THANK you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this important and historical bill the Solomon Islands Tertiary Education and Skills Bill 2016.
Sir, historical because this is the first time we will have a legal framework that will govern and regulate tertiary education and skills development in this country.
Sir, at the outset I would like to thank and congratulate the DCC Government, in particular the hardworking Minister, Permanent Secretary, other senior staff and advisors of the Ministry of Education and Human Resources Development for bringing this very, very important bill to parliament.
A bill, as we all know, that will provide the legal framework on how the country is organizing its tertiary education and skills development sector through the establishment of an independent Authority, the Solomon Islands Tertiary Education and Skills Authority.
Sir, I also wish to acknowledge the excellent report and worthwhile recommendations of the Bills and Legislation Committee on this Bill.
I support these recommendations and hope that they will be considered by the Government.
In this regard, I also subscribe to the statement just made by the Chairman of the Bills and Legislations Committee, and the hardworking Member of Parliament for Northwest Choiseul.
Mr. Speaker, the objects and reasons for this bill are clearly outlined in the Bill and the report of the Bills and Legislation Committee so I will not repeat them.
However, I wish to acknowledge the importance of the involvement of the private sector in our tertiary education planning and training as outlined in the Bill, as well as the aim to put in place a quality assurance framework.
Sir as has been highlighted in the Bills and Legislations Committee report this has been a long time coming since 2009.
And to those hard working women and men who have tirelessly worked to make this bill a reality in 2016, I wish to commend them for their excellent efforts and contributions.
Sir, I think these include the MP for Northeast Guadalcanal, and the MP for Aoke/Langalanga who were also Ministers of Education at various times.
The importance of this bill in ensuring our tertiary education sector is managed under a robust legal framework, is no doubt the way forward in securing the future of this this country in terms of its tertiary education and skills development.
Mr Speaker the establishment of the authority as an independent body aimed to achieve a number of good outcomes when the authority is in full swing operation is welcomed.
Sir, while this is commendable there are other critical issues that needed to be addressed to allow the authority to discharge its functions without fear or favor.
Mr Speaker as I continue to highlight in my contributions to the bills that have come before this House.
When we create our laws we must at all times be mindful of the forces that often polarized and tarnish the good images of our public offices and their public duties to our people.
Premised on this notion, our laws have to be articulated to provide buffers that ensure the public good expected to be delivered through the established bodies created under our laws must at all times be safe guarded.
Sir, creating laws must not only be done to accommodate and deal with the unregulated status of the issues faced and in this instance our tertiary education sector.
It is my belief that our laws must be created such that all the collective structural and power arrangements contained in the law must be carefully and correctly coded such that through it, there is transparency and accountability.
Sir, transparency and accountability should be accorded to the recipient of the product that the law is propagated to achieve and also importantly on how the law deals with creating the custodial authority that through which the operational responsibilities of the law is decided.
Sir I once again raised this issue because what I see in this bill is that the bill sends out a message that in a nutshell says this is how such and such an issue in our tertiary education will be dealt with.
That is perfectly acceptable to me.
However, my concern is in regards to whether that noble intension will be achieved in light of unilateral and discretionary powers that the Minister holds in regards to appointments and selecting of some of the important members of the authority’s governing body under clause 9 of the bill.
Political power and intrusion that only resulted in non-attainment of the expected public good and services is a reality that is so prevalent in this country.
Mr Speaker, as responsible law makers, would it be morally irresponsible to use this law making institution the National Parliament of Solomon Islands to create laws that we ourselves know will not stand against the intrusion of political power?
Especially intrusion into an arena that best be left to other professions other than elected members of parliament.
This is my concern on this bill.
In this regard Sir, recommendation 5 of the Bills Committee report needs to be taken seriously.
Mr Speaker, let me remind this House that what I have just highlighted is again visible under clause 14 of the Bill.
I honestly yet to find any good reason or reasons as to why the Minister should take any part in the appointment of the Chief Executive of the Authority, an avenue for political intrusion into something best left to the Public Service Commission.
Sir, this parliament should be responsible enough and should not allow such clause to be part of a law that is passed in this floor of parliament.
In my view we will be passing laws that will set bad precedence for our future law makers.
Mr Speaker, under part 4 of the bill the authority is responsible for preparing the plan for scholarships and funding and also responsible for setting out conditions that would see some kind of bond system to those that are awarded with scholarships.
I fully support this proposal to ensure that those that would like to use the system as opportunist must not be allowed to do so.
In addition, Sir, once this Bill comes into effect, it should replace the practice of MPs privilege scholarships.
Sir, while this scheme may have its own merits, it has been abused and has become unsustainable.
Mr Speaker, before I conclude my brief contribution to this bill, I would like to bring our attention to recommendation 7 of the Bills and Legislations Committee.
I share the sentiments raised by the committee that balancing of funding is a critical issue and that the government through this establishment must take active action to ensure that our rural training centres and other technical institutions are properly and adequately funded.
We cannot afford to neglect this important sector in our development aspiration.
Technical skills are just as important as other tertiary skills obtained from Universities and others.
Without them our economy will be crippled.
Therefore the authority must ensure that proper arrangements are put in place to balance funding for our technical institutions.
Mr Speaker, the cost of tertiary studies have sky rocketed and that has adversely affected access to tertiary education.
The cost of taking up studies at SINU, USP, UPNG and even our local technical institutions have exponentially grown over the years without proper checks and balance.
The authority when established must take drastic action to ensure the costs are reasonable to the population.
Above all, Mr. Speaker, proper resourcing and capacity development of the Authority is critical for the effective implementation of the Bill or Act so that we can address and realize the objects and reasons for the Bill including:
– Setting a policy and new approach to skills training;
– Ensuring strong regulations for skills training and standards in national qualifications;
– Promoting sustainable budgeting, funding and management of training;
– Enhancing Solomon Islanders opportunities to access external job markets; and
– Enhancing Solomon Islands chances to achieve Global or international Sustainable Development Goal number 4 –which is ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.
Finally Sir, while this bill is on ensuring the citizens of this country are equipped with the necessary tertiary qualification and skills that enable them to work wherever in the world.
I would also like to see that the product of our tertiary institutions is responsible and ethical citizens.
While the tertiary level might not be the best avenue to address the issue of responsible and ethical citizenship, we know that this is an issue this country is in great need of.
I think it’s a worthy issue that needs to be addressed somewhere or somehow.
Obtaining tertiary knowledge and skills are no doubt important; however it would be even better for the citizens of this country to be further endowed with respect, responsibility and ethical values that would go a long way in making Solomon Islands a better place for us, our children and the many generations to come.
Mr. Speaker, with this few remarks I support the bill and resume my seat.
By JEREMIAH MANELE
Leader of Opposition
(Speech on Solomon Islands Tertiary Education and Skills Authority Bill 2016)