We the members of the Grambling State University Alumni Association are both shocked and saddened by some of the statements made in the House of Assembly on Tuesday 2nd April, 2013 by the Honorable Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Dr. Kenny D. Anthony.
The Minister for Finance made the comments in relation to a letter written to him by the East Caribbean Financial Holding (ECFH) subsidiary, Bank of St. Lucia Ltd (BOSL) concerning the over 240 students who attended the northern Louisiana University.
The Prime Minister as outlined in the letter, addressed to his Ministry, that over 130 students are delinquent on their government guaranteed student loans from the BOSL. While this may be a fact, the Minister for Finance went on to state that he was of the opinion that students believed that because their loans were guaranteed by the Government of St Lucia (GOSL) that students may be under the impression that the loan was instead a grant which didn’t need paying back.
This statement by our dear Prime Minister was very disheartening. The Grambling State University Alumni Association would like to categorically deny that its members view the funds of taxpayers as grants, and we are fully aware based on our loan agreements that we are required to repay the loans guaranteed by the GOSL on our behalf. What we do know for sure is that members have found it very difficult given St Lucia’s bleak economic climate and high unemployment rate to find gainful employment.
Some of our members have returned to St. Lucia to no jobs, some to old jobs with no room for growth and a few are only working part time. In light of these facts, as an Association we wrote to Prime Minister, Dr. Kenny Anthony, only a few months after the November 2011 General Elections seeking an audience with him to discuss our plight, but to no avail. No response was ever given to our letter.
Constant calls were made to his office only to be given the run around as to why they were unable to grant our request for an audience with him. We as an association went as far as having a member speak to his Press Secretary and she also advised that we would not be able to see him and that we should try another member of the Cabinet.
We also approached the then Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Dr. Ubaldus Raymond, who expressed his concerns for our plight, offered his own moral support and expressed his misgivings about the program. But Dr. Raymond however, admitted that he was not in a position to assist us given his absence from the Cabinet.
After giving up on our attempts to see Dr. Anthony we then set our sights on the Minister for Education, Dr. Robert Lewis, who gracefully granted us an opportunity to meet with him to discuss our issues. In that meeting; we produced a number of proposals on the ways we thought we could reach an amicable arrangement on the way forward.
One of the proposals was for the GOSL and BOSL to sit down and review the rate of interest on our student loans in order to reduce our monthly repayments. We felt that this would assist members greatly as many of us were unable to adequately meet our financial obligations given the below par salaries many of us currently earned. The Minister responsible promised to get back to our Association after reporting to the Cabinet of Ministers.
To date although we have not received any feedback from the Minister for Education, we have since learnt that the BOSL was not in agreement with any of the proposals that we presented to the Minister. As an Association, we have only learnt of the establishment of a Cabinet Sub-Committee to review the concerns of the BOSL through the revelations made in the House of Assembly on Tuesday past.
The Grambling State University Alumni Association has not been invited to meet with the Cabinet Sub-Committee to discuss the subject of their mandate which directly involves us, which leaves us confused since we have been willing for the last year to work on an agreement that would be satisfactory to all parties involved.
Our Alumni Association now asks the question, how can a Committee chart ‘a way forward’ without any kind of consultation with the very young people whose lives will be most affected by the recommendations that they decide to make?
We the former students of Grambling State University who have returned to St. Lucia have a great interest in arriving at an amicable resolution to this problem of delinquency on loan repayments between our members and the Bank of St Lucia. However, as stated very passionately in our meeting with the Minister for Education, and as we had also originally planned to bring to the attention of the Prime Minister, had we been granted the honour of an audience with him, we as an Association would have presented the hard facts surrounding the issue of the non-payment of loans by our members.
St. Lucia’s current economic climate, high unemployment, low salaries offered to qualified young people in the private sector, and lack of room for promotion in the public sector has left our members handicapped where maintaining a decent standard of living is concerned. In this modern day of social media, other recent graduates of the University who hear of the constant struggles that their fellow school mates are going through back home would be no more inclined to return to St. Lucia. This is sad to note, but it is a cold hard fact. St. Lucia through its draconian student loan policies is its own enemy; we are shooting ourselves in the foot where the development of young people is concerned.
Dear Mr. Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers, Leader and members of the Opposition, the continued policies of this country where tertiary education is concerned, is indirectly contributing to the continued brain drain of this sweet Helen. Young people here in St. Lucia have ambition, hopes and dreams just like any other young person in any other part of the world.
We are not asking for a free pass on our responsibilities, but given the current economic conditions that exist at this time in St Lucia, we cannot continue to be unrealistic about our member’s ability to repay these loans in full. Realistically speaking; what does the Bank and Government of St. Lucia expect the graduates who have remained in the United States of America to come back home to?
‘The fundamental cure for poverty is not money, but education!’ It is interesting to note that our dear Prime Minister quoted the above by our very own Nobel Laureate, Sir William Arthur Lewis, at the 18th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers (18CCEM) in Mauritius in August of last year.
If education is the fundamental cure for poverty; then why is it so expensive?