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Sunday 19 August 2018
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Commentary

We jammin’ still

REGINALD DUMAS

Part I

IF MEMORY serves me right, it was in early 1995 that I wrote my first article on the nature of this country’s governance. It was a firm response to then PM Patrick Manning’s assault on service commissions. Clearly ignorant of the role played by his own party’s founder, Eric Williams, in strengthening the commission system, he had dismissed it as a colonial imposition ready for the dung heap.

Since then I’ve written a great deal on the subject, mostly deploring the decline of good governance – largely occasioned by unrelenting attacks on our institutions, often by the appointed guardians of the very institutions – and warning of the negative impact on society.

For instance, I cannot visualise Hugh Wooding, our first post-independence chief justice, being in public conflict with any of his judges. There must have been occasional disagreements, but there was nothing I can recall to match the intra-judicial balefulness we witness today. One expects that sort of behaviour from politicians, who, especially in small societies like ours, equate finger-pointing with dynamic leadership. Shouldn’t the judiciary be setting a better example?

It seems also that the National Lotteries Control Board directors and managers don’t consider it necessary to read the legislation relevant to their responsibilities – or, if they have read it, are incapable of understanding it. Either way, a finding of incompetence is unavoidable. And yet, the legislation isn’t rocket science: if the lottery winnings tax is to be charged only after the President proclaims the legislation, how could it have been applied even before the President had even seen, let alone considered, the legislation? Is this where the public sector has reached?

Perhaps so, not only from what I’ve been hearing but also from what Justice Frank Seepersad said in a recent judgment involving a former fire officer. He chastised the Public Service Commission (PSC) for “inaction … absence of administrative accountability, (the) archaic nature of (its) operations” etc, all of which “demonstrate the need for an urgent review of the role and efficacy of the commission and of service commissions in general.”

It was in 1957 that Williams “remodelled” (his word) the PSC; further changes were made in 1976. I am not among those who want to abolish service commissions, but it surely is more than time for a thorough examination of them, and for a searching look at the quality of people wishing to enter the public sector as a whole.

And there is the police commissioner saga. Here is Camille Robinson-Regis speaking in Parliament on July 3: “(I)n this very House we have determined that the process of the Police Service Commission in this matter was lacking in transparency and that one can come to no other conclusion (than) that the commission did a job which cannot be explained, and which was wholly unreliable and appeared to be flawed. Consequently … any recommendations coming out of that flawed process cannot and will not be accepted.” Couldn’t be clearer, could it?

But on August 1, after the acceptance of a recommendation that one month earlier “(could) not and (would) not be accepted,” Mrs Robinson-Regis found a different context for the word “process.” She said: “(We) had given the undertaking in our manifesto … that immediately upon (winning) the (2015) election we would trigger the process of having a police commissioner appointed… We have done what we had a mandate to do.” You can’t make this stuff up. So, as usual, we have “moved on” – to what we don’t know, from what we have not rectified. All in the name of good governance.

The Opposition didn’t distinguish itself either. Its representatives on the special select committee that dealt with the police commissioner issue had stated that, yes, there might have been a wrinkle or two in the system, but no, the process wasn’t really flawed. Yet when Gary Griffith’s name came up in the House, it spent its time dealing not with Griffith’s suitability (or not) for the post but with what it called the “hypocrisy” of a government which, having determined that the process was flawed, could present his or any other name for consideration.

Of course it would make caustic reference to the Government’s tergiversation (it’s the most polite word I can find), but was that really the question for debate? And since it accepted the process, what was the problem?

The problem, as so often, is our unwillingness (or inability?) to lift our vision beyond the mundane, the narrowly political, and the personal. It’s much easier to attack and make snide remarks than to reflect and place the country’s interests first. Don’t strengthen our structures and institutions; pull them down, or at least ignore them. Then move on. After all, the ends justify the means. That is how you build a strong nation.

We jammin’ still.

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