Fabian Demicoli

A free-for-all system for student grants is not the solution

 GRTU would like to express its disappointment with the
announcement made by the Ministry for Education and Employment last Saturday,
on the complete abandon of the Smart Card Scheme.

The Ministry's concern with the Scheme is legitimate
as GRTU has also reviewed the report of the National Audit Office and it indeed
confirmed the problems we were well aware of. GRTU in fact had outlined a
number of shortcomings and insisted that reviews were necessary but deciding to
do away with the system as a whole defeats the purpose of the grant itself.

GRTU represents retailers, partners in the smart card
scheme, and our concerns have been made public throughout the period the scheme
was operational up till last year's Budget proposals where we argued against
the unfair percentage fee charged on all transactions by the company
administrating it as opposed to a flat rate transaction fee. Notwithstanding
this, GRTU was in no way consulted on the foreseen abolition of the Scheme.

We feel that the new system, as communicated last
Saturday, can only increase instances of abuse. It lacks any kind of dissuasion
or incentive for students to invest all the grant in items targeted at
enhancing the students' education. GRTU had insisted on the creation of a
simple updatable database of items which a student would be allowed to purchase
in relation to the programme of studies s/he would be following, similar to the
list of books required. Unfortunately students might now be more inclined to
spend the least possible amount of funds on their educational needs.

Amongst other things, the National Audit Office
outlined that students spent part of their funds mostly on sportswear and
fitness equipment, mobile top-ups, and other non-educational items but it also
explained how the system could be improved including a recommendation to
re-issue the tender. We will therefore be moving from a situation where we know
how much money is being spent and on what to a situation where everything is a
mystery. The new system will not keep track on what students spend the money on
as so far no real safeguards addressing this have been mentioned. We feel tax
payer's money deserve to be better accounted for.

In addition the new system will also continue to
aggravate the situation we have with the evasion of Eco-Contribution when
purchases are made online. GRTU is in no way against buying online as long as
there is a level playing field where everyone competes fairly. Most students at
some point or another buy laptops and other electronic devices such as
notebooks, that are subject to Eco-Tax, a Maltese tax which is so far only
enforced when purchases are made locally.

GRTU will be calling on Hon Bartolo to meet with
urgency to discuss the issue. GRTU feels that alternative solutions should be
sought and that with some goodwill and consultation we can introduce an
improved system that is effective, efficient and accountable.

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