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25th April 1999

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Who appoints the Vice Chancellor?

By: Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

For the past two decades, Sri Lanka has witnessed a melancholy trend of crucially important bills being presented in Parliament sans any public awareness let alone debate and passed helter skelter. Recent years were no exception, notable examples being the NGO Bill and the Broadcasting Authority Bill. April 1999 sees another such piece of legislation being added to this infamous list.

This week, a Bill to amend the Universities Act was presented to Parliament by the Minister of Education and Higher Education.

Among other unsupportable changes, the Bill radically revises the structure of appointments of Vice Chancellors to Universities by interpolating a Ministerial discretion in the process of appointments.

As it stands at present, the Vice Chancellor of a University is appointed for a term of three years by the President upon the recommendation of the University Grants Commission from a panel of three names recommended by the Council of the University.

This procedure, by itself, led to many snags in the past where names recommended by the Council were rejected by the President, resulting in the Council being called upon to suggest more names in an interminably delaying process, one such recent instance being the appointment of the Vice Chancellor of the Moratuwa University.

The proposed Bill makes the process far worse.

Now, together with the Commission, the Minister is given the authority to make the recommendation to the President from a panel of three names suggested by the Council.

Moreover, it is specifically provided that where the Minister and the Commission are unable to agree on a recommendation for the post of the Vice Chancellor, it is the duty of the Council to recommend a further panel of three names for their consideration. All this is, of course, a far cry from the original method of selection in those deliciously old fashioned days when the Universities Act was first enacted and the Vice Chancellor, as befitting the grandeur of the post, chosen by the Chancellor on being elected by the Court of that University.

The rude introduction of a political element into the appointments came by amendment in 1985.

The proposed amendment of 1996 completes the turning of the circle, for clearly, the discretion of the President given his or her public and constitutional role, is far more susceptible to public accountability than the discretion of the Minister.

Again, the removal of the Vice Chancellor, originally by the Chancellor on a vote of censure passed by not less than two thirds of the total membership of the Court, at a special meeting convened for this purpose was changed in 1985 to the President being bequeathed this power after consultation with the Commission.

The 1999 amendment includes the Minister in this process of consultation, completing the introduction of an unwarrantedly political element in the process.

To add spectacular insult to injury, it is also proposed that two Members of Parliament be appointed to the Council of a University, each representing the Government and the Opposition.

That a member of the Opposition has been included in the composition can be no excuse to what is undoubtedly a direct political intrusion into the Council which is " the executive and governing authority" of a University having a crucial role to play in the affairs of that institution. Apart from the recommendation of names for the post of Vice Chancellor, the Council holds, administers and controls the funds of the University and has a host of other functions of vital importance. Given the amalgamation of political influence on the Council and considerable supervisory power that the Bill awards to the Minister in crucial respects, one does not have to tax one's imagination very much to envisage the effect that the whole would have on the functioning of the Council.

Indeed, the introduction of Members of Parliament into academic councils in this manner is not only unprecedented but distinctly unwise, given the volatile nature of university politics Meanwhile, the April Bill also stipulates that every Registrar and Bursar of a University appointed under the Act shall cease to hold office from the date of commencement of the law.

New holders of the office are to be appointed by the University Grants Commission upon recommendation by a Selection Committee.

While this change has been suggested clearly with a view to minimizing scandals of fraud and mismanagement that have rocked university administrations in recent times, the question is whether an arbitrary removing of all Registrars and Bursars, lock, stock and barrel is the best answer. Those who cease to hold office could be re-appointed to the post or offered an equivalent post in a Higher Educational Institution. Alternately, he or she would be offered compensation of an amount determined by the Commission.

Nonetheless, the penalising, even if temporary, by loss of post, of all these officers to address the misdeeds of a few cannot be regarded as fair by any means.

The proposed Bill redefines the institutions it would apply to as including not only Universities and University Affiliated Colleges but also any "Institute or Centre of Higher Learning" Given the fundamental changes that it makes to the governing of all such academic institutions in this country, its implications are of enormous public importance.

The irony is that for the past months, academics were reportedly informed of far reaching changes proposed to the Universities Act and were requested to send in their observations.

Several such observations were in fact sent while others are in the process of submitting theirs.

It was in the midst of this that the Bill was presented in the House this Wednesday and slapped on the Order Paper, thus attracting the customary frenzied one week period within which Bills can be challenged.

