14th September, 2021
We wish to draw the attention of the public to the prevailing situation at the University of The Gambia where the University Faculty and Staff Association (UTGFSA) intermittently calls for industrial action and issues continuous threats of strike action as a bargaining tool. These moves are always calculated to coincide with end-of-semester examinations, the release of examination grades or the beginning of a semester, so as to weaponize the anxiety of students to extract concessions from the university authorities. The last industrial action on 1st July 2021 came at the beginning of the end-of-course second semester examinations. These are unprofessional and unethical tactics least expected from people who are critical in the moulding of the character of our future leaders.
Unfortunately, we are dealing with an Executive that is unpredictable and whose negotiating tactic is to pile up a long ever evolving list of demands that is being replenished as the items are settled. In one case, the demands ballooned from seven on the first day, to ten on the second and to twenty on the third session of negotiations. Worst of all, their bargaining tone and behavior are always indecorous, even in the presence of the Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service, and one of the most distinguished and respected members of the National Assembly who served as intermediaries.
Yet this is a staff Executive that has overstayed its term albeit illegal mandate. In January 2021, the Executive, at the end of their tenure, changed the UTGFSA 2016 Constitution to give themselves a second two-year term. This is totally against the values of the University. It should not be at UTG that we teach our future leaders that it is permissible and gainful to change constitutions to perpetuate oneself in power. This type of selfishness has inflicted untold damage to progress and stability in Africa. Moreover, the 2021 Constitution of the UTGFSA was not submitted to the Governing Council for endorsement as prescribed by the Tertiary and Higher Education Act 2016. So its application and the elections therefrom cannot be legitimate. Consequently, the current Executive of the UTGFSA is illegal.
The same 2016 Act (Section 41(1) & (2) provides for the formation of staff associations. To this end, in February 2020, the Governing Council approved the recommendation of the External Auditors to establish three staff associations: Academic, Administrative and Ancillary to serve the specific interests of their respective categories of staff, as obtains in other universities. That decision was in the UTG report that was accepted and approved at the PAC/PEC session with the National Assembly Select Committee on Education and ICT in November 2020. It is therefore clear that in addition to its illegitimacy due to noncompliance with the Tertiary and Higher Education Act, 2016, the UTGFSA and its Executive cannot now represent all categories of staff. They have become redundant, and have no legal standing.
In a related development, in March 2021, the Interim Council had decided not to extend the five-year contract of the Vice Chancellor. That decision was endorsed by the Chancellor and President of the Republic. But aided and abetted by the Vice Chancellor, the Staff Association Executive campaigned vociferously for the reversal of the Council resolution, so as to allow him to continue in office after the end of his contract on 30th September 2021. The UTGFSA’s first move was to disrupt and delay the work of the Joint Council and Senate Search Committee for the appointment of a successor, with unfounded allegations of possible lack of transparency in the process. The Vice Chancellor induced and rewarded members of the UTGFSA with international travels and other perks and concessions, to the extent that MOHERST had to place a temporary travel embargo on UTG. He allowed decisions of Council to be set aside or their implementation distorted to suit the dictates of the Executive of the staff association who stage-managed the running of the University. Senior members of Management who disagreed with the state of affairs were isolated and subject to threats and hostile edicts from the UTGFSA. This resulted in a toxic working environment.
On his part the Vice Chancellor adopted a nonchalant attitude towards the Interim Governing Council and extended that stance even after the inauguration of the Restructured Governing Council. He has since excused himself from the first two meetings of the new Council, citing health issues as reasons. In addition, he has not met deadlines for responses to requests for action by the Council.
All the foregoing are logical complements to the current demands for which the UTGFSA are calling a strike on Wednesday 15, September. Though the demands have not been officially communicated to the Council, a requirement under the Labour laws, what we can glean from the Extraordinary Congress, the daily newspapers, statements by members of the Executive in media platforms, include, the removal of certain named members of the Restructured Governing Council; the lifting of the temporary travel ban; the UTGFSA’s non-acceptance of an Acting Vice Chancellor – so the incumbent should not leave until a successor is appointed in a year; the removal of a named Senior Officer from his position, and accusations of manipulation by the Minister.
