Politicians always argue that government ministers cannot resign or step down every time an allegation is made against them, because such claims are often mere mischief. In fact, experience suggests the opposite — such claims more often than not have some basis in fact.
This is why the implementation of ethical protocols, as suggested by the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, should be considered by this country’s political leaders.
The TTTI has recommended that ministers step down when a “serious allegation” is made; and it is surely not too difficult to separate serious allegations from trivial or baseless ones. There are three main criteria which can be applied to separate the wheat of misfeasance from the chaff of political mischief.
First would be the weight of evidence. Since misfeasance or other wrong-doing is usually exposed through the media, evidence in this instance would not be required to stand up in a court of law, but would be judged by the reliability of the investigative report, which should be enough for a prima facie case.
The second criterion would be the seriousness of the charge. Misappropriation or misuse of public funds would certainly warrant a minister or other official stepping down from their position while investigations are carried out. On the other hand, allegations about reckless driving would not.
And the third criterion would be public opinion — if there is sufficient public outcry against a government official because of an allegation, then that individual should be removed from their post while investigations are being carried out.
This last criterion is the least weighty, but it is the one which politicians would consider first. After all, politicians do not typically make decisions on the basis of principle; rather, their actions are determined by getting and keeping power. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, for example, has been criticised for the length of time she took to finally remove Jack Warner from office, especially given the rapidity with which she had dismissed Mary King, Collin Partap, and Herbert Volney.
Dismissing these individuals for their various transgressions, however, burnished Persad-Bissessar’s image as a principled and decisive leader at no political expense. In the case of Warner, however, the political calculation was different — his money and his popularity meant that, until the Concacaf Report, the gains in Persad-Bissessar’s prime ministerial image would not have been offset by the political costs of his removal.
It now remains to be seen whether People’s National Movement leader Keith Rowley and Persad-Bissessar will take up the TTTI’s recommendation or ignore it completely. If either or both leaders do the latter, this will speak volumes about their commitment to ethical conduct versus their commitment to power.