The total lack of serious discussion about the proposed changes or any intimation whether observations sent in were in fact considered, is amazing for any one unacquainted with Sri Lanka's dangerously casual manner of passing legislation. It can only be a sad indictment on our lawmakers that this audacious process continues.

World Reports

Jyoti Basu could fill India power vacuum

By Vaijayanthi Prakash, Our Correspondent in New Delhi

Congress could canvass only 233 MPs; Sonia given more time;
if she fails what next?

On Saturday, at the end of a week of cataclysmic political developments, a still amorphous Third Front, comprising non-Congress and non-BJP political parties, seemed most likely to form a government in India. Frantic efforts are being made to get the octogenarian Marxist Chief Minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu to head the front's government and save the country from a fresh elections or a return to BJP rule.

Written off like the dodo only a few weeks ago, the Third Front has now come back into the reckoning thanks to the reluctance of the non-BJP parties to back a uni-party Congress minority government and the Congress party's own reluctance to share power through a coalition.

The clamour in the non-BJP camp is either for a broad coalition or a non-Congress government with the Congress supporting it from outside. The Third Front is still a vague idea, but it could take concrete shape in a couple of days with Mr. Basu, as its head and mascot.

Mr. Basu had been offered the leadership of a broad non-BJP coalition twice before, but he had spurned it. The CPI (Marxist)'s politburo had explicitly stated that the party could not "spare" Mr. Basu. But he might give in under the present circumstances, when his taking up the leadership is the only way to prevent the President, K.R. Narayanan from calling upon the DJP to form a government again. More importantly, it is the only way in which a mid term poll can be avoided now. No non-BJP party wants the BJP to be installed again and no MP, whether BJP or non-BJP, wants another election now, the last one having been held only last year.

That the Congress was way off the mark in terms of the required number of votes in the Lok Sabha and that it was opening itself to the idea of exploring alternatives, became clear when Sonia Gandhi could show letters of support from 233 MPs only. She had earlier laid claim to form a government on the supposed support of 272 MPs. As she came out of the Rashtrapati Bhawan or the Presidential mansion on Friday, Ms. Gandhi told the press that the Congress would try and form the government, but was quick to add that she would also discuss alternatives like a coalition of a Third Front government. She said that she planned to meet the non-BJP parties.

The Congress is now a divided camp, with the Leader of the Opposition and Maharashtra heavyweight, Sharad Powa, saying openly that it is better to go for fresh polls than to try to form a government with unreliable partners who were backing out of commitments made when the plot to topple the BJP governments was hatched.

But Congress spokesman, Arjun Singh, was sure that the "secular" (non-BJP) could be brought around to find an alternative to the BJP and prevent another election being hoisted on the country.

Trouble began brewing for the Congress no sooner that it had triumphed in bringing the BJP government down. The boast of Laloo Prasad Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal leader and Bihar strongman, that an alternative government would be decided upon "within minutes" proved to be empty.

His fellow casteman and Uttar Pradesh (UP) stalwart, Mulayam Singh Yadav, firmly opposed the formation of a minority Congress government or even a Congress led government. "Both Congress and BJP are communal" he suddenly declared after saying "35 times" that he would back the Congress.

Mr. Mulayam Singh was battling the Congress in his home turf of UP, and therefore did not want the Congress to be in power at the Center and use it to undermine his base in UP. On the other hand, Laloo Prasad Yadav, wanted the Congress because it was with Congress support that his party had been able to keep the BJP from grabbing power in his state of Bihar.

The CPI (M) rather excessively keen on keeping the BJP from power, had jumped on to the Congress bandwagon without consulting its Left front allies. With the result, the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and the Forward Bloc (FB) declared that they would not support its plan to put up a Congress government. The AIADMK with its 19 MPs had sensed quite early in the day that the Congress might not garner enough support and Ms. Jayalalitha declared that she would plumb for a Jyoti Basu led government if that came about. "I would be overjoyed if Mr. Basu became the Prime Minister," she told the press.

The Congress was hoping that some of the "secular" parties like the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of Andhra Pradesh, the National Conference (NC) of Kashmir, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Uttar Pradesh, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) of Orissa which were supporters of the BJP, would switch sides to install a "secular" government.

But the TDP said that it would not support the Congress and the BSP said that it favoured mid-term elections. The BJD and TDP favour a Third Front. The Janatha Dal is divided with Ramvilas Paswan saying that he would be where Laloo Prasad Yadav was and J.H. Patel of Karnataka saying that the party should be equidistant from the BJP and the Congress. But leaders like I.K Gujral and Deve Gowda are not averse to supporting the Congress.

