Are these critics entitled to criticize Dr Narine?

Dear Editor,

The recent letters attacking Professor Suresh Narine in the press, which have been written by Drs. Daljeet and Beharry are provoking, to say the least. Dr. Narine’s response to these two obviously very bitter men was statesmanlike, professional, and placatory. Instead of taking the opportunity provided by Dr. Narine to engage in meaningful dialogue, Dr. Daljeet penned a shallow response captioned “Our scientific institutions cannot develop without the proper equipment” (07.10.21). Apparently, these men know of only one way to encourage governments to invest in science and technology – that is, to attack them in the newspapers and anyone else who attempts to help in this sector. What makes these two gentlemen feel that they have somehow the only answer to Guyana’s obvious problems with underfunding in the science and technology sector? Somehow, just because Dr. Narine has not written in the newspapers about underfunding, these men, who lay claim to be academics, conclude that he has not been lobbying the Government of Guyana to improve funding? All these two have accomplished with all of their belly-aching and attacking is to look silly and cause a lot of pain to someone who I believe has done more for science and technology development in Guyana than most. I know Dr. Narine personally, and I know how perturbed, hurt and annoyed he became over what these two people have written. If they succeed in frustrating him to the point that he leaves Guyana, Guyana and Guyanese will be the losers.

I have visited, as has the media and many other members of the public, the pilot facilities for producing biodiesel at the IAST, and I have seen photographs of the facility built in Wauna. I have driven in vehicles powered by biodiesel produced by the IAST. All Guyanese attending the recently concluded biofuels conference in Guyana were proud when most of the delegates and particularly the IDB, IICA and the CTA lauded Dr. Narine’s efforts with biodiesel. Indeed, there is a proposal for the IAST to build a number of the pilot plants developed locally, for Haiti and some African countries. And Dr. Daljeet declares that we do not actually produce biodiesel in Guyana. This is untrue, and these gentlemen should not be allowed to publish untruths in the media.

I have become interested in why these gentlemen would be so bitter. I have seen them in the media refer to each other, and they have been referred to by Professor Frederick Kissoon, as professors and academics. So, I did some research on them. Seelochan Beharry is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Robert Molday at the University of British Columbia. He is hardly a Professor; he simply works as a technician and researcher in the laboratory of a professor. Most universities disallow people to be postdoctoral fellows for more than five years after attainment of their Ph.D. A mature person, Seelochan Beharry clearly has been stuck in a holding pattern for long past the time when he should have graduated into a faculty position. Anand Daljeet has no appointment whatsoever in academia. The information on Seelochan Beharry’s appointment can be found on the internet at http://www. biochem.ubc.ca/fac_research/faculty/molday.html and I would be most pleased if Anand Daljeet can offer a rebuttal to the information I have provided that he is not employed in academia. It is interesting that these two people feel they can attack the integrity and approach of Dr. Suresh Narine, who became an Associate Professor at the age of 29 (the youngest at the University of Alberta). Furthermore, Dr. Narine is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades for his research and teaching. He is clearly an exceptionally accomplished young scientist, and heads the world’s leading research program in lipid science at the University of Alberta.

Not only in Canada has Dr. Narine proven himself: he has done so resoundingly in Guyana as well.

Yours faithfully,

A. Persaud

Editor’s note

We sent this letter to Drs Daljeet and Beharry for their comments and received the following response:

(Dr Daljeet’s response)

“Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to respond to the letter of A. Persaud.

Let me say up front, I absolutely do not have any problems with Dr. Suresh Narine personally or with his academic qualifications. Dr. Suresh Narine has high academic standing and is in a good position in promoting the food industry of Guyana.

I do however write on the undemocratic procedures and methods employed by President Jagdeo and the PPP and the compounded effects it has on people who are knowingly or unknowingly drawn into its destructive political culture.

My letter “Our scientific institution cannot develop without the proper instrumentation” is an account of the reasons why we are descending into the continuous path of underdevelopment. It has devastated each generation of Guyanese since independence from improving, maintaining and making progress with our vast wealth of natural resources.

Both the PPP and PNC have sought to enshrine themselves with the propaganda of doing science in the press rather than creating the conditions and doing practical science. There is a vast difference. The propaganda of doing science in the press needs people who are politicians rather than scientists which means that the ruling political party has to dictatorially impose administrators to “do science” in the press without equipping laboratories, providing facilities or providing a platform to do science. It is a retrogressive situation.

For an illustration Guyana is blessed with sunshine, blessed with good wind power on the coast yet we do not have a functioning Physics Department at UG to bring us up to task in employing these sustainable energy sources. Bio-diesel is now in vogue in North America,( where there is a relatively cheap source of available electricity) is cost and energy inefficient in Guyana and will need heavy Government incentive to survive as is the case in North America for bio-diesel as an alternative fuel.

