Education minister blames red tape for slow repairs

, Hanover – Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams has blamed red tape, and not a lack of funds, for the slow pace of repairs to school infrastructure.

“We are not short on the funds to do the work,” she said, eliciting sounds of surprise from teachers she was addressing during the Jamaica Teachers’ Association’s 59th annual conference on Wednesday.

“It takes too long for the building officer to visit,” Williams explained as educators responded with a round of applause.

“It is the truth. What we need is a more accelerated process. It takes too long for the building officer to come out and look and for design work to be done. And the tender work [has] to go out and come back and then it has to go to the next level and next level. That is what is holding up the process. It is not the money,” she reiterated.

Williams commiserated with school administrators who are faced with the challenge of faulty infrastructure and argued that principals should not be saddled with the responsibility of reporting on the state of physical structures. That information, she said, should be in the ministry’s database, easily accessible to officers so they can go out and help schools.

“The Orlando Patterson report is calling on us to significantly invest in the infrastructure of our schools and to ensure that technology is at our schools. That is to tell you the importance of having proper, fully functioning infrastructure in our schools,” said the minister, who noted that this is an important pillar of education transformation.

“We do not want classrooms in our schools in which roofs are leaking. They are infested with termites. The desks are breaking down. That is not what we want in the education sector and I am here to tell you that, that is not what we want to see,” she added before providing a breakdown of work to be done.

Under the 2023/2024 critical repairs and infrastructure maintenance programme, $440 million is allocated to fund critical repairs and maintenance activities in 125 schools across the seven regions.

In addition, $165 million has been budgeted to close out 23 contracts that were brought forward from last year. Also, $65 million is to be spent on maintenance and renovation projects in seven schools, while a total of $210 million has been set aside to carry out critical repairs in 95 schools for termite treatment, electrical repairs, and repairs to bathrooms and roofs.

Williams also said $244 million was provided for electrical upgrading projects to carry out precontract or contract activities in 47 schools, including Tarrant High, Priory Primary and Infant, and Holmwood Technical. Bids are also being invited for Little London and Savanna-la-Mar primary schools as well as McGrath, Alston, and Seaforth high schools to name a few.

In relation to the topical issue of safety and security in schools, the minister said $73 million was allocated to carry out precontract and contract activities related to the fencing of 56 schools.

She again pointed to the many steps involved.

“Here, again, you may think that it is easy to just come put in a fence at the school, but no, you have to go get a surveyor to make sure that the boundaries are good and proper and then we have to do the tendering process and so on,” stated Williams.

In relation to furniture for schools, she told educators that high schools should have by now received funding for the procurement of furniture based on needs. She said $97 million was disbursed. At the primary level, 1,400 pieces of student desks and chairs were dispatched to regions one, two, and four based on requests made and needs. Meanwhile, 74 pieces of desks and chairs for teachers were dispatched to Region Five and 3,800 pieces of furniture are scheduled for dispatch to other regions during August.

In terms of the repairing of furniture, under the ministry’s active repair programme 11 schools have been engaged to undertake this initiative. There is also an active programme for the creation of new desks and chairs for several schools. Williams said 16,000 pieces of furniture are being manufactured and are set for distribution by August 28.