It is significant to note that the UTGFSA demands do not include any issue related to Pay & Conditions, the welfare of staff. This is because in the period January 2018 to August 2021, the Governing Council approved the increase/enhancement of the total salary/emoluments of all employees by 114%; easily the largest pay award by any public institution in The Gambia. If apparently the Association does not have a terms and conditions quarrel with their employers, the University, why should they call up a strike, using their privileged position over students, to settle scores with the Ministry or the Presidency.
The threat of a sit-down strike came to the attention of the Governing Council through this caption in the FOROYAA Newspaper edition of 9th September 2021: ‘Gambia University Staff to Begin Strike in Mid-September’. Apparently, the decision was taken on Wednesday 8th September, and in total disregard for the Labour laws of The Gambia, the Association gave themselves one week to prepare for action, after their Executive pronounced that they would not negotiate with any authority until their demands were met; a totally disrespectful attitude to authority.
In earlier meetings and correspondence between the Interim Council and the Association, we had consistently urged the Staff Association to learn to respect the legally prescribed separation of roles in the UTG. The responsibility for Governance lies on the shoulders of the Council supported by the Vice Chancellor and his Management Team. Academic staff are to perform the principal function of the University – to teach, guide and undertake research work. The Administrative staff are to support and facilitate the operations of the University. In promoting and protecting the interests of their members, Staff Associations cannot take over the functions of the Council and Management; that is an aberration that cannot be condoned. But this Executive of the UTGFSA believes otherwise.
In exercise of its oversight responsibility, the Governing Council has moved to bring back sanity in the operations of the UTG. At an Extraordinary Meeting held on Tuesday 14th September, Council decided that:
- the Vice Chancellor shall proceed on home leave starting on Thursday 16th September, 2021 prior to the end of his tenure on September 30, 2021 ( i.e. two weeks from date). If there is a leave arrear, it would be monetized and the Vice Chancellor paid accordingly. In the same vein, the Vice Chancellor shall handover to the most senior officer who has been deputizing for him.
- the strike action called for Wednesday 15 September, 2021, contravenes the provisions of the Labour laws.
- the UTG adopts a “No work, No Pay” policy with immediate effect; any member of staff who fails to report for duty on sit-down strike will not be paid salary and other allowances for the period of absence.
- a review of the period March to September will be carried out to ascertain the level of compliance with the implementation of Council’s decisions.
- with effect from Wednesday 15th September, 2021, UTGFSA is derecognized as the body representing all categories of staff.
- an injunction be filed in the High Court restraining the UTGFSA and/or any member of its Executive from purporting to represent a staff association.
- with immediate effect, Management should arrange for the formation of three staff associations for Academic, Administrative and Ancillary staff respectively in line with the provisions in Section 41(1) &(2) of the Tertiary and Higher Education Act 2016.
- Management shall not grant permission for the registration of any association which has any member of the current Executive of UTGFSA as an elected official.
- the Attorney General and Minister of Justice through the Minister of Higher Education Research, Science and Technology be requested to promulgate Regulations for the Tertiary and Higher Education Act 2016, that give university students protection from the effects of industrial action by any category of staff association.
The Governing Council wishes to assure all students that their welfare is of paramount importance, and all necessary steps will be taken to safeguard their interest. They should continue to be calm and display maturity as we work together to put a final end to the periodic threats to normal academic life. The Council will not allow any group of persons to smear the image of the UTG by creating the impression that it is a hub of instability.
All stakeholders and the general public are being urged to continue to believe in, and support, the University of The Gambia, our most precious national asset.
The Council also wants to draw the attention of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and the Minister of the Interior to happenings at the UTG for legal and security cover.
University of The Gambia