You are here

Changing the culture of accountability

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The dismissal of former minister of Justice Herbert Volney has taken the practice of accountability among public officials to a new level. When one examines the profiles of dismissal, resignation and reshuffle of ministers over the 50 years of our independence, the action taken by Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar two Thursdays ago has raised the bar on the issue of accountability in public office.


The dismissal of former minister Volney is the first of its kind in our political history, as there was a public statement with reasons provided to the general public. This can be contrasted with the more recent dismissal of Dr Keith Rowley in 2008 by former prime minister Patrick Manning, who provided a reference to his being a “raging bull” during the budget debate many months after his April 2008 dismissal. It subsequently became apparent that there were obvious political problems between Manning and Rowley which would lead to Manning’s downfall.


In November 1987, the then prime minister ANR Robinson dismissed his entire Cabinet and then advised on its re-appointment with one change shortly thereafter in order to deal with a fundamental internal political problem that he faced. A few months later, in 1988, he dismissed Basdeo Panday, Kelvin Ramnath, and Trevor Sudama because of difficulties with the Government’s maintaining collective responsibility for policy decisions.


In 2001, then prime minister Basdeo Panday dismissed Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Ralph Maraj, and Trevor Sudama because of difficulties with maintaining collective responsibility for policy decisions. In the cases of both Robinson and Panday, there were internal political problems that related to the ability of the Government to maintain a united front and the doctrine of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet was being challenged.


The dismissal of Volney was done before the full glare of the cameras in the public domain with a full explanation as to how the decision was arrived at. It represents a new approach to the conduct of public business. This is consistent with the way in which annual appraisals of the performance of Cabinet ministers has been handled over the last two years. This is different from the culture of secrecy that has been so dominant in our political culture for years.


Former minister Volney has publicly challenged the Prime Minister on the point that he offered to resign and never expected to be dismissed. This version of events has not been corroborated by  Jack Warner who was present at the meeting when Volney says that he made his offer. One factor is clear. Whether Volney offered to resign or he was dismissed, there was something of substance that would make him either want to resign or make the Prime Minister want to dismiss him.


This approach can be contrasted with the attitude of President Richards when he was responsible for the collapse of the Integrity Commission in May 2009 and he chose to ignore the public demands for him to give answers about what had happened and proceeded on vacation in the midst of the unfolding drama.



Instead he delayed until he returned from vacation to make an address to the nation that did not get to the bottom of how he made the mistakes that he did in constructing the Integrity Commission at that time by appointing some individuals who were ineligible for appointment and failing to respond to an allegation about who would be deputy chairman. He took a further ten months before he could put a new commission together.


Meanwhile, the Integrity Commission of today is adopting the stand that it does not have to give reasons for its decisions and the public is expected to tolerate that. When juxtaposed alongside the demands made of the Prime Minister one can see the clear inequality of the approach. Fair is fair, and one cannot have one standard for the President and the Integrity Commission and another for the Prime Minister on issues of public accountability.


The current membership of the Integrity Commission is unconvincing in their persistence in not giving reasons for their decisions. The fact remains that the Ken Gordon-led Commission has been exposed in having written secret letters to the President behind the back of the deputy chairman, Gladys Gafoor, that were adverse to her. Were it not for litigation commenced by her the public would never have known that this was the way that the Integrity Commission operated.


Now the Integrity Commission is trying to get the public to buy into their desire for more investigative powers. Clearly its current track record does not support this. It is refusing to give reasons for  its decisions and has a culture of secrecy behind the backs of some of the commissioners. The reform that needs to be undertaken with the Integrity Commission is to abolish it and replace it with an Anti-Corruption Commission, as I proposed two weeks ago in this column.


The Prime Minister’s actions are in sharp contrast to those of the Integrity Commission. The culture of accountability is indeed changing in one domain and needs more work in another.


User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff.

Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.

Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments.

Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.

Before posting, please refer to the Community Standards, Terms and conditions and Privacy Policy

User profiles registered through fake social media accounts may be deleted without notice.