The post of Director of IAST was not advertised

Dear Editor,

I am responding to the letter of Prof. Suresh Narine captioned “Virulent criticism in the media is not the way to go, Drs Beharry and Daljeet can offer their services” (07.10.16). I do appreciate Dr. Narine’s presenting his views and frank comments which provided further insights into his mindset, and thinking. Dr. Narine’s deliberation covered a long period and was expected for some time. Although, Dr. Narine considers the case closed, the reading public deserves an analytical account of the principles involved or lack thereof, so that Guyanese can be educated and move forward to addressing the serious challenges ahead.

Starting from first principles, it must be pointed out that the appointment of Dr. Narine as Director of IAST was made by the Hon. President, Mr. B. Jagdeo. This top public position was not advertised locally or internationally. This same issue concerning the nature of his appointment with regards to public transparency, accountability, and the overriding or bypassing of civic jurisdiction was raised by both daily columnists in KN. Mr. Eusi Kwayana, with his usual outstanding foresight and moral courage, also questioned the validity of two other then proposed high profile arbitrary appointments by President Jagdeo; these were also without even the semblance of due process.

However Dr. Narine’s account and justification for the whole process read as follows:

“When President Jagdeo challenged me to repay my debt to Guyana by helping to resuscitate IAST, I found no moral or ethical impediments to agreeing to function as IAST’s director. I still do not. Maybe Messrs. Daljeet and Beharry are not aware of the practice of appointment of qualified scientists from abroad as directors of institutes in foreign countries; examples abound in Africa, Asia, Europe and Central America. The reasons are many and valid.”

Dr. Narine’s appointment as Director of IAST is in a functional capacity (not an honorary or advisory or ceremonial one). This invalidates his argument of ‘no moral or ethical impediments’ because this appointment method was denied public scrutiny and/or due process.

Dr. Narine, however left out another salient fact to justify his own appointment in citing the above-mentioned international appointments. That is because Dr. Narine’s own appointment process lacks due process as is customary in most western democratic countries, whereas his appointment was dictatorially imposed. This method of appointment (of expertly qualified western personnel) is employed generally only by dictatorial regimes and or in non-democratic non-western countries.

Apparently, Dr. Narine had and still does not see anything ‘moral or ethically’ wrong with an enforced political appointment by President Jagdeo. Consequently, Dr. Narine is apparently also unaware that by accepting a political appointment, he has unwittingly become a ‘political appointee’ – since he serves at the sole pleasure and will of the President. The applied science Professor has entered the public political arena and is also subject to public scrutiny and criticisms.

By virtue of his position, the Director of IAST has also become an active science and technology policy maker and/or participant in the Govt.’s policies, priorities, and actions and he is therefore again also subject to public scrutiny and questioning by parliamentary and or civic society. My contention is that appointment of any expert-technical advisor should also be non-partisan and/or non-political and again subject to public scrutiny and oversight, and certainly not by Presidential decree. It is expected in a functioning democracy that research and development (R&D) and the applications of science and technology, should be properly done, and not be subjected to political whims and fancies of any one person.

Dr. Narine has informed us that he intends to employ existing technology rather than doing any basic research – probably because of the financial realities.

I have never been able to access the detailed Govt. plans and/or roles for Science and Technology for the development of Guyana. In the absence of any publicly accessible imaginative vision and detailed plan, I concluded that Science and Technology and R&D (for whatever reasons) are very low or absent on the written/unwritten list of priorities of the Govt.

Since there is apparently no public or civic oversight, who is therefore setting the science/technology policies, direction and projects? Is Dr. Narine and/or President Jagdeo arbitrarily deciding individually the direction(s) (and hence the projects) that the IAST will do and should do? Should the Minister (whosoever that may be and if that position exists), responsible for Science and Technology, not be the person announcing policies and directions according to Guyana’s developmental needs? Should this not be before Parliament since it has to be budgeted for by the respected Hon. Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh?

Again since the whole process lacks public or civic oversight, would Dr. Narine please tell the nation what policies of Science and Technology he is currently pursuing? Also, if funding is dependent on Presidential discretion would this not subject the Institute to the political whims of the President? Would the directions and or projects change with every new director? Since there seems to be no functional Board or Review Panel, who does the Director answer to – President, Mr. Jagdeo?

There are local ably-qualified Guyanese who are competent to run an institution like IAST. The local person would not be an absentee Director, but would be on site to deal with the day to day routines and problems. Why were other Guyanese not ‘invited’ to apply? Did Dr. Narine ask the President why a local candidate or overseas full-time candidate could not be found? Is political loyalty or seeming easy compliance a prerequisite for Presidential approval?

IAST is on UG’s campus. It is a very short walk to the science, engineering and technology departments of UG to see what is/was occurring in light of the numerous public criticisms in the press. Just where does Dr. Narine expect to get the trained intellectual and/or properly technical proficient personnel to work at IAST or anywhere else in Guyana in the proposed adaptive technology projects? Has Dr. Narine spoken with the Science, and Engineering and Technology personnel and asked how they can contribute and what are their needs? Professors/ researchers have waited years for their approved minuscule grants and they are starved for funding and laboratory space, etc.

Has Dr. Narine asked why so many ably-qualified personnel leave and return overseas after experiencing disappointment and frustration in Guyana? There were a lot of ably-qualified Guyanese who came to UG and/or Guyana (at the invitation of the late Dr C. Jagan) also with the same intent of helping Guyana, but left soon after. They too also explored every possible avenue and gave up in frustration. Most of these ably-qualified personnel were initially sympathetic towards a ‘democratic’ PPP.

Clearly the consequential deficiencies of an absentee IAST Director were made public – with the seeming lack of direction to do lead-testing on toys manufactured in China. This seeming unawareness of what is going on the world stage is striking. Is protection of the people part of the science mandate of IAST? The new publicly embarrassing IAST policy announcing a rejection to public inquiries on behalf of the citizens was not consistent with practices in normal western democratic countries. Maybe, Dr. Narine also has no problem with such policy changes.

After reading Dr. Narine’s letter, it dawned upon me that he does not have the benefit of my experience, that is the experience of working with the Students, Staff, and Faculty of UG under the most repressive and disturbing learning and teaching/research conditions.

Prof. Joshua Ramsammy (UG) has been my inspiring role model of a high profile scientist in the service of
the people i.e. having a committed sense of social responsibility that included a moral and ethical obligation to speak and act on behalf of the people without fear and/or favor. This attitude is best encapsulated in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

Yours faithfully,

Seelochan Beharry

Editor’s note

We are sending a copy of this letter to Professor Suresh Narine for any comments he may wish to make.

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