‘All I wanted was somewhere livable,’ says Mahdia head teacher

-ministry claims ‘no real issue’ with living quarters

As head teacher of the Mahdia Secondary School awaits the renovation of her assigned quarters, she yesterday rejected claims by the Local Government Ministry that she asked for 44 additional items other than the basic amenities provided for by the government.

“Me? What? I have never requested anything of the sort. After the story was published and they moved me into the guesthouse, I saw the [Regional Executive Officer] and he asked me how everything was and what I was asking for. I told him all that I was looking for was somewhere that was livable and didn’t breach ministry’s promises and gave him the book,” Principal of the School Vanessa Wilson-Johnson told Stabroek News. Permanent Secretary of the Local Government Ministry Collin Croal has suggested that she exaggerated the state of the living quarters assigned to her. It was reported in sections of the media that Wilson-Johnson was “demanding that the local government and education ministries provide a wide range of household amenities, or she will not accept her current accommodation.” This was also yesterday reiterated by Croal.

Wilson-Johnson had sounded her plea in early October, begging that renovations be undertaken to the building assigned for her dwelling as it was “unlivable,” since it was rodent and termite-infested and in a dilapidated state. She was forced to seek refuge on a sofa under the stairs of regional guesthouse, after her timed stay in a room in the guesthouse had expired.

After her plight was highlighted in this newspaper, she met ministry officials and has been moved into a “cozy room” in the regional guesthouse. She is still currently housed at that location and when asked for update into her situation, she said that she was comfortable and “cannot complain”.

However, she said that she found the allegations that she had sought for additional items malicious and wicked, explaining that she would never make demands outside of what she would have seen provided for when she applied for the position. She said she did not want to be caught up in any “tangle” for any party to gain political mileage, adding that she just wanted to do her job while being comfortable.

“I heard that I needed TV and I was shocked because what will I do with TV when there is no TV station here? I don’t watch TV except for cricket, so persons who say these things are being wicked,” she said.

‘No real issue’

Giving an update from the local government’s perspective, Croal stated that after assessment of the house, they found no real issue except for the stairs, which will be repaired. “She [Wilson-Johnson] is still at the guesthouse but there is no issue with the house per se. The stairs needed repair and from savings that will be repaired because as you know there was no money allocated for that for this budget,” he said.

Questioned about termites and furnishings, he said, “There is no problem with termites that has been solved.” Giving a list of household furnishing, he added that a check yesterday by the REO reported that there was a double bed, a single bed, two single sofa chairs, a dining table with two chairs, a table top stove and a wardrobe.  He said that “a stove” was all that was mentioned as mandatory and documents did not stipulate that it be equipped with an oven or say how many burners it should have. The documents did not say that the items should be new either, he also explained.

Minister of Local Government Ganga Persaud had listed the obligations of the government as regards public servants’ housing at a meeting last month. “There are five basic things that are provided: a dining table with a chair, a stove, if there is reliable supply of electricity then cold storage, a bed and a wardrobe,” he had said.

“Those are the part of the public service rules and have not changed. So it is not the administration’s responsibility to provide utensils, to provide television and all the other things and there is nothing in the legislation that says these things must be new,” he added.

Wilson-Johnson said that she would not let “lies” make her lose her focus or cause her any stress because she was comfortable and stress free of accommodation issues and intended for it  to stay that way.

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