Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Sir Hilary Beckles has been forced to apologize to the Jamaican parliament after the UWI blatantly refused to appear, as requested, before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC).
The university’s original position was contained in a letter dispatched by registrar C. William Iton to the permanent secretary in the ministry of education Maurice Smith.
According to the Jamaica Gleaner, which today published copies of the so-called “UWI snub letter” as well as Sir Hilary’s full written apology, Iton’s letter was presented to the parliamentary committee earlier this week.
However, Sir Hilary today assured that the UWI was both “keen and willing” to appear before the committee to account for its spending.
In his letter addressed to the PAAC chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill, Sir Hilary said:
“The University of the West Indies (UWI) apologizes for the misunderstanding and its consequences that have developed in respect to the request for an engagement with the Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC).
In an effort to smooth over relations with the Jamaica government, the vice chancellor also downplayed the registrar’s correspondence, saying it was really an attempt “to clarify the principle of accountability and facilitate the procedure rather than obstruct the importance of the engagement.
“The UWI, as a regional institution, is keen and willing to appear before the PAAC in respect of Jamaican investments in all of our campuses, not just the Mona Campus,” Sir Hilary said.
“It is well established procedure for the University Bursar to make such submissions to all governments on behalf of all campuses. The Mona Campus accounts for only a part of the national expenditure, hence the need to assist the parliament to fully take on board the regional nature of its investment,” he wrote.
Sir Hilary also acknowledged that “Governments have, from time to time, sought clarification of the principle of regional investment and national accountability, and the governance model of the UWI was created in order to embrace Ministers of National Governments in order to accommodate this circumstance.
“There is therefore no attempt to challenge the authority of the Jamaican parliament which we celebrate and recognize as having made the largest single investment in the UWI these past 68 years.
“We are grateful that the parliament has approved investments that have enabled the UWI to grow as a globally respected regional University.
“The University Bursar, therefore, acting on behalf of the entire UWI system, is empowered to honour the request of the PAAC and will do so as soon as his presence is requested,” he added in his letter, which was copied to the minister of education, youth and information Senator Ruel Reid, as well as his permanent secretary.
This constituted a major climb down from the position taken by the registrar that the UWI, as a public autonomous regional educational institution, which serves 17 Caribbean countries, and was established by Royal Charter in 1962 “has to be distinguished from other agencies”.
In fact, the UWI official, while blatantly refusing the Jamaica government’s request, had attached the legal authority, which was provided by the attorney general’s chambers in January 2017.
“The University recognizes that as a contributing country you are entitled to know how your government’s subventions are utilized, and in that regard would recommend that your representative on the University Finance & General Purposes Committee use that forum to request the necessary information,” the “snub” letter ended.