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Financing of major UG projects affected by campaigning Council members

The financing of capital projects at the run down University of Guyana (UG) has been halted because political appointees to Council have not been available to attend meetings over the last two months as they were on the campaign trail for their respective parties, UG officials say.

In accordance with the UG Act Council is mandated to meet twice yearly although more frequent meetings are often required and allowed. The work of the Finance and General Planning Committee, which, among other things, must sign off on capital projects above $1 million, has been particularly affected.

University of Guyana Student Society (UGSSA) President, Joshua Griffith explained to Demerara Waves Online News today that Council has been unable to make a quorum without the presence of persons who have been politically appointed and, as such, the university has been unable to get approval for capital projects which are aimed at improving the university.

“The members that were absent were political members…It is one of the reasons you need non-political appointments because when it comes to choosing between the university and your party in most cases it is likely that your party will come first,” the student body President said.

The result, he says, is that “everything got stalled. There are a lot of important things that need to be approved (but) everything got pushed back. A lot of things you could have seen this semester but you won’t see them until in the summer to the beginning of the new academic year,” Griffith lamented.

Asked today if Council members, were indeed unable to attend meetings due to their campaigning Education Minister Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine said “all I can tell you is that we are going to reconstitute the Council…we are working on that as we speak.”

Prior the Elections 2015 Roopnaraine sat as the opposition parties’ representative to Council. It is unclear how his recent appointment to a ministerial post will affect his membership for the remainder of this Council – month end.

UG Vice Chancellor, Jacob Opadeyi has also noted the absence of several members owing to their membership with political parties and how this has kept UG’s work back. Asked if the facilities fee ($50,000 per student annually) the university started charging students in the current academic year is helping the university Opadeyi said “yes it is. We are doing a lot of capital budgets.”

However, he explained that “the problem is that we cannot move as fast as we wanted.” Elaborating, the VC said that anything that is more than a million dollars the Council has to approve it. Because of the elections we have two months in which we could not call Council meetings because members if the council were on the campaign trail.”

Council ought to be comprised of 26 persons although this many persons never turn up to any meetings. Of these persons several are chosen by government. Traditionally, these persons have been card carrying members of political parties and critics have argued that these persons tend to seek to serve the best interest if their political parties as opposed to the best interest of the university

Such persons include former Presidential Advisors Odinga Lumumba, and Gail Teixeira, Finance Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Neermal Rekha. Each of the names persons are members of the Peoples Progressive Party Civic (PPPC), although they were indeed appointed in a capacity allowed by the Act.

Bibi Shaddick, a former PPPC Members of Parliament (MP), serves as the current Pro-Chancellor of UG and Chairman of Council. Rupert Roopnaraine, Guyana’s new Education Minister, has been sitting as the opposition’s representative to Council.

 President David Granger has promised to depoliticize Council. He shared such sentiments several times on the campaign trail this year. Roopnaraine has indicated a willingness to follow through on the President’s promise.

Asked today of the likelihood of Parliament amending the UG Act to remove powers given to the Education Minister to appoint Council members, Roopnaraine said “…everything is up for review…what needs to be changed will be changed.”

Both Granger and Roopnaraine have said that Council, under the current administration, will be filled with persons with the capacity and will to advance the institution.