At a recent hearing of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), members learnt, or rather were officially informed, that Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) has a significant staff deficit and that the 204 vacancies included teachers, nurses and doctors. Regional Executive Officer (REO) Roderick Edinboro, who was answering questions posed by members of the PAC as regards the functioning of the regional administration, was reported as saying that the professionals employed in those fields as well as administrative staff were usually forced to “double up” (do twice as much work). He also indicated that they worked outside of their paid/hired posts and that volunteers from various villages would lend assistance, especially in schools.
Sadly, Region Seven is not the only one of the country’s ten administrative regions that has staffing issues. In countless reports over the years, the majority of which did not come from the horses’ mouths so to speak, as this one did, the shortages of doctors, nurses, teachers as well as other professionals have been highlighted in this newspaper. The numerous challenges they face as they fulfil their duties have also been duly documented.
In one memorable instance, back in 2012, this newspaper reported on the disrespect meted out to Mrs Vanessa Wilson-Johnson, who was not a resident of Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni), but had accepted a position there as headmistress of the Mahdia Secondary School. She was told that accommodation would be provided. However, when she got there, she was taken to a rundown, termite and rodent-infested house and she quite rightly refused to stay there. She did not abandon her post, but relocated to a guesthouse and subsequently to a sofa in the guesthouse’s foyer. It was not until Mrs Wilson-Johnson’s plight reached the media that the regional authorities acted to commence repairs, though they would have known she was not in the house. Furthermore they made attempts to embarrass her, claiming she had made unreasonable requests.
More recently, in September 2016, a resident of Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) complained about the condition of the teachers’ accommodation at St Ignatius in the Rupununi. Speaking to a reporter for this newspaper’s weekly ‘What the People Say’ column, the woman, a resident of Tabatinga, said: “The teachers’ quarters needs to be renovated because it is too old. Most of the teachers who stay there are coastlanders and they need to have proper accommodation.”
And then just last year May, following a request by residents, government officials visiting Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), promised that a dormitory would be built at Mainstay on the Essequibo Coast to accommodate teachers. According to a subsequent press release issued by the Ministry of Communities, residents who attended a meeting with Minister in the Ministry of Communities Dawn Hastings-Williams had complained that the building currently occupied by teachers was in an atrocious state and “unfit for human habitation”. It was stated that none of the teachers, including a headmistress who had been recently appointed, were natives of Region Two, hence the need to provide accommodation.
According to the release, political activist and Mainstay resident Mary Williams said the village never had any accommodation for non-resident teachers, but she had given permission to the village council many years ago to use a building to house them. No maintenance was ever done on the building and over the years it became dilapidated. To date, as far as this column is aware, the dormitory has not been built and teachers continue to occupy the rundown structure.
What boggles the mind in each of the cases cited above is how the regional administrations could, with good conscience, hire non-residents knowing they have no proper accommodation for them. What’s worse is that this has gone on for so long. And just to be clear, in many instances, doctors and nurses’ accommodation is not much better, if at all. Is it any wonder then that vacancies remain unfilled? When one throws unfit quarters into the pot with meagre salaries, one completes the insult to the teacher, nurse or doctor who would have sacrificed years of his or her life to attaining qualifications to pursue his or her career.
The obvious answer would be to hire persons who are already resident in the respective areas, right? But that is not so easy. Because of the laissez faire attitude to mainly the teaching profession over the years, not many residents of far-flung regions are able to meet the criteria, minimal though it is, to enter teachers’ training college or nursing school. It has become a ridiculous merry-go-round and one would think that those touting nation building and development would attempt to address these basic things, which are not a difficult fix and would boost communities’ skills and morale.