it one of the most blatant and obscene abuses of public funds which I have ever seen. On the face of it one is drawn to conclude that it was done for the sole purpose of influencing the outcome of the election contest in the seat which he was running.
With regard the issue of police being armed within the school gates or outside the school gates I have made the point that I do not see the difference. Either the police are authorized by the Commissioner and the Ministry of National Security to carry arms or they are not.
5 – We at the MOE trust the police and their discretion, off and on campus. As the Commissioner said, the whole Police Force will be involved in school based policing. What many of our detractors keep missing is that the police also have a stake in the security of our schools. Many of them are parents and want the peace of mind of knowing that their children are safe at school.
I personally find the argument that police should not carry arms on school campus’ somewhat illogical and impractical when one understands the reality of crime in our country. Just imagine an incident which erupts outside the school campus and spills onto the campus or vice-versa and the police has in one case to arm himself and in the other disarm himself. Where is he or she to have this gun stored in a safe and secure place that is readily accessible? I am not one to argue with a system that works, and one that is designed to create a
6 – safer environment for all. Police carry arms in our country, as the Minister of Education I am in no position to change that and to be frank I don’t intend to touch it. The state of crime in our country is one that makes it a necessity for many police to arm themselves to protect not only the general public but themselves? This is our reality. Therefore, I will not support any action which puts the lives of police officers or the persons they are mandated to protect at risk.
The Government in its Charter for Governance – which won the approval of the Bahamian electorate, stated that police were to return to schools and an agreement was reached with the Principals and the Union for their return. I accept that the FNM and others are opposed to this, but we will not be deterred as we take proactive steps to ensure that our schools are safe for our students and teachers
7 – and where the focus will be on order, instilling Christian values and delivering a 21 century education to our students. I reiterate there will be a zero tolerance policy for violence on our public school campuses.
Finally I just wish to remind the Mr. Bannister of one thing YOU CANNOT ARGUE WITH RESULTS.