No travel ban on loan debtors – soft sell method to recoup funds instead – Minister Harmon

Georgetown, GINA, August 4, 2016

There has been no Cabinet decision to ‘ban’ persons who have outstanding loan payments for government loans such as those taken by University of Guyana (UG) students.

This was reiterated today, by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon at a post-Cabinet media briefing, at the Ministry of the Presidency. The response follows initial reports by sections of the media that a proposed travel ban was among the actions that were being assessed as possible means of getting loan debtors to honour their financial obligations.

Finance Minister, Winston Jordan had proffered that debtors could be prevented from travelling overseas unless firm commitments were given with a view to them repaying Government-issued loans for study at UG.

On August 3, Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge were asked to clarify the State’s position on the issue when they appeared before a Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Ministers explained that the decision was still to be discussed at Cabinet; hence no travel ban was in effect, contrary to what some media reports had stated.

Today, Minister Harmon proposed however that Government could take legal action as part of a process to prevent student loan debtors from leaving Guyana. “One the face of it, we cannot just put a list there at the airport and stop anybody from travelling. There is a legal process involved and there are constitutional rights which you have to basically cater for.”

Harmon explained that there were no plans by Government to stymie the legal right to freedom of movement. “There is no intention at all in what has been proposed to affect the constitutional right of any person to free travel in and out of Guyana. There is no sort of blacklisting in that way.”

Minister Harmon reminded that UG’s tuition fees’ system constitute a revolving fund for future beneficiaries, hence debtors need to settle their obligations to give others a chance to access funds for loans. He added that Government would shy away from using a “sledgehammer approach,” but rather wants to adopt a “soft-sell conversion” to encourage people to repay.

The Student Loan Agency for the University of Guyana was launched in 1994, with GYD$9.5 billion made available to facilitate the payment of tuition fees. Figures for the period up to May 2016 show that 26,239 loans were issued but repayment up the same period amounted to GYD$1.75 billion, with installments due amounting to GYD$5.7 billion.

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