By DANA SMITH
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE College of the Bahamas Union of Students yesterday cried shame on the police officers who it claimed “wrongfully and unethically” denied COB students access to the House of Assembly the day before.
The students – who were also barricaded from gaining entrance to Rawson Square – are angry about fee increases at COB, but told The Tribune at the scene they had not come to protest. They said they only wanted to sit in the House and watch the proceedings.
Police told the press the students were “asked” not to attempt entry into the House because “certain intelligence” led them to believe the students may have presented a “security concern”.
In a statement released yesterday, the student union said: “COBUS’ motivation to attend Parliament indeed came about in response to a decision made by the college’s senior administration: upon no longer being able to raise tuition fees until COB’s transition to university status, had sneakily devised an alternative of raising other non-tuition fees.”
The student union dubbed the increase in fees “unfair and unjust” and hit out at Wednesday’s incident.
“After being wrongfully and unethically denied access and after waiting for hours in the sun on the opposite side of the street, Parliament dismissed for lunch and exited the building, having to see COBUS members still present outside the barricades and awaiting some pretext to be given,” it said.
“The prime minister, after discussing issues with various personnel, finally approached and spoke to COBUS officers. He stated that he and his government had no knowledge of the fee increases, and that the students present needed to address the matter properly.
“He noted that he would then contact his ministerial personnel and then contact COBUS on the matter on or before the end of the afternoon. We have unfortunately heard nothing from him, his office, or his ministers at the time this press release has being written.”
COBUS again reiterated “the purpose of attending the proceedings of Parliament was NOT to protest, but to observe” and explained the union did not expect that morning’s proceedings to be about Sir Randol Foulkes.
“It is still unknown whether there was truly a ‘security threat’ or if the restriction was just another roadblock to prohibit student rights and Bahamian progression to flourish,” COBUS said.
“But what we do know is that we were disrespectfully treated as students, as adults, and as citizens who do vote. If we had been allowed in, the commotion would have been avoided.
“What we also know is that COBUS, with aid from its fellow unions and other personnel, have indeed taken the proper and diplomatic approach to this entire situation, including meetings, forums, and the extension for co-operative decision-making towards the College and the government.
“We also know that the fees are truly in effect already. This speaks volumes, particularly when the Minister of Finance says he and several of his other ministers were not aware of the fee increases.”
COBUS called for the new fees to be withdrawn and a new budget that “involves, consults, and is mutually-agreed upon by the stakeholders of COB.”
COBUS added: “Not only that, but the failed leadership of the COB president and her senior administration in this and other matters prove their much-needed removal.”
The students also asked what Sir Randol would think of the situation. “Can you imagine what he would say if he was here today? How would he feel knowing COBUS was denied their lawful rights as citizens to enter the House of Assembly he was once elected to? What about being unjustly burdened with fees that are difficult to afford?”