By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” July 2, 2021)
“Nothing is more dangerous to the wellbeing of the body-politic than a public official who is technically competent or strategically astute but ethically illiterate or unfit.” — G. Evans
‘A statesman is a dead politician.’ — PM Ralph Gonsalves.
Vincentians got an actual seat of the pants indication from PM Ralph Gonsalves as to how he intends to rule this land.
Gonsalves’ statement that Senator Ashelle Morgan will continue sitting as a government senator even though she is charged with a criminal offence is problematic for several reasons.
Gonsalves explained that politicians are not public servants in the same way as other person employed by the government. He argued that the Constitution provided protection and security of tenure. He claims that no one can be denied their fundamental rights as are enshrined in the Constitution unless she voluntarily decides to give them up.
Gonsalves’ legal explanation for why Senator Morgan will remain as a senator amounts to a flight of fantasy. Everyone one listening to him except for his most loyal supporters rejected his attempt to explain the unexplainable.
Emboldened by Gonsalves song and dance, Senator Morgan issued a statement asserting boldly, “While there is no legal or moral obligation for me to take such leave, I chose to do so voluntarily because I do not wish for the upcoming trial to distract from or to overshadow the business of the House of Assembly.”
Young and inexperienced, Senator Morgan failed to see that for the last eight weeks, the accusation by Cornelius John that she and others stormed onto his premises, kicked and beat him about his body and then shot him in the leg while she drew a gun on him and threatened to shoot him, has distracted and overshadowed the business of the country.
She fails to see that the populace consistent and persistent agitation about her alleged illegal and criminal conduct compelled the state to charge her. Her statement reeks of arrogance and haughtiness and puts her in an unfavourable light with much of the population. Rather than humble herself and let her legal team do magic in her defence, she chooses to ramp up her social profile as if certain of the case’s outcome.
But this is hardly a statement about Senator Morgan. It is more about the leadership of her party and arrogant display and misuse of power. Such was evident from the moment Gonsalves offered the theory that this was a case of defence of women, particularly in light of the fact that there was so much violence against women. He took exception to the fact that people were making disparaging remarks rather than embracing his senator as a heroine.
Assume for a moment that Ms Morgan does not have a legal obligation to step aside. Indeed, while she is charged with a crime, she is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But do she and Dr Gonsalves have an appreciation for the fact that there is a code of conduct for parliamentarians? Of course, they do. The legalistic explanation by Gonsalves of his decision to keep Morgan on as a senator and Morgan’s pompous statement, which disregards her moral and ethically responsibility to herself, if not the nation, demonstrate their contempt for good governance best practices.
We inherited our system of government from the British. There is a code of conduct for parliamentarians in the UK, which embraces the general principles of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
In addition, members of parliament are required to base their conduct on the consideration of the public interest and resolve any conflict arising between the public and private interest in favour of the public interest.
The Australian code of conduct declared that its purpose is not to control the behaviour of parliamentarians but to:
- set public standards by which the behaviour of parliamentarians can be assessed
- provide a basis for assessing proposed actions and so guide behaviour
- provide an agreed foundation for responding to behaviour that is considered unacceptable
- assure and reassure the community that the trust placed in parliamentarians is well placed.
Is it too difficult for the ULP leadership to see that the accusation and subsequent charge laid against Senator Morgan places SVG in a bad light? Is it too far fetched to ask her to stand down until the air is cleared? Only hubris explains the party’s position.
In light of many of the scandals that have engulfed post-independence SVG, we need a set of guidelines to govern us. Sadly, too many of our public officials either disregard or take their obligation lightly when they assume political office. They swear and make oaths to serve in the interest of the people. However, when they are elected or appointed to public office, they trample on the people’s hope and desires.
The argument is posited that there is a democratic ballot every five years. However, history is replete with examples where the ballot box does not always remove people whose actions fall below par. Those controlling the machinery of government can conceal information necessary for electors to make an informed choice. Worse, votes can be bought. As a result, people who subvert the system of governance can often do great harm to the institutions of government — damage that may persist for a very long time.
Fortunately for us, the events of the last eight weeks have showed a level of maturity on behalf of the people. It was