The use of the Parliament letterhead for personal reasons is highly unethical and improper..
This is the view of former house speaker Nizam Mohammed and former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC.
The two were responding to questions raised by the Sunday Express on the use of the official letterhead of Parliament by incumbent House Speaker Wade Mark while pursuing an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) degree at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business (GSB) in Mt Hope.
The letters were written on January 16, March 19 and April 8 and were addressed to executive director at the GSB, Prof Miguel Carrillo.
Mark sought to have Carrillo’s intervention while pursuing an EMBA and communicated on official stationery bearing the Parliament logo.
Mark was granted two concessions while pursuing his degree: he was allowed to write the final examination in a room by himself and he was exempt from attending classes.
Mohammed in an interview on Friday evening said: “What he was pursuing was an entirely private matter and therefore the official letterhead of the Office of the Speaker ought not to be used in such a situation.”
He added: “Any correspondence dealing with this issue of the academic pursuits of Mr Mark should be done as a private correspondence.”
Mohammed said in his opinion, no action can be taken against Mark since it is not the kind of breach that will call for any sanction but he said using the letterhead “was simply improper”.
Maharaj said for a public official to use an official letterhead in his private capacity “is a violation of the ethics of conduct in public life”.
The former AG said the official letterhead of the country should not be used in personal pursuits.
“We have in the past witnessed this occurring within the Judiciary and Government officials and I maintain this is wrong.
“The Prime Minister as head of the Government should demand that the Speaker of the House of Representatives apologise publicly for using the letterhead,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj said another option which can be explored is asking Mark to resign.
This, he said, is a political decision to make.
He added: “That for a public official to use the official letterhead to agitate a personal cause or to correspond on a personal matter is wrong.”
In the letter written in March, Mark wrote: “I write seeking your intervention to allow me the flexibility to read for one course to complete the Executive Master of Business Administration so that I can exit the program and graduate this year.
Professor, I shall be grateful if you would allow me firstly, to register for International Finance (a course that I consider more relevant to my professional duties) and secondly, due to the heavy workload of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the sensitivity of the office, the flexibility to study on my own and to sit the exam in mid-August 2013.”
The letters were signed Wade Mark, MP, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Last week Sport Minister Anil Roberts, Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley and Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner called on Mark to account for the rationale in using the letterhead and clear the air over his being conferred the EMBA.
Warner wrote to Mark asking him to explain the “gaps” surrounding his EMBA and advised that he give up his degree to restore respect in the country’s university.
“What this imbroglio is doing is casting aspersions on our highest academic home and it now raises questions on the quality of the degrees that are offered by the Arthur Lok Jack Institute. One no longer can respect the institute of learning as long as questions remain concerning your MBA,” Warner stated in the letter.
“Maybe the time is now for you to do the honourable thing, Hon Speaker, and give up this questionable degree, because to hold on to it will raise questions on all degrees issued by the Arthur Lok Jack Institute, and by extension The University of the West Indies, and as well question the value of all degrees this university offers,” the letter added.
Rowley, in a previous interview stated that if what was published was true—“that the Parliament letterhead was used in seeking concessions from the university”—then “this is a very serious matter which the Parliament would have to address”.
Rowley said this was not the first time he had heard about compromises in the standards and protocols in and around The UWI.
“In this case it is pointing to a very high-ranking national official who will have to explain all of this,” he said.
Roberts also wrote the Speaker on November 29, seeking clarification.
The Sport Minister boycotted Parliament two Fridays ago having written to Mark requesting leave of absence and clarification in the award of his EMBA. The request was denied.
In a letter dated December 5, Roberts, however, withdrew the letter dated November 29, stating the matter relating to Mark is a private one.
Mark has not responded to Roberts’s letter but told the Express he will not hold any discussion with any MP via the media and that it was unfortunate the minister did not seek to discuss the matter with him privately.
Roberts has since indicated he will be writing The University of the West Indies.
The Sunday Express has reported exclusively that programme director at the GSB Brian Ghent tendered his resignation over the awarding of the EMBA to Mark.
Ghent has alleged Mark did not fullfil the requirements to obtain the degree and concessions were made to accommodate him.
Following a series of exposes, Mark through his attorney Larry Lalla issued a pre-action protocol letter last week to the Express and two journalists.
The Speaker in his letter also threatened “an injunction to restrain” the newspaper from “further publishing” any article pertaining to the circumstances under which Mark was awarded the degree or what he called “any similar slander” against him.
Lalla said there have been suggestions that Mark was given special concessions and may not have earned the degree in the right way. He said Mark has denied this.
In a recent interview with the Express, Carrillo was asked whether Mark was granted any concessions by the school.
Carrillo responded: “One of the most important parts of being a student-centred institution which we are in the West Indies is that we will help the students, it doesn’t matter who they are, to be successful academically.
“We will support them and whenever we have a student who is actually taking the last course to graduate, those are in special circumstances where we, as they request, we might consider some concessions and those concessions are nothing special and are things that happen regularly in The UWI system.”
The Express queried exactly what were the concessions afforded to Mark.
Carrillo responded: “Basically, we are talking about a special sitting. It’s that he requested to sit by himself and not with the other cohorts for the final exam. It was requested and approved. The student (Mark) didn’t have to come to class, however. He requested tutoring which is a normal practice in The UWI based on particular circumstances of the student and it was difficult for him to attend class.”
Carrillo added that the final examination administered to Mark was “properly invigilated by The UWI and not the Arthur Lok Jack School.
“It was a regular examination. The others (students) were writing the exam at the same time. It wasn’t like we set a special exam for Mr Mark, others were doing the exam at the same time.”
Also present at the interview was The UWI principal Prof Clement Sankat who explained that the institution also made such concessions for its students.
“They may have time constraints and they appeal to The UWI, we listen and set exams for one person,” he said. Sankat said such concessions are made for students who may attend a funeral or whose “father or mother may have died”.
Jack Warner listed a number of questions for Mark to explain as follows:
• Who suggested the idea that you should be separated from the class to write your exams?
• Who determined who was to supervise you?
• Can you tell this nation how long you signed up for this degree, how many courses you failed, how many courses you had to repeat and whether the course under review was one of the courses you failed?
• As a former trade union leader, one who believes in fairness and equity, can you explain how come a student whose final was given orally and different from that of the other students could have been elevated to the position of top student of the class? Isn’t that a case of comparing apples with oranges Mr Speaker?
• Did you really complete all the course work fairly and according to university standards, Mr Speaker, and if yes why did Brian Ghent resign from the Arthur Lok Jack Institute, on principle, if everything you did was above board?