UG student loans
says Jordan’s remarks not supported by law
There will be no travel restrictions on graduates and students of the University of Guyana (UG) who have defaulted on their loans since such an action would be in violation of the Constitution, President David Granger said on Thursday.
Immense public outcry erupted after Finance Minister Winston Jordan indicated that steps were being taken to prevent UG students with outstanding debts from leaving the country.
Prompted to comment on the situation, President Granger emphasised that he would never stand in agreement with a move that went against the law.
“I do not believe that the Minister of Finance’s remarks are supported by the law and I am obliged to take the side of the law. If it is not lawful, it cannot be enforced,” he said during an interview on “The Public Interest”.
Granger said he understood why the Minister would make such statements, given the significant number of recalcitrant borrowers, but he explained that other measures would have to be pursued to encourage UG students to repay the State’s money.
“I can understand his frustration because we need the money because it’s meant to be a revolving fund. But there needs to be other measures and we must move away from banning and use other more persuasive and less coercive measures,” he stated.
State Minister Joseph Harmon also weighed in on the issue, noting that while Cabinet did discuss the option, no definitive decision was taken.
“There is no decision that has been made at Cabinet that anybody will be prevented from leaving the country at this point in time,” Harmon told media operatives at a post-Cabinet press briefing.
He explained that while Government wants students to repay their loans, it would not use a “sledgehammer approach” to achieve this.
“It’s not like we are going to lock up people and all those kinds of things, but it is about encouraging you to honour your obligations and to recognise that if you do not repay, you are preventing young people coming into the system from benefiting from those things from which you benefited,” Harmon stated.
These clarifications on the “travel ban” controversy were being made some six days after reports began circulating on the issue.
Jordan had declared that “all information on recalcitrant borrowers will eventually be put at all immigration points and we will set up a desk at the same time for those who would be stopped from travelling to make the necessary arrangement for payment of the loan or debt prior to departure.”
He had explained that the decision was taken by Cabinet after the forensic audit, conducted by accounting firm HLB, R Seebarran and Co, into the UG Student Loan Agency revealed that from 1994 to May 2015, some 17,567 or 69.4 per cent of 25,335 student loans were deemed delinquent after students did not honour their debts.
Over the weekend, former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall had also reacted to the announcement by Minister Jordan, calling it unconstitutional.
Nandlall had told Guyana Times that instituting a travel restriction for UG students with outstanding loan debts was a decision made on the premise of overwhelming incompetence and a blatant violation of constitutional rights.
He argued that the travel ban went against all existing laws and pointed out that one wrong could not be corrected by another.
“Any first-year law student would know that the Constitution is the supreme law of Guyana; that the Constitution confers upon every citizen certain fundamental rights and freedoms, including the freedom of movement, which includes the right to leave and enter Guyana. Every first-year law student would also know that a person cannot lose these fundamental rights and freedoms if they breach a contract, even a contract with the State,” the Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) asserted.
He contended that the principle applied even if the contract provided as a penalty for non-payment, a travel restriction.
“That contractual term would be unenforceable because one cannot “contract away” one’s constitutional rights. In any event, these loan agreements contain no provision in relation to prohibiting the borrower from leaving the country…. Different pieces of legislation specifically provide how and in what circumstances a person can be prohibited from leaving the jurisdiction,” he explained.
Reports of the “travel ban” had even captured the international media’s attention.