Then, he asked, “How do you expect Anguillians to give you more power over us when you do not have a system in place that is transparent and applies equally to all?”
The Chief Minister responded instantly, and, it seemed, from the heart. He was obviously being honest and earnest. He said, “Brent, you know we are all politicians. Civil servants can sometimes be very hard and uncompromising. They do not show flexibility in appropriate cases. We politicians have a softer heart. We listen to our people. We sometimes have to step in and soften the decisions taken by our civil servants.”
My heart sank. The Chief had no idea how bad he sounded. He did not know that his response was the definition of one of the most corrupting systems of government in the world. It is government by big chief, instead of government by law. By defending the system that Brent had just described, he was showing that he was a supporter of it. At the very least, he did not recognise how dangerous and unacceptable it is to a modern, educated people such as the Anguillians of today.
In a democratic, transparent, accountable system of government, it is the duty of Ministers to lay down the national policy. Then, they have to leave it to the civil service to carry out their policy. For appropriate cases, they put in place a system of appeals to an independent board. There can never be allowed a personal appeal to the Minister to reverse an official's decision. The official has a duty to apply government's policy fairly and evenly across the board. To have it otherwise, means that the law and policy are not applied evenly and fairly to all citizens. Victimisation is the inevitable result.
If there is something wrong with the law or policy, change the law or policy. That is what the Ministers can do. That is their role and power. When society becomes accustomed to permitting Ministers to overturn official decisions for their friends and supporters, we begin the long downward slope to arbitrary and dictatorial rule.
The Chief Minister was not alone in not understanding this fundamental rule of fair government. Besides Brent, I doubt there were more than five persons in the crowd on the park that evening listening to that exchange who thought there was something strange about the Chief Minister's response. Most of them seemed to think his response was perfectly normal and correct. In their defence, it is the only system they have known in Anguilla all their lives. They have no knowledge of how government by law is done in other parts of the world.
In defence of our Ministers, it is also true that it is the people who corrupt their system of government. It is not the leaders who start off corrupt. Leaders sometimes come into power with honest and sincere intentions to do good for their people. We then go to visit them, and beg them for special favours. We offer them all sorts of inducements to grant our wish. Sometimes it is our vote, sometimes an envelope of money, sometimes sexual favours. Our leaders know that is how government works in other islands of the West Indies. The risk is that they may come to think it is normal. We live in fear that one day they may give in to the temptation.
We have been fortunate in Anguilla to have had, over the years, men and women in power who were decent and honest. They have stood up to and resisted the temptations. We have not suffered from the type of corruption that has affected so many of our neighbours. We really have been lucky!
Some will say that the island is too small to expect that the standards that exist in the outside world will survive and work here. They shrug their shoulders and say that only in a big country will there be newspaper journalists and radio talk-show hosts who will make it their mission to demand more integrity, transparency and honesty from our leaders. I say that is not true!
No matter how small our community, we are entitled to expect that government will be of law and not of men.