University of Guyana Guild of Graduates, Ontario (UGGGO) responds to Freddie Kissoon’s articles

Dear Editor,  [Letter from Harry Hergash]

I write regarding Freddie Kissoon’s column “I am donating $10, 000 if you guess right”, Kaieteur News, September 16, 2018, and the follow-up column “The amount was $845 G”, Kaieteur News, September 17, 2018. The latter half of the first article relates to an award won by his daughter, Kavita Kissoon, at the University of Guyana. The second article continues to vent his feelings on the award.

In the first article Mr Kissoon writes “My daughter won a prestigious award for topping her class at UG in the second year as the best performer for that year in her programme. The award came from a reputable Guyanese organization in Canada attached to UG and has an ongoing functional relation with UG. If you guess close to the right amount, I will donate $10,000 to whatever purpose or cause you suggest… You will be shocked to know the figure. It was best to give the student a plaque or a book. But to give the student that amount was poisonously insulting. This is my only kid you are talking about. I am protective of her so why should I let some fools in Canada insult her.”        

The “reputable Guyanese organization in Canada” that Mr Kissoon decries, without naming it in the first article, is  the former University of Guyana Guild of Graduates, Ontario (UGGGO) of which I was the President for nineteen of its twenty consecutive years of active existence. This organization  has been dormant since 2014 and the UG is currently working to “reignite” it under a different name  with a new President and Executive.

Before I proceed any further, I offer heartiest congratulations to Ms Kissoon for her outstanding performance and I wish her continuing success in her studies.  I am not aware of the current value of the award which, among eight others, was established over 20 years ago but more on that later. What is worth noting is that if the UGGGO did not establish the award, neither Ms Kissoon nor her father would have known that she was the top second year student in her programme. Mr Kissoon is now able to boast about his daughter’s outstanding performance in relation to her peers only because the UGGGO took the initiative in the 1990s to establish an award in this category.

For the record and Mr Kissoon’s edification, the UGGGO was formed in 1993 by  ten UG graduates from the 1960s and our spouses when we learned that the eminent Mr Yesu Persaud was appointed Chair of the UG Endowment Fund. We wanted to support Mr Persaud’s fund raising efforts and the ten of us contributed $100 each, as seed money, to book a hall for a fundraising dinner and dance. Then and subsequently over the years, we also paid for our own tickets to every fund raising event we organized. From that event, we were able to contribute $3000 (Can) to the Endowment Fund.

Mr Kissoon, among others, has written regularly and copiously about the deteriorating buildings and poor facilities at the UG. Instead of simply complaining, the ten of us, regular wage earners and not wealthy by any standard, decided to do something. Our contribution was modest but, unlike those in the homeland who talk or write a lot, at least we were prepared to act to make a difference. For a brief summary of the UGGGO’s contributions to the UG over the years, I encourage readers to look at the letter (captioned by the  editor) “The UGGGO has been kind to UG”, Kaieteur News, July 05, 2016 (https://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2016/07/05/the-ugggo-has-been-kin)

In 1994 we  decided to set up a number of annual financial awards to recognize outstanding students at  the UG. Over the next few years, with negligible support from other UG alumni in Canada including many who had benefited from UG scholarships, we were able to raise a little over $14,000 (Can) and establish nine awards – eight at the undergraduate level and one at the post graduate level.

In order to manage the funds in Guyana and pay each award annually, we established nine trust accounts at a financial institution in Guyana and stipulated that the interest on each account be used to pay the awards. In this way the principal is protected and will continue to generate funds into the future. The downside however, is that the amount of interest which determines the value of each award, is dependent on the prevailing interest rate. The principal for each undergraduate award was around $1,000 (Can) and the principal for the post graduate award was around $6,000 (Can). As explained later, UGGGO’s role ceased after the accounts were established/funded in the 1990s.

In the 1990s the exchange rate fluctuated around $ 97 (Guy) for $ 1 (Can), and $130 (Guy) for $ 1 (US). Currently $1 (Can) equates to around $160 (Guy) and $1 (US) equates to around $209 (Guy). As well, in those years, the annual interest rate in Guyana was around 10%. Each undergraduate award then paid around $10,000 (Guy) and the post graduate award paid around $60,000 (Guy). I doubt fair-minded readers will now hold the UGGGO accountable for the significant depreciation of the Guyana dollar or the major decline in interest rates since these awards were established more than 20 years ago, factors that have eroded the value of the awards.

