Law and convention

“…[R]eprehensible in the extreme” – Justice Jacqueline Cornelius, Monday, September 24, 2012

That was how Justice Cornelius described the February 2008 firing of former director of the Urban Development Commission, George Edghill. [He] was awarded close to a million dollars in damages for wrongful dismissal and breach of contract. I tend to agree with the word choice of the goodly judge; however I would rather direct that verbal volley towards the unsavoury practice of offering airtight, sweetheart contracts for civil service jobs to political operatives. Both political parties have exploited institutions and resources of the State in rewarding political patronage while the taxpayers of Barbados have often been left holding the bag. They call it “slaughtering the fatted calf”.

Ironically, since its inception, the UDC has been led by a former BLP Cabinet minister; a public servant that openly adorned himself in party colours as he participated in political meetings and partisan campaigning; and a seasoned DLP platform speaker. Notwithstanding the characteristics of UDC leadership (past and present), the manner in which it has been managed over the years has been cause for some Barbadians to describe it as a slush fund. Unfortunately, the UDC is not alone. Quite a few statutory corporations have been led by party supporters, for example the Transport Board and more recently the Barbados Industrial and Development Corporation.

Personally, I believe that in the interest of good governance it is time enough that a clear distinction is made between public servant jobs and political jobs. This imperative should be a matter of law and convention. It would be a step in the right direction and would better serve the public’s interests.

It has the added benefit of infusing the public administration with greater accountability and transparency as well as reinforcing sound management of Barbados’ scarce resources. It is also likely that such a display of political maturity will raise the morale and ambition of public servants while providing successive administrations with a mechanism to bolster their political personnel with highly competent supporters who are keen to guide the implementation of a new government’s mandate.

In 2012, Barbadians ought to have absolute clarity about which executive positions in the public service are political jobs and which are the preserve of dedicated and skilled senior public servants. The tenures of all political appointees or “anointed ones” should expire whenever a new administration assumes the reins of government.

We can’t reasonably expect ardent supporters of one political party to oversee the implementation of policies of another political party and we shouldn’t have to. Conflict of interests, potential for sabotage and issues associated with trust and legitimate suspicion will arise when a new government is faced with a situation where important State institutions are being led by political opponents. These eventualities could be avoided or mitigated if a better approach to public life is introduced in Barbados. For instance, competent apolitical management is more likely to save the country millions of dollars as the provision of better goods and services to Barbadians in exchange for their tax dollars is given higher priority. In those circumstances, it becomes far more probably that lawsuits like the one Edghill brought against the government will be circumvented.

What’s my point? I have no axe to grind. Barbados is yearning for new approaches to how business is done and it is time that politicians step-up to the plate and be more consistent in placing the country’s interests before their party’s. Let’s see what the new parliamentary term has in store.

*Carlos R. Forte is a Commonwealth Scholar and Barbadian economist with local and international experience.

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