The Leader of the Independent Group in Parliament, Hon. Dr Derek Sikua yesterday responded to clarification by the Acting Prime Minister Manasseh Maelanga’s on the MPs 2016 Scholarship Awards.
In a statement he said, National Training Unit (NTU) has no authority to approve or decline additional scholarships requested by MPs or applications from any Solomon Islands Citizen seeking a Solomon Islands Government (SIG) Scholarship.
“If proper process is being adhered to, the regulated body that fulfils this role is the National Training Committee (NTC). The NTU is only a unit within MEHRD that is responsible for administering all SIG Scholarships awarded by the NTC.
“Hence, for the Acting PM to say that the NTU is responsible for approving or declining any SIG scholarship applications from any Solomon islander, including those nominated by MPs under their Cabinet approved quota is incorrect and misleading.”
Dr Sikua also refuted claims that no MP in the DCC Government has ever given any directive to the NTU authorities to prioritize their requests for additional scholarships.
“If this is true then, can the Acting PM explain why the Government Caucus Secretary and her staff were sitting right alongside the NTU Staff and the MEHRD’s Special Taskforce Members at the NTU Office at Panatina during most days and nights over the last two weeks? Dr. Sikua asked.
He added that some Government MPs even called in personally at the NTU Office to check on their lists whilst some are still submitting more names to the NTU Office.
Furthermore, the Leader of the Independent Group stated that it is naïve and erroneous to say that only DCCG Ministers and Backbenchers have been pressured by their constituents for scholarships.
In fact, all MPs experience this immense pressure but this is where each MP has to take control and avoid passing on this responsibility to their CDO, Dr. Sikua said.
He mentioned that he has ten applicants from his Constituency for 2016. However, after consultations with concerned students and their parents he has submitted only four names to the PS/MEHRD, and hence keeping in line with Cabinet decision.
As National Leaders, Dr. Sikua urged all his colleagues not to excessively inflate the MEHRD’s Annual Tertiary/Scholarship Budget because this has direct implications on the Ministry’s budget allocations for other very important sub-sectors in Education such as ECE, Primary, and Secondary Schools.
“The simple truth is that if we spend too much money on scholarships, as we do now, then there will not be enough money to spend on new ECE, Primary or Secondary school classrooms, textbooks or teachers’ salaries,” Dr Sikua said.
Dr. Sikua revealed that more $174m was spent on overseas Training in 2015, including $15m for MPs Scholarships. Judging from current DCC Government trends, overseas scholarship spending will most likely hit the $200m mark in this year.
In comparison, Dr. Sikua stated that the MEHRD only has a schools infrastructure budget of $25m for this year which is hardly enough to meet our commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) Initiatives by 2030. Indeed, such Government actions have resulted in the MEHRD being penalised in 2014 with one donor withholding about $22m of its schools infrastructure support in 2014.
Dr Sikua acknowledged that the demand for tertiary education will continue to increase every year. However, he also knows that the MEHRD, working collaboratively with USP, SINU, parents and other authorities is already in a good position to tackle this challenge head on without incurring further increasing its overseas tertiary/scholarship budget. MEHRD already has a Cabinet mandate to explore other scholarship schemes of which, there are about four possible options. Investigations into these scholarship schemes should be concluded as a matter of priority and put to Cabinet for approval and implementation as soon possible.
Furthermore, and with all going according to plan, the USP’s SI 4th Campus is likely to enrol its first intake of under-graduate and post-graduate students in 2018. From then on, the number of students needing to go overseas to the main Campus in Suva, Fiji or other regional institutions to undertake fulltime studies should be reduced.
The USP (SI) Campus at Lawson Tama can then be wholly dedicated to USP Foundation Studies, thus allowing our Senior Secondary Schools to get rid of the USP Form 7.
As former Minister for Education, Dr. Sikua called on his Colleague and current Minister for Education Hon. Moffat Fugui and the DCC Government to ensure that the USP (SI) Campus in Honiara is established as planned. Failing that, the Government will continue bear the rising cost of sending a large number of our students to Suva, Fiji and other regional institutions every year at the expense of our struggling economy and the development of Basic Education.