Forged in the Bowels of Corruption: Pt 3

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 26, 2017


Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeThe development of Trinidad and Tobago’s energy sector owes a lot to the dedication and ingenuity of Ken Julien, our energy czar. Wendell Mottley, T&T’s former Finance Minister, suggests that Julien would not have been successful if he had approached his job through “the typical state bureaucracy.” He was successful because Eric Williams, the former PM, “insulated the energy investments from the hassles and delays that might ordinarily be expected in a programme of such size, complexity and duration” (Trevor Boopsingh & Gregory McGuire, From Oil to Gas and Beyond).

This mode of operation is not necessarily appropriate to today’s needs. Kermitt Waldron, an international energy consultant, has questioned the appropriateness of such behavior today. He says: “Best practices in the most admired developed countries would suggest that the use of an energy czar should be seen at best as a temporary fix to expedite development while the bureaucratic infrastructure is developed to world-class status….Thus, the continued use of the role of an energy czar in the future should be seen as a failure to develop our bureaucracies to world class standards” (From Oil to Gas and Beyond).

In other words, approaches to development that were progressive in 1960 or 1970 may well be a drag on development today. More importantly, one cannot transfer carte blanche the experiences gained in the energy sector to an education system, a more democratic enterprise, especially when such an approach may have outlived its usefulness.

Although Professor Julien was the first West Indian dean of the Faculty of Engineering at UWI, one is not sure how effectively he transitioned from the energy sector back to education. It is even doubtful if he devoted himself fully to the development of UTT as he should have. I have taught at several universities. None of the presidents saw their positions as part-time assignments. They have one job and that is it.

One of UTT’s gravest blunders was creating a university without the granting of tenure to its professorial staff. This makes it easier for the president and the government to fire the teaching staff at will and allows the president to run the university with an iron fist. It’s doubtful that a university can attract faculty of the highest caliber if it grants its faculty members contracts of only a few years’ duration.

Even UTT’s recruitment of faculty contravenes established university procedures. During the early years of the university’s existence, Oliver Flax, a human resource specialist, played a large part in recruiting the university’s faculty. One is almost certain these faculty members were not selected by their peers as is done at established universities.

Such a setup leads necessarily to autocratic behavior and the absence of accountability on the part of the president. Nothing demonstrates this position more clearly than the cases of Kenneth Fitz-Andrews and Theodore Lewis under the presidencies of Julien and Rodney Jagai respectively.

Fitz-Andrews, a UTT vice president of finance and administration “was reportedly dismissed via letter in the dead of night” for the misusing a university credit card (Guardian, October 10, 2009). He claimed he was fired because he was “querying financial improprieties by the UTT management” (Guardian, July 5, 2007). He died while his court case of wrongful dismissal was taking place.

Lewis had better luck. He was awarded over $700,00.00 because UTT violated its contractual obligations to him in 2012 (See Theodore vs. UTT, Claim CV 2013-00669, High Court of Justice).

The fact that the government controls the university invariably allows for instability in the institution. Policies and personnel are likely to change when governments change. Such a travesty took place in 2011-12 when the People’s Partnership (PP) got hold of the government in 2010, and the control of UTT in the process.

On April 29, 2012 the Trinidad Guardian reported: “Close to 85 members of staff-from housekeeper to vice-provost-were terminated between May 20, 2011 and February 2012. Professors who were contracted from other countries were told they had to return home or face the Immigration Division. Some of the terminated faculty members claimed they were being victimized because they were hired by the former administration.”

Fazal Karim, minister of Tertiary Education, didn’t care about those 85 workers then. Today, he tells us “the national education and training system are in a state of crisis because of the failings of the Government. The rank incompetence of the PNM to address these educational issues will only exasperate job losses and paralyze an already weakening economy.”

On March 13, 2012, Curtis Manchoon, UTT president, assured the public that the massive firings were necessary. He opined: “The university is continuing to undergo a process of restructuring, which would bring it closer to its mission and vision of being a national institution of higher learning and research for socio-economic and technological development” (Guardian, April 20, 2012).

Recently, President Julien offered a similar Orwellian double speak to justify the laying off UTT staff, “from housekeeper to vice-provost.” I fail to see the difference in the language of these two men.

Should we then, be putting the restoration of this university into the hands of the man who brought it to its knees in the first place?

