When silence implies contempt

Attorney General Reginald Armour - JEFF K MAYERS
Attorney General Reginald Armour - JEFF K MAYERS

IT IS NOT hard to understand the appeal of secrecy for those in government. It is easier to wield power when there is nobody to answer to. When few know what you are doing, few can object if you make an error or wish to make an unpopular or debatable move.

But public office is meant to be exactly what that phrase implies – public.

If any democracy is to function, transparency is essential. With very few exceptions, we must know what leaders are doing and why, so that we may play a role in decision-making as well as gauge the performance of elected officials.

Two years into the second term of Dr Keith Rowley’s administration, the government continues to make missteps, due in no small part to the enduring culture of secrecy – which, to be fair, did not originate with this administration.

We have already commented briefly on the Attorney General’s apparent continuation while a Cabinet minister of conduct which would have been reasonable only if he were still in private practice.

“I don’t intend to make any comments,” AG Reginald Armour, SC, replied to questions about the Piarco Airport civil case at his very first media conference as AG this week.

In his short tenure, Mr Armour has also gone on a “pre-booked” vacation after less than a month in office; flip-flopped on the Privy Council; summarily dismissed the media as having a penchant for reporting speculative conjecture, “misquoting” state lawyers and asking “rambling” questions; and has pulled the brakes on forward-thinking procurement.

Mr Armour has perhaps learned this stance from a Cabinet that is at times downright evasive, so much so that it may appear contemptuous.

But public officials have an obligation to answer questions.

On Thursday, Minister of Energy and Energy Industries Stuart Young could or would only say the chairman of the Paria inquiry had resigned for personal reasons. He did not seem to appreciate that the unexplained departure of Jamaica-born Justice Dennis Morrison, QC, inevitably shakes confidence in the proceedings of this most sensitive of inquiries.

This week too, the State lost a lawsuit brought by former Central Bank governor Jwala Rambarran alleging his 2015 dismissal was illegal. Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s failure to disclose a series of legal opinions which he purportedly obtained on Mr Rambarran’s tenure featured in the court’s decision.

Even less complex matters such as saying whether a minister is overseas and why also seemingly pose a challenge for the Government. For almost two weeks, the country has been told the Prime Minister is undergoing “routine” medical procedures. Mr Young on Thursday declined to say any more.

But if there is one principle that applies to all governments, it is that, eventually, what is hidden comes to light. And there is always a steep price to be paid for not being upfront.


"When silence implies contempt"

More in this section