The competing arguments concerning the appointment of Mrs Helen Drayton to the Chair of the Board of Directors of a State enterprise—immediately following her completion of service as an Independent Senator—has highlighted once again the issue of appointments in the public sector other than those made to the constitutionally established judicial, public, teaching and police services regulated by the Service Commissions.
As the Privy Council stated in the famous Endell Thomas case, institutions, like the Service Commissions, were given some powers intended to protect security of tenure and “insulate” certain employees or agents of the State from political influence exercised directly upon them by the Government of the day. These institutions are intended to be autonomous.
As is well known, Board appointments in the State enterprise part of the public sector do not have any of the legal insulation, which the Service Commissions provide. The Government of the day makes most of those appointments directly.
In a few appointments in the public sector, the politicians participate indirectly because the appointing process requires consultation or some other step, which means, theoretically at least, that the Prime Minister or Cabinet does not have the appointing right vested exclusively in them.
I say theoretically because the member or members of the office or institution that makes an appointment, after consultation or other process, may themselves have been appointed or put up for election by the Government, like the President.
It is accurate in the literal sense to label appointments that the Government makes directly or controls as political appointments. What has us unsettled is the now widespread belief that someone who accepts a political appointment is a blinded devotee of the political party in Government.
There is a further unsettling belief that every political appointee will yield to instructions from the Government without regard to propriety.
Such perceived pliability is no doubt the reason why some have sneeringly greeted Mrs Drayton’s appointment. One commentator has asserted, unfairly in my view, that Mrs. Drayton “now appears to be politically tainted.”
We have a relatively small pool of competent and suitably qualified or experienced human resources available to serve without the potential for conflicts of interest.
However I readily concede that there have been numerous occasions when political appointees have done indefensible things or attempted to defend highly questionable acts or omissions on the part of the Government who appointed them.
I accept also that both major political parties have used political appointments as rewards for loyalty regardless of the rewardee’s capacity to make a competent, honest or meaningful contribution to the body to which the rewardee has been appointed.
It is absolutely necessary to stop these bad practices and for credible and meritorious appointments to be made, thereby restoring the autonomy of the relevant institutions and public trust in them.
Merit should receive priority consideration. But that is not likely given the persistence of the bad practices.
Sometimes perceived party political affiliation is a fantasy and nothing more than the result of the polarisation, racial profiling and hate that our twisted politics has encouraged, whereby little regard is paid to issues and a citizen’s true track record.
In those cases the perceivers and profilers go no further than an illogical conclusion that if someone’s view on an issue at a particular moment is the same as that of a politician then that person is automatically a PNM or a UNC, as the case may be. There is no examination of the person’s reasoning or what other positions he or she may have held that are not the same as the party to whom the perceivers align the citizen under attack.
At the time of writing this column, new Senators have just been appointed and the perceivers will have a field day if we apply a twisted measure of who is “tainted.”
It is noticeable, for example, that certain Independent Senators who did not support the run off legislation in the last Parliament did not make it back to that bench for a second term. Will the perceivers read something into that?
Applying the test of available to serve, the appointment of working television journalist Paul Richards as an Independent Senator will require urgent re-consideration if he unwisely persists in continuing as a journalist interviewing politicians whose actions may require his critical attention in the Senate.
His initial stated intention to do both seems to me to be both misguided and somewhat arrogant.
Regarding the ubiquitous Wade Mark, one can only hope that his contributions will not be as gross and as unfair as the attack which he permitted to run unchecked while he was Speaker of the House of Representatives when Vernella Alleyne Toppin ran her mouth on the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, about alleged rape.
It is troubling that some basic governance standards are breached or condoned after 53 years of Independence.