If Congress does eventually agree to back a Third Front government, with say, Jyoti Basu as the head, the latter has a good chance of surviving. For the Congress is the largest opposition party which will also bring with it Laloo Prasad Yadav's BJD, the Tamil Maanila Congress, the AIADMK and the NC of Kashmir. Efforts are on to persuade Jyoti Basu to don the mantle and Dr. Subramanian Swamy, who met him, has said that the response from the Marxist patriarch was encouraging. If per chance, Mr. Basu finally backs out, the Janata Dal, with two former Prime Ministers, I.K. Gujral and Deve Gowda in its ranks, could offer to be the rallying point. There is of course, the theoretical possibility of the BJP being given an opportunity to form the government again. But this seems a practical impossibility now, given the dissension in its own ranks and the rise of an anti-BJP feeling among MPs.

inside the glass house:

UN: West has the power

By: thaliff deen at the united nations

NEW YORK— The world's developing nations, accounting for more than two-thirds of the 185 member states, are beginning to complain they are being bypassed for some of the top jobs in the UN system.

The major aid donors, including Japan, the US, Germany, UK, Canada, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries, insist they have a legitimate right to high ranking jobs because of their financial clout.

As a result, decision-making power in the UN bureaucracy is exercised mostly by the rich and the mighty— not by the most qualified and the competent.

The present Secretary-General Kofi Annan has pledged to rectify this longstanding anomaly but he is fighting against vested interests long entrenched in the body politic of the UN system.

According to UN statistics, the 10 highest represented countries in terms of staff in professional and higher categories are: the US (13 percent), Russia (7.0 percent), France (6.0 percent), UK (5.0 percent), China (4.0 percent), Germany (3.0 percent), Japan (3.0 percent) and Canada (3.0 percent). The only two developing nations in the top 10 are Egypt (2.0 percent) and India (2.0 percent).

A further breakdown shows that the decision-making jobs — the Under-Secretaries-General, the Assistant Secretaries-General and Directors of the various UN divisions— go mostly to donor nations.

Last week Secretary-General Kofi Annan had to choose between two donor nations— Denmark and the UK— to fill the job of Administrator at the UN Development Programme (UNDP), one of the top jobs in the UN system.

After several months of closed door consultations, he picked Mark Malloch Brown of UK, a vice president of the World Bank, over Poul Nielson, Denmark's Minister for Development Cooperation.

In appointing Malloch Brown, Annan snubbed the 15-member European Union which had endorsed— and stood by— Nielson as its sole candidate for the job since last year.

But if rumours floating down the corridors are to be believed, Annan was pressured by the US to appoint Malloch Brown. The US, which held the job of UNDP Administrator for 33 long years, lost the post this year but got its nominee instead.

The UN has four major Funds and Programmes which are voluntarily financed by donor nations but serving the needs of developing nations.

These four bodies— the UNDP, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA)— have been dominated mostly by donor nations. With the exception of UNFPA, the heads of all three UN Funds have come mostly from Western nations.

But now the developing countries at the UN have shown signs of revolting. Last week the Group of 77, consisting of 133 developing nations, complained that the Secretary-General had not "consulted" the Group in the appointment of the UNDP Administrator even though a General Assembly resolution obligates him to do so. Subsequent to the complaint, the Secretary-General did "consult" the Group.

Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh says that sooner or later the heads of the four major UN Funds and Programmes should be headed by Third World nations. All four heads of UNICEF - Maurice Pate, Henry Labouisse, James Grant and Carol Bellamy - have been US nationals.

Chowdhury said there is a myth in the UN system that the major Funds and Programmes should be headed by donor nations because only Western nationals can raise funds.

But since its creation in 1969, he said, the UNFPA, the fourth major UN Programme, has known only two executive directors, both from the Third World: Rafael Salas of the Philippines and Nafis Sadik of Pakistan.

''The UNFPA has done very well and is one of the best run UN bodies,'' Chowdhury said. The UN itself, he said, has been headed by four Third World nationals: Secretaries-General U. Thant of Burma, Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt and Kofi Annan of Ghana, the others being Trygve Lie of Norway, Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden and Kurt Waldheim of Austria.

"If the UN can be successfully run by nationals of developing nations, why not the UN's major Funds and Programmes,'' asks Chowdhury.

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