On Monday, June 13, the WPA learned of President David Granger’s intention to terminate Dr Rupert Roopnaraine’s tenure as Minister of Education, and to move him to the Department of Public Service within the Ministry of the Presidency. The President certainly could not be accused of sensitivity in terms of the timing of this intimation, considering it was the anniversary of Walter Rodney’s assassination. It can only be presumed, therefore, that as a military man he regards these political details as an unnecessary interruption to the smooth flow of implementing what he wants to do.
The WPA is, of course, in alliance with the PNCR and others under the APNU umbrella, and the Ministry of Education was the ministry it was allocated. Given the political understandings, the matter of prior consultation with the WPA about transferring Dr Roopnaraine becomes an issue. Minister Joseph Harmon told the media last week that the President did “consult” with Chairperson of the party Desmond Trotman as well as the Leader of the AFC, although it seems from his own words which followed, that it was more a question of being “contacted” and “advised” than being consulted as such.
For his part, Dr Roopnaraine told reporters on Thursday that he personally was consulted, although he did not request his reassignment; “You serve at the president’s discretion,” he said. When asked why there were no consultations with his party, he responded that the place for these was at a meeting of the APNU executive committee which has not been convening regularly.
That the WPA perceived there had been a deficit in terms of consultation was eventually acknowledged by the Ministry of the Presidency yesterday when it issued a press release indicating that the party’s executive had requested a meeting on the matter of their Co-Leader’s change of portfolio, and that it had complained about lack of consultation. (It should be noted, however, that the President was reported as saying he had consulted, suggesting a hiatus between popular and military definitions.)
That meeting was held at State House, and Minister Harmon was reported as commenting that its tone was cordial, that the WPA remained a strong element in the “partnership” and that there was respect for the President’s decision. Nevertheless, for all Mr Harmon’s assurances (at the time of writing the WPA had issued no statement), the fact that there was no meeting before Dr Roopnaraine was reassigned, and that the party had to request one after the deed was done, speaks volumes.
As far as the PNC is concerned, of course, the WPA brought no votes of any consequence to the ‘partnership’; it just brought its reputation and history, which could help the larger political party refurbish its image. Once ensconced within the APNU framework, however, the reputation of the WPA is more affected by the PNC than the other way around, and the latter no doubt feels it has little need to take account of the former.
Whatever the reason for Dr Roopnaraine’s removal to Shiv Chanderpaul Drive – and poor health has been brooked as a distinct possibility – there can be little doubt, as was suggested by a correspondent to this newspaper yesterday, that this is a demotion for the former Minister of Education, and by extension, therefore, a diminishing of the status of the WPA within the coalition. The Education Ministry is one of the most demanding portfolios in the Cabinet, because it is one of the most complex, and no minister, however boundless their energy, technical their knowledge or determined their spirit, is going to make a sudden improvement there; that will require time, patience, sustained effort and the kind of human resources it lacks at present.
While there is a political dimension to this transferral, far more critical is the education question, and who is to be appointed to replace Dr Roopnaraine. The answer, it appears, is Junior Minister Nicolette Henry, whose less than stellar performance to date in Sport and Culture hardly recommends her for preferment. A grasp of educational issues apart, the one thing that is an essential qualification for any Education Minister is a talent for administration. At least where that is concerned, Ms Henry has not distinguished herself, as her blundering management of the Jubilee celebrations amply demonstrates. And here she is put to run arguably the most complicated ministry in the country.
It appears, however, that the President has hived off a part of the ministry – or more properly has created a new department in the Ministry of the Presidency which will develop policies and programmes for the long-term development of the education sector. In yesterday’s release the Minister of State was quoted as saying, “The COI [Commission of Inquiry into Education] pointed to that fact and what the President extracted out of that was that what was needed was some entity which did not burden the Minister of Education in dealing with matters going forward ‒ innovation, reforms and so on, in the education sector.”
The release reported the WPA executive as being happy about it and recognizing that it was a good move, but whether that is so or not, it is not at all clear how this would work. Cramming the Ministry of the Presidency with yet more departments, and by implication giving the President further major direct oversight responsibilities, does not appear to be the most efficient way to run a government. In addition, it is difficult to see how such a department sited in a different ministry and answerable to a different head will work with the Ministry of Education to implement reforms.
But that takes us back to the matter of this government and how it sees consultation. Aside from a session with the media in April, when a small part of the contents of the CoI were revealed, no one has any idea of what is in the report. It has not been released to the public, so it is not available for discussion by professionals or anyone else. And this is despite the fact that education affects everybody, and that many people have an investment in it at a direct level. Yet here we have the President making major changes to the structure of the Education Ministry, which Minister Harmon has told the media is based on what is in the CoI – a document that to all intents and purposes, is not far from secret.
What is the government so afraid of that the rest of us cannot be allowed to see the report of the CoI, and that it cannot be subject to public debate and discussion? Is the government trying to insulate itself from other opinions?