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UG Students Society refuses to meet with ruling party for “photo-op”

University of Guyana Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi and PYO Chairman, Irfaan Ali in a meeting with representatives of the ruling party’s youth arm. (PYO photo)

President of the University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS), Joshua Griffith, says he postponed a meeting with the Progressive Youth Organization (PYO) yesterday over fears that the student body was to be used for a “photo op.”

The PYO is the youth arm of the governing Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C).

The meeting was scheduled to take place around 16:00 hrs.at the Guyana International Conference Centre (GICC) but the UGSS pulled out after several media entities called him to confirm whether he was meeting Minister of Housing and Water and Chairman of the PYO, Irfaan Ali.

In an interview with Caribbean News Desk on Wednesday Griffith recalled that he received a call around 12:20 hrs. yesterday afternoon informing him that the PPP/C wanted to meet with him to discuss issues affecting the University of Guyana (UG).

Griffith says he agreed to the meeting but asked that a formal email be sent to the student body for the record. Caribbean News Desk was able to access the email in which Sawan Jagnarain, PYO Executive Member, electronically says “several current students of the university have expressed their concerns to our organization regarding the continued delay in the commencement of the semester and related challenges at UG.”

“The (PYO) therefore extends an invitation to the (UGSS) Executive to sit with our Executive Membership at 16:00hrs today…,” the email continued. Griffith said that it was with the email that he realized that the meeting would be with the PYO as opposed to the PPP/C.

Griffith also says that the UGSS, after some consideration, eventually determined that the venue proposed by the PYO, Freedom House, should be changed.

“We suggested right here on campus. We could have gone to ELT or we could have met in the office. Their response to that was that they have some concerns about what’s going on on campus and so they prefer not to meet here,” Griffith explained.

He says the PYO was able to book the GICC, on short notice, and the meeting was slated to take place there. As the day went on though, Griffith said he began receiving calls from various media establishments asking if he was indeed meeting with Ali.“Couple media houses contacted us and said hey,ya’ll meeting with Irfaan Ali? Ya’llmeeting at Freedom House? And we found that strange,” the student body leader offered.

Griffith shared that a reporter even turned up on campus and asked if the UGSS was meeting with Ali later that afternoon, to which he said it was not. Griffith said he later learned that Ali was Chairman of the PYO and was likely going to be at the meeting.

As a result of these developments the UGSS contacted the PYO and postponed the meeting to a date still to be determined.

In his email Griffith says “…the main reason for our absence from today’s meeting was due to an alarming level of awareness of our proposed meeting by popular Media agencies. It is against this backdrop that we are skeptical about the ramification of attending such a meeting at this time…”

Responding to Griffith’s email, Jagnarain in part, says “what the PYO Executive finds amusing is the fact that you seem to have no difficulties with the media coverage you received in your protest and other meetings with various stakeholders. It is a convenience of argument or an excuse to opt out of the agreed engagement.”

Caribbean News Desk called Jagnaraine yesterday for a comment on his statements but he referred all questions to the PYO’s public relations person. It was pointed out however, that the public relations person would not be able to address any questions as they were based on statements Jagnaraine, by his email signature, seemed to have made.

At this point Jagnaraine ‘sucked his teeth’ and disconnected the call.

“We don’t want to be used as a political tool right now, we don’t want to be anybody’s photo op,” Griffith says,while sharing that “given the tender political atmosphere right now we said lets be wise in this move so we sent an email postponing the meeting.”

He now says that the UGSS will insist on meeting with the PYO or another stakeholder on the university’s campus.

Even as Griffith expressed concerns of having the meeting with the PYO, the body, last evening, sent photos and a release to the media on a meeting it had with Vice Chancellor Jacob Opadeyi last evening. In the release the PYO, among other things, promises “a large donation of whiteboards…” and a “project that would see the PYO youth and other members of Civil Society engaging in the initial cleaning of the campuses and the weeding of the overgrown brushes and grass.”

The apparent intervention by the PYO came against the background of increased agitation by students and staff about low wages and salaries and the poor teaching-learning environment.

A day after the staff and students shut the Turkeyen Campus down for several hours, representatives of the UG Workers Union and UG Senior Staff Association re-opened pay negotiations. A number of proposals and counter-proposals were made and the two sides are due to meet again on Friday.