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Ombudsman Recommends Termination of Education, VNPF Scheme

By Anita Roberts

A briefing on MESS updates to the MoET in August last year. At that time, VNPF requested MoET to assist in monitoring the academic performances of sponsored students. Photo: File

The Ombudsman has recommended that the Member Education Support Scheme (MESS) established between the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) and the Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) be terminated.

Ombudsman Hamlison Bulu suggested MESS be terminated and have its terms and conditions negotiated. However, if parties insist on its continuation, they must seek approval from the Council of Ministers (COM).

The second recommendation is for VNPF to continue its support for current recipients but avoid new recipients until the scheme is properly set up.

Also, the MoET should concentrate on government scholarships and leave MESS to VNPF under its commercial arrangement.

These recommendations were made following the Ombudsman’s investigation into whether MESS was established in accordance with the Government Act [CAP243].

Investigations focussed on the conducts of the MoET and VNPF, the then Minister of Education, officials of the ministry involved, General Manager of VNPF and Board Members.

When talking about the main findings of the investigation yesterday, Ombudsman Bulu revealed that the then minister was so focussed on the objective of the scheme that he became “careless and negligent”.

“He is required under the Government Act to take MESS, as a significant policy, before the cabinet for approval. He has failed to comply with the law when introducing MESS,” the Ombudsman said.

“The then Minister and MoET failed to carry out consultations with stakeholders and to obtain approval from the Council of Ministers (COM), breaching requirements of the Government Act.

“The VNPF GM failed to consult members and other stakeholders before finalising the MESS Policy. The board as the trustee of the fund has obligation to act honestly, responsibly and in good faith in every decisions and actions.

“The lack of proper consultation with stakeholders and agreeing to internal policies and guidelines with MoET to guide MESS implementation, in my view, breach the duty of care for the board as trustee of the fund.”

Investigations further reveal MESS was not approved by the Development Committee of Officials (DCO) and the Council of Ministers (COM).

Under MESS, students are offered with a loan to meet financial needs and will repay with an interest rate once they complete studies and secure employment.

VNPF is covering most of the expenses for students eligible for the Vanuatu government scholarship scheme-tuition fee, airfares and accommodation, while the National Scholarship Office is providing allowances under the scheme.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) formalizing the establishment of MESS was signed by the former Education Minister, Jean Pierre Nirua and VNPF GM, Parmod Achary, early last year.

The Ombudsman concluded in its investigation that the MOU is invalid, as it was enforced in breach of the requirements of Government Act.

The investigation report is available at the Ombudsman Office for public.