Students who signed an agreement for loans at the University of Guyana during the period when public education was “constitutionally free” cannot be held accountable for defaulting on payment, says General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis.
Lewis, in a letter, stated that the Constitution of Guyana had within it free public education from nursery to university, but this was excised with constitutional reform during the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) time in office. He stated that neither the University of Guyana nor the Government could hold these persons accountable for an act “which was clearly in violation of the supreme law”.
“The Constitution is explicit that any act that contravenes it is null and void,” he said, reiterating that the Constitution was the nation’s supreme law and every government official, more so the “elected representatives”, should take time to acquaint themselves with it.
The Government is wrestling with manoeuvres to recoup loans provided by the University’s Student Loan Agency. One strategy, as highlighted by Finance Minister Winston Jordan, was to restrict the graduates from travelling outside Guyana until they made arrangements to settle their debts.
On the flip side, Citizenship Minister Winston Felix and Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge have openly stated that they were unaware of any such plan. President David Granger had also come out to say any restriction would be against the law and his Administration would not implement such a measure.
“The APNU/AFC Administration has to be mindful it does not continue sending the signal that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing or decisions are being made without due diligence,” Lewis said, opining that the business of government is managed by “time-honoured principles, established rules and laws, not gut feelings,” and so to entertain the idea of barring persons’ freedom of movement, without examining the legal implications, should not have happened.
He stated that any repayment approach must also factor in that the Government has failed to build the enabling environment to keep its people, and provide employment and economic opportunities for them. He noted that it should consider examining the fees being paid in kind in various forms of national service.
Considering that 85 per cent of Guyana’s tertiary graduates migrate and approximately 40 per cent of its young people are unemployed, coupled with a national unemployment rate of 21 per cent, Lewis stated, Guyana has a serious problem on its hands.
Thus, outside of ensuring that the “Constitution is not violated, in its present form and considering when student loans were introduced, the Government has to look at this matter through holistic and sober lens”. This, he said, must include recognition of the reality that among the student population are those who in accessing advanced education did so because they saw it as a stepping stone for better, yet betterment seems elusive.