Prime Minister Mia Mottley has denied there was anything underhanded in Barbados accepting the Ross University School of Medicine School’s move to the island from Dominica, insisting that the educational institution was unable to resume operations in the hurricane-struck island.
“Barbados came into the picture, only when, for Ross University, returning to Dominica for the start of the January semester in 2019, was not an option. This is not and has never been a case of poaching or enticing anyone away from Dominica,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.
Last Friday, Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced Ross University, which had been forced to relocate its operations to St Kitts and the state of Tennessee in the United States following the passage of Hurricane Maria last September, would be leaving the Eastern Caribbean nation after 40 years. Hours later, Mottley and Adtalem Global Education president and chief executive officer Lisa Wardell announced that Barbados would be the new home of the American university by January 5, 2018.
According to media reports in Dominica, some irate Dominicans have harshly criticized Mottley for accepting the relocation, with one going as far as calling on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to sanction the newly elected leader for what has been termed an “act of economic aggression” against a sister nation.
However, in her statement, Mottley said while she could not speak for or on behalf of Ross, “the hands of the Barbados Government are clean in this matter”.
Outlining how Ross ended up in Barbados, she said the government was first approached on this matter on May 31, a week after her Barbados Labour Party’s landslide election victory.
“In our first conference call the following day on June 1, I sought to have a number of matters clarified. My first response was to enquire of the state of recovery and rehabilitation in Dominica and whether there was anything sister islands in the Caribbean, like Barbados, could do to fast track the process of rehabilitation in Dominica,” Mottley said.
She pointed out that Ross University has not been operational in Dominica since the passage of Hurricane Maria and the student and faculty bodies will remain at their temporary locations in St. Kitts and Tennessee into the next semester.
“The question for Ross, therefore, was how soon could and would the situation be regularized to the extent of housing all students and the operation of the University, if not under one roof, surely on one island. Indeed, as they expressed it, how could they meet the expectations of all their stakeholders – their students, the parents and faculty – and then their shareholders, as a publicly traded company?” Mottley continued.
The Barbadian leader added that her Government spoke with officials of the Dominican Government who were still hopeful of a return of the school, but who conceded that a January start-up was highly unlikely given their circumstances.
“It was only after Dominica was ruled out for the January start-up of classes and when attention had turned to at least two other potential locations in the region, two sister Caribbean islands, that Barbados then embraced the idea of making itself available as a possible site for relocation,” she stressed.
“It should also be noted that Adtalem Global Education has extensive operations all over the world and not just in the Caribbean. Hence, their choices have always been not just the Caribbean region. In all our discussions with Ross, it was stressed, ad nauseam, the impact the move would have on Dominica and the Dominican economy and the clear need to mitigate any fall out.”
Mottley added that she is aware of direct ongoing discussions between Ross and the Dominican Government and she was assured by all parties concerned that there could and would be an amicable resolution of this matter.
“Let me stress that the relationship between Barbados and Dominica is strong. Our Governments work closely together and my relationship with Prime Minister Skerrit is very good.
“Indeed, Prime Minister Skerrit was the first leader with whom I met on becoming Prime Minister of Barbados. Prime Minister Skerrit is on my Whatsapp. Our relationship therefore is not only fraternal, it is personal. Therefore, for anyone to suggest that I would knowingly or deliberately set out to hurt, harm or undermine the interests of Dominica, Dominicans, their Government or their leader, simply [does] not know or understand Mia Amor Mottley.
“I am committed to partnering with Dominica in all of its recovery efforts,” she added.