My coziness, however, was short lived because by late Saturday morning the Chief Minister in a series of exchanges with a number of co-hosts on a local Talk Show --- put on a shameful display of arrogance and rudeness. There are those who would claim that there might have been some provocation, however, a politician of his experience and in the position of Chief Minister should exhibit a level of decorum expected from persons of such standing. And whereas others involved in the exchanges were gracious enough to apologize for any remarks that could have been considered discourteous or insulting --- the Chief Minister expressed no such contrition. In fact, he went so far as to challenge one of the co-hosts to a debate.
What this all points to is the fact that --- despite the advice of the more moderate AUM supporters who in recent times have been asking the Government to “simmer down”; to forget about the AUF and its perceived obstructionism; to stop blaming everything on the former Minister of Finance; to stop attacking the Public Service; to lay off the Governor and the British Government; to stop victimizing persons who you believe do not support you, and; to focus on running the country --- the Chief Minister and his colleagues continue to believe that attack is the best defense against criticism from any quarter. As a consequence, that “well-composed” release that showed promise for a new image of the Chief Minister and his colleagues, now seems but a vain hope. In fact, many supporters of the AUM who were listening to the program expressed extreme disappointment and at least one of his more vocal supporter threatened not to call the show again once the CM is on.
The unfortunate release that triggered the reaction by the Office of the Chief Minister is believed by many of us to be a retraction rather than a reaction. Because it is widely believed that the “hoax news flash” which the Senior Reporter/Journalist used as a source, was probably the handiwork of the AUM propaganda machine. I also noted with interest that the Government press release did not even try to spare the Radio Station any notoriety --- they named the station clearly in capital letters and emphatically within inverted commas: “UPBEAT”. Obviously, Upbeat Radio has been forced, because of the confidence and trust they placed in their sources within the AUM, to take the full blame and the consequential disgrace for their unswerving loyalty to an organization that thrives on lies, misinformation and innuendoes. It is my hope that they would have learned some useful lessons from that very embarrassing fiasco.
But underpinning this behaviour by the Chief Minister and many of his supporters is their lack of understanding of at least four important concepts that they verbally espouse but truly do not understand, namely, democracy, good governance, transparency and integrity. I will leave other equally important concepts for the time being and restrict myself to a very brief explanation of how their misunderstanding of these four concepts impact the manner in which things are happening in our island at this time as follows:
(1) DEMOCRACY. Amongst, the CM and many of his supporters, there is an obvious lack of appreciation for the fact that there are two sides to the democratic process. As a consequence of this gap in their thinking, they do not accept the role that the Opposition has to play even in these challenging times. Statements made by supporters of the Government would suggest that any opposing viewpoint is deemed to be an attempt to obstruct the Government in carrying out its function. They believe that there is a discretionary period during which they should be allowed to operate without critical comments from anyone ---in other words a “honeymoon period” during which apparently they expect democracy to be put on hold.
Many of us would have heard the Chief Minister speak about national government. His concept of a national government is one in which there is no opposition. It was very obvious on the talk show on Saturday that he has no tolerance for criticism --- even from his own supporters. This fact will become more and more evident as his term progresses.
To sum it up democracy for many AUM supporters seems to be a one-way street. In a true democracy the traffic of conversation, dialogue and debate must travel in both directions to ensure the most efficacious circulation of ideas, interests and proposals. The interpretation of democracy that seems to be adopted by AUM supporters and their sympathizers allows them to rationalize their violent disapproval of the opinions of others with a strong sense of legitimacy. In other words: “This is our time to run things our way! We earned that right at the polls!” Any dissenting voices are seeking to usurp those rights we have justly earned and perhaps in the words of one of the AUM clerics: “Will be punished!”
(2) GOOD GOVERNANCE. Over the last seven months there has been widespread disregard for good governance within the AUM administration. The “first-time Ministers” of Government may be forgiven for their lack of knowledge with regards to certain procedures and protocols in carrying out of their duties, after all, like in every other job there is a learning curve. However, the Chief Minister who has been in Government sporadically for at least eight years should be able to give them some direction and support in dealing with the issues of their Ministries. It has become obvious, however, that rather than giving them the proper advice he has in fact contributed to their total disregard for these important aspects of governance. In fact, the new Ministers and the Parliamentary Secretary ascended to office with the philosophy that first and foremost they are required to be administrators rather than principally policy and decision makers.
