By Gordon Robinson
I've already disclosed I suffered from being appointed Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC) chairman in the 1990s.
It didn't take long before a kerfuffle arose in horse racing/betting (as seems to happen daily). I really can't remember (or is it 'recall'?) what it was all about, but I arrived at work one morning in the midst of a typical exchange of demagoguery to find on my desk a telephone message from the deputy prime minister. He wanted me to know he'd called a meeting of the protagonists for 11 a.m. at his office to settle the crisis and that my attendance was required. Well, he's still waiting on me or for a reason why I didn't attend.
A few weeks later, a letter arrived from the junior finance minister (who, as was the custom, had been handed the betting portfolio). He wanted to arrange quarterly meetings with me (beginning the following week) and my department heads to discuss and plan the commission's operations. The letter was filed in the appropriate correspondence file. I didn't reply. There were no quarterly or any meetings.
There's a mistaken view bandied about that members of statutory boards ought to take directions from ministers on matters within the board's purview. I won't swallow nor regurgitate that dogma.
Cabinet ministers have three powers over statutory boards. They can appoint the members. They can inform the board as to government policy. They can dismiss the members. Since I'd already been appointed (no doubt to Cabinet's subsequent regret), unless the communication included transmission of new policy or my dismissal, it just didn't interest me.
Drawing my red line
Any minister who offered me a political appointment to any board was told up front in the bluntest possible language that I wasn't a member of his/her political party and needed no help to do the job. To be fair, not one of the three finance ministers with whom I dealt objected.
In my experience, senior Cabinet members shared my view and acted as such. They didn't mind receiving regular reports as to what was going on but stayed away from trying to direct traffic. Junior ministers not so much. Maybe because they aren't members of Cabinet properly so called, they tend to lose sight of the lines of responsibility that must be drawn if governance is to work in Jamaica using this foreign, inappropriate Westminster system.
From my perspective, the BGLC wasn't my livelihood. Actually, it interfered severely with my livelihood and, as such, was a huge irritant in my life that I suffered because of my misplaced feeling of obligation to a country that had, in the 1970s, paid for me to become a lawyer.
I prayed for dismissal every day so felt free to do the work as I saw fit. Regrettably, my prayers were never answered. Eventually, it was I who lost patience and returned to my private life, which I continue to enjoy immensely.
Our's missed opportunity
For me, the recent drama with OUR/STEM/OCG needn't have reached this far if only the OUR understood its responsibilities to us under the statute to keep politicians out of the process. No government minister understands that simply meeting with a prospective bidder who is then permitted to enter the game late gives the appearance of impropriety and looks like the minister is shepherding that bidder through the process to certain success. It blights the entire process.
Government ministers aren't equipped to grasp these simple principles. They're blinded by the political imperative to be credited for whatever positive achievement occurs.
No corruption required. Exuberant ministers ignore such niceties as natural justice and thrash about in sensitive bidding processes like Super Baby in a diaper shop. We should be able to depend on the OUR to exclude the late bid or to abort the entire process and start again. The OUR could've avoided the OCG's killing of forests of trees.
Regarding MP/Junior Works Minister Richard Azan, like Mr T, I pity the prime minister. Poor She. Having applied political imperative instead of principle at the outset and insisted on awaiting the OCG's report, she foolishly placed her own credibility at stake. Then, she said she saw no reason to fire Azan because nothing was done as a minister. In dulcet tones, she reminded Jamaica, "I can't fire him as MP."
Now that the OCG hasn't accused Azan of any ministerial wrongdoing and has failed to expose anything new, I can't help wondering what she would've done had Azan not finally been convinced to fall on his sword.
Peace and love.
Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.