Competent people who have made a contribution in their fields should sit on the University Council

Dear Editor,

I need to bring to the public’s attention the utter deception in the reply of the Minister of Education (‘Sunday editorial failed to publish pertinent facts,‘ SN, July 31) to the editorial of the Sunday Stabroek of July 29 that dealt with the new composition of the UG Council as chosen by Minister Manickchand.

While the 1995 amendment to the University of Guyana Act empowering the Minister of Education to choose eight members of the council directly or indirectly was in itself an undemocratic policy, it does not necessarily mean that the Minister has to choose party people. This is what the amended act did. It gave the power to the Education Minister to choose four NGOs that in his or her opinion were most representative of the interests of farmers, Amerindians, women and business, which in turn would select a nominee each, while the Minister directly selects three nominees who can contribute significantly to the university in the fields of law and medicine.

What the previous Education Ministers have done, including Dr Henry Jeffrey, was not to select the obvious choice but a party person. It is like a law that states that the Sports Minister must give a house lot to a cricketer that in the Minister’s opinion must have served Guyana’s cricket in an outstanding way and the Minister picks someone who never even represented Guyana at the regional level or played at the international level

Since 1995 the PPP government has gotten away with this policy of selecting nominees for their PPP status rather than an outstanding contribution in their respective fields.

The outgoing Vice Chancellor, Professor Lawrence Carrington, days before he left Guyana, gave a public interview to Mr Yesu Persaud on ‘Eye on the Issues’ and he told the funny story of how an attendee at a council meeting informed the gathering that he was from the Minister of Education but was corrected there and then when he was informed by another council member that he represents the Amerindian community.

My friend Gino Persaud told me that Dr Nanda Gopaul asked him to sit on the council as the nominee of the legal profession. The same Dr Gopaul, while he was Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, represented farmers on the council. Wasn’t that a fat, juicy joke?

At the moment, PPP Parliamentarian Bibi Shadick represents the legal profession on the council. This is not only a travesty but a circus. Which person in their right mind sees Bibi Shadick as being a lawyer who has had an outstanding career? The doctors in Guyana do not know that they have a representative on the UG council. That spot at the moment is held by Dr Gansham Singh who remigrated two years ago. Ms Gail Teixeira at the moment sits as the nominee of women‘s rights groups.

As in the case of Bibi Shadick, this is not only a farce but a masquerade.

What Minister Manickchand did not state in her letter and in my opinion this was deliberate, is whether in choosing the new council, she consulted the real women‘s groups in Guyana, and Red Thread obviously comes to mind. Did she have dialogue with the Guyana Bar Association and the Guyana Medical Association? Ms Manickchand would have shouted it from the rooftop if she had done so. And I don’t believe she did. What we have then is the same old story of a council dominated by PPP personnel.

I have been a council member for four years and never, I repeat never, was there ever a council meeting with more than ten voting members being present.

And on every occasion, the PPP appointees were in the majority. They go to meetings just to vote along party lines.

I think it is time to stop the nonsense of selecting people from sectoral communities to sit on the council. You need to have competent people who had or have experience in administration, higher education and have made a significant contribution to their country in their respective fields.

If Parliament wants to retain a position for the farmers, Amerindians, women rights groups, etc, then commonsense dictates that such persons must be competent and have some background in administration and education.

As a matter of urgency, the University of Guyana Act must be amended to take the jurisdiction out of the hands of the Education Minister to choose directly or indirectly around eight council members.

If you want to retain that power, then the Minister’s selections must be done transparently by a decent level of consultation with the respective stakeholder groups. If that was done before, I know for a fact that Bibi Shadick would not have been the choice of the lawyers and Gail Teixeira that of our women‘s groups.

Finally, Minister Manickchand said on Benschop Radio that termination of my contract was a unanimous council vote. She knew very well that wasn’t so because just as she read the SN editorial on UG, there was a similar one when industrial action broke out after four of us were terminated.

All angles of my dismissal were ventilated in the press. These were the persons that voted for the termination: Bibi Shadick, Gail Teixeira, Indra Chandarpal, Nirmal Rekha and Prem Misir. Those voting against were the Vice Chancellor, my Dean, the PNC representative and the student president.

The Chancellor, Compton Bourne did not speak on the issue. If I was invited to the meeting and the TUC representative was there, it would have been a tie. I lost my job at UG because five persons from the PPP decided on that.

Yours faithfully,
Frederick Kissoon

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