Board won’t sign MOU for USM rescue budget

~Instead opts for moratorium ~

PHILIPSBURG–The University of St. Martin (USM) board has had a change of heart and will not be signing the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a financial injection and rescue budget to “save USM” proposed by Education Minister Silveria Jacobs in November.

The board says the MOU does not solve the institution’s financial woes and is not workable. Instead, the board is seeking funding to the tune of US$3 million annually for five years. The board will now continue on its previous track with a moratorium for payment of creditors.
Board President Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet said Tuesday that she had learnt that Government had secured funds for USM and the first disbursement of NAf. 230,000 could be made available to the institution immediately as soon as the MOU has been signed, but the board would not be signing. She was addressing Members of Parliament (MPs) at the time, during the continuation of a meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament on Tuesday.
Giterson-Pantophlet said Minister Jacobs had presented the MOU to the board during a meeting on November 29. She said the MOU would have provided a conditional financial injection and rescue budget to USM to restart the semester immediately, but she quickly added that this “does not solve the financial woes of USM.”
The board did not sign the MOU at that time, as other board members who were not in the meeting needed to peruse it and a “revision” sent to Jacobs. The USM board met on December 3, went through the MOU and, on December 4, sent its revisions to Jacobs. The board received a new version of the MOU on December 7 which included their revision “and few of our comments.”
“We had a meeting scheduled for December 8, and at that moment we told the Minister that we will go back to the table, which we did on December 10, to go through the MOU. And in that meeting the board realised, after deliberation, that the MOU is not workable and we will go back to our decision taken November 23, which was moratorium [on payment of creditors – Ed.],” Giterson-Pantophlet said.
The board had informed Government, via letter dated November 27, of its decision made on November 23 to put a moratorium in place on payment of creditors in December.
The board said in a letter to Jacobs that the MOU was “not workable” and indicated that the only viable option to save USM would have been for funding to be provided to USM until the requested structural funding is put in place. “The structural funding should be put in place of US $3 million for five years and the ordinance for higher education, we asked for it to be [in place by – Ed.] June 2018 because that’s the academic year.”
Giterson-Pantophlet said the board would step down if Government so desires.
“After our meeting yesterday [Monday – Ed.] and after presenting our letter to the Minister, we learnt that this morning [Tuesday morning – Ed.] there was a subsequent meeting with the Ministry or the Minister had a press conference and the Minister went public that Government had guaranteed the funds of NAf. 230,000 per month for three months with the first disbursement immediately available. …
“If we leave here now and sign that MOU, we would be able to get the first disbursement and also it is indicated that the subsidy increase will be honoured from the board for the following two years,” Giterson-Pantophlet said.
However, she noted USM had issued a plea for a rescue budget on October 2 and “everything that is taking place now … is what should have been taking place in October, because we are now three months behind at this moment.
“Whatever is coming to USM as a rescue, to us is not a rescue, but they are asking us to restart. Restart means that by November we should have had registration going and classes are supposed to start for the Spring semester by January 15. So again, we are saying: if the funds are there for us to restart, it’s not for us to be in meetings all the time and taking the time up, but take the action and say here are the funds.”
Giterson-Pantophlet said USM had submitted a rescue budget to Minister Jacobs on October 13, to salvage the fall semester [October, November and December – Ed.]. The budget was submitted based on Jacobs’ request on October 11. Giterson-Pantophlet said that request had been declined because it did not have the support of the entire Council of Ministers.
If the board “goes back to the table” to discuss the conditions of the MOU, Giterson-Pantophlet said, “We want to make sure that it’s feasible for not just Government and the board, but for the entire community.”
Several MPs reacted to the news that the board will not sign the MOU. National Alliance (NA) MP Rodolphe Samuel said the board had requested three things from Parliament: it wanted a rescue budget and once this was provided, work can be done for a structural budget and the law on higher education put in place.
Samuel said now that the board has received a rescue budget via the MOU, it is saying “no” to the rescue budget and is reverting to a previous decision. He said this shows that the problem for USM is not Government, the private sector or Parliament, but the USM board. He said perhaps the solution is probably, as students suggested in Parliament last week, that the board should be revamped.
United People’s (UP) party MP Tamara Leonard wanted to know what the conditions of the MOU were. She took issue with statements from the board that the contents of the MOU were confidential. She asked what were the requirements laid down in the MOU for USM and Government and said answers to this question could solve the issue.
“We are approaching a deadlock. If the MOU is ready to be signed and the first disbursement can happen any time, then we can still make the Spring semester. What is the hold-up? If we get a step on this, we can get students to register for the Spring semester. What are the details that USM does not want to commit to? What is the problem?” Leonard asked.
According to the MOU, the Ministry would issue an immediate injection of NAf. 230,000 to jumpstart the semester for all students as soon as possible; will grant two more monthly instalments of NAf. 230,000 with possibility of granting one additional month during the semester if advised and concluded by the Government Accounts Bureau SOAB reports, and USM will cooperate with SOAB to carry out its investigation to validate the pending 2013-2016 financial statements as well as provide recommendations to the board and Ministry aimed at effective and efficient management of the USM board.
Also included in the MOU are that the USM board will provide all necessary pending documents required to substantiate the requested increase in subsidy for 2018 so that the Education Department can submit the advice as soon as possible to be able to secure approval of the necessary funding for the continuity of USM, and that the Ministry will prioritise the finalisation of the ordinance for higher education.
Other USM representatives at Tuesday’s Parliament meeting were Secretary Marcellia Henry, Financial and Operations Manager Robert Judd and Vice-Treasurer Vasco Daal.

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Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/71808-board-won-t-sign-mou-for-usm-rescue-budget

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