UWI snubs House

MPs push for re­forms to make univer­sity an­swer­able to Ja­maican Par­lia­ment

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Jo­van John­son Staff Re­porter

JA­MAICA’S ELECTED rep­re­sen­ta­tives, smart­ing from be­ing snubbed by the Univer­sity of the West Indies (UWI), now say that they will be push­ing for nec­es­sary changes to en­sure that the univer­sity, which, this year alone, is set to get fund­ing that could cover two govern­ment min­istries, is an­swer­able to the Par­lia­ment.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the univer­sity, which has a cam­pus in Ja­maica (Mona), the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, and the Univer­sity Coun­cil of Ja­maica were in­vited to ap­pear yes­ter­day be­fore Par­lia­ment’s Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee (PAAC) to ex­plain how they have been spend­ing tax­pay­ers’ money.

Section 73A of the Stand­ing Or­ders, which govern the rules of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, em­pow­ers the PAAC to mon­i­tor govern­ment ex­pen­di­ture.

How­ever, mem­bers were left stunned when the com­mit­tee chair­man, Dr WyKen­ham McNeill, read a let­ter from the univer­sity’s regis­trar, Wil­liam Iton, which made it clear that the UWI had no le­gal obli­ga­tion to ap­pear be­fore the Ja­maican Par­lia­ment.

“Please be ad­vised that the UWI is a pub­lic au­ton­o­mous re­gional ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion which serves 17 coun­tries in the Caribbean,” Iton said in the let­ter dated Oc­to­ber 10 to Dr Mau­rice Smith, per­ma­nent sec­re­tary in the ed­u­ca­tion min­istry.

“The univer­sity was es­tab­lished by (Bri­tish) Royal Char­ter in 1962. The univer­sity there­fore has to be dis­tin­guished from other agen­cies of your min­istry,” the let­ter con­tin­ued.

The royal char­ter makes the in­sti­tu­tion only legally an­swer­able

to the Bri­tish monar­chy, iden­ti­fied as the ‘vis­i­tor’, or its rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Iton’s let­ter said as a con­trib­u­tor to the univer­sity, Ja­maica was “en­ti­tled” to in­for­ma­tion and rec­om­mended that the Govern­ment use its rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the univer­sity’s fi­nance com­mit­tee “to re­quest the nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion”.

Pro­fes­sor Archibald McDonald, prin­ci­pal of the Mona cam­pus, told The Gleaner yes­ter­day that each CARICOM con­tribut­ing coun­try has rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the fi­nance com­mit­tee, which is a sub­com­mit­tee of the univer­sity coun­cil – the UWI’s high­est de­ci­sion-mak­ing body – which also has govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

He said there was no for­mal re­port­ing re­quire­ment from CARICOM, which lists the UWI as one of its “as­so­ciate in­sti­tu­tions”.

The univer­sity had sub­mit­ted a re­port, sig­nalling its in­tent to ap­pear be­fore the com­mit­tee, but ac­cord­ing to Smith, the univer­sity with­drew and sub­mit­ted an opin­ion it said it re­ceived from the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s cham­bers in 2007, which af­firmed its le­gal in­de­pen­dence.

Ques­tions to the Of­fice of the Vice-Chan­cel­lor, headed by Pro­fes­sor Sir Hi­lary Beck­les, were not an­swered up to press time.

SIT­U­A­TION UN­AC­CEPT­ABLE

In a May re­search pa­per, the li­brary of the United King­dom’s House of Lords, sim­i­lar to the Se­nate in Ja­maica, noted that “royal char­ters and the af­fairs of char­tered bod­ies are not gen­er­ally de­bated in Par­lia­ment”.

McNeill said the Ja­maican sit­u­a­tion is un­ac­cept­able and his com­mit­tee would be rec­om­mend­ing that Par­lia­ment con­sider the is­sue with the aim of start­ing to en­sure that Par­lia­ment could do its job as an over­sight body for pub­lic funds.

“It’s not that we’re cast­ing any as­per­sions on the UWI. Any ex­pen­di­ture made out of pub­lic funds must have scru­tiny. You must un­der­stand how it is spent and for what it is spent,” he ar­gued.

Con­tin­u­ing, he said: “Where the sys­tems are in place, our job is to en­sure that those sys­tems are fol­lowed, and where we find a sys­tem where there is a de­fi­ciency, say in this case, then we have to move to ad­just it and to agree to it. The one thing I can be cer­tain of is that we will put in place the nec­es­sary mech­a­nisms to en­sure open­ness and trans­parency.”

MCDONALD

MCNEILL

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