Staff cannot work at UG under threat of being fired at whim

Dear Editor,

The University of Guyana opened its doors at a time (October 1963) when our leaders had the capacity for big dreams, and had the hearts and minds to match those dreams, even if they couldn’t escape being manipulated into remaining divided.  And it was a time too when ordinary Guyanese could rally behind their leaders in a mutual quest for the big issues.

Since then, there have been all sorts of Guyanese ‘types.’  For starters, there are those who like President Donald Ramotar and Dr Roger Luncheon, and very unlike the late President Cheddi Jagan, do not regard the University of Guyana (UG) as an important national institution.  These Guyanese might even be prepared to allow UG to collapse, given their insistence that UG is not the business of the government, even though government in significant part determines whether UG has the resources that it needs, whether it gets World Bank funds, whether it employs someone, whether it dismisses someone, and indeed whether it is a relevant and effective institution or not.  To these gentlemen we say that human capital is still a major determinant of growth and development, and we remind them that UG is in fact about the creation of human capital.

Then there are those who like UG Chancellor, Prof Compton Bourne, having migrated from Guyana, have ignored our laws and cabinet decisions in the execution of duties that affect the lives, livelihoods and prospects of Guyanese who reside here, working for a better Guyana, paying taxes, voting, and striving to escape poverty.  While the UG Council might have fired Mr Frederick Kissoon on “strictly academic considerations“ as averred by the Pro-Chancellor, Dr Prem Misir, the UG Act and Statutes are clear on the process that should have been followed prior to any termination of his contract.  The fact that Statute 25 was ignored means that Prof Bourne did not execute his duties as the chief custodian of the UG Act and Statutes, and therefore we can longer have confidence in him or his judgement  in matters to do the with the University of Guyana.

We also wish to draw attention to a Cabinet decision contained in a document signed by none other than Dr Roger Luncheon in June 1998.  More specifically, the Cabinet, after considering the memorandum CP(98)6:1:F submitted by the then Minister of Education, approved and accepted the Recommendation (No 36) of the Presidential Commission on the University of Guyana to, “Make sure that dismissal procedures conform to Statute 25 and to the requirements of natural justice.”  It is now for Dr Luncheon to say if there was any subsequent Cabinet decision that overturned this one.

The members of the UG administration are Guyanese of a special sort.  They are comfortable that their mandate, as they understand it, allows them to fix toilets on campus and to withhold salaries, though it doesn’t even allow them to agree to conciliation talks on difficult issues.  We do not share the administration’s understanding of its mandate, and believe that they are grateful for the opportunity to abdicate the responsibilities entrusted to them by the UG Act and Statutes, management norms, and simple decency.  And we are disgusted that this administration, while refusing to negotiate with the unions ‘under duress’ (though there was really no duress) would however demand that UG workers return to work even though any one of us can now be fired on the spot, or our contracts arbitrarily reduced, the recommendation of the Appointments Committee notwithstanding.

To the UG administration we wish to say that its position is ridiculous, especially since the dilapidated state of UG daily throws up risks to life and limb for all of us who work there.  It reminds us of the time when we visited Dr Prem Misir in his Pere Street office, only for the security guard to padlock us in the building.  We complained both to the security guard and to Dr Misir’s secretary, citing the clear risks and probable breaches of the fire code, but to no avail.  In fact, Dr Misir had already had his staff padlocked in when we arrived.  Well, we refused to remain in the building and left, and it was only then that instructions were issued for the padlock to be left open while we were in the building.

To all and sundry, we wish to say that we will not work at UG under threat of being fired at any moment, for any reason, by a Council that totally disregards the due process afforded by the UG Act and Statutes and the principles of natural justice.

And now we thank all of those people who have chosen to see things as we do, to rally behind us, and to record their support publicly and privately.  We need you more and we need more of you because as Prof Rory Fraser just said to us so tearfully a few moments ago, the issues at hand are of extreme national importance.  Perhaps more so than in October 1963.

Yours faithfully,
Thomas B Singh
On behalf of Operation Rescue UG

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