August 25, 2016

No need for draconian measures


After some amount of confusion regarding the Government’s position on the issue regarding the repayment of the University of Guyana student loans, President David Granger himself has sought to set the record straight, saying that he is not in support of any form of travel restrictions on graduates and students who have defaulted in their payments since such an action would be in violation of the Constitution.

Certainly, the President’s latest pronouncement on the matter will serve to calm the high level of the fear and confusion which existed in the society when the issue first arose.

It was Government’s point-man on finance, Minister Winston Jordan who first indicated that steps were being taken to prevent UG graduates with outstanding debts from leaving the country, prompting huge public outcry from various sections of the population.

Jordan had declared that “all information on recalcitrant borrowers will eventually be put at all immigration points and we will set up a desk at the same time for those who would be stopped from travelling to make the necessary arrangements for payment of the loan or debt prior to departure.”

However, Ministers Carl Greenidge and Winston Felix appearing before the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Foreign Relations last Wednesday stated that no such decision was made at the level of the Cabinet. They seemed to be very much unaware of what Minister Jordan was speaking about when he declared that travel restrictions will be placed on loan defaulters.

Minister Joseph Harmon also weighed in on the issue at the post-Cabinet press briefing this week, noting that while Cabinet did discuss the option, no definitive decision was taken on the matter. Harmon explained that while government wants students to repay their loans, it would not use a “sledgehammer approach” to achieve this.

This administration is known for sending confusing messages to citizens. We cannot fathom why Minister Jordan would make such a bold declaration which turned out to be the complete opposite of the President’s position on the matter. In this case in particular, it is quite evident that the government does not have a definitive position on the issue or has not given much thought to the issue holistically.

That said it is hoped that any repayment plan implemented by the government will be practical and convenient, taking into consideration all the issues involved. Draconian measures such as those hinted by Minister Jordan will place additional stress on persons who are already burdened with so many other challenges in present day Guyana.

The administration should take into consideration that perhaps many of these same graduates who are indebted to the university are still unable to find suitable jobs that match their qualification and training, or in some cases some are employed in low-paid jobs; hence it would be difficult for them to repay at the moment.

While graduates have an equal obligation to repay their loans and must do so by all means, we also urge the government to explore ways in which a more humane approach could be taken to addressing the matter. For example, incentives such as waiving of a percentage of the interest could be offered to those who are willing to repay within a certain time. Also who cannot repay at the moment due to certain circumstances must be given alternatives so there is a win-win situation for all parties.

There is certainly no need for draconian measures.

It is hoped that whatever decisions are taken by Cabinet regarding this matter, they will be communicated to the public via an effective channel so that there is little or no room for miscommunication. As it is, persons have to rely on what is being reported in the media for the necessary information and guidance on the subject matter.

Finally, as a start, now that the university has a spanking new building that accommodates the loan agency, a special desk should be set up dedicated to addressing queries/concerns persons may have regarding their outstanding balances and other related concerns.

Too many times, simple transactions at the institution turn out to be very time-consuming and stressful due to unnecessary, complicated and bureaucratic procedures.