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We don’t take instructions from politicians—TSC head
The Minister of Education and the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) must not be seen to be discussing routine and day-to-day matters of the ministry. This from chairman of the TSC, Hyacinth Guy, who responded to a charge made by Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh in last Sunday’s Face-to-Face, that the commission was not cooperating with him. He has reported this “untenable” situation to President George Maxwell Richards, who appointed the Commission.
Guy said while the Commission, the ministry and the minister must align their respective goals for the successful operation of the education sector, the Commission had an independent mandate to fulfil.
Q: Ms Guy, I understand you liked very much the statements made by Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh in our interview in last Sunday’s Guardian?
A: (Chuckling in her office at the Teaching Service Commission on Cipriani Boulevard, Port-of-Spain, Tuesday morning) Well yes, you know the minister has the right to say what he has to say and from the perspective of the Teaching Service Commission we do the same.
Are you at loggerheads in the way both sides see the ministry?
(A heavy sigh) Well, remember he is the minister of education so he has to deliver Government’s policy on education through the ministry. This is the Teaching Service Commission and we have a particular mandate and...
We are responsible for appointments, confirmation, transfers and also to establish standards of discipline in the teaching service. So as a commission even though we are independent and we operate independently we don’t do that in a vacuum. It is done within the context of the national policy agenda for education. We are not directed by the politicians.
Do you have a fundamental problem in taking directives from politicians, in this instance the Minister of Education?
But yes, because remember it is not set up for that. The commission is independent and when it was set up it was specifically to insulate the public servants—and in this case those in the teaching service—from the politicians. So when you look at the regulations Mr Raphael, you would see that we are to meet and treat with the permanent secretary (PS); it doesn’t talk about the minister.
We meet and treat on a regular basis with the permanent secretary; we must meet in order to align our role and functioning so that we have one objective all the time.
Ms Guy, one of the things he said in that interview is that he was not getting cooperation from the TSC and that he had written to the President on that matter?
Well, if the minister wants to meet the Commission he makes that request and we would make ourselves available. Since the minister came into office he met us on two occasions (referring to notes she brought along for the interview). He met us on August 3, 2010, and he shared with us his strategic intent for the ministry and we welcomed it. We would like to know where you are taking the ministry because in filling positions…
Were you in agreement with his vision as it were?
Well, we don’t have to be in agreement. I accept it...That is where you are taking the ministry. So now I say in filling my positions in establishing standards of discipline I would take those things into consideration because I cannot be going one way and he is going another way (animatedly demonstrating with hands stretched apart in opposite directions). Our role has to be aligned with what the policy agenda is for education but at the same time we don’t take your instructions.
You are just aware of where it is they are going, because remember in dealing with the permanent secretary, the PS would now implement that policy agenda and the ‘perm sec’ (PS) would say to the TSC: “I need to get X positions in X post filled” and we would do that.
Up to now, have you…?
(Interrupting) Let me just finish. We met him also on June 1, 2011 (again referring to the notes), where he reiterated his strategic intent and the 16 strategic initiatives; he talks about it a lot. And we had a general discussion. We don’t talk day-to-day activities with the minister, we talk policy with the minister. He wrote again in January 2012 for us to meet again but we have not been able to align our schedules, and we will meet when our schedules are open.
It has been said over the years, Ms Guy, that these service commissions are obstacles in the way of the expeditious implementation of government plans and policies. Are you of the view that they should be overhauled to give ministers more power in carrying out their ministerial functions?
If the argument is that the commissions are ineffective and inefficient then I don’t think that this is reason for doing away with them, because this commission has shown itself not to be inefficient.
How is this so? Didn’t one minister describe them as an albatross over his ministry?
Well this minister has said so (an ironical chuckle which breaks out into a laugh) this commission is achieving its objective.
In what way, and I don’t want it to appear that you are putting forward self-serving argument?
That’s right, that’s right. I will give you some statistics. It just can’t be on the grounds of efficiency or otherwise you may have to make an argument on the grounds that perhaps it is time in the life and stage of the society that the ministers have more control. Then you are looking at the system, but if you are making the argument for efficiency, not this commission.
When this commission began to function in 2005 we had certain goals and objectives which have been achieved in 2010. These goals have primarily been filling of positions.
Ms Guy, the minister complained of vacancies existing for lengthy period; And he said 500.
You know Mr Raphael, I told you this interview was not supposed to be a response to what he told you last week, but here it is you have me…(half smiling)
I know you made it clear to me that you were not going to get in any rebuttal mode, but you know I just could not come here and…?
(Interrupting) Yes, and I hope you put that in your article. But let’s look at the numbers (again referring to her prepared notes). We have altogether 454 primary schools. Of those we have 17 positions vacant right now—17 principals. One of the goals we had set ourselves is that as the positions become vacant there would be somebody waiting in the wings to fill it. And we have been working with the ministry to make that happen.
We have a meeting with the permanent secretary once every quarter to align our objectives, one of which is that we would identify the positions that will become vacant one year in advance. We would advertise those vacancies so when the positions become vacant people just slip into them. So far this year, we have filled 37 vacant principal positions and right now we are filling 43.
At the secondary level there are just four vacancies and the 17 at the primary level will become vacant in June-August this year. So there are no vacancies at the primary level.
Another perennial problem is the cumbersome disciplinary procedures, do you agree that it is in fact cumbersome?
Yes it is. We have investigations that have gone on for years and we have put systems in place that when any untoward developments should occur the Commission will be informed the same day. And when we get that information we would determine if the situation is that serious the offending teacher should be removed from the school forthwith.
We have issues here pertaining to allegations of misconduct (she again takes out some fact sheets carefully concealing the names of the alleged offending teachers). Invariably the 30-day period is exceeded and if you look at this one here, this matter arrived in 2010, and the matter is today still outstanding. These are things we are working with the ministry to speed up and we don’t understand why it is taking so long to complete these matters.
But we are trying to bring this untenable situation to an end. So yes, we are speeding things up but it is still not satisfactory. By having this once a quarter meeting with the ‘perm sec’ and the ministry’s HR department on a monthly basis.
From what you are saying, there appears to be some measure of cooperation between the Commission and the ministry.
(Quickly adding) At the level of the permanent secretary and I would say at the level of the minister too. We have met him every year that he has been here. But we must understand, the minister also must not be seen and be treating in a way that we are dealing with day-to-day issues which fall under the mandate of the Commission.
If the minister wants to share an initiative with us, of course we would listen as he did on those two occasions. It should not be seen to be meeting with the minister to discuss the day-to-day routine matters that come under the purview of the Commission. We both have to be careful about that, so sometimes the minister says “you know they only met me once and I don’t cooperate.” Let me know what you want us to meet about and we will determine where we go from there.
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