UG refutes allegations of misappropriation of funds from GGMC deal
The University of Guyana comes in for its fair share of criticism but two letters purportedly authored by a Professor of St. John’s University have apparently taken healthy criticism too far. Recently published in several daily newspapers, the allegations made by Professor Vijay P. Kumar in his letters have pushed the Administration to make a public response to “set the record straight”.
The most recent letter was published on Friday in this newspaper’s letter column under the heading “The $41M Question for UG”; in it, Professor Kumar calls for the reestablishment of the Office of the Ombudsman in Guyana. He uses a sum of money – $41.5M to be exact— that he says was granted to the Geology Department in the Faculty of Technology at the University by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) over a period spanning 2004 to 2010 as a prime example for the need to reestablish this Office.
The Professor says, “To date, these grants have not been accounted for.” He then goes on to highlight expenditures that he says cannot account for the bulk of the monies. Later in the letter he speaks of three donated computers that have gone missing and says, “Students speak in hushed tones that Faculty instructors have those three computers in their homes.”
In speaking to those allegations the University responded by saying that “in the six years … the GGMC has expressed no dissatisfaction with regards to the expenditure and accountability of funds.” Attempts were made to contact the Acting Commissioner of the GGMC, Mr. William Woolford, on Friday, to investigate the claim, however there was no answer at his office.
The communiqué issued by the University explained several aspects of the relationship between the Geology Department and the GGMC. It notes that the GGMC and the Geology Department of the University sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) every two years.
Starting in 2004 and running until September 2010 there have been three consecutive MOUs signed between the parties. Under those MOUs there are a number of conditions enforced that speak to the issues raised by Professor Kumar’s latest letter.
The first of these is the fact that the funds agreed upon under the MOUs are held under the direct control of the GGMC. The University and its officers and staff do not receive any of these funds up front or through a blanket transfer. Capital items (books or computers) needed by the Geology Department must be requested through the Faculty from the GGMC.
The suppliers are paid directly by the GGMC and the items obtained are logged into the University’s Assets Register.
According to the University, close to 70 percent of the monies budgeted go towards the payment of part time lecturers for the Department and tuition fees for those students sponsored by the GGMC. The tuition fees are invoiced to GGMC and payment is made by the Bursary while according to one lecturer in the Department, they receive their payments directly from the GGMC. Unspent monies under the MOUs are retained by the GGMC.
Professor Kumar’s previous letter published under the heading “Is there chaos at UG’s Faculty of Technology?” on September 4, raised another group of issues. He alleged that Mr. Sherwood Lowe, former Dean of Technology and Head of the Geology Department was teaching students while on Sabbatical – a clear violation of the University’s regulations.
Professor Kumar also spoke of complaints that he received. “Students allege they have paid their tuition fees and are being advised to take classes in electrical and mechanical engineering because there is a shortage of instructors to teach geological and civil engineering.” He called the departure from the University’s stated curriculum “ill advised”.
Both Registrar of the University, Mr. Vincent Alexander and Mr. Lowe were called upon to address these allegations leveled by Professor Kumar. Both men indicated that yes, Mr. Lowe can be seen on campus from time to time assisting students, however he is not teaching per se. According to the Registrar, the situation is a unique one in Mr. Lowe’s case and he mentioned at least one other lecturer – the former Assistant Dean of Technology – Mr. Fitzroy Weever who is also on sabbatical and is currently not teaching.
Mr. Lowe indicated that although he is receiving a salary while on Sabbatical, his efforts with the Geology students are simply to make sure that they do not lose too much ground while the University works towards finding lecturers for their courses. Mr. Alexander indicated that he is aware of Mr. Lowe’s presence and efforts to assist the students.
Mr. Alexander also spoke to the issue of students being asked to take courses under other engineering disciplines due to a shortage of lecturers. He said that he is unaware of any instructions to students to undertake such classes since he noted that they would be considered ‘extra courses’ and would not go towards helping a student attain the completion of their diplomas or degrees any faster.
Engineering students, especially first years, do not have the luxury of elective courses – all courses are required for completion of the programme. He suggested that perhaps the Professor may have been misinformed in thinking that the students are being asked to undertake certain courses under other engineering disciplines.
He noted that first year engineering students usually undertake a number of ‘Core Courses’ that are required before they start into the specifics of their chosen disciplines. These include courses such as Engineering Math, Mechanics – Statistics and Dynamics, English, Engineering Drawing, Physics and Chemistry.
Addressing the shortage of lecturers, the Registrar acknowledged the shortage but he claimed that the University is doing everything in its power to address the situation. He said they advertise, they invite, they try to get agencies to agree to release personnel but most persons don’t take up the offer when they see the salaries that the University has to offer.
The salaries, he noted, are a direct result of the University’s budget which is simply insufficient to cover all of the institution’s needs.