Jason Benjamin demits office
Freddie Kissoon Column
November 25, 2006
The President of the University of Guyana Students' Society (UGSS), Jason Benjamin, demitted office yesterday. Under the Constitution of the UGSS, a president can only be elected twice in consecutive years. Jason served his two years. The University's student body has lost its finest leader since UG was born over 42 years ago.
I worked with Jason Benjamin in the Council of the University for two years, and I have seen in this young man the future of Guyana. Jason Benjamin transcends race and party politics, the two cancers that keep eating away at the flesh of Guyana. It is simply inspiring to see a Guyanese sit around a table, discuss the most sensitive issues relating to Guyana's future, and adopt a stance that is free of racial thinking and political partisanship.
I have been at UG for 20 years and have been a student there for four years, and I can say boldly and unashamedly that Jason is the best leader the students' body has thrown up in all its years since the birth of the institution. The spirit of an independent mind is lacking in this country. When one sees such a vision in Guyana, the country should nurture it. Working with a Council that is politically selected, Jason walked a tight rope.
He never came across as someone bent on opposing the Council. He never sided all the time with the Council. He treated each item on the agenda on the basis of principle. When he felt the workers' union was being unrealistic, he voted against us. When he saw party politics had replaced the interest of UG. He denounced such anti-nationalist behaviour. The greatest moment in the history of the UGSS came in August last year. It was one of the most fantastic human rights ventures the students' leadership at UG ever embarked on.
It occurred when Dr. Mark Kirton was abruptly removed from the position of acting Vice-Chancellor (VC). Jason was a member of the search committee for an acting VC. The committee met and democratically selected Dr. Kirton on August 22. Dr. Kirton was given a letter of appointment, and signed a contract. The President of Guyana was out of the country (in New York) and returned on the evening of August 24. At a Cabinet meeting the next day, the non-renewal of Dr. James Rose's contract came up. Cabinet's decision was that Dr. Rose should be reinstated and Dr. Kirton be sacked.
It was the second worst moment in the life of the University of Guyana, after the rejection of employment for Dr. Walter Rodney. It put the PPP in the same category as Forbes Burnham. I hate when people defend this government as a democratic one better than Burnham's when you can see the graphic resemblances. How can one have rage for what Burnham did to UG and not see the same rape has occurred under the PPP? How can human beings in this country refuse to see that we fought against what Burnham did to UG, (and Hoyte, too) and be silent on what the PPP is doing?
The vulgar sacking of Dr. Mark Kirton marked a low point in the life of the workers' union at UG. We should have gone to UWI and exposed President Jagdeo as a dictator. Incidentally, let me digress from the wonderful subject of the leadership qualities of Jason Benjamin, to say the BBC in London called me yesterday to ask my opinion on the possibility of Jagdeo's new horizon. I told then I haven't seen any sign of it as yet. I don't dismiss it, but if it is coming, it is taking a long time to make itself visible
Back to Jason Benjamin. As the President of the UGSS, Jason took the Council to court over the illegal dismissal of Dr. Kirton, and won three NISI ORDERS against the University from Justice Patterson, none of which were respected by the University. To this day Justice Patterson remains silent on his orders, and those three NISI Orders are yet to be heard in court. Who says there is a judicial system in Guyana? When the history of UG is written, this excellent moment of Jason Benjamin will be highlighted.
I find it sad that Jason Benjamin has gone from the Council. He represented the UGSS in the Council. He can no longer do so, because his tenure is up. I will miss his indefatigable stand of fierce independence. I will miss his frequent solidarity with the union. I will miss seeing a fine young man who stood above the nasty politics of UG. I would suggest that all the organisations in this country that want to see young leaders emerge in Guyana who have no space in their minds and souls for race and political incestuousness encourage the genre of youths like Jason.
There is one non-political, fond moment, I will always remember about Jason. He had become the Kaieteur News “Hunk of the Week.” So we were having lunch at German's. Every minute his cell phone rang, a young lady was on the other line inquiring about a date. It was a new dimension of Guyana I never knew existed. I thought that we only saw such a thing in the US, but definitely, as I grew older, I lost touch with the amorous side of my country.
At one time, I thought he was lying. So when the phone rang again, I asked to listen in. He gave me the phone, and the young lady was definitely uninhibited. Guyana has certainly caught up with modern living. Now, how interesting! We don't have casino gambling. We are told it will bring all types of sins and vice to this land. We have more churches per capita than many modern countries in the world, yet, look how the young ladies behave. I will leave you with a laughable episode involving Jason Benjamin. In one call, I suggested that he ask the young lady if she was willing to go to bed on the first date. I was being sociologically curious. He asked the question, then quickly handed me the phone. She said it depends. I never got to know what she meant by that.