The promise is misleading the people and is already causing a lot of problems with school committees and management. Some are worried about the timely disbursements of funds. The other irony is that Government has requested that funds will only be given to those schools that have fully audited their books. And what of schools that fail to audit their accounts what is the policy on this. Perhaps these schools should ask about the Government’s own audited accounts through the Auditor General’s report which has been absent since 2006.
SODELPA urges Government to fully disclose, the details of all fees/costs to be paid by parents so that they can budget for this well before the first school term begins in 2014. The release of this information in “bits and pieces” by the Government is unsatisfactory and is quite frustrating and unsettling to parents.
In the Fiji Times of 25.11.13 the Ministry of Information confirmed that school boarding fees will be paid by parents. In the same paper the Ministry is quoted as saying: “Students will have to share the textbooks in schools and those parents who can afford to buy their children textbooks may continue to do so.”
The Ministry also says that: “And while education has been made free, the government has called on all parents to bear the full costs of uniforms, lunch and school materials such as exercise books, stationery and bags for their children.” “Also extracurricular expenses such as Scouts, Girl Guides, cadets, excursions and swimming classes must be paid for by parents.” A boarding school in Suva stated that they will still levy funds for students as boarding facilities were separate from the school.
After the disclosures from the Ministry of Information, SODELPA asks the question: “What is free in Education? It seems that the correct answer is: there will be fee-free tuition in primary and secondary education in 2014, all other or most other education costs will continue to be paid by parents.
Furthermore, SODELPA also states that the Government has failed to effectively and efficiently manage the issue of free bus fares. Some parents are well- off and can afford to pay for their children’s bus fares are given bus fare vouches yet thousands of school children who qualify for the bus fare subsidy do not benefit from this scheme. This has been due to the discriminatory administration of the scheme, absolute mismanagement and outright thefts.
SODELPA calls on the Government to initiate immediately a thorough independent audit of the scheme and publish the report for public information. Mismanagement of the scheme in several schools was highlighted recently in the media and many more are unreported. SODELPA believes that this case is only the “tip of the iceberg” and the scam is both widespread and deeply embedded in the administration of the scheme.
Given the cumulative inflation approaching 50% since 2007, the extraordinary increases in prices during the last 7 years and the static wages during the same period, the parents of school children in 2014 will still be worse off financially compared to their position in 2006, even, with the promised tuition-fee-free education in 2014. Coupled with Value Added Tax and Excise Duty on imported goods the Government is actually giving in one hand and taking it with the other, it is a deceptive policy.
At the end nothing is free in life someone has to pay; with a declining economy, the Government is doing it through increased taxes, selling government assets and more borrowing. It’s the school children with a so called “free education” now and their parents who will pay for all these later.
General Secretary- Pio Tabaiwalu