Regulations, transfers and plain old taradiddle

At a sitting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Monday last, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education Vibert Welch put a spoke in the wheel of Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region Five Ovid Morrison, when he told the Members of Parliament who make up the committee that the Education Ministry does not have a policy to withhold salaries from teachers who travel overseas.

Mr Morrison had made this claim last week, after his action against Region Five teachers resulted in them mounting a massive protest there and vowing to keep up the pressure until he desisted. Mr Morrison then claimed that what he had done was supported by a regulation. He was later challenged by the Guyana Teachers Union to produce evidence of this rule, since no one had ever seen or heard of it. He has not done so to date. However, Mr Welch’s response to questions raised at the PAC hearing, hung Mr Morrison’s canard out to dry. “If they’re going overseas for leave, obviously they would have had permission to go overseas. We wouldn’t withhold salaries or anything for them,” Mr Welch was quoted as saying; and quite rightly so, because vacation leave in the public service refers to paid leave.

Well since this so-called ‘regulation’ does not exist at the Education Ministry, where does it exist? At the level of the regional administration? If it does, why has it not been enforced before now? And if it doesn’t then everything points to Mr Morrison introducing a bit of fiction to cover what can only be described as an act of autocracy.

It was Minister of State Joseph Harmon, who informed the media last week, that not so long ago Mr Morrison, who as REO is the financial officer for Region Five, was himself before the PAC. Harmon had related at last week’s post-Cabinet briefing that after Mr Morrison’s attendance at the PAC where he was faced with providing an explanation for expenditure of about $80 million in overpayment to teachers, the REO had returned to the region and reportedly found the regulation regarding the salaries and decided to enforce it. If this is indeed the case, then Mr Morrison ought to have been able to immediately make this regulation public, so where is it?

To put this situation in context, one must recall that Mr Morrison only took over as REO in July last year. His appointment followed the transfer of former REO Mr Roderick Edinboro to Region Seven. According to Chairman of Region Five Vickchand Ramphal, Mr Edinboro’s transfer came after criticisms about his performance from councillors were taken to the Ministry of Communities. Mr Ramphal confirmed Mr Edinboro’s transfer on July 10, 2016, stating that it took effect on July 6 and that Mr Morrison was slated to take up the position.

Prior to that Mr Morrison had been named as one of 33 honorary advisors to the government. He had earlier (in August 2012) appeared in this newspaper identified as a member of the PNCR North American Chapter. He was reportedly a former resident of Mahaicony and it would appear that he is no stranger to the region.

Apparently, Mr Morrison is also no stranger to obfuscation. In April, he had summoned Nurse Sherlyn Marks to express his disapproval at her going to the press over the Carol Joseph pain medication fiasco at the Fort Wellington Hospital in Region Five as well as his displeasure that her letter of complaint on the issue had not been sent to him.

Nurse Marks’s letter, addressed to then Minister of Health Dr George Norton, had been sent through Regional Health Officer Dr Stephen Chefoon and Acting Ward Sister of the Fort Wellington Hospital Matron Lyken. It was carbon copied to Director of Regional Health Services Dr Kay Shako, Chief Medical Officer Dr Shamdeo Persaud, Chief Nursing Officer Taramattie Barker, Region Five Chairman Vickchand Ramphal and former Permanent Secretary Trevor Thomas. Nurse Marks had also told this newspaper that although she had neglected to carbon copy Mr Morrison on the letter, she had taken a copy to his office and left it with his secretary.

Nevertheless, later that same day, Nurse Marks had received a letter signed by Mr Morrison, which read: “Approval is hereby given for you to be transferred from Fort Wellington Hospital to the Bath/Experiment Health Centre with effect from 20th April 2017…” It also stated that the reason for the transfer was “in an effort to establish good vaccination coverage within this catchment area.” Nurse Marks had said that she never asked for a transfer, so clearly, starting the letter with “Approval is hereby given…” points, at the very least, to equivocation on the part of Mr Morrison.

But it was Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence who unwittingly revealed Mr Morrison’s obliquity, when she was asked for an update on the issue last week. The minister said she had been informed that Nurse Marks had breached public service rules and her file had since been sent to the Department of Public Service for action. One can only draw the inference then that Nurse Marks was not transferred in order to widen vaccination coverage, but because she was in breach of her work contract.

Similarly, while teachers may breach their contracts and abandon their posts after going off on vacation, withholding salaries they have already worked for or are entitled to as part of paid leave is draconian and pretending there is a policy that allows you to do so, while inventive, is just plain wrong. If the Ministry of Communities maintains its modus operandi, Mr Morrison would be next in line for a transfer, given his seeming penchant for mendacity.

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