By Svetlana Marshall
The President of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU), Mark Lyte, has rubbished the contention that the non-submission of the Union’s Annual Returns is an indication that the Union’s finances are being misappropriated.
Last Friday, the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority disclosed that the GTU last filed its Annual Returns in March 2005 for the year ending December 31, 2004.
In another statement, the Office of the Auditor General indicated that the last Financial Statement submitted by the Union to the Audit Office was in 1989.
The two statements from the two Government Agencies followed the Vice President’s criticism of the Guyana Teachers’ Union and his questioning of the union’s financial standing.
Speaking to reporters today on the picket line, the GTU President, Mark Lyte, while noting that the Union is actively addressing the issues raised, said the Union’s books are in order.
“But to deem that the non-submission is a case of persons misappropriating funds is really sad. Because we have had our books audited every year, especially, as it leads up to our conferences,” the GTU President said.
He said it would appear that the system of collecting financial records such as Annual Returns, and the auditing of Financial Statements for non-governmental organizations and non-profit organizations, such as unions, and religious organizations, is defunct.
Vice President, Bharrat Jagdeo, last week, said GTU could be struck from the Register of Trade Unions over what he considered to be the union’s breach of the Trade Union Recognition Act. That Act mandates the submission of financial statements, but Lyte told reporters that he is not worried.
“We have to ask ourselves whether there is a trade union recognition board. There is none. There is no trade union recognition board. So, it would require a board to be installed. And, if the government hastily try to put a board in place, it will tell us where we are going as a nation,” Lyte said.
According to the GTU President, members of the Union are satisfied that each year, the union’s accounts are audited by an external auditor, and the report is submitted to the General Council as well as at the Union’s Conference.
Meanwhile, as the strike entered its second week, Lyte said there has been no word from the Government on engaging the union.
“No. absolutely no one has reached out to us. We have been saying all along, we are ready to speak, we are ready to talk,” he said, noting that the industrial action will continue until Government heeds to the cries of teachers.
On the picket line today, teachers vowed to remain resolute in their strike action until their demands for better salaries are met.
Headmaster of Arau Primary School, Robinson George, said he traveled from the Region Seven community to support the GTU and his fellow teachers.
“We have a lot of challenges, especially, in the interior, one is the cost of living. The cost of living is very high. And, the salary that we are getting there, the difference between the coastland and the hinterland, it is very challenging, the money that you are getting is not enough”, George said.
He explained that prior to his placement at Arau Primary, he was assigned to the Eteringbang Primary School, and the conditions were less than desirable at that school. He said there are real challenges being faced by teachers.
“Recently, I was working at Eteringbang Primary – there are real challenges in there. One was transportation to go there. It takes two days from Eteringbang to Bartica. I am really from Waramadong but I was assigned in there. So, I spent time in there and it was very challenging. They have housing for teachers, with no furniture; they have a stove, no gas cylinder; and water, there is no clean water that you can get access to except for the rain water,” he explained.
Another Teacher, Minty Fredericks, told News Source that teachers can no longer be patient, as he shut down a call by President Irfaan Ali to be patient with the Government.
“That’s not a reasonable request. We have been patient all the time; we have given them all the opportunities to do what they had to do, and we are still waiting. Ah mean, how long are we going to wait? Next year is elections, nobody knows the outcome of elections. They have passed a budget of over one trillion dollars, and we are still waiting, there is nothing there for us. So, what more are we waiting for?” Sir Fredericks reasoned.
The teacher said as a family man, he is living from pay cheque to pay cheque, adding that teachers cannot survive on their current salaries.
Teacher Stephan Josiah, said teachers are disappointed in the Administration and the handling of the industrial action.
“We are disappointed in the President, we are disappointed in the Prime Minister, we are disappointed in the Minister of Education for not listening to the cries of teachers. Look, it is time, it is time. Teachers are not satisfied, you have to come and talk to the teachers, and sort out what’s going on. You need to hear both sides. Teachers are not satisfied, and all the reasons are clear,” Sir Josiah said.
Former Prime Minister and former Mayor of Georgetown Hamilton Green and his wife, stood in solidarity with the teachers on Brickdam today.
Dr. Jennifer Basdeo-Green said Guyana is in a better position to support its teachers and public servants and that support is needed now.
“We have the money, it is just a matter of putting the resources, where they need to be put. Because I am sure, we don’t want 10 years down the road, we have a set of uneducated people, who are unable to benefit from what this country has to offer. And it is education that is going to do it, we talk about it all the time. Education is the way forward but how are we going to have education if we don’t have teachers teaching? How can you teach properly if you are not properly compensated?” she reasoned.
The Government maintains that the the strike action illegal, and has since taken steps through the Ministries of Education and Local Government to cut the salaries of teachers on strike.