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ALL AH WE IS ONE: More business myth


ALL AH WE IS ONE: More business myth

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LAST WEEK, an important debate emerged over the decision by Anthony Garcia, Trinidad’s Minister of Education, to release the name of Robert Bermudez as the replacement for the outgoing chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Sir George Alleyne. 

In the view of former UWI pro-vice chancellor and now an Opposition MP in Trinidad, Dr Bhoe Tewarie, it was a serious “political blunder”, since “this is a matter for the council of the university and . . . notwithstanding the financial support of governments . . . the university and its institutions remain autonomous and independent”.

Whilst the minister’s “forwardness” exposes further the “amateurism” now pervading Caribbean and global politics in this era of anti-intellectualism and suspicion of experts, this article is far more interested in discussing what Minister’s Garcia’s thinking reveals about the current ideological moment in the Caribbean. 

According to him, the appointment of Bermudez, a successful Caribbean businessperson, was indicative of a “paradigm shift”, enabling UWI to “generate its own funds and become less reliant on state funding”. The minister is trapped in false assumptions.

First, there is little connection between a chancellor’s appointment and a shift in UWI’s philosophical direction. Further, it is doubtful that Mr Bermudez was appointed solely because he is a “businessman”. A chancellor is like a ceremonial head. Mr Bermudez’s appointment would have come as result of his profile as a respected and leading Caribbean personality of notable achievement, whose personal accomplishments fulfil UWI’s aspirations to pursue excellence.

Mr Bermudez is fully deserving of his appointment and is worthy of all congratulations. However, his appointment is no more indicative of UWI’s shift to private sector funding, than was the appointment of Sir George Alleyne an indication of UWI’s prioritising of public health. Indeed, UWI’s policy shift away from state financing long predates Mr Bermudez. Minister Garcia was therefore only using Mr Bermudez’s appointment as a convenient platform for his own policy intent towards UWI.

This attempt by the minister to associate the appointment of a prominent Caribbean businessman with a cure for UWI’s challenges validates my concern raised here in an article entitled Business Makeover, in which I argued that Caribbean politics is being reshaped by neo-liberal ideas and is being remade in the image of the Caribbean business class. 

Just as Caribbean populations have been assuming falsely that the election of business persons can solve the current crisis of Caribbean development, and just as St Lucia’s prime minister transferred responsibility for shaping his annual budget to a private sector accounting firm, then similarly was Minister Garcia shifting responsibility for public education to the private sector. Elected officials are busy surrendering decision-making power to non-elected sources of power.

In his desperate search for solutions facing Caribbean society, Minister Garcia will be well advised to look outside the Caribbean business class for meaningful solutions. 

• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email: [email protected]