By Warren Bertram
Finance Minister Dr. Nigel Clarke has dismissed claims that communication with the Jamaica Teachers' Association broke down due to a failure by his ministry to respond to a meeting request.
The JTA says after months of dialogue with the government, no resolution has been forthcoming to the issues raised with the Ministers of Finance and Education, both in person and through written communication.
But Dr. Clarke said there were meetings in April and May to address the concerns raised by teachers and another meeting is set for next week.
In response, JTA President La Sonja Harrison said a letter sent to the Finance Ministry on May 17 was met with silence.
The Finance Minister said previous deliberations with the JTA included other unions, and it was expected that the deliberations would continue in that fashion.
Dr. Clarke added that the May 17 letter was not in keeping with the agreements made at the previous meeting on how anomalies would be handled.
"We agreed on an established process for addressing concerns, many of which were sort of cut across groups, and the process was a team where many unions come together under the banner of the confederation, including the teachers – that was the established process. And so when you kind of send things that are outside of that process, it does lead to some amount of confusion," he sought to explain Thursday on Radio Jamaica's Beyond the Headlines.
When asked why a response was not given to the May 17 letter, Dr. Clarke said the ministry would not have been able to provide a quick response due to volume of correspondence it receives.
"A letter sent last week it would not be customary that we would have responded already. That’s just not certainly possible with the resources that are available," he said.
Dr. Clarke noted that some of the issues affecting teachers, such as delayed payments, are also not within the purview of the Finance Ministry, but instead must be addressed at the local level.
"What we have agreed and what makes sense is that local level issues which are not policy-related issues or are not transfer-related issues, meaning the transfer of funds from the Accountant General, to the BOJ, to somebody's account, then those are matters that can only be dealt with at the local level. And we use local because education is fragmented in regions across the country."
Still, Dr. Clarke insisted that once the process is observed, the Finance Ministry "will get to the bottom" of the issue.
"We stand here ready, willing, wanting to assist and to help as we have done with other groups but we need engagement to do that, and we need engagement through the established processes in order to get that done," he maintained.