Clayton Hall is not the right person to lead the reorganising of the GFC

Dear Editor,

There has been so much written in the public domain over the last month on the planned GFC restructuring that I hesitated for some time before writing this letter. With everything that has unfolded over the last few days, I feel compelled to pen these thoughts. I hope that after reading this letter, persons would be a bit more convinced that embracing change is necessary but at the same time, the way that change is instituted needs to be fair, transparent, and respectful of workers and done without prejudice to race, gender or political conviction. 

I have long admired the genuine and sincere leadership of Minister Trotman.  He is a minister who has all qualities that one would expect and need in those with such authority – he is fair, he is conscious of the reality around him and adjusts to what is needed, and he genuinely sees the best in whatever situation he is faced with.  In a nutshell, he wants to do what is in the best interest of the sector that he serves, and the Guyana Forestry Commission is no exception. 

On hearing the announcement of the GFC reorganising process, I welcomed this move. I see this as less of a ‘restructuring’ and more of making adjustments and filling gaps where these exist, and building on the strengths of the commission. 

However, an initial misstep, I believe, in the approach to the start of the process was to call it a “restructuring” and to reach the conclusion that this was necessary without first reviewing whether or not the GFC currently fulfills the new requirements within its current structure. We are all too familiar with what ‘restructuring’ is in the Guyanese experience. We automatically go to the Guyana Sugar Corporation experience whereby all workers were assured that government will ‘take care’ of the workers and the industry but that meant that persons had to be let go, and the industry was downsized.  Efficiencies were created yes, but at the cost of thousands that are now jobless.  Fast forward to the GFC – when the announcement was made to restructure, every employee of the GFC became worried for their job security. 

Embracing change is important, especially as the new Forest Policy 2018, coordinated under the innovative foresight of Minister Trotman, brought new thinking to forest sector development in Guyana. Preparing the GFC to be ready to implement this new policy required a diplomatic approach, and one that shows the true spirit of the effort as one that is well intended and typifies Minister’s Trotman’s usual exemplary approach of transparency and fairness. 

Unfortunately, the second misstep was the hiring of Mr Clayton Hall as Convener of the process responsible for overseeing and coordinating the restructuring.  Mr Hall is a well-known individual – he was the former Commissioner of Forests of the GFC who was restructured out of the GFC as a result of the DFID-funded restructuring process after having found to be lacking in vision and skills to take the commission into a new development phase; he was the Returning Officer of the AFC internal elections and the former campaign manager for the AFC Elections Campaign; and he is currently a full time employee of the ministry. 

It does not take much analysis to conclude that Mr Hall is not the right person for this job.  Frankly, he is the most unfit person that could have been chosen for this job – his political affiliations, his vested interest to take a step back in time, and his current role in other full time work. 

As the process rallies on, it is evident that staff are still hoping for some silver lining to the approach taken. There is hope that this process will help to improve staff payments, lead to improvement in remuneration and other conditions of employment, and expanded training opportunities.

This hope though, was short-lived as the third major misstep took place on Friday 26th April, 2019, when Convener Hall met with GFC’s staff for the first time to introduce the restructuring process. This was a remarkable disaster to say the least, and a total embarrassment for the entire committee.

At this meeting, Mr Hall insulted the GFC staff, he talked down to the management team, and he made it clear that this is his turn to make the changes – even though ill-conceived – that his heart desires. Despite efforts of the other members of the Restructuring Committee and subsequent reactions from the Ministry of Natural Resources, that the process will lead to only recommendations and not witch hunting, and that Mr Hall is only one voice on the committee, it is clear to anyone looking on that these are commitments that Mr Hall is incapable of fulfilling. 

Mr Hall’s actions simply do not reflect this. For those who see him in action, see his real intentions. Unfortunately, Minister Trotman’s hesitation in reining Mr Hall in, and undoing the harm that he is inflicting on the entire process, threatens to derail the entire effort. 

Over the next three months, everyone will be looking on – staff of the GFC, sector operators, and the international community. It is clear that this kind of approach, this rancour that Mr Hall has imbued in this process, is not Minister Trotman’s way of doing things. Minister Trotman is someone who values fairness, and, by his own example, brings out the best in GFC, inspires staff and empowers them.  Mr Hall is working counter to this and threatens to derail all the headway that our esteemed Minister has made in the forest sector and for the entire natural resources sector. 

The GFC reorganising must go on and could lead to a stronger Commission, but Mr Hall is not the right person to take this forward.

Yours faithfully,

Vivian Li   

Forest Stakeholder  

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