Sunday SN editorial failed to publish pertinent facts
I read with some astonishment the editorial of the Sunday Stabroek of July 29 titled ‘UG Council.’
The editorial was abusive of me, only slightly less so, I might add, than the Freddie Kissoon type writings, failed to publish pertinent facts, published blatant untruths and, inter alia, echoed recommendations that would not be upheld in any court of law.
The editorial echoes the calls of some persons who I recognize as important stakeholders of the University of Guyana, to wit, that I, in an effort to engender “an open, inclusive and participatory process,” should have entered into discussions and negotiations “involving the Minister of Education, the UG Academic Board and the National Assembly” to select the new Council members.
The composition of the UG Council is determined by the laws of our country by which we are all bound. The particular law is section 13, Chapter 39:02 as amended by Act numbered 19 of 1993 and 14 of 1995, both amendments made when I could not even have voted for the first time, although I do believe many of the players now were around and could have made a difference to the kind of law we passed and indeed maintained over the years. That law is clear. It names specific organizations from which members of the University Council must come and the manner in which they must so come, ie, that they must be nominated by the said organisation. The Minister of Education is bound to name persons to the council in accordance with the extant law. I cannot sit with the “UG Academic Board and the National Assembly” to come up with names of persons to appoint to the council. The law mandates me to secure from named bodies/organizations nominations of persons to the council who I would then be expected to appoint. To this end the ministry wrote to and contacted the organizations/bodies named in the Act and asked them to nominate persons to serve on the UG Council. The University of Guyana Students’ Society (UGSS), the University of Guyana Workers’ Union (UGWU), the Academic Board and Committee of Deans were written to by the acting Vice- Chancellor, at my request, and invited to name persons to sit on the council and they, without any objection as far as I know, nominated persons to sit on said council to be constituted. It was expected that the organizations/bodies written to would consult with their members before said nominations were made and indeed we have received no complaint that this was not done.
Whether I like the law or not, until it changes I am bound by what exists. I simply do not have the power or the luxury to sit down with the UG Academic Board and/or the National Assembly and arrive at a list of persons to be named to the council. If the law is found to be no longer relevant then we must change it, but until then we are bound by it, and no amount of negotiations or abusive editorials will change the fact that we all are bound by it. I invite the writer of the editorial to refer to the much publicized and often cited decision of the High Court in the Esther Perreira petition. In that case a citizen, Esther Perreira, complained that it was unlawful to ask her and other citizens to produce ID cards as a prerequisite to being allowed to cast a ballot. One of the arguments advanced in defence of Esther Perreira’s petition was that the requirement for an ID card could not have been unlawful as all the political parties in parliament had sat down and after intense discussion and negotiations arrived at this agreed upon formula where the ID card must be produced. The court said categorically that no one or two or ten persons irrespective of their status and/or importance could negotiate and agree not to comply with the law and that if they did then their decision so to do and the consequences thereof would be unlawful. This remains the law of our dear land. So if we now decide that the UGSSA is more important or relevant than the UGWU then we must say in the law that it is the UGSSA that must nominate someone to serve on the council. Until we say that in the law, the UGSSA cannot nominate someone to serve on that council irrespective of how good they are or how much knowledge they have, and if I were to name UGSSA as an organization that must nominate someone to serve on the council, whether it is by agreement or as a result of a petition, I would be acting outside of the law.
Another untruth published in your editorial is “out of the 26 members of the Council, eight form a quorum, and as UGSSA President Patsy Francis has said, this equates to the same number of persons the Ministry of Education can nominate.” This is simply untrue. I invite the Sunday editor to visit the actual law that dictates the composition of the Council.
Another blatant untruth is the suggestion throughout the editorial that it was my “intention clearly not to say anything until the full council was in place” and that I operated “clandestinely” and with “stealth” and was “forced” to disclose that the council had been appointed.
It is public knowledge that the council’s life was coming to an end even before I became Minister. That we were trying to follow the law and have persons nominated to the council was hardly a secret. It is bizarre to conclude that I operated with stealth and clandestinely when we had written letters to the organizations named in the law including National Toshao’s Council, the Private Sector Commission, the Guyana Rice Producers Association the TUC, the UGWU, the UGSS, the Committee of Deans to have nominees named. Indeed I am sure Dr Patsy Francis and her organization would be able to confirm for the Sunday editor that at a meeting I had with them some months ago I indicated clearly that the council had tobe appointed according to law and that it was the bodies named in the law that would be written to for nominations. Additionally, any time I was asked by the press how we intended to appoint the members of the council I was clear that the abovementioned was the process that we would be employing, the last such occasion being at a press conference when the NGSA results were announced. How then could the editorial have reasonably concluded that we had clandestinely proceeded with the appointment of the council and matters connected therewith?
The reason I find the editorial so disturbing and at odds with what the SN holds itself out to be is that in my brief statement to the National Assembly, which clearly was known to the newspaper, I cited the relevant law, which with only the slightest effort could have been found on the world wide web. Additionally, I said clearly that we had sought nominees from the organizations and bodies named in the law. Yet we see this odd publication stating that I as Minister have the ability to nominate 8 persons to the council and further criticizing me for naming a council without consulting persons who cannot by law offer nominees. There was a time when publications by the SN could have been read and not questioned. I wonder now if I can read publications of the SN again without questioning the veracity thereof, and that for me is a most unhappy development. I reiterate my commitment and that of the Ministry of Education to do what is in the best interest of the University of Guyana within the constraints that exist. We look forward to the Trevor Hamilton report that will be examining the governance structures of the university which report incidentally was commissioned under and with the full endorsement of this government.
The gravamen of the editorial was the petition which was presented in the National Assembly last Wednesday, and the fact that Minister Manickchand decided to pre-empt it. That petition did not request that the Minister come to some interim arrangement outside the framework of the law as she seems to believe; it requested that the law – ie, the Act and Statutes of the University of Guyana – be amended to accommodate an interim arrangement whereby the Minister of Education, the UG Academic Board and the National Assembly would be involved in the selection of the members of the council. While we did not quote Dr Patsy Francis in this regard in the editorial, we did do so in our report last Friday, when she said: “She [the Minister] is saying look, we are operating with the law, but that is exactly what we are against; we don’t want that. We want the statutes changed.” As such, therefore, the Minister’s comments above on this subject seem to be tilting at windmills, and do not answer the charge that either she or the government or both were disinclined to engage stakeholders, including the petitioners, on changes to the statutes, and decided to circumvent the parliamentary petition.
It might be added that the petitioners recognized that such a change would be interim pending the completion of the Trevor Hamilton report on the governance structures of the university, which presumably would recommend comprehensive reforms.
As far as a quorum is concerned, the statutes require that it should be one third of the membership. The council members total 26, and according to Dr Francis, one of the overseas bodies from whom the Chancellor nominates a member, no longer exists. Is the Minister saying, therefore, that a quorum is nine persons rather than eight?
In any event, as far as ministerial nominees are concerned, the Minister of Education nominates one member directly, and also identifies 4 NGOs whom she considers are most representative of the interests of women, farmers, Amerindians and business to put forward their nominees. Finally, the Minister nominates 3 who in her view can contribute significantly to the university in the fields of law and medicine. It might be noted that the Minister of Finance also nominates one person as does the party in office. The campus unions have alleged that the nominations for NGO representation on the council have been subject in the past to political partisanship, and when this is taken into account, Dr Francis’s tally is not incorrect, although perhaps the editorial might have indicated that four of the nominations to which she was referring were indirect.