In setting up these awards, we had to deal with a huge bureaucracy. Each account is governed by a tripartite agreement which outlines the responsibility of the UGGGO as the originator and funder of the account, the UG as the body responsible for selecting the students based on Grade Point Average, and the Financial Institution as responsible for managing the accounts and issuing the cheques. Each  agreement was signed by officials of the UGGGO, the Vice Chancellor of the UG, and the Manager of the financial institution which was the Coop Bank Trust, subsequently becoming the Hand In Hand Trust (HIHT). Also, a copy of each agreement  had to be filed in the Deeds Registry in Georgetown. As can be seen and needs emphasizing, the role of the UGGGO ended with the funding of the accounts.

Towards the end of his first article Mr Kissoon writes “I close by saying unless someone alerted you to the amount, you would never believe in the 21st century, a Canadian organization attached to UG can insult one of UG’s students so nastily by giving them that sum of money.” Many years before the UGGGO became dormant, I mentioned to a senior UG official who was visiting Canada that, considering the decline in interest rate and hence the decreasing value of each award, the UGGGO would like to cancel the old agreements, consolidate the funds into one trust account, and issue one award annually. The individual responded “Please do not do that; we  need more awards not less; without these awards there would be no recognition of these students”. I should mention also that over the years we received many letters of thanks from students who were grateful for the awards. Former Deputy Vice Chancellor (now retired) Dr Marlene Cox can attest to this last statement. It is now up to the current administrators of the UG to determine whether these awards are still warranted and take legal steps to terminate or consolidate the nine trust accounts into one. At this time, the total amount held in trust at the HIHT is likely to be over $ 1 M (Guy).

In 2015, with the UGGGO being dormant and holding funds in its bank account in Canada, I made several attempts to send this amount to the financial institution (HIHT) to top up the principal amount in each of the eight trust account for undergraduates so the value of each award could be increased. By then the exchange rate was around $150 (Guy) to $1 (Can). Unfortunately, Guyana’s anti-money laundering regulations proved too onerous and prevented this from happening. Mr John, Manager of HIHT, could attest to my efforts. Instead, the amount of $5,300 ($788,040.00 Guyana) remaining in the account in Canada was donated to UG’s Library, for which the librarian was extremely grateful. Readers may wish to refer to the letter “UG Guild of Graduates, Ontario donated to UG library”, Stabroek News, February 12, 2018 (https://www.stabroeknews.com/2018/opinion/letters/02/12/ug-guild-of-graduates-ontario-donated-to-ug-library/).

Despite Mr Kissoon’s derogatory remarks in both his columns, our record of support to the UG is unprecedented and speaks for itself. The UGGGO is the only chapter of the UG Guild anywhere in the world, including Guyana, that lasted for twenty consecutive years or made tangible contributions to the UG. It is noteworthy that the UG has produced two Presidents, a Prime Minister, several Government Ministers, in addition to several UG lecturers/professors including Mr Kissoon, as well as legal and medical practitioners, all living in Guyana, yet they have been unable to do what ten lowly UG alumni and their spouses in Toronto have done.

We of the UGGGO are expatriates in a foreign land who have had to struggle in difficult circumstances for our livelihood. When we arrived in Canada during the  mid to late 1970s, we were basically penniless. Guyana had foreign exchange controls, legally preventing us from taking our money out of the country. The last page of my then passport shows this entry “Immigration allowance of G$100.00  granted, V. Valladum for BANK OF GUYANA”. Please note it is one hundred Guyana dollars that each adult was allowed to take. Now Mr Kissoon, you have been a UG lecturer and a columnist for several years, living a good middle class life in Guyana; my question is what financial contribution have you made to the UG where you studied for free and later pursued post graduate studies on scholarship in Canada ? During your years at the UG, then Prime Minister Mr Forbes Burnham had abolished UG fees. In our days, annual cost of fees and books was $150 (Guy) which was more than a month’s salary of a newly trained teacher or a clerk in the Civil Service at that time.

Harry Hergash

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Comments

  • panbrowne  On September 20, 2018 at 5:56 pm

    All I can do is quote my mom ” Ingratitude is worse than witchcraft” I hope Mr .Kissoon is ashamed of himself. My sister Dr Cheryl Marshall of Canada did a similar contribution to the Georgetown Technical Institute. Kudos to all you guys.

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