Amid rumors that have been circulating in recent weeks that the longstanding Government Scholarship Program that has assisted thousands of deserving Bahamians seek tertiary level education, both locally and abroad, will be discontinued, Deputy Prime Minister K. Peter Turnquest reassured a group of his constituents of East Grand Bahama that there is no truth to the speculation.
“There has been some misleading information that has been going around with regards to the government stopping the scholarship program. I want to say, for the record, on behalf of the Minister that that is completely and utterly false.
“Every year the government of The Bahamas issues about 400 scholarships to deserving Bahamians, nothing has changed. The problem that has existed is that some of the scholarship recipients have written to say that they want to add a fifth year; it is a four year scholarship.”
He shared that as the program is intended for four years, it would disenfranchise those following that are also seeking financial assistance from the program, should they grant assistance for an additional year, to those whom were already granted the four-year scholarship.
“Secondly, there is a grant program, which is a one-time contribution to a scholar; that program is also continuing. Some of the recipients in that program have been misled or trying to come back for a second year. It is a grant program, one grant. It does not meant that you cannot get a second grant but that is all dependent on the applications, what you are doing and whether the government feels that it is in the best interest of the country, to give you that second grant.
“Thirdly, we have the government scholarship loan program. This one is a real tragedy in terms of how it has been allowed to develop. That one, we have been holding back on because, as the Minister would have indicated, there is over $150 million in outstanding educational loans, with the Educational Loan Authority (ELA). That means people who would have come to the ELA, claiming that they want to go to university, or, having gone to university, returned or not, and have not repaid anything, or very little, on their commitment. Some of these people never went to school.
“When you go to the guarantor of the loan, invariably, because of the nature of the people that would have borrowed from this program, the guarantor does not have the money. They may have used their house for instance, to guarantee the loan. The government cannot necessarily throw the people out of their homes, to collect the money,” revealed Turnquest.
Due to that fact, the DPM advised that unfortunately, as the growing default exists, the government is unable to invest any more in this particular program, at this time, until the funds are substantially repaid.
“Since the Minister announced that, I am happy to say that there has been some progress, in collecting on those outstanding loans, so we are encouraged that hopefully, in short order we will be able to get that loan book under control and be able to have some funding available to lend going forward.”
Additionally, Sen. James Kwasi Thompson, Minister of State for Grand Bahama in the Office of the Prime Minister acknowledged that as the 2016/2017 school year is fast approaching, school repairs on the island are underway and he is confident that the schools on this northern island will be ready to welcome students on the first day of school.
“The school repair program has already started throughout Grand Bahama. That also will spur some economic activity. It will give some folks some jobs. We have done an assessment on all of the government schools throughout Grand Bahama and assessed what work needs to be done. This week the contracts were given out and those works should have started this week. We need to ensure that the work is completed and we need to make sure that the schools are ready for September, not just ready for September, but before September,” advised Thompson.