Leader of the Opposition, Arnhim Eustace. (File photo)

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — This year will be especially difficult for parents to prepare their children for the new school year, according to Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace.

“I am getting so many calls already. Even yesterday afternoon, early this morning my phone ringing at home — ‘Mr. Eustace you having a book programme this year? Mr. Eustace, you having uniforms this year?’” Eustace said on Monday.

He was referring to people inquiring about whether his New Democratic Party will this year conduct its programme that helps families to prepare their children for school.

“I had to tell them ‘no’. We don’t have enough money to do it now. Things are so hard in the country, people’s contributions and party dues and so on, all those things have fallen off. They are not getting much help in that kind of area (business contributions). And you know it really is going to be extremely difficult this time. … This is going to be the worse year where that is concerned,” Eustace said.

He criticized the Unity Labour Party for reducing the Book Loam Scheme budget from EC$2.7 million to EC$6,000 when it came to office in 2001.

Eustace, a former finance minister, said that while the figure has since been increased to EC$1.5 million it “is still not enough”.

He said the required reading material suggested by some schools is often not used and should be re-examined so that there is a programme that “allows the book loan scheme to stretch further and give children more of the books which they really need to have.

“It is always good to have recommended reading over and above your textbook. Nothing is wrong with that but can you afford it? Can the average parent in St. Vincent afford it?” he said.

Eustace said that he calculated with a family the cost of preparing their child for fourth form and the tally, excluding transportation, was EC$1,947.

“How many people could [afford] that? So we really need to re-examine this whole book loan scheme; concentrate on the textbook, not just any book which is recommended…” he said.

“The day is coming soon; school has to open but you might have some child who will be ill-equipped when they go to school,” he said.

Eustace further said that the Teachers Credit Union, which won the tender to supply books to the government, was unable to do so singlehandedly and other local book suppliers had to be engaged.

“That has caused a delay now. So, I don’t know whether everybody will have books in time for the beginning of the school year,” Eustace said.