Wed | Jun 26, 2019

Orville Taylor | Reiding, righting and arithmetricks

Published:Sunday | March 24, 2019 | 12:25 AM

If you read right and Reid’s wrong, then who reads Reid’s rights when Reid writes wrong? And if Reid isn’t right, which rites right Reid’s wrongs?

 

It’s uncertain if the educator-cum-politician would still appreciate the verbal gymnastics; however, we know that there was a summary resignation of Education Minister Ruel Reid, both as senator and portfolio minister. At this point, the defrocked legislator has not been proven guilty of any offence, either criminal or administrative. Therefore, inasmuch as this is potentially as juicy a saga as Petrojelly, we must not jump to judgment because due process and following rules and procedures are the mainstays of our democracy and cannot be discarded due to the expedience of the powerful.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips pushed until the applecart was tipped and alleged, “… issues of cronyism, nepotism, and corruption at the CMU (Caribbean Maritime University) and … funds allocated from HEART/NTA to the Ministry for the Career Advancement Programme and the TVET Rationalization Programme ... .”

So far, we know very little. To the credit of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, he acted swiftly and asked Reid to resign. From a strictly industrial relations point of view, having resigned, even if it is subsequently found that he is not culpable, there might be little argument about an unjustifiable dismissal because Reid’s letter makes it clear that he stepped down willingly to allow for the unobstructed investigations into his stewardship. Thus, it will “… ensure that any investigation into matters of concern will not be in any way impeded by his presence or oversight of the ministry”.

However, if, when the dust settles, he is found wanting like Nebuchadnezzar, he should not be redeployed and given some special task force to lead.

What we do know is that there are fishy rumblings by the sea. The CMU is in the spotlight, and it is not the disbanded Crime Management Unit, under the leadership of a now retired ‘crime fighter’.

On the blocks is the ultra-fast-rising CMU, headed by Professor Fritz Pinnock, and, of course, under the direct remit of Reid as minister.

The first whiff of the pungent odour of mackerel is the alleged $5.5 million consultant salary to, coincidentally, Othniel Lawrence, former member of parliament for the constituency, which Reid had aspirations to represent. Lawrence, as an adviser to someone who is infinitely more qualified than he, would be a bizarre arrangement.

Pinnock is not only a PhD, but has considerable practical experience in the maritime industry. Indeed, outside of the specific mandate of the field, he is a noted all-rounder from his days as an undergraduate student at The University of the West Indies (UWI). Therefore, Lawrence’s presence could look like a gift to a reasonable man. Between Reid and Pinnock, an answer must be provided to the public.

Yet, as bad and rancid as Petrojelly was, the potential fallout here is even worse.

Although not one of the top-tiered entities given institutional accreditation by the University Council of Jamaica, CMU is actually designated as a university. In the Americas, the Anglophone Caribbean has the lowest university enrolment, and despite the UWI being in the top five per cent of universities internationally, the region is behind the eight ball as a unit.

Research by my colleague behavioural scientist presents irrefutable evidence that there is a direct correlation between tertiary-level education and low propensity to crime and violence. But the education must be real and not tainted by the machinations of interest groups.

The danger of having a powerful man or small handful of oligarchs doing as they please with not just an institution run wholly or partially by taxpayers’ money is multiplied geometrically when it is the last bastion of truth and knowledge, the academy.

I do not know a lot about the CMU, but I have been impressed by its slate of programmes over the years. But moving from an institute, which it was up to a few years ago, to becoming a university, is a quantum leap.

COMPLETE TRANSPARENCY

Universities are the pinnacle of the academy in any country or region. Academic knowledge is the nearest that we can get to truth on this Earth. Unlike religious knowledge, which requires faith and other intangibles, or legal truth, which is bound by rules of evidence, the freedom to suppress facts and attorney privileges, academic truth is guided by independence, empiricism, and data.

More important, universities and their academics must have complete transparency when they conduct research. They must declare bias, interest, the source of their funding, and whether the peer reviewers of their work are collaborators, friends, family members, or other possible cronies.

Universities are bound by ordinances and strict rules, which, even if they prove to be inconvenient or impediments to the will of the powerful interests within or without the institution, are sacrosanct and inviolable. It is very perilous when bias of any sort is allowed to enter into academic activities, no matter how economically or politically powerful the hegemons are.

It is for that reason I stood my ground a few years ago in this column and warned my colleagues on my plantation that the decision to trample on the scientific research and academic freedom of Professor Brendan Bain was bad for the institution, but, most importantly, given my scholarship in industrial relations and labour law, the university was acting wrongly and would regret it in the end. Bain was vindicated, not just by the court, but by the very research that was produced within the UWI, but which was ignored.

Pinnock and Reid, being graduates of the UWI themselves, must know that having the power to do something is not the same as having the authority to do so. Many a powerful man has fallen because he twisted rules due to nepotism, cronyism, or victimisation.

Yet, in all of this, we must remember that Reid must get his fair taste of natural justice.

As for his substantive position as principal of Jamaica College, the board has the authority to keep him on leave until the matter is finalised. They do not, however, have any basis to dismiss him unless there are charges and a proper process.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.