Mon | Dec 18, 2017

Canute Thompson | The doctrine of accountability

Published:Monday | September 25, 2017 | 12:00 AM

This is an open letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Recall these words, Prime Minister:

"I pledge to serve the people of Jamaica faithfully, with all of my energies, all of my heart, mind, and soul.

"The people are sovereign and their views and votes must never be taken for granted.

"There is only so much trust that pledges and statements of commitment can buy. I understand that the Jamaican people now want to see action in building trust."

These words, which bespeak a passion for accountability to the Jamaican people as sovereign, were uttered by you, dear Prime Minister, on March 4, 2016, when you took the oath of office. You explicitly said that these words reflected your understanding of the oath you took.

Not accountable to the political ombudsman?

I did not hear it directly, but I have no reason to believe The Gleaner front-page story of Friday, September 22 was untrue. It apparently is not fake news. You told Mrs Donna Parchment Brown that you are not accountable/answerable to the political ombudsman.

But if the Jamaican people are sovereign Prime Minister, how can you not be accountable to the political ombudsman - both as an individual citizen and a holder of a public office?

We are all human, Prime Minister, and your words may have been spoken in a moment of rare (public) anger, and if so, I urge that you apologise before the end of the day, today. If you do not see the need to apologise to Mrs Parchment Brown in her person and to the office she represents, then the country, the people who are sovereign, will have no choice but to reasonably conclude that the words you spoke were what you meant to say and they actually reflect what you truly believe. This would, of course, mean that what you said at your swearing-in is not what you truly believe.

 

Out of the abundance of the heart

 

My late mother used to tell my siblings and me, that "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh". So the real question is, Prime Minister, "Did you misspeak or were you speaking from the heart?"

Martin Luther King, in one of his many sage utterances, counselled us that it is not where a person stands at a time of tranquility and ease that tells us the measure of the person, but where he or she stands (and what he or she says) at a time of conflict and controversy. So the prepared speech (or as some call it the 'set play') is not what exposes the real intents and beliefs of a person, but what the person says off the cuff.

Some of us will recall President Trump's twists and turns on the Charlottesville riots. The set plays, aided by the teleprompter, were not his words and feelings but that of his aides. It was what he said on his own, without the prepared text, that told the world what was in his heart.

So, do you stand by what you said about not being answerable to the political ombudsman or was it really a moment of anger and exasperation which you regret, Prime Minister? If it is something that you said in the heat of the moment and regret, which I would want to believe is the case, the time is fast passing for an apology or withdrawal to have any credibility. A coaxed or negotiated apology is a hoax. It amounts to another set play whose contents are inauthentic.

Let us agree, Prime Minister, you are answerable to us for every dollar of public funds that you collect, spend, and borrow in our sovereign name. You are accountable to us for everything you do in your role as prime minister and minister of the various portfolios you hold. Any argument to the contrary is a betrayal of the trust that the people of Jamaica entrusted you. This goes for all the prime ministers before you and those who shall come after you.

Let us also agree that you are not only accountable to those who voted for you, but also those who voted for the opposition party and those who did not vote.

The loss of trust in elected officials is something that concerns you, Prime Minister. I think you are also well aware that the most effective means of restoring public trust is for your deeds to match your ideals. The words you spoke at your swearing-in are noble ideals.

Transformational leaders count it an honour and a privilege to account for their actions to citizens. This accounting is not only because it is a duty of public office, but a desire of the soul. Great leaders place accountability above being admired, adored, or feared.

- Canute S. Thompson, PhD, is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning at The University of the West Indies, Mona. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.