The arguments as to why Mr. Vishnu Persaud was denied the post of Deputy Chief Elections Officer of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) are as pitiful and they are unconvincing. This column is, however, not about the merits, of the majority decision by GECOM to not give the post to Persaud. This column is about the weight which is attached to experience within the public sector.
Mr. Vishnu Persaud had almost fifteen years of experience at GECOM. How GECOM could have discounted this in any evaluation, and instead concentrate on who has a better grade point average in academic qualifications, is totally bewildering.
That experience has to count for more than something, because in most jobs, what is important is not academic qualifications but institutional knowledge. This institutional knowledge includes understanding the systems and procedures in place. In North America, many private companies look more favourably at work experience than academic qualifications.
There are many managerial jobs which require only basic common sense. The need for a Master’s Degree or even a Bachelor’s Degree is often unnecessary, since what is more important is an understanding of the systems and procedures in place, something to which greater weight needs to be given to experience.
Someone should attempt to explain the additional utility which is obtained, in non-scientific fields, from having a Master’s Degree as against having a Bachelor’s Degree. Also, some of the best workers are not those with all those fancy certificates. Some of the best workers are those with on-the-job experience.
There are many persons who are working years in a job, only to find that when the time comes for promotion, instead of them getting the position, it is handed to someone else from outside the company, simply because that person has academic certificates.
Yet, it is the same worker who has come through the ranks, but who was never been able to further his or her academic studies, who has to teach the ‘outsider’ the systems and procedures, and be subject to the authority of that ‘outsider’
It is patently unfair to those who have laboured for years within a system, and who rightly have a legitimate expectation of promotion, to be denied that promotion on the basis of someone from outside the firm getting the job.
What matters is knowing the systems and procedures, and not necessarily the academic qualifications. Those who own machine factories, for example, would point to the greater value which uncertified millwrights bring to the job as against someone with an engineering degree.
There are many persons in the field of journalism who can write a good story and land a scoop far better than those who have Degrees in Communication. There are persons lecturing today about entrepreneurship who have never run a business. All they have is book knowledge. They lack an understanding of the day-to-day problems of managing a business.
Some of the best radio announcers in Guyana were persons without university Degrees. They were much better at elocution and inflection than many of those who were lettered with Degrees. They also understood their listeners better.
The practice of overlooking experienced persons for positions within the public sector emerged in the mid-1970’s. It was occasioned by the development of an educated class, following the decision of the government to grant free education at the university level. These persons who graduated from our local university felt that they belonged to an elite grouping with an entitlement to top-level jobs.
Given at the time that the State controlled more than 80% of the economy, the educated elite, many without a day’s working experience, had to seek jobs within the public sector. The government felt an obligation to help them, and therefore established the practice of favouring those with academic qualifications over those with the experience and practical on-the-job knowledge.
The preference was the basis of abuse. It was used to catapult politically-aligned persons to positions of authority. It led to square pegs being placed in round holes. Many of those who were placed in positions of authority did not have a clue about what they were doing.
The practice was also part of the plan to ensure political control of the public sector. In order to obtain certain positions, a degree became absolutely necessary. And there were accusations that only certain persons were favoured with the opportunity to attend university. This limited the upward mobility of those who could not obtain the time-off to attend classes, but who could do the job because of their experience.
The practice of giving preference to persons with academic qualifications also took place at a time when the government was trying to justify the problems in the economy as a managerial problem, when in fact there was a political crisis.
The recent controversy over the hiring of GECOM’s Deputy Chief Elections Officer, is just the tip of the iceberg. It is part of a wider crisis of management and politics in the country.
The management class has never solved the problems of the economy. It hardly solved the problem of public sector performance. And those problems are going to continue, until and unless a decision is made to give greater preference to those who have the hands-on experience and practical knowledge.
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