Published On: Tue, Dec 12th, 2017

University turns down rescue-budget; memorandum of understanding remains a secret

Valerie Giterson - USM Board President - memorandum of understandingPHILIPSBURG – “What is the big secret? That memorandum of understanding should not be confidential,” said an exasperated UP-MP Tamara Leonard on Tuesday morning during the continued central committee meeting about the dire situation at the university of St. Martin.

But Leonard’s request for details about the memorandum fell on deaf ears with Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet, the chair of the USM-board. “We will adhere to the meeting of November 29.” she said, referring to a meeting with Minister Silveria Jacobs (Education) where the memorandum was presented and where parties agreed to keep its contents confidential.

Minister Jacobs said at a press conference on Tuesday morning – according to Giterson-Pantophlet – that the USM would receive three times 230,000 guilders for its rescue budget and that the request for a subsidy increase would be honored for the next two years. The first installment of the rescue budget is available immediately, Giterson Pantophlet said. But there is one condition: the USM has to sign the memorandum of understanding – and the board seems not prepared to do this.

“This is not a rescue budget,” Giterson-Pantophlet said. “It is three months too late; we asked for this on October 2. Registration for the spring semester, that should begin on January 15, should have started in November.”

Earlier the board’s President said in answer to questions from Leonard that the board had decided on November 23 to submit a request for a moratorium on payments in December. The memorandum of understanding Minister Jacobs offered the board is in its revised version “not workable.” Giterson-Pantophlet said. “This is why we decided to go back to our decision to submit a request for a moratorium on payments.”

The minister presented the memorandum in a meeting on November 29; the USM-board discussed the document on December 3 and submitted its comments to the minister a day later. When the ministry came back with a revised version “Few of the points we made were taken up.” Giterson-Pantophlet said.

And while the USM-board adheres to the agreement to keep the terms of the memorandum confidential, it turned the proposal down.

While the financial troubles of the university are obviously the main concern, there were also other issues that came to light in Tuesday’s meeting.

Board-member Marcellia Henry for instance, confirmed that Minister Jacobs had asked her to step down as a board member because of an undefined conflict of interest. ‘It was a verbal request but the minister did not explain what the conflict of interest would be.” Henry said. She remains on the USM-board.

Vice-President Wycliffe Smith also noted that the board will not discuss the memorandum in public.

Treasurer Vasco Daal pointed out that the USM has been in financial trouble from the beginning – due to limited enrollment and the lack of the law on tertiary education. Such a law would guarantee the university the structural funding it so desperately needs. “To date the USM has not received anything but its regular subsidy,” he said.

Giterson-Pantophlet said in answer to a question from NA-MP Rodolphe Samuel that the university is not open for its regular USM-classes, but that the UVI at USM programs continue. How long that is going to last is the big question: “We do not have any funds to cover the costs of UVI,” she said.

USp-MP Frans Richardson had an issue with MP Leonard’s demand for details from the memorandum of understanding. “This will create the same problems we have had with the harbor.” he said, referring –without mentioning it – to parliament’s demand for the contract between the Harbor Group of Companies and Checkmate Security. That request resulted in a civil inquiry into the business of the harbor by the Prosecutor’s Office.

Leonard retorted that the memorandum concerns an agreement between the government and a foundation, not an agreement between private parties.

Photo caption: USM-board president Valerie Giterson-Pantophlet declined to discuss details of the memorandum of understanding. Photo screenshot sxmparliament.org.