Sun | May 27, 2018

Matondo Mukulu | It’s the ‘mogels’, not the model

Published:Sunday | May 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Matondo Mukulu
Robert Montague has seemed to escape sanction after the used-car saga in which the national security ministry entered a botched contract with O'Brien's International Car Sales and Rentals.
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Most recently, students of constitutional law in the Commonwealth had a teaching moment. I make specific reference to the resignation on April 29, 2018, of British Home Secretary Amber Rudd following the exposures surrounding the Windrush-era individuals who had travelled with their parents/guardians to Britain.

Up to 1973, the provisions of the relevant immigration law were such that persons who entered the UK from the Commonwealth were granted the right of abode, which meant that they could stay in the UK for an indefinite period. These persons have worked and paid their taxes. Some did not bother to get passports over the years, as a great many had travelled to the UK on the passports of their parents or guardians.

Enter the government's policy of making life hard for illegal immigrants and so those Windrush era citizens (who are not illegal immigrants) were asked to prove that they had lived in the UK for as long as, in some cases, the late 1960s. A great many were not able to demonstrate this and so were denied access to healthcare and employment. There was a public outcry and both the British PM and Amber Rudd, as members of the executive, apologised to Parliament.

 

Accountability

 

Amber Rudd was equally asked to appear before the House Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Yvette Cooper. In response to a question on the issue of deportation targets, Ms Rudd said, in effect, that there were no such targets. Wrong answer. A leaked memo, which was actually sent to Rudd, revealed that there were targets. She tendered her resignation and she took responsibility for the incorrect answer that she furnished to the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Robert Montague, in his tenure as national security minister, presided over a most disgraceful motor-vehicle purchase car crash. Despite the fact that the full number of cars is yet to surface, in a country where every open lot is occupied by second-hand car-sale outlets, and notwithstanding the billions of taxpayers dollars spent, Mr Montague still gets a salary each month as a minister.

Then, of course, we have Dr Christopher Tufton, a man seen by many as having done well as agriculture minister. He is now Jamaica's minister of health, and there is an ongoing issue with regard to health and safety at Cornwall Regional Hospital, which is located in the island's Second City, Montego Bay.

Initially, and for a considerable period, the official word from the ministry was that the problem was caused by a defective ventilator system, but employees and service users and visitors were still being exposed to all types of pollutants. The fact that persons were being exposed to pollutants was something that the minister should have known, as a group of experts from the University of Technology, Jamaica, had outlined this in their report of March 2017. He still has a job, and no one has discredited the report.

I have mentioned these two Jamaican examples as I would be shocked if they did not all agree that the British government was wrong to have treated its citizens or permanent residents in such a manner. I hold this view as during his most recent visit to the UK, the Jamaican prime minister had a meeting with his British equivalent and expressed his Government's view on the issue, and he called for restitution for the wrong done.

I guess it was not lost on Mr Holness that the Labour MPs (notably Dawn Butler, David Lammey and Diane Abbott), along with others (some from Theresa May's own political party), showed that they understood that the legislature in the Westminster system of government is there as a serious check on the executive.

In the Jamaican context, it is correct to recognise that we do have our own version of parliamentary committees. The most popular seems to be the Public Accounts Committee, and of course from time to time we have the creation of joint select committees. Joint select committees have a limited lifespan, as they examine specific issues or a specific bill or existing piece of law.

What is absent from our system, when compared with the UK's, are select committees that have the responsibility of examining the administration, spending and policies of each specific ministry. Each House of Commons select committee comprises 11 members and a chair, with a system of election of chairs by a secret ballot. Additionally, these committees have the power to summon even the PM, and they sit urgently if the need so arises.

In Jamaica, Cabinet Minister Karl Samuda would not do well in such a system, as he is very much of the myopic view that parliamentary committees must be chaired by an MP that is from the party that forms the government.

Such a view, any first-year student would tell this veteran of the Jamaican Parliament, reflects his poor appreciation of the role that the House must play in the Westminster system of government, as inherent in his view is the thinking that somehow an opposition MP would only be interested in preventing the work of the executive and he clearly does not trust the members of the committee to ask questions that are objective. We now know why Robert Montague, even after the spectacular used-car fiasco, is still receiving a salary from the Consolidated Fund.

Amber Rudd's resignation serves to remind us of the importance of one of the chief constitutional conventions of the Westminster style of government: individual ministerial responsibility. By this we mean that a minister is responsible for the actions and decisions of his or her ministry.

The constitutional scholars go further by drawing a distinction between policy matters and issues of administration, a line that, in practice, is sometimes blurred. To be effective, there is a reliance or a hope that when there has been a major blunder on policy, spending and/or personal conduct of the minister, he or she is expected to offer his/her resignation to the PM.

In the Holness government and throughout Jamaica's political history, there have been relatively few times when the convention has inspired a resignation. This is a reflection of the fact that our political culture is at odds with the system of government that we have adopted. That's my way of saying that our politicians lack a sense of shame and accountability.

If Montague had any shame or sense of accountability, and an awareness of the principle of ministerial responsibility, he would have offered his resignation, or his PM would have shuffled him out of the Cabinet. We wonder why our system does not work - it's the 'mogels' that we elect.

- Matondo K. Mukulu is a public law barrister in Britain and a former acting public defender in Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and kamaumukulu@yahoo.com.