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January 9, 2009
Andrew Simmons: This one I am going to fight back


Community activist Andrew Simmons has been fired from his new job even before he could get a chance to sit in his seat.{{more}}

Simmons received notice of his termination as this country’s National Project Personnel of the Agriculture and Economic Diversification Project on Monday, January 5th, 2008, – a post he took up on December 8th, last year.

In an interview with SEARCHLIGHT this week, Simmons confirmed that he was sacked by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. He said he received a call from the FAO Regional Office in Barbados on Monday afternoon, and was told “that the Government of St.Vincent and the Grenadines had requested the immediate termination” of his contract. No reason was given for such action, said Simmons who has earned a reputation as a community mobilizer.

Simmons is now upset with the Government for the termination of his one-year contract. The contract was valued EC$84,000, which was to be paid in monthly instalments of EC$7,000.

He claimed that he had applied for the post after seeing the vacancy advertised in the newspaper and was successful in getting the job after going through a rigorous interview process. He added that he had even gone through a successful orientation which was held during the week of December 8, 2008, the date his contract officially started. This orientation, said Simmons, took place at the Ministry of Agriculture and at the Central Water and Sewerage Authority Conference Room with officials of the Ministry of Agriculture and the FAO.

Simmons told SEARCHLIGHT, following the orientation, the Chief Agricultural Officer gave him a temporary office at the Ministry of Agriculture and promised to organize a more permanent one for him in the New Year.

He said when he turned up for work on January 5th, he requested a meeting with the Acting Permanent Secretary who he claimed told him that the Chief Agricultural Officer had planned to meet with him to discuss the way forward for the programme, but was running late. Simmons said the Acting Permanent Secretary promised to contact him when the Chief Agricultural Officer arrived, but Simmons said he never received that call.

At about 4:15 that afternoon, however, he received a call from the FAO Regional Coordinator, Jerome Thomas. “I received a call from the FAO Regional Office in Barbados that the Government of St.Vincent and the Grenadines had requested the immediate termination of my contract,” said Simmons.

“I felt extremely frustrated. I felt confused. I felt cheated,” said Simmons of his termination. He said he felt cheated because he was in England with his family, but travelled to St.Vincent to take up the early December appointment – which meant that he did not get to spend Christmas with them.

Minister of Agriculture, Montgomery Daniel, when contacted on the issue, told SEARCHLIGHT the FAO did not follow the procedures of appointment.

He added that the Ministry of Agriculture had not been consulted on Simmons’ appointment.

“He would want to blame the government, but the procedures were not followed,” said Daniel, adding, he has nothing personal against Simmons.

Daniel said at this stage, the Ministry of Agriculture is in need of a technical expert to drive the Agricultural sector forward.

L.Barbara Graham, the FAO’s Sub-Regional Coordinator in the Caribbean, in a letter notifying Simmons of his termination, stated the effective date of his termination is January 19, 2009, two weeks from the date he received the notification.

She explained that the FAO will compensate Simmons for the amount of work performed to its satisfaction from December 8th, 2008, the signature date of the contract, to January 19, 2009.

An irate Simmons, however, stated that he is not going to let the matter slide.

“This one is the final straw. This one I am going to fight back. When a government reaches the stage of cutting down a citizen’s breadfruit tree, it means it is the end. I am not running this time,” lamented Simmons, who said that he has no other form of employment at the moment.

He also accuses the government of not supporting his candidacy for the Directorship of the Commonwealth Youth Affairs Department in 2002 and 2006, for withdrawing his diplomatic privileges and turning down a project he was doing on HIV/AIDS.

“I am seeking legal redress. I am fighting this publicly. I am doing this for other Vincentians who are victimised. This has to stop,” said Simmons.

“Since I returned to St.Vincent and the Grenadines I try to keep out of party politics because I got licks by both political parties,” said Simmons, noting that be believes he is receiving the rotten end of the stick for comments he has made about crime.

“As a citizen I find it disheartening that when you make comments they hit you below the belt,” said Simmons.