It is the same philosophy that pervades the attitude of their supporters who believe that these Ministers can circumvent procedures on their behalf. From this frame of reference they do not believe that they have an obligation to seek the advice and support of their Permanent Secretaries and other Senior Technical Staff; they do not understand that certain decisions must have the approval of Executive Council and/or the House of Assembly, and; that the Accounting Officers in the various ministries and departments are responsible for managing expenditure as allocated in the budget. Many of these procedures in the governance process are for the protection of the politician, the public servant as well as the general citizenry. In fact if these procedures were followed there would be no need for elected officials to be concerned about accusations within the public domain or even on the political platform. Good governance promotes fairness and equity in the system. It is not about the politics of personality --- or authoritarianism. It is about ensuring that the interests of all the people are taken into account in the decision making process.
(3) TRANSPARENCY. In an earlier column I made the point that this Government speaks loosely about “openness and transparency” as values they espouse in their approach to governance --- but that the reality suggests otherwise. I said then that: “Members of this Government seem to believe that character assassination under the “shelter” of parliamentary privilege (that is, cowardly saying things in the House of Assembly to avoid being sued) constitute openness and transparency; that they seem to believe that unfounded accusations without the benefit of evidence constitute openness and transparency; that they seem to believe that the shameless bullying of public officers on fora where they cannot defend themselves constitute openness and transparency; and that they seem to believe that circulating confidential interim reports before they have been properly approved; and that promoting the spread of “half truths” and whole lies to distort the facts, constitute openness and transparency”.
I then coined the term “selective transparency” to describe this kind of transparency which is not constrained by certain core values like integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. Values found in almost every code of ethics applicable to the civil service, parliamentarians, lawyers, accountants and other professions alike. It is a form of transparency that this government seems to invoke only when the ultimate objective is political victimization or when they want to circumvent good governance protocols and procedures to achieve their politically motivated objectives.
The most recent examples of such “selective transparency” and by extrapolation bad governance is the signing of the Viceroy/Starwood Capital Group MOU without the requisite approvals and perhaps one of the most serious, the CM’s authorization of US$ 200 million in borrowing without regard for the appropriate guidelines, the legal requirements, and; the public consultations with the wider community required to explain the use of the Social Security Fund as security against that loan. To speak of transparency in the face of such overt disdain for established protocols and procedures is tantamount to redefining the universally accepted meaning of this concept, as it has evolved in modern democratic societies. To sum it up, it is farcical to boast about transparency that is only selectively applied.
(4) INTEGRITY. Perhaps this concept is the most convoluted of the qualities that the members of the AUM Government boast. Again they seem to associate integrity with not being accused or caught in the act of committing a financial or business fraud or some corrupt dealings. They seldom realize that integrity includes being honest in all aspects of your duties as an elected or selected official; being just and equitable in dealing with supporters and non-supporters; being objective and impartial in making decisions for the common good; being truthful in all circumstances, and; being respectful of the laws which are created for the proper ordering of society.
There is an attitude by the CM and his colleagues that as far as integrity is concerned the ends justify the means. That you may trample over the rights of others; you may circumvent agreed procedures and protocols; you may exhibit a blatant disregard for authority; you may engage in discourteous behaviour and so on… provided you make progress towards achieving what you consider to be your goal. That is why the CM does not believe he did anything wrong in 1999 by lying about the existence of Grace Medical University on Anguilla to International Agencies and the outside world. Or signing documents giving retroactive authorization one of his Ministers to execute documents for the hostile takeover of ANGLEC that did not receive the requisite Executive Council approvals.
These are at least four of the many areas of misconception that characterize the approach of the AUM administration to carrying its functions as a Government. And that is why, while we strive to remain hopeful that the CM and his colleagues will settle down and do what they were elected to do --- indeed what they promised they would do during their campaign --- we continue to be plagued by the haunting question: “Can a leopard change its spots?”
Victor F. Banks
October 19, 2010