The process of forcing the government through the press or media to fund and or equip our national research scientific institutions (IAST, NARI. UG) came about because all avenues of improving, maintaining or making progress are severely hampered by the fact that the people who head these public institutions were appointed through a non- transparent process, not via an independent board or council but by a process that overrides all civic jurisdictions. It was done by the President of Guyana, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo. Simply, the democratic processes we were expecting in public appointments to these public institutions are not there.

I know from my experience at UG as a Senior Lecturer in Chemistry these appointed Government officials ( e.g The Vice Chancellor of UG Dr. James Rose) cannot convince the Government to improve the University of Guyana. Since they were imposed by the President of Guyana, they have in turn thwarted every effort of the most ably qualified professionals who have tried to contribute to the development of Guyana.

The only way to force the issue is to bring it to the press and highlight all the undemocratic undermining of the national development processes. We cannot wait for a new generation of Guyanese to suffer the same catastrophic growing pains. It has been a national disaster.

If a person such as Dr. Narine accepted an appointment by the President of Guyana at IAST that lacks transparency, he cannot in turn complain about another enforced political appointment such as the Vice Chancellor at the University of Guyana.

Sure enough anybody, and I do mean anybody can make bio-diesel. Farmers in North America make it in their barns. Bio-diesel should be part of high school chemistry labs curriculum where possible. It is not difficult to do.

Making bio-diesel as a plant process, however, there are major concerns such as cost, yield, parameters ( source of reactants, dry methanol, inert atmosphere (n
itrogen) quality, etc ), standards, safety and the potential that if the standards are not met it might be unsuitable for a diesel vehicle. Plant development process needs to be fine tuned and have quality control throughout the industrial process.

IAST has been bare

as far back as 2003.

For all the fourth year UG Chemistry projects I had to transport make-shift glass- ware (UG) and utensils such as magnetic stir bars ( Mr. G. Mendonza’s stock), tubing ( bought by Mr. A Bhulai from his own money ) and the usual mal-functioning hot plate / stirrer from UG which never seemed to work- from UG lab to IAST lab to do a simple distillation. The reason for using the IAST facility was that it has the only functional fume hood on campus and a temperamental vacuum pump.

The point being stressed here is that there was no equipment and facilities at IAST (then).

The simple truth is that the only reason why Dr. Narine will probably leave (or maybe look for an exit strategy) is because the science based infrastructure, facilities and the equipment are not there in Guyana for a simple project like production of bio-diesel. He wants to paint us a reason for any possible failure of the project and for his leaving in the future.

This is living in denial that it is President Jagdeo and the PPP and their policies that are the main cause for the continued under-developmental status of Guyana.

I have made it quite clear to all my former students, fellow colleagues in the Chemistry Department at UG and anyone that I do know –that since leaving UG, I have been unable to find another academic appointment. This is the truth and everyone knows it -it is not hidden.”

*********

Dr Beharry’s response

“Thanks for the opportunity to comment on the letter by Mr. /Ms. A. Persaud.

Firstly, I would like to make it clear that Prof. Suresh Narine personally is not the issue. I have great respect and admiration for Dr. Narine with regards to his personal achievements and accomplishments. All Guyanese take great pride when one of us excels. Like most Guyanese he also wants to contribute to his homeland. I do not question his motive.

Dr. S. Narine’s efforts in a private capacity would have been praised and received my personal congratulations and gratitude. Unfortunately, his appointment is tainted because of the political process that was involved. His appointment by a Board of Directors would not have been questioned and he would have deserved all due respect owing to his office.

Guyana, unfortunately is a place where everything is skewed or viewed according to one’s politics. What I do question is the appropriateness of the situation, since others were there long before either Dr. Narine or I appeared on the scene. These local scientists already feel alienated, so if someone comes and is fully funded, they must rightfully ask why? The very appearance of partiality is very insensitive and hurtful. That is the political reality of the situation in Guyana.

The situation is best demonstrated as outlined below: Wherever I went in Guyana, the question always was: ‘Why are you here Dr. Beharry?’ I would then reply: Why, I am just working at UG. Their response was that: ‘you overseas guys come in, join the Govt, and exploit us.’ They always wanted to know what business I was really into! They thought that I was into some scam or the other. It took a while to convince them I was just there to teach their kids.

Those questions and accusatory looks haunted me, and caused me to begin asking questions about what is going on. I had to face the realities. The rest is history now.

Let me reiterate that I have high personal regards for Dr. Narine. My personal wishful thinking was that if his Excellency President, Mr. B. Jagdeo makes one ‘good’ Presidential appointment it would have been the appointment of Dr. Narine as VC of UG. I believe that he would do a better job than the current office holder since he fully understands the importance of a sound university education in the development of a country.

I wish Dr. Narine all the best in his scientific endeavours and enterprises in Guyana.”

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