By CELESTE NIXON
Tribune Staff Reporter
MINISTER of Education Jerome Fitzgerald has vowed to table documents in Parliament supporting the claim his predecessor spent $1.7 million on school repairs in Central and North Andros during the 2011/2012 fiscal year.
Speaking outside Cabinet yesterday, Mr Fitzgerald said when the House of Assembly reconvenes in October, he will present reports that came directly from the Ministry of Education, which break down the numbers spent on school repairs last year, and detail “questionable” contracts issued by the former FNM government.
When the allegations first arose, former minister Desmond Bannister flatly rejected them. In response to Mr Fitzgerald’s latest statement, he said the minister is “changing his tune” as he is now talking about the entire 2011/2012 year, whereas he originally claimed $1.7 million was spend over the summer.
According to Mr Fitzgerald, Mr Bannister is just “being cute” and “pointing fingers”.
He said: “He is being very cute I think, as far as trying to limit it to the summer period; $1.7 million, that was spent during his last year in office as Minister of Education on repairs in the North and Central Andros constituency and there are no two ways about that.
“Some of the contracts issued were very questionable and I will bring those up when I return to the House of Assembly.
“I have been doing my job, I have not pointed any fingers, I am just doing the job the people put me here to do, but it is obvious that Mr Bannister wants to play politics and wants to point fingers – obviously I will have to respond.”
During a press conference earlier this week, Mr Fitzgerald alleged Mr Bannister sought to use public funds to politically influence the electorate in North and Central Andros, spending a disproportionate amount of money on school repairs in that constituency, almost as much as was spent on repairs on the rest of the Family Island schools combined.
Defending his record, Mr Bannister denounced the allegations as a complete falsehood, claiming the work completed in Andros was necessary due to the poor state schools were left in by the former PLP administration.
Mr Bannister said he is “sorry” the minister feels he has to embark on a personal attack against him, just because some concerns have been raised regarding the repair of schools.
He said it is completely untrue that he spent $1.6 million on summer repairs in Andros, and vowed to demonstrate this upon his return to the Senate.
Yesterday, he insisted that Mr Fitzgerald referred to “summer repairs” during the debate in Parliament when the issue initially arose, and that the minister had the Attorney General table a document in the Senate – which he has a copy of – entitled “summer repairs” in which the figure of $1.6 million is found.
Mr Bannister said that if he is now changing his story, Mr Fitzgerald should apologise Parliament and the Senate for misleading both houses.
He said: “I have no difficulty if it is found that we spent $1.6 million in Andros during the budget year. The PLP left the schools in Andros in woeful condition.”
Mr Bannister said a great deal of work was necessary because:
• In Fresh Creek (South Andros Constituency), the 2002-7 PLP government left a “dangerous old dilapidated two storey school” standing in the middle of the settlement and right across the street from the primary school. Children used to play in it, he said, so the FNM issued a contract to have it torn down before a life was lost by the building falling on someone. “A beautiful playing field now occupies the site,” Mr Bannister said.
• A similar old school existed in the middle of Lowe Sound. It was closed due to the fact that it was a dangerous hazard, yet the PLP left the building open and abandoned right next to a church and a park. The FNM issued a contract to pull it down.
• At the Mastic Point Primary School, grade five and six students were taking classes in the auditorium. Just as with a similar situation in Spanish Wells, the FNM built two new classrooms.
• Teachers had no rest-room facilities at the Fresh Creek (South Andros) School. The FNM built a rest-room and fixed the septic system, which had caused school days to be lost “due to the stench”.
Mr Bannister added: “Small repairs were done to the other schools in Andros, such as fencing to keep children on campus.
“Most of the schools needed electrical upgrades because children could not even use computers in the schools due to the old single phase systems that the PLP left in place.
“The North Andros High School did not even have bleachers for holding their big sporting events, for which they hosted teams from all over the Bahamas.
“They applied for and received a grant that was available to every school in the Bahamas, and now they have a library.
“I am proud of the contribution that I made to the advancement of education in Andros, where both myself and my parents started our education, and where my parents taught.”