The Teaching Service Commission and appointments
January 28, 2007
In our Sunday edition last week we carried a report on the appointment of former Region 3 Chairman Esau Dookie as headmaster of Saraswat Primary School. The issue which was raised in that report, as well as in a subsequent letter from Mr George Cave published in Stabroek News the following day, related to the eligibility of Mr Dookie for the school in question. Mr Cave, the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) representative on the Teaching Service Commission (TSC), said in his letter that the case raised constitutional questions, and that the courts of Guyana might have to be asked to pronounce on whether the commission had the right "to reject and/or ignore the policy position of the Government of Guyana - conveyed to it in writing - and proceed to do its own thing."
As in the case of similar bodies all over the world, it was not intended that the TSC should make teaching appointments or give promotions on whim; it was supposed to operate according to rules which, among other things, laid down the criteria which applicants should meet before they could be considered for a given post. In fact the policy framework and rules by which the commission was operating until recently, had emerged from a long series of meetings between the Ministry of Education and the GTU in 2001, when the late Mr Bertram Hamilton was the President of the union. After agreement had been reached between the two parties, a substantial document had been forwarded to the TSC setting forth the Government of Guyana's policy position which was to be implemented by the commission, and making recommendations in terms of the procedures that body could adopt.
The new rules actually went into operation that same year, but in August 2001, the life of all the constitutional commissions, including the TSC, came to an end. Thereafter followed a long hiatus because of the dispute between the two major political parties over the Police Service Commission, which stalled the appointment of most of the other commissions as well, and it was not until that matter was settled that a new TSC could be sworn in. This was finally done on January 20, 2004, whereafter the policy established in 2001 continued in operation until 2005, when a hitch arose. This was the consequence of a misunderstanding between the Chief Education Officer and the GTU concerning an aspect of the rules, but it was ironed out, resulting in an amendment whose application was extended in 2006.
The schools of Guyana are graded for the purposes of making appointments, and in the case of the primary schools these run from A (the highest grade) through to E (the lowest). Prior to becoming a Regional Chairman, Mr Dookie had been for some years the non-graduate headmaster of Western Hog Island Primary School - a Grade E school. As we reported last week, he wrote in October 2006 to the TSC indicating that his term of office as Chairman of Region 3 would come to an end on the 31st of that month, and requesting that he be appointed headmaster of a Grade A school, or if no such post were available, then of a Grade B school.
There are certain complexities surrounding Mr Dookie's secondment to the regional post, and leaving those completely aside, the central matter is whether the newly appointed headmaster of Saraswat Primary School meets the TSC's eligibility requirements under the rules. According to a vacancy notice from the commission published in this newspaper last year, applicants for heads of Grade B primary schools must be either the heads of Grade C and Grade D primary schools, or the deputy heads of Grade A and Grade B primary schools. As a former headmaster of a Grade E school, Mr Dookie prima facie does not, therefore, meet the criteria. He himself claimed in his letter to the TSC that at the time he became Regional Chairman he was due for promotion to at least a grade D school, and had he been given the opportunity he was confident he would have been promoted to a Grade A school. Even if one were to assume for the sake of argument that that would have been the case, it still would not seem to make him eligible under the rules.
In his letter to this newspaper Mr Cave raised other issues relating to Mr Dookie's modus operandi for seeking a promotion, namely, that senior vacant posts are advertised at the request of the Ministry of Education, and the minimum eligibility requirements stated; secondly that "interested, eligible teachers need to apply and compete for the post with their peers who are similarly eligible." Thirdly, it is made clear that teachers should apply "only for those advertised vacant posts which they intend to take up, if offered, and in which they intend to remain…" There are penalties for failing to comply with this requirement, he said, and these too are stated.
The GTU had a further concern about how Mr Dookie had proceeded, and that was his letter to the TSC had been copied both to Secretary of the PPP Donald Ramotar and Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon. For his part Saraswat's new head denied that this had any irregular implications since neither gentleman was a member of the commission, and so he could not see why the union would think he was seeking favours. "It was only for them to be informed and not for action," we quoted Mr Dookie as saying last week.
As we had reported earlier, Mr Dookie's case was brought before the TSC, and eventually, by a majority of four votes to three his appointment to Saraswat Primary School was approved. So now we have a situation as stated above where the TSC appears to have defied the Government of Guyana by ignoring the rules issued to it in written form. So what is the constitutional position, as Mr Cave asks? Does the commission have the power to amend the government's policy and rules as it sees fit, and make them up as it goes along? In this particular instance, that policy was hammered out with the Guyana Teachers Union in a low-key consultative process which eventuated in an agreement. In addition, the two sides subsequently concurred in an amendment to the rules. It was a text-book consultative process of a kind which the framers of our latest amendments to the constitution were anxious should become entrenched in our political system.
The layman might ask too that even if it could be argued that the commission had the right to ignore Ministry of Education policy and set its own rules, if the TSC had been applying a particular set of eligibility rules - no matter what their source - for some time, could it then simply ignore them in an individual case without going through the prior exercise of a formal amendment? If it can do this, then could it not open itself to charges of capriciousness and by extension of unfairness with possible constitutional implications?
A solution to the current problem, as the GTU has suggested, would be for the TSC to withdraw the appointment, although Mr Cave has adverted to another matter "involving the headship of a Region 6 secondary school some time ago." If Mr Dookie's case is not the first involving a breach of the rules, then we may in any case need some legal clarification about how the TSC should be functioning in terms of appointments.