DFID concerned over discrimination charge
Stabroek News
May 19, 2002

Related Links: Articles on stuff
Letters Menu Archival Menu

The action of Head of the Presidential Secretariat (HPS), Dr Roger Luncheon, in the case of the dismissed Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) employee may be in breach of the memorandum of understanding signed between the governments of Guyana and the United Kingdom (UK).

Stabroek News has obtained a copy of UK's Department for International Development (DFID) April 2002 report on the GFC support project, which highlighted this and stated that the accusations of discrimination were of concern.

When contacted on Monday, head of DFID Caribbean-Guyana, Greg Briffa, said he would not comment on the case since it was a matter between the government of Guyana and GFC. Briffa said he was confident that the new systems introduced into the GFC provided the framework for transparency and equity in the entity.

Briffa said DFID has been providing support to GFC since 1996 on a project agreed to between the governments of Guyana and the UK. He stated that the support focused on the institutional strengthening of GFC with one component being human resources.

Luncheon had intervened in the case of dismissed forest ranger Dexter Cummings, overturning a GFC decision and ordering that he be paid $886,766 in severance benefits.

GFC's legal counsel, Khemraj Ramjattan, had issued an opinion, at the request of GFC board, that Luncheon's actions were wrongful and improper.

GFC's Administrative and Human Resources Manager, Kamini Balram, had come in for some harsh criticism from Luncheon for her role in alerting the GFC board that his decision may have been wrongful.

The report which Stabroek News saw stated that DFID had been fully briefed on the issue and it was discussed at DFID's Caribbean headquarters in Barbados and in London, "so it is hoped that a clear position is arrived at and communicated to government and to the project."

The report noted that a substantial component of the project has been directed at establishing procedures that were fair, equitable and transparent, and the success of this work had been noted in independent DFID and government reviews.

"The policies and procedures of GFC are fair and equitable and they can withstand scrutiny," the report said.

"The government and the GFC should be promoting this achievement rather than making public statements that can only serve to undermine the institution."

These issues, the report said, had led to considerate interest on the part of board members and senior managers in governance issues.

The report stated that the GFC board members appeared divided on the issue. "The legality of the actions of some members has been questioned and therefore it is unlikely that they are in a position to make an objective decision that is in the interests of the commission."

The report pointed out that to date there had been no meeting of managers on the issue and no comment to the staff or to the media. After more that two months of public debate the position of GFC is not known.

The report noted that there were two issues being debated:

(1) The instruction from the HPS that the GFC make a payment to a former member of staff who had been summarily dismissed. The instruction was given despite a decision by the GFC board, which had already investigated the case, that the dismissal was justified. A legal opinion prepared for the board considered that the instruction by the HPS was unlawful.

(2) Accusations that the GFC acted in a discriminatory manner in its decision to dismiss the officer. The HPS has defended his actions by claiming that the GFC was "unacceptably insensitive and covertly discriminatory."

The report noted that the legality of the action by the HPS was questionable even if he were satisfied that the GFC had acted in a discriminatory manner.

The report recalled the legal opinion was that only the High Court was able to make such a decision and that the GFC board has questioned the HPS on how he reached his conclusion.

Highlighted in the report as issues of concern were:

* The opinion of GFC's attorney that the GFC chairman's conduct in facilitating the HPS's instruction was wrongful and improper.

* The public attacks by the HPS on the GFC.

* The public threats by the HPS to the GFC senior manager who brought the action of the HPS to the attention of the board.

"The very public debate on this issue has been damaging to the GFC.

The professionalism and integrity of the board, commissioner, and of senior managers have been questioned. A negative image of the commission has been created which will endure in the minds of the public if the GFC account is not presented to the public.

There is already evidence in the press correspondence that the GFC has been harmed by its unwillingness to defend itself against accusations," the report stated.