FRANKLY SPEAKING: Alexandra or ‘Gaza’
While Government and its agencies are fiddling, another generation of Alexandra School students is being educated in less than ideal circumstances.
For too long the atmosphere at that school has been more like a war zone than an institution for teaching and learning. In order to restore some semblance of normalcy, the Prime Minister ordered an investigatory commission of inquiry to delve into the causes of the conflict that disrupted the tranquility that existed at the school pre-Jeff Broomes.
The commission of inquiry issued its report with recommendations more than two months ago, and nothing discernible has happened to settle the fractious interpersonal relationships that have now become the norm at Alexandra School.
With an election looming, the average person can appreciate that Government might not want to take any action that might cause it to lose friends, but it should not sit idly by and pretend that everything will turn out fine if it does nothing. It will not.
Government must bite the bullet and decide that another generation of students must not be allowed to be educated in this “Gaza”, where the combatants have been observing what could only be described as an armed truce since the appointment of the Waterman Commission.
After reading the complete document, nothing in the report has changed my views: that the intervention of the Prime Minister to bring about a settlement was ill-advised; and that the major beneficiaries of the exercise would have been the lawyers, who were fortunate enough to get a share of that $600 000 fatted calf.
Hopefully, that is all the inquiry will cost and we will not be confronted with a supplementary to pay for unforeseen expenditure.
The commissioner made recommendations to discipline people but was careful to point out, quite rightly, that discipline of public officers was really the role of the Public Service Commission. That being the case, two questions readily come to mind: Was this not known before the appointment of the commission of inquiry? And what was the real purpose of the inquiry?
The answer to either question can be that the commission was able to make recommendations for changes to the Education Act and its regulations. The problematic areas of the legislation have been known for years. Certainly, the areas of conflict of duties between the board and principal were known when I served on the board of The Lester Vaughan School ten years ago. But then again, we had an excellent principal, in the person of Ezra Barker, and a board that realized that we were working in the interest of the children.
Even though the commissioner acknowledged his impotence to deal with public officers, he still went on to make recommendations to deal with some of them. The suggestion that could be considered the howler is the one to give Amaida Greaves a written reprimand, while acknowledging that “this issue of her not teaching is a matter for investigation and determination by the Public Service Commission”.
It would be highly irregular to punish someone and then investigate to determine if an offence had been committed. A written reprimand is one of the penalties that could be imposed on a public officer who has been found guilty, in accordance with the Code of Discipline in the Public Service.
To my mind, the recommendations to deal with the principal would also prove problematic. He is employed by the Public Service Commission and only it can take steps to separate him from Alexandra. These particular recommendations fall short because they appear to be ignoring Mr Broomes’ right to due process. The Public Service Commission is a public body that is subject to the Administration Of Justice Act and, as such, it must act in accordance with the principles of natural justice. Put simply, it must give him a hearing before it comes to a final determination on any matter that relates to him.
The procedure for dealing with a public officer, who is accused of infringing the rules, is set out in the Code of Discipline in the Public Service. The recommendations of the Waterman Commission cannot be substituted for any recommendations that are required to be made by the three-man investigatory committee that is required, in accordance with paragraph 4 (6) of the code.
Constraints of space would not permit me to reproduce the rule. Other than voluntary retirement, the only way to legitimately remove Mr Broomes from his post now is to institute disciplinary action and find him guilty of misconduct of a serious nature; or to find him guilty of three or more matters of misconduct of a minor nature in a two-year period.
Unfortunately, if there was any evidence against him that could have led to such action, it would have been tainted by the Commission of Inquiry rendering it useless. It is safe to say that appointing the Waterman Commission has only served to cement Mr Broomes in his post.
By removing this matter from the purview of the Public Service Commission – the only authority that could legally deal with disciplinary matters in the Public Service – the Prime Minister has ensured that any attempts to remove Uncle Jeff from Alexandra School, before retirement, would result in his being a wealthy man.
The Jeff Broomes that I know will never roll over and play dead, so Caribbean Court of Justice, here we come.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator.