I READ with some astonishment the editorial of the Stabroek News of Sunday July 29, 2012 titled “UG Council.”
The editorial was abusive of me, only slightly less so, I might add, than the Freddie Kissoon type writings, failed to publish pertinent facts, published blatant untruths and, inter alia, echoed recommendations that would not be upheld in any court of law. The editorial echoes the calls of some persons whom I recognise as important stakeholders of the University of Guyana, to wit, that I, in an effort to engender “an open, inclusive and participatory process,” should have entered into discussions and negotiations “involving the Minister of Education, the UG Academic Board and the National Assembly” to select the new Council members.
The composition of the UG Council is determined by the laws of our country by which we are all bound. The particular law is Section 13, Chapter 39:02 as amended by Act number 19 of 1993 and 14 of 1995, both amendments made when I could not even have voted for the first time, although I do believe many of the players now were around and could have made a difference to the kind of law we passed and indeed maintained over the years.
That law is clear. It names specific organisations from which members of the University Council must come and the manner in which they must so come, i.e, that they must be nominated by the said organisation.
The Minister of Education is bound to name persons to the Council in accordance with the extant law. I cannot sit with the “UG Academic Board and the National Assembly” to come up with names of persons to appoint to the Council. The law mandates me to secure from named bodies/organisations nominations of persons to the Council whom I would then be expected to appoint. To this end the ministry wrote to and contacted the organisations/bodies named in the Act and asked them to nominate persons to serve on the UG Council.
The University of Guyana Students’ Society (UGSS), the University of Guyana Workers’ Union (UGWU), the Academic Board and Committee of Deans were written to by the acting Vice-Chancellor, at my request, and invited to name persons to sit on the Council and they, without any objection as far as I know, nominated persons to sit on the said Council to be constituted. It was expected that the organisations/bodies written to would consult with their members before said nominations were made and indeed we have received no complaint that this was not done.
Whether I like the law or not, until it changes I am bound by what exists. I simply do not have the power or the luxury to sit down with the UG Academic Board and/or the National Assembly and arrive at a list of persons to be named to the Council.
If the law is found to be no longer relevant then we must change it, but until then we are bound by it, and no amount of negotiations or abusive editorials will change the fact that we all are bound by it. I invite the writer/s of the editorial to refer to the much publicised and often cited decision of the High Court in the Esther Perriera Petition.
In that case a citizen, Esther Perriera, complained that it was unlawful to ask her and other citizens to produce ID cards as a prerequisite to being allowed to cast a ballot.
One of the arguments advanced in defence of Esther Perriera’s petition was that the requirement for an ID card could not have been unlawful as all the political parties in parliament had sat down and after intense discussion and negotiations arrived at this agreed upon formula whereby the ID card must be produced.
The court said categorically that no one or two or 10 persons irrespective of their status and/or importance could negotiate and agree not to comply with the law and that if they did, then their decision so to do and the consequences thereof would be unlawful. This remains the law of our dear land.
So if we now decide that the UGSSS is more important or relevant than the UGWU then we must say in the law that it is the UGSSS that must nominate someone to serve on the Council. Until we say that in the law, the UGSSS cannot nominate someone to serve on that Council irrespective of how good they are or how much knowledge they have; and if I were to name the UGSSS as an organisation that must nominate someone to serve on the Council, whether it is by agreement or as a result of a petition, I would be acting outside of the law.
Another untruth published in your editorial is “out of the 26 members of the Council, eight form a quorum, and as UGSSA President Patsy Francis has said, this equates to the same number of persons the Ministry of Education can nominate.”
This is simply untrue. I invite the writer/s of the editorial to visit the actual law that dictates the composition of the Council at http://legalaffairs.gov.gy/information/laws-of-guyana/cat_view/8-laws-of-guyana.html.
Another blatant untruth is the suggestion throughout the editorial that it was my “intention clearly not to say anything until the full Council was in place” and that I operated “clandestinely” and with “stealth” and was “forced” to disclose that the Council had been appointed.
It is public knowledge that the Council’s life was coming to an end even before I became minister. That we were trying to follow the law, and have persons nominated to the Council was hardly a secret. It is bizarre to conclude that I operated with stealth and clandestinely when we had written letters to the organisations named in the law including the National Toshaos’ Council; the Private Sector Commission; the Guyana Rice Producers Association; the TUC; UGWU, the UGSS; and the Committee of Deans to have nominees named.
Indeed I am sure that Dr. Patsy Francis and her organisation would be able to confirm for you Editor that at a meeting I had with them some months ago I indicated clearly that the Council had to be appointed according to law and that it was the bodies named in the law that would be written to for nominations.
Additionally, anytime I was asked by the press how we intended to appoint the members of the Council I was clear that the above-mentioned was the process that we would be employing, the last such occasion being at a press conference when the NGSA results were announced. How then could the editorial have reasonably concluded that we had clandestinely proceeded with the appointment of the Council and matters connected therewith?
The reason I find the editorial so disturbing and at odds with what the SN holds itself out to be is that in my brief statement to the National Assembly, which clearly was known to the newspaper, I cited the relevant law, which with only the slightest effort could have been found on the worldwide web. Additionally, I said clearly that we had sought nominees from the organisations and bodies named in the law.
Yet we see this odd publication stating that I as Minister have the ability to nominate eight persons to the council and further criticising me for naming a Council without consulting persons who cannot by law offer nominees.
There was a time when publications by the SN could have been read and not questioned. I wonder now if I can read publications of the SN again without questioning the veracity thereof, and that for me is a most unhappy development.
I reiterate my commitment and that of the Ministry of Education to do what is in the best interest of the University of Guyana within the constraints that exist.
We look forward to the Trevor Hamilton report that will be examining the governance structures of the University which report incidentally was commissioned under and with the full endorsement of this government.