Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Former Education Minister responds to libelous Kaieteur News articles

Former Education Minister, Shaik Baksh yesterday issued a statement regarding the allegations made against him in articles published by Kaietuer News on February 19 and 26. In the most recent article, the Minister’s picture was inserted which is insinuating in a devious way that the Minister was involved in what is termed a racket and scam at the Ministry of Education.
Baksh recalls the weeks of gutter journalism by the Kaieteur News in the case of the supply of computers to the Education Ministry. “As I have done in the computers for schools project, I am consulting my Attorney with a view to suing the Kaieteur tabloid for libel,” he said.
He added that freedom of the press carries with it a corresponding responsibility for accurate, balanced and fair reporting.
Baksh reiterated that the terms and conditions of the contract were fulfilled by the supplier in the supply of the computers with the defined specifications, and a statement to that effect was issued by the Ministry but the Kaieteur News has shown no remorse for its publications on the matter.
He stated that the headline carried in the Kaieteur News on Sunday, February 26 “Billions spent on outdated text books” is a total fabrication and wicked in its intent since there is a well defined text book policy and guidelines for the selection of text books. Further, there is also a text book selection committee which comprises senior professional officers of the Ministry and is supported by specialists and educators in the selection of text books.
All the textbooks procured for the 31 subjects taken by students at the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate with some exceptions, are based on the published recommended texts by the Caribbean Examination Council.
Baksh emphasises that the results at the CSEC are clear evidence of the prudent policy in the selection of text books, as well as programmes and interventions undertaken by the Ministry. This is evident in the overall pass rate which has improved from 55.8% in 2006 to 64.4% in 2011 and notably English A pass rate moved from 39.5% in 2006 to 60.8% in 2011.
With regards to the article which appeared in the Kaieteur News of February 19, Baksh outlined that all matters pertaining to the Auditor General’s reports including observations, queries and recommendations are dealt with by the Head of the Budget Agency which in the case of the Ministry of Education is the Permanent Secretary.
At no time during the entire conduct of the audit by the Auditor General was the Minister in any way involved, interviewed or asked for comments and observations. He added that all matters pertaining to finance and accounting functions, including the implementation of tender processes, contract administration and contract payments are the responsibility of the Head of the Budget Agency and other senior officials of the Ministry.
Importantly, the Auditor General’s Report has not revealed that a fraud or misappropriation of funds had taken place in this contract. Baksh explained that the 2010 Auditor General’s report states “the Ministry sought and obtained approval from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) to procure the text books from a local Supplier at a cost of $110.291 million”. Hence there was no breach of the tender and award process.
“It cannot be denied that the PPP/C Government has placed much importance in strengthening the Auditor General’s Office and ensuring yearly reports are submitted to Parliament this has contributed to identification of systems weaknesses, breaches of procedures, legislation and irregularities; and can result in greater transparency and accountability in the operations of Government Ministries/Agencies, Baksh said.
In due course, the Auditor General’s Report 2010 will be subject to scrutiny by the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament with the Head of the Budget Agency and senior officials being called upon to explain and account for any breaches of procedures, regulations and laws.

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