Letters & Opinion

Manners and Misbehaviour in Public Office

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By Earl Bousquet

The number of instances of documents circulating on social media and other communications purported to be photo copied official originals only to be denied by officialdom is increasing, as is the expectation that little will happen here, where and when public persons may have behaved badly in public or private life.

Whether it’s an agreement between the government and a private investor for the island’s biggest overseas investment that the public has not seen or a comfort letter seeking financing for a project that’s already said to have been financed, the official reaction, or lack thereof, has left little to the imagination of the government’s critics.

“Ministers, Senators, Parliamentarians and others holding high public office will always be under public scrutiny and by an always inquisitive press – and they know that. It’s the level and extent to which they care about public scrutiny that matters.”

With every serious allegation classically referred to as ‘opposition propaganda’ or ‘fake news’ accompanied by flat denials that anything is what it looks like without even proving the claims wrong, the government’s reputation for being able to police itself is taking serious beating.

Ditto the outmoded legal escapism of always treating those making the allegations as alligators and calling on them to ‘provide the evidence’ – in which case even when what looks like the evidence is provided, the legal goalpost gets shifted to a further demand to ‘prove it’s real.’

But, at the end of the day, the behaviour and levels of misbehaviour of public officials always reflects the level of tolerance of the political directorate.

Ministers, Senators, Parliamentarians and others holding high public office will always be under public scrutiny and by an always inquisitive press – and they know that. It’s the level and extent to which they care about public scrutiny that matters.

Their only common denominator is that public officials are men and women, so, as people, they will have public and private lives. But it is the extent to which they consider any part of their private lives is any of the public’s business that matters.

Leadership matters always, so, just as any successful club revolves around its leadership, so it is in the public and private lives of holders of public office.

Government ministers and holders of high public office will only get away with what the political directorate of the day will or is expected to allow.

Government ministers serving under Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony learned very early what he would and would not tolerate, be it a doctor without a doctorate, ministerial readiness to accept salary increases not yet earned or being bitten by political appointees biting the hands that fed them.

Irrespective of party, Cabinet Ministers are men and women and their manners or mannerisms will revolve around their own feelings of who they are and what they can and cannot, should or should not do.

In the recent case of a Cabinet Minister — a second time — washing his private linen in public and hanging it out to dry online, it was not difficult to imagine the wives of his colleagues wondering how comfortable they should feel about the company their husbands keep.

But alas, there’s no association of ministers’ wives through which they could have adumbrated their own thoughts and conclusions, even if they so desired.

However, just like we know the longest rope has an end, there’ll always be those who’ll argue, in their own self-interest, that it actually has two – an argument you can’t rely beat.

Imagine: What if the Master Developer in the DSH case decides to sue the Government of Saint Lucia for the project(s) not being anywhere near what they were supposed to be two years after whatever secret agreement was allegedly signed with or by the Prime Minister?

Question: Will another government and people of Saint Lucia be duly and duty bound by the clauses of an agreement that never saw the light of day in Parliament?

Imagine Again: What if someone turns up with the money being sought in the supposed comfort letter, saying he or she or some entity got hold of one and had reason to believe it was real?

Question: Will the minister concerned still insist it’s a ‘fake’ comfort letter and leave the investor without any comfort whatsoever?

Another Question: If the signature proves to be the minister’s will he be asked to resign or get fired – and by whom?

And if — just if — the signature on the document being circulated in the name of the DSH Agreement is somehow later proven to be the prime minister’s, what should be expected — that he’ll resign or be asked to? And by whom?

The only good thing about all that bad vibes is that, like Opposition Leader Philip J. Pierre said earlier this week, some issues die over time, but some others just don’t – be it ‘the case of the hotel once called Hyatt’ or the Grynberg Matter, or even the Louis Bloom-Cooper inquiry’s findings.

It’s just left to be seen how far all these matters will go today – and what will happen tomorrow.

And the day after…

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