On Tuesday November 28th, the Council of Ministers (CoM) gave the go ahead to the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, to meet with the University of St. Martin Foundation (USMF) to propose a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to grant incidental subsidy (amounting to NAF. 690K- 920K over three/four months) in the interest of preventing the closure of the USM as well as preparing for the continuity of the institution in a transparent, accountable, efficient and effective manner. On Wednesday, November 29th, the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Silveria Jacobs, along with representatives of MECYS, SG Ms. Jorien Wuite, Head of the Department of Education Mrs. S. Lacorbiniére-Hodge, Head of Division Inspection Mrs. Dorothee Illis-Laurence, met with representatives of the board of USM and management in an effort to present the proposal and get USM’s feedback/agreement.
Minister Jacobs had initially sent a request to USMF on Friday, November 24th to meet as soon as possible to find a viable solution, as the deadline was approaching quickly, proposing to meet on Monday November 27th at 8:30am. While USMF confirmed receipt of the invite, no confirmation of attendance was forthcoming. After calls were made to ascertain the status of the meeting, the USMF issued a letter to the Minister restating that the board had decided that USM would close as of November 30th, 2017 citing six options for closure.
Considering the importance of USM and the urgency of its survival to the community of St. Maarten, Minister Jacobs, presented the latest information and proposed to the CoM on Tuesday to allow an emergency financial injection with conditions for cooperation, collaboration and accountability. The CoM granted approval in principle and the USMF board was invited to the meeting which they attended on Wednesday. An MOU was prepared and presented to representatives of the USMF present, the president of the Board Mrs. V. Giterson-Pantophlet, board member Ms. M. Henry and Financial Manager Mr. R. Judd, which consisted of the following points among others:
· Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (MECYS) issues an immediate injection of NAF 230K to jumpstart the semester for all students asap
· MECYS will grant two (2) more monthly installments of NAF. 230K with possibility of granting one (1) extra month during the semester if advised and concluded by the SOAB reports
· 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 MECYS aimed at effective and efficient management of USMF
· USMF will provide all necessary pending documents required to substantiate requested increase in subsidy for 2018 so that the department can submit the advice as soon as possible to be able to secure the approval of the necessary funding for the continuity of USM
· MECYS will prioritize the finalization of the Ordinance for Higher Education
Clarity was sought on some points related to the USMF’s financial management by Mr. Judd and was clarified. However, Mrs. Giterson-Pantophlet informed Minister Jacobs that she could not even agree in principle with the proposal, which would allow USM to keep its staff and meet the needs of the community, without consulting and getting the approval of the USMF board. The president of the USMF Board further stated that the earliest the board can meet is on Sunday December 3rd, thereby rendering a decision after the date proposed for the closure of USM, which remains today November 30th.
However, to date (Thursday Nov. 30th), no feedback on the MOU has been received from the Board, which begs the question as to how urgent USM finds this matter which leaves the future of the students and staff hanging in the balance. Though the University may consider this a last minute offer, Government of St. Maarten has made every effort to get the necessary information from USMF to be able to financially assist in a lawfully recognized manner. As such the offer now on the table, which has the approval of CoM, is in no way the standard operational procedure when dealing with the taxpayer’s money. However, because of the imminent urgency of the situation, it includes the necessary checks and balances that would force USMF to live up to the agreement in order to secure the subsequent installments.
Minister Jacobs further reiterated to USMF representatives that Government is committed to help to safeguard the students, teachers and staff of USM, with the proposed solution, and is hopeful the USMF will seriously consider this proposal as a viable option instead of filing for Moratorium of Payment.