GOVERNMENT must cease making "vague and ominous" references about the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE) programme as it was causing "mental torture" to students.
Speaking on Friday during his contribution to the Lower House debate on the national budget 2012/2013 at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain, Dr Amery Browne, MP for Diego Martin, Central, reported receiving a number of calls, e-mails and letters from people concerned about changes to GATE.
"Government must move swiftly to allay these fears," he said.
Finance Minister Larry Howai has promised that he will not be stopping GATE but measures must be put in place to stop wastage and abuse. Last month Tertiary Education Minister Fazal Karim reported receiving a report from a Cabinet-appointed GATE committee to review the programme but said no changes had been made.
In October last year he noted the review committee has found that students receiving GATE have been dropping out of programmes for no valid reason, switching programmes without prior approval and others were repeating the same programme at different institutions. Expressing concern about the amount of money being expended on GATE, approximately $650 million annually, he had said that Government will be not be financing failure but success.
On Friday Browne said Government had not presented any evidence for the "strangling of GATE" and he was not concerned with how many people had passed or failed. He advised that Government should look into the reasons people are failing, how many are struggling single mothers or live in areas infested by drugs or gangs, and have facilities for counselling.
He also advised that any change to GATE should be done in a phased manner over a number of years and there should be consultation with youth representatives and educational institutions.
"Don't play games with the lives of young people," he stressed.
Browne also criticised the announcement that VAT would be removed from 7,000 food items, noting that many of them are of little nutritional value. He said it was a not properly thought out and it may pose a "nutritional threat" to families and also economic threat to local agriculture.
He also commented that if it was "caring measure" as it had been described then why was it temporary.