By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 27, 2016
I am an old timer. I believe integrity in public life predates the establishment of the Integrity Committee. My mother, born in 1909, used to say: “When ah dead, if anybody say ah owe dem any money, tell dem dey lie.” Her word was her bond. She believed each of us possesses an innate sense of what is right and wrong which tells us when we have transgressed those boundaries. Such a credo was part of an ethical value system that we, as black people, learned from our nineteenth-century ancestors. In those days, we did not need an Integrity Committee to tell us what constitutes ethical behavior.
Today, we seem to have lost our moral and ethical compass. We can no longer differentiate between what’s right or wrong unless a committee tells us so. I empathize with Jabari Fraser when he asked our prime minister what constitutes ethical behavior in public office, particularly as it concerns the Marlene Mc Donald matter? (Express, September 16).
The Prime Minister replied: “I don’t have a crystal ball.”
The prime minister does not need a crystal ball to answer Fraser’s question, especially when he pontificated to the nation: “Our vision was, and still remains, that of a society where integrity and morality in public life would be of the highest priority” (Express, Sept. 11).
The Prime Minister should not wait for the Integrity Commission to determine Mc Donald’s guilt or innocence before he makes a determination in the matter. There are examples of how responsible leaders handle these matters.
About two weeks ago, Keith Vaz, an English MP step down from the chairmanship of powerful Home Affairs Committee when it was revealed he paid two male escorts for sex. Two days after the allegation he resigned his position. Buying sex in England is not against the law. There are 72,000 sex workers in the UK. Vaz broke no law, but the spectacle of the chairman of such a powerful committee prostituting himself was entirely unbecoming of someone in his position. He brought shame and disrepute to his office. He had to go.
Understanding he had fallen short of what was expected of him, he recognized: “Those who hold others to account must themselves be accountable” (Financial Times, Sept. 7). Laurence Udochukwu of Essex wrote, “It is irresponsible to buy sex. He is a bad role model and not fit to represent his community” (London Metro, Sept. 8).
The next case has to do with Jose Manuel Barroso, the former prime minister of Portugal who, after leaving his job as the chairman of the EU (European Commission), took up a job as an advisor to Goldman Sachs, a US investment bank. The rules of the EC demand that one waits 18 months after one leaves the commission to accept another appointment. Even then one has to apply to the EC for permission to work for another entity where one may use the information gathered in one’s former position for private gains.
Barroso waited 20 months after he left his EU position to take up a job with Goldman Sachs. That was not good enough for the present commissioner. He set up a committee to examine whether Barroso’s new position presents a conflict of interest. If he is found guilty, he can be prevented from taking up that position and lose his E15,000 per month pension. In the meanwhile, he has been stripped of all of the prerogatives that are accorded former commissioners.
French President Francois Hollande, in speaking of Barroso’s decision, commented: “It’s legally possible but morally unacceptable.” Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner said Barroso’s decision was “bad for the image” of the EC. Borroso did not break any law—he waited 20 months before he accepted his job at Goldman Sachs—but the appearance of a conflict or how it “go look” trumped the day.
Our prime minister possesses a powerful intellect. There is no one better than he when it comes to de-constructing an argument as he displayed so magnificently as leader of the opposition. His challenge, however, lies in constructing a forward-looking agenda, reintroducing probity into government, and leading the nation to a new horizon. He is yet to prove his mantle in these regards.
If integrity and morality in public life matter then Marlene has no place in a leadership position of the government. If integrity and morality in public life is merely a slogan then Marlene has every right to return to folds of the PNM leadership team.
Selecting Mac Donald as a member of Cabinet will reflect poorly on the prime minister’s judgment. It risks nullifying any claims the government makes about being committed to “integrity and morality in public life.” It is a move the prime minister may live to regret.