Education Minister Shawn Edward has responded to accusations of political patronage in the award of school transportation contracts in his Dennery North constituency to the disadvantage of opposition United Workers Party (UWP) supporters.
“I was under pressure to fire UWP drivers. I said ‘No. I am not firing them’,” Edward said of the period after winning his seat in 2011 and becoming the Minister for Youth Development and Sports in a labor administration.
On Monday, he spoke during an appearance on the HTS Programme’ Out Goes In’.
Edward asserted that the UWP bus drivers had loans to pay, children to feed, and other commitments.
As a result, he said the UWP drivers stayed, but two lost their contracts.
According to Edward, one of the two was transporting children from Dennery North to the Vieux Fort Comprehensive Secondary school in an SUV and continued despite several warnings, resulting in the discontinuation of the contract by ministry officials.
“Another gentleman lost his contract because of his own stupidity. I don’t want to get into that here today,” the Education Minister said.
“Some of them had three contracts. We caused two of the three to be redirected to persons who had none. Some had two contracts – we took one and gave to somebody who did not have any. But they had a contract. So you had a nice mix of United Workers Party people and labour party supporters rolling out the school transportation system in Dennery North,” Edward told his audience.
However, he recalled that when the UWP won the 2016 general elections and although he retained his seat, the incoming administration fired every bus driver in Dennery North affiliated with the labour party.
“We came in. We could have terminated in September. We allowed them to continue. They were the ones who serviced all the school routes from September to December – the first term of this academic year.”
“And come January we are saying there are bus drivers sympathetic to the labour party who had been placed on the bread line for six years, now is a good time to reinstate them and let’s give them a break because they pay loans too. They want to save up to embark on home improvements too. They have children to feed too,” Edward expressed.
“Up to Sunday I was being chided by some people: ‘Why did you retain this man who is a known United Workers Party supporter?'” Edward recounted.
“That is not the brand of politics that I practise. We cannot be that polarised. And today, under my watch ever since we came back, there are United Workers Party known operatives who played very key roles in the campaign, who have been able to salvage their contracts,” the Dennery North MP stated.