22 July, 2008

Inquiry Coming

The Question is, What Good Will the Inquiry Do by itself. Last month, according to The Anguillian Newspaper, the Governor spoke at a conference of Deputy Governors held in Anguilla. He observed that the principal focus of the conference would be the role of the public service. This, he described as a key element in the process of ensuring good governance in all of the territories. “While the Public Service must evolve and adapt to face many of the different challenges we are dealing with in the years to come, there will be elements that we must always ensure that we preserve,” he said. He reported that, “Among those elements, in particular, which the Deputy Governor had been working on, were the ethics of the Public Service in preserving integrity, impartiality and a commitment to ensuring the proper use of public monies, and ensuring that the public interest was always at the forefront.”

But, what about persons appointed to Statutory Boards and Government Committees? What about Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Department? What about public servants of ministerial rank? Has any one of them ever participated in a workshop on ethics and integrity? Has any PS ever read the Constitution, far less been instructed in its implications? Have they any idea what are the rights of our citizens under the Constitution? Have they ever been guided in the principles of 'natural justice' and the ‘legitimate expectation’ rules? From some of the personal stories that are emailed to me, I doubt it.

One can argue that a knee-jerk reaction to the odd occurrence of petty avarice or cupidity, if such should be found, on the part of one or two individuals will not solve the systemic problem of poor governance in Anguilla. The real problem is an absence in our political culture of any awareness of the principles of integrity, transparency, and accountability. The illness that we should be addressing is the absence of a sensitivity to conflict of interest and good governance issues. In such a culture, no matter how often you change the personalities, the new ones will always succumb to the pressures of public office and misbehave. It is almost an inevitability. They will not be acting unethically in their own eyes. They will just be doing the generally acceptable thing. And, we will smile and wink at each other as we do now.

Look at what happened to the Turks & Caicos Islands twenty years ago. The Premier, Norman Saunders, was arrested trying to import cocaine into Florida. The British suspended the Constitution and ruled TCI directly for some two years. They did nothing to change the TCI culture of bad government. No educational courses for politicians or public servants were given. We all watched the opposition get elected. The wrongdoing in TCI just got worse. As soon as he got out of prison in Miami, the electorate re-elected the nice Mr Saunders back to the House of Assembly. It is Saunders’ party that is back in government now.

In Anguilla, we have a tradition in government. Every time the government changes, the new ministers divide up the appointments to all the Boards and Committees among themselves. One takes the Anguilla Development Board. Another takes the Health Authority of Anguilla. Another the Social Security Board. Another the Anguilla Tourist Board. Another gets to appoint the government board members on Anglec. Another takes the Summer Festival Committee. Another, the Belonger Commission. Another, the Poor Law Board, and so on. And, these appointees receive absolutely no vetting or training. They are expected to be exemplary public servants imbued with grace and purity from the moment of their appointment. Mostly, their public business, proper and above-board as it may be, is done in secret. They frequently do not publish their accounts or reports. Yet, no one in Anguilla considers this odd. This is the way we have always done it.

You may say that the systemic lack of transparency and accountability has gone too far. That it won't be changed by educational seminars. That all that's left is enforcement and prosecution. That we need to hit people with a piece of stick to get their attention. That later, we can have seminars. To a certain extent, I agree. One of the aspects of systemic, institutionalized surrender of standards in Anguilla is our refusal to prosecute criminal acts by civil servants and persons of influence. Each one of us knows of three or four examples of public servants charged with serious crimes of dishonesty and immorality who have been quietly sent home and the charges dropped. The officials explain this aversion to enforcing the law by saying that they do not wish to “criminalise” Anguillians. Yet, we know that all it takes is to make an example of one or two influential persons. Prosecute one or two, and you will not have to prosecute another one for twenty years. Everyone will behave properly after an example has been made.

The long term solution comes down to a matter of education, I feel. The British public service has a National School of Government . They teach good governance, not just to junior public servants in the UK, but up to the highest levels. How come they do so little in the Overseas Territories? I had the privilege of being involved in two workshops organised by Karen West. The first was in Antigua for one or two senior civil servants from each of the West Indian Overseas Territories. We shared our experiences on lack of standards in our individual territories. The second workshop was in Anguilla. There, we had a cross-section of public servants. They designed a Code of Ethics for the public servants of Anguilla. I subsequently read that Stanley Reid went off to Montserrat to help them with a similar exercise. That was years ago. What has happened since? More importantly, what has been done to educate the Anguillian public on what we should expect in terms of good government from our public servants?

I blame the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for encouraging all the rumours and ill feeling that there is in Anguilla today. They did it by neglect rather than by some deliberate act or policy. By their lack of attention to the need to inculcate notions of high standards of government in the territories under their care, they may be said to have incited the feelings of doubt and suspicion that exist today in the minds of our citizens. Now the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament has recommended an Inquiry into allegations and rumours of maladministration in Anguilla. The Inquiry can be expected to be announced shortly. But, you may ask, what good will such an Inquiry do by itself?

Should not our ministers be schooled in the techniques of good government? Not only when there is a change of administration, but throughout the term of government? I believe that the National School of Government should be giving all Overseas Territories parliamentarians regular courses on the principles and practice of good governance. Members of the House of Assembly should attend workshops on how to handle the day to day temptations that will be strewn in their path to trip them up. Just because you start off in power as a principled and ethical human being does not mean that you automatically know how to handle the ambiguous situations that you will, perhaps for the first time, find yourself in after you are elected.

This applies not only to the National School of Government and members of the House of Assembly. Our Public Administration Department should be organizing courses on integrity and good governance for all Boards and Committees, as well as public servants, on a regular and on-going basis.

When all that happens, I will close down this Blog. The mission will have been accomplished.


  1. this HAS nothing to do with this article, just wanted to let everyone kn ow to be aware of loggin onto Anguilla talk they are spamming people now.I just recently received an email from realist and was amazed to find many of my email contacts listed in their dispatched/sent emails.
    Guess Mitchell was right about him whoever he is seems like he is trying to obtain ohter peoples email using frudulant mehtods like getting us to reply to certain antagonistic topics.

  2. It seems like every thime Mr. Sillerman lands in Anguilla the whole government meets him at his restaurant and they have very private meetings in his private dining room! Should'nt the government report on these meetings? Because if i had not seen it i would never had known. It seems like the people of Anguilla never knows what thier government is up to and that is really wrong!!

    There need to be some kind of transparency in the way the government behaves.

  3. We can't have transparency in government when we have a Chief Minister who thinks a Freedom of Information Act has something to do with government not censoring radio stations.


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