STORY by JACK WARNER UTT PhD Student
Having served previously as a Minister of National Security, this author is well aware of the responsibilities of that portfolio. Every common definition of National Security will say essentially that same thing that it is ‘the security of a nation state including its citizens, economy and institutions, which is regarded as a duty of Government.’ In most people’s minds it will always be what we depend on to protect us from military attack. However, it has gone way beyond this and ‘is now widely understood to include non-military dimensions.’ Among these myriad non-military dimensions, we want to highlight four, namely economic security, environmental security, food security, and cyber security.
Citizens and Security – Generally
We also want to ask these questions. Does one have to be a Minister or even in the Government to be concerned about National Security? What is Government, if not a collection of citizens? What then is the role of the average citizen in ensuring certain protections for this nation-state? What is the role of the press? What is the role of Business and of Public institutions? These entities cannot protect against military attack usually but average individuals can certainly do their parts in shoring up protection in several of the non-military dimensions of security. The environment is a case in point where our efforts should be zealous. As the Minister of Public Utilities, The Honorable Robert Le Hunte, begged recently at the opening of AmchamTT’s 23rd annual Health and Safety, Security and the Environment (HSSE) conference and exhibition, as was reported in the Newsday on October 25th., it should be ‘All hands on deck to save the environment.”
An Underestimated Need for Vigilance
We will come back to all or most of these questions later in this article but for now, we want to focus on one narrow yet possibly critical function of the Ministry of National Security, namely the issuing of work permits to foreign nationals. Inherent in the understanding of national security, of course, is that threats come from both inside and outside or, as others choose to say, threats come from both within and without. We should not disregard the statistic that a bigger percentage of crimes is committed by locals rather than by foreigners. However, to quote the old adage which says that ‘we can choose our friends but we can’t choose our family’, so too we say we can’t prevent the presence of native-born criminals. We cannot stop them from being born nor can we evict them when they commit a crime. However, we can be diligent about preventing would-be criminals, frauds and charlatans from entering our country. And we should jail or evict them, depending on the seriousness of the offence, when they commit not just an orthodox crime but any form of deliberate harm to this nation and/or to its citizens. We should never relax our vigilance for this reason, if for no other. Foreign nationals are able to flee the country and go happily back to their native or adopted lands, leaving their damage behind. Knowing this, those who want to do harm can become very bold about their wrongdoing.
Why the Tertiary Education Sector?
When we think of foreign nationals entering Trinidad and Tobago, most people’s minds go immediately to the oil and gas sector or to construction or to service providers like Digicel and Flow. Tertiary Education will not come into consideration, possibly because academics seem nerdy and innocuous. How much threat can they be to a nation and/or its citizens? Well, many will argue that there is a sea change in what harm people can pose in this sector and why. We believe the main cause is a lack of vigilance because this sector flies under the National Security radar and is often thought of as being under the purview of the Ministry of Education. Well, the reality is that the Ministry of Education does not control who comes in to work in this sector and may not have the wherewithal to monitor what they do AFTER they come in.
We think it is important then that we focus on the role of the Ministry of National Security in this sector. For one thing, the foreign nationals coming into Trinidad and Tobago in the oil and gas industry or in the other sectors are paid by their multi-national companies. Foreign nationals coming into the two largest institutions in the Tertiary Education sector, UWI and UTT, are paid either by the contributions from 17 Caribbean territories (UWI), of which Trinidad and Tobago is one, or they are paid wholly and solely by funds belonging to the people of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). Should we, the public, not then have a full accounting of how our funds are being spent and expect accountability for when they are misspent or when they actually are used to pay people who have the wherewithal to harm our individual citizens and sometimes even the nation?
Why the Topic of This Article?
This article, although it may not appear so immediately, follows on from last week’s “What/Who is working, What/Who is not.’ In researching the ‘Who,” we found a dearth of people who could name someone they respected, someone whom they felt was working in the interest of UTT. Given the number of foreign nationals in top positions at UTT, then this question follows. Why are they not standing out as positively ‘special’ and, if they are not positively “special,’ but maybe just the opposite in some cases, why are they so dominant?
We need to make one thing very clear before going on. A Quality Tertiary Education institution must do everything it can to attract the best and brightest from anywhere in the world. Having a teaching staff originating from many countries enhances the learning environment, especially as it affords students windows into other cultures. UWI, a much older institution than UTT, was built with foreign staff.
There is no question about the value they brought, along with a few foreign-trained locals, in setting up departments at that institution. Of course, there were no graduates from local institutions then. But UWI has been putting out local graduates for decades so that when UTT was set up 15 years ago and now, the situation was and is quite different. UWI is a regional institution and the staff at the St Augustine campus remains richly flavoured with members from other Caribbean countries, North America, and Europe.
There has been no replacement of capable foreigners by less competent locals. There is also no overt sign that UWI has jettisoned capable locals for ‘so-so’ foreigners, although anything is possible. Can we say the same for the National University? Can we say there is and has been no overt sign of this at UTT? Not after last week’s article.
This week’s article then is meant to lower the radar of authority, making it more difficult for some to ‘fly under.’ We want to focus attention, using a set of ‘what if’ scenarios, on possible breaches in the Tertiary Education sector, areas of harm which could easily be done to citizens and the nation, simply because no one was looking. We also want to question what should be the penalty for those institutions who, through negligence or calculation, fail to report and even support those breaches, and what should be the treatment of the whistleblowers, those individuals, who act through love of country to bring information on those breaches to the notice of the respective authorities?
What if there is an Issue with Credentials?