3 thoughts on “Forged in the Bowels of Corruption: Pt 3”

  1. The Caribbean is an intellectual vacuum with islands of donkeys.
    The focus should be on the quality of education.

  2. This series has highlighted a recurring behaviour in our national development which we refuse to learn from but expect different results every time we do it: starting with a flawed or corrupt ideology and hoping it morphs into something that is productive, practical, transparent and cost effective (all things considering). This ‘czar’ model of creating parallel State-funded enterprises for services offered in the Public Service in an attempt to streamline and make efficient use of resources has caused the Public Service landscape to be littered with enterprise failures, white elephants, billions of dollars of wasted monies and ineffective demigods at the helm of these companies. This recurring process can be tied to the fact that we have never determined our “national goals” and have continued from where the Colonials left off and mixed in neocolonialism for the purposes of modernity. This has made us subject to indicators of progress that have us running fast on a treadmill causing us to be no better as a country considering our actual potential and natural resources.

    This model has a propensity to use the same characters and characteristics over and over in different industries thereby creating demigods who stifle new ideas, methods and reasoning. It shows a lack of confidence in our ability to grow and develop, creates cabals, and allows them to flourish in an environment rich for corrupt practices. How do we expect these characters, which we prize (if we didn’t they would not be honoured) to then train or develop spaces for civic-minded, responsible citizens that can become effective nation-builders?

    UTT’s unconventional start and sustenance are indicative of us addressing a need without taking into consideration the framework of the actual cause and subsequent appropriate methods of addressing the needs created by that cause. John Donaldson Technical Institute (John D) in Port of Spain and San Fernando was supposed to address the need for a cadre of qualified technical professionals. It was supposed to absorb and refine the skillset of our artisans, and create skilled labourers and quasi-engineers from students coming out of Senior Comprehensives, in particular, the secondary school system. If the mandate for John D was efficiently supported by the creation of networks such as registries of qualified skilled persons, ensuring agencies such as Town and Country, Housing Development Corporation and the Office of the Registrar were able to track certified graduates for the purposes of work, recommendations, application of sanctions, recertification, development of effective, ever-evolving industry codes etc. was undertaken simultaneously to its opening, what would be the need for a whole new entity such as UTT? By building the necessary support for John D’s mandate and allowing members of the productive industries such as manufacturing, agriculture etc. to make inputs according to their industry-requisite human resource skill needs and the addition of infrastructure and educators, incrementally, no gaps would have been allowed to be created, not to mention it would have been cost-effective, ensured appropriate faculty selection and evolved as the national needs grew.

    Instead, the then administration lazily applied the tried and failed approach of creating a system that would protect their chosen “czar” from scrutiny, accountability, effective oversight by peers and the public. The subsequent administration maintained the model because they understood that corruption is only a problem in Trinidad and Tobago when you are in a lower socio-economic class. With the pending downsizing of this institution we have continued in our failure to effectively analyze the cause, effects and potential remedies. I am in agreement that one of the functions of higher education is to imbue the student with a sense of communal responsibility and civic awareness. However, I would like to query which current tertiary education institution functioning within Trinidad and Tobago or even the region currently does that or ensures that those ideologies are a part of their curriculum core? I will go one step further to ask what or where within our society of lauded men and women are those characteristics valued, recognized or celebrated? We have created a State where those with the highest integrity are punished up to loss of life, impoverished for not playing ball and their contributions whispered in closed quarters during moments of rare clarity.

    I would proffer, had no energy “czar” been created and the time taken to work out the “hassles and delays” in that industry and others, those “hassles and delays” would not have become ordinary within our systems. Other “hassles and delays” would have occurred as they tend to do with any evolving system, but we would have inculcated an ethos of reasoning and problem-solving rather than quick fixes that are costly, emotionally draining and discourages true civic participation in our processes.

  3. Well said Danielle! You mentioned a few very essential inscriptions that good citizenry engage in to build a nation
    viz: “civic-minded” “responsible citizens” and “nation-builders”. Those adjectives (and objectives) are anathema to how we behave. We have a very selfish population that is intent on operating strictly on “how we (our group) doing?”. So, it comes as no surprise that our academic institutions are not governed by good institutional standards and practices. They operate at the whims and fancies of the elitist among those who occupy power and control. The good of the country as a whole and setting of national standards, fall prey to political and ethnic considerations, never mind quality of the minds that we train.

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