The Geetanjali Singh issue is about women being able to work in the field of their choice

Dear Editor,

 

Geetanjali Singh is an attractive but unassuming woman. She initially appears very quiet and will perhaps never be in anyone’s face. She is a dedicated wife to a busy, professional husband. She is easily one of the best young mothers I know whose children enjoy pride of place on her agenda. In fact I aspire to be as good a mother as she is. She is the epitome of the woman of yesteryear.  She is the kind of woman where her husband will take centre stage in her life and where her role is to look after him and their children. This Geetanjali Singh, however, is truly a phenomenal woman. She is all of the above. She is also a Chartered Accountant, and one of two Audit Directors at the Audit Office of Guyana.

Traditionally women were seen as good for nursing and teaching and other great but motherly positions. That has changed. We can now be anything we want to be. Or so we are told.  There should be no glass ceilings on our dreams. As a human being, an individual separate and apart from the parents who made her and from the man she married, Ms Singh, like every other woman, ought to be entitled to a career of her choice. She should be entitled to choose where she wants to work and the only obstacles that should be in her way are vacancy, qualifications and ability.

Amazingly, there are other women, seven in total, who serve with her in that office in the capacity of Audit Managers. They too have qualifications in Accounting and Finance. I salute them.

Ms Geetanjali Singh is being pilloried by the Alliance for Change, and its cohorts like Anand Goolsarran. Carl Greenidge, the financial shadow of the PNC/APNU has also called for her removal. They insist that she must go as her being in the Audit Office is a conflict of interest because her husband is the Minister of Finance. A conflict of interest is defined by Business Dictionary.com thus:  a situation in which a party’s responsibility to a second-party limits its ability towards discharge [of] its responsibility to a third-party.

In other words as an Audit Director, Ms Singh has a responsibility to the state and people of Guyana to audit books or manage that process fairly. If her relationship to Ashni Singh, Minister of Finance, prevents her from doing this, then she would be in an actual conflict of interest position. One may argue that because she is his wife, that relationship could limit her ability to discharge her responsibility fairly as far as it relates to her doing her auditing business regarding the Ministry of Finance. And I think that is a fair argument.

It has been made clear, however, that Ms Geetanjali Singh does no work that involves her husband or any of the agencies he is involved in, heads or manages. She has recused herself and is recused from doing any work (audits, supervision of audits, management of audits, review of audits…) regarding agencies in which her husband is involved. I have asked her and this is what she has said. She has said that all the officers in the office are prevented from auditing the accounts of agencies of which their spouse or relatives are the head or who even work there. In other words no woman can audit, supervise an audit, manage an audit or review an audit if her husband works at a place that is being audited. I believe her. She is by far more believable than Mr Greenidge who is yet to submit audited accounts for all the years he was Minister of Finance. She is far more believable than Mr Goolsarran who worked for 10 years under the PNC regime in the Auditor General’s office and accepted a promotion to Auditor General and during that time he remained silent regarding the PNC administration’s failure to be accountable and transparent by having updated audited accounts for government offices.

But forget what I believe, there is no evidence in the possession of or produced by these parties who are parroting this sensational thing about conflict of interest, to suggest that Ms Geetanjali Singh does not recuse herself from auditing, supervising, managing and/or reviewing work/accounts/business of which her husband is a part, or that she in any way contributes to any bias in the audits of agencies that have to do with her Minister of Finance husband. In fact, the work of the Audit Office is subject to oversight by a Parliamentary Committee chaired by the opposition spokesperson on finance, Mr Greenidge. That committee is the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Dr Ashni Singh became Minister in September 2006 and between then and 2011 throughout the chairmanship of Winston Murray and Volda Lawrence at no point did the PAC have cause to express any concerns whatsoever about the function of the Audit Office or Geetanjali’s discharge of her duties. It is only after the assumption of the chairmanship by Mr Greenidge that this has become an issue.  Perhaps this is evidence that Mr Murray and Ms Lawrence are far more advanced in their thinking about women and their rights than Mr Greenidge.

The purpose of this cry from Mr Goolsarran, the Alliance for Change, and Mr Greenidge has very little to do with Ms Singh. They know that she is fully qualified and capable and that in fact she is an asset to the Audit Office. The effort here is to embarrass the government and governing party, to paint them as corrupt and lawless and hopefully by so doing weaken the government with the ultimate aim of removing it from office.  And if they have to damage the reputation of a good, young, capable, professional woman who put herself through school and became a qualified woman, then so be it.

I suppose all of that would be relatively understandable, acceptable even, in this game of politics. And I wouldn’t be worried at all nor would I feel compelled to write this letter because I know at some point, given that Guyanese are a discerning people, this is going to be exposed for what it is and that would be the end of that. I know that not too far off people are going to start seeing Mr Goolsarran’s own conflict of interest and the duplicity of the Alliance for Change. People are going to wonder how come having publicly declared his friendship with Mr Ramjattan and having been nominated by the Alliance for Change to sit on the Public Procurement Commission as their representative, he now presents himself as impartial. People are going to wonder how come he and Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) know all these things about conflict of interest and transparency but he and TIGI said not a word regarding the Hughes’ glaring conflict of interest in the Sithe Global fiasco, a conflict that the chairman of the party himself admitted, apologised for and offered a resignation, which was refused.

People are going to wonder how come this man and his organisation claim to be independent and interested in transparency but we heard not a peep from Mr Goolsarran and his organization regarding the improper behaviour of the attorney and foreman of the jury during the Lusignan murder trial. It was subsequently discovered that the foreman had been a former client of Mr Nigel Hughes which they failed to disclose. People would expect to hear loud denunciations from the Goolsarrans and others who claim to be upholders of Guyana’s conscience and from all bodies calling themselves anything with the word “transparency” in their name. Yet weeks later we have heard nothing.

People are going to know that Mr Goolsarran is really speaking as a partisan person on behalf of the AFC but hiding behind the skirt tail of the TIGI. My real complaint lies in the fact that this course of action against Ms Singh to pitch her out of her employment just so that they could bring down the government has far reaching, dangerous consequences for women all over Guyana and every woman, every women’s rights group and every person who believes in the equality of women and promotion of their rights and freedoms must rise up against this.

In the world today a large per cent of the top positions are held by men.  In Guyana, while no law stops women from holding these positions, it is mostly men you will find at the top of agencies. Research done by the documentation centre MHLSSS says that 95 % of all private companies are headed by men. This picture is only slightly better in the public agencies.

So, it follows and indeed is true that most state agencies are headed by men. I have already said that Ms Geetanjali Singh does not audit/supervise/manage any accounts or do any work that involves her husband, Minister Ashni Singh. But if we say, as Mr Goolsarran and the AFC and Mr Greenidge are asking, that she can do no other work in the office because one or more of the agencies audited by other staff in the department is/are headed by her husband, then we are in effect saying women who have husbands in top positions or indeed spouses who work in state agencies, cannot choose to work in the Audit Office of Guyana.

We can say further that young girls who may have or want to have partners in men who reach their zenith in the country and are at the top of a particular auditable agency, are immediately denied the choice of a profession. Or they can choose. They simply cannot want to be an auditor, audit clerk, audit supervisor, audit manager or audit director in the Audit Office of Guyana. That dream must die for them.

If we allow Mr Goolsarran to have his way regarding Ms Singh, we are saying that the other woman Audit Manager whose husband works in the army, although she is recused from auditing, supervising or managing the audit of the army and its business, cannot work in the Audit Office irrespective of what her dream is and how qualified she is.

And we would be saying that the next female Audit Manager whose husband works at Lands and Surveys, that she too cannot work in the Audit Office, irrespective of her achievements, because the agency that her husband works at is being audited by the Audit Office. It matters not how good an auditor/supervisor/manager/ a woman is, if her husband works at or heads up an auditable agency, that woman would be disallowed from working in the Audit Office of Guyana. We would in effect be saying that it is alright for a man to dream to be head of an agency, go to school, study for that, work and get there and be the head of an agency but a girl or woman cannot dream to work at the Audit Office because if she chooses a partner who works at or heads an auditable agency, she would have to sacrifice her ambition and dreams and stifle her ability. This would be her fate simply because of who she married/partnered with.

How backward is that? If we let Messrs Goolsarran and Greenidge, TIGI and the AFC have their way, this is exactly what we would be saying to the women of Guyana.  One may want to argue that men too would not be able to work there if their wives head an agency but in today’s world, where it is mostly men who occupy top positions, women are more likely to be the victims of this backward decision than men. If we were to let Messrs Goolsarran, Greenidge, AFC and TIGI have their way we would have just placed a glass ceiling on women yet again. The glass ceiling is “the unseen, yet unbreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of a particular ladder, [such as an Audit Director] regardless of their qualifications or achievements.”

To the aged and unenlightened, Carl Greenidge and Anand Goolsarran, I say awaken. It is a new world where women count and where they are encouraged to work and work in a field of their choice. They should be able to dream both of having a partner who can fulfil his dreams by being whatever he wants to be as well as dream to be and themselves be, whatever they want to be. They should not be punished for being married to a man who heads up or works at an auditable agency.

To the political parties who are pushing for this woman’s resignation and/or re-assignment, I say stop and embrace the rights of women to enjoy a profession of their choice. I call on the women of the parties to quietly speak to your men who you have allowed to lead this process so far and tell them that this is simply not acceptable.

The AFC has not really done anything on the front of fighting for women’s rights. On the other hand, the women in the PNC have fought for change on the women’s rights front and indeed have gotten change from which we have all benefited and for which we are all grateful. I plead with you not to let these anachronistic men in your party snatch the gains we have made as a gender and as a country.

 

Yours faithfully,
Priya Manickchand

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