The most obvious breach in any sector is if someone gains a work permit under false pretenses. The biggest ‘false pretense,’ other than a bad or criminal character, would be if one applies for and obtains a permit to do work, which one is not capable of doing. A clear sign that one may not be capable is if either one does not have credentials at all OR purports to have credentials in a different name OR has credentials in an area other than that in which one is permitted to work. This is a most egregious failing and a diligent Human Resource department should ascertain this early on. How? The first act of a new employee, at any level, in a Tertiary Institution should be for them to present original diplomas of the degrees specified on their curriculum vitae. Of course, any lack should have been caught by the interviewing panel, but let’s say that was tainted, what would cause a Human Resource department to circumvent such an obvious requirement as presentation of original diplomas, which would validate both name and degree discipline? What would cause them to apply for a work permit for such an unproven individual? What would cause them, if they find out at a later date, to not bring this to the attention of the Ministry of National Security? Is it even possible at all that any Tertiary Institution, supported by public funds, as they all are, could participate in such a travesty? And, if they do, what then? Paying high salaries to unqualified people breaches our economic security not to mention damages our learning environment. We have neither money nor quality to
What if There is an Age issue?
There is a standing joke in some international organizations, with staff from around the world, that some nations use Tree Rings, not birth dates by Western standards, to estimate the ages of their citizens. Others maintain that some countries facilitate knocking 5 years off the ages of their citizens ensuring that they can circumvent age limits and remain employees of international or foreign institutions. All of this may be nonsense talk or it may have a smidgen of truth but it begs the question of whether the Ministry of National Security is firm with Tertiary Institutions about establishing clearly the ages of foreign staff, especially those who look close to or above retirement age?
Giving foreign nationals full salary contracts or even post-retirement contracts when they are beyond the retirement age should be a cause for serious concern unless they are so vital to the organization that their loss would cause serious disruption. No such vital person has been identified for UTT.
What if They Misuse funds?
There is more than one way to cause loss of funds. Someone doesn’t have to steal money directly to be a ‘thief.’ Anyone making false claims for money and paid leave for activities not done or not worthwhile, anyone wasting the University’s funds to further their own agendas, as they would if they exchange salary increases, stipends, travel funds for personal favours, anyone engaged in frequent personal absences, in suspicious procurement practices, is misusing funds. In fact, anyone whose agenda makes them willing to stoop this low, ‘stealing’ money and time, grabbing at every opportunity for self-advancement, working not for the institution but for themselves, then is not their very presence a misuse of funds?
What if They Sabotage the Institution’s Processes?
Foreign nationals are brought into the tertiary education sector to further the agendas of the institutions they will serve. Should they be working with deliberation to obstruct staff, to cause the loss of grants, to divert someone’s intellectual property from research, to hamper students in order to spite their supervisor? Should they be changing the very structure of the institution to something that is lacking in quality, making gratuitous, nonsense changes which leave the learning environment so much poorer? Should they be plotting and conniving in malicious ways which harm even a single staff member? Should they be bringing specious charges and launching dishonest investigations? And what if they do these harmful things? Why are they still in our country?
What if They Make Negatively Significant Changes?
This really shouldn’t be a what-if. It is what was done. UTT has opened up two empty so-called Centres of Cyber and Food Security, with no specific research or researchers and little hope of making a real difference, while closing its vibrant Environmental Studies programme, which was shut down without warning or valid reason. Subsumed under that and also closed was UTT’s M.Sc. In Environmental Science and Management, its strongest Master’s programme. This area had students and researchers carrying out significant applied research, extensive national outreach to schools, communities, Ministries, State agencies, and NGOs, proven success with hundreds of graduates, publications with international recognition, and myriad other signs of excellence.
This was a blow not just to the National University but to the nation. Ask Minster Le Hunte!!!! This was a programme ordered started by Cabinet. Yet, it was closed without notice to the Minister of Planning and Development and without any investigation into its importance. What is more, it was closed by someone who should have had no more authority than that needed to close an office door. So, what if the true architect of this turns out to be someone on a work permit? Is this why we let this person into our country- to damage and destroy what we built over a decade?
There may not have been an investigation before, but one is coming. It has to!
The Individual Citizen and Security
What if at least one of the ‘what ifs’ above occurred? They are certainly all highly probable. Do you see the dangers- the losses of money, quality, reputation? Has the work permit become a Trojan/Trinidadian horse, with the Greeks/Foreign frauds pressing at our gates? Where is the due diligence coming from some institutions which should prevent this?
Where is the accountability for the performance – good and bad- of staff on work permits. Where is the oversight from the Ministry of National Security? Is it then left to the individual citizen to act? And then, what is the role of the individual, who becomes privy to wrongdoing?
Should this be reported or should it be covered up? If it is reported, what should be done to the institution which rushes to deny the truth and to validate the culprit, opening the door to possible nuisance suits from the falsely validated, and setting in motion a path for the High Court to be misled, into becoming a deterrent to the truth rather than an upholder of it?
Make no mistake about it, there are ‘crimes’ which academics can commit, in and out of the University. These people hold no special claim to a good character or to honesty. In fact, if they find us easy marks, they are unlikely to bother to be honest. Expect the fraudulent CVs and the dual identities, in which case the institutions which bring them in should be fined if found negligent.
They should be severely censured if they are found to have covered up infractions. It is not tolerable for some citizens to expose others to harm. They become just as guilty as the ones who harm. Foreign nationals at Tertiary Institutions should be monitored just like those on temporary visas everywhere. If they are highly paid out of public funds, both their character and their capability need even more scrutiny.
If they are not doing their jobs, if they are creating nuisance and harm, then please Ministry of National Security, do your job and get them out!