THE best brains to have graduated from tertiary education institutions over a seven-year period have cheated the State out of more than K6 million.
They number more than 7,000 – the cream of our education system – who were given State-approved loans under the exclusive Tertiary Education Study Assistance Scheme (Tesas).
The loans – which vary from a minimum of K100 to K50,000 – are outstanding for the period 2000 to 2007.
Now the Office of Higher Education (OHE), which administers the loans, wants the recipients to pay back their loans but is faced with the bigger problem of trying to locate them.
Last week, the OHE listed the names of 3,947 recipients in newspaper advertisements while appealing for “information on where these people are working at the moment”.
Only one recipient, a woman, repaid her loan in 2004 while another 16 have inquired on how to repay since the advertisements were published.
OHE director general Dr William Tagis said last Friday the loan scheme had been suspended until they recoup most, if not all, of the money outstanding which totals K6.6 million, from the 7,038 recipients.
Most of the culprits are from the country’s biggest tertiary education institutions – the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby and the University of Technology (Unitech) in Lae, Morobe province.
A total of 2,307 loans were approved for UPNG students while 475 were approved for Unitech.
The other major recipients were from the University of Goroka 395, the University of Natural Resources and Environment’s Vudal campus (266) and Oro (99), the Divine Word University (100) and the Pacific Adventist University (104). Recipients also attended various teachers’ colleges, technical colleges, business colleges and schools of nursing.
Some names in last week’s advertisements were repeated, meaning they would have got more than one loan.
The Tesas loans scheme was developed to assist students enrolling at universities and tertiary education and non-tertiary education institutions under three of the four scholarship categories – the academic excellence scholarship (AES), the higher education contribution assistance scheme (Hecas), and self-sponsored categories to pay their tuition fees.
Dr Tagis said that higher education institutions’ tuition fees were high and the loans eased the financial burden on many promising students who would otherwise had dropped out of school.
He said the loans contracts specified that the money was to be repaid after the recipients had graduated and had secured employment.
The money was to be paid with a 2% interest, a form of “graduate tax” to be administered by the Internal Revenue Commission (IRC).
However, the IRC had said it did not have the resources to track down the recipients and impose the graduate tax.
Dr Tagis said that the Tesas loan scheme was meant to be self-sustaining as long as beneficiaries repaid their loans to enable the following year’s loan applicants to be successful.
The student support and scholarship branch acting assistant director, Joseph Morimai, said the OHE had met with the Finance Department’s revenue division who agreed to assist with recovering the money.
Mr Morimai said the contracts signed by the beneficiaries were a legally binding agreement, so they must sue to recover amounts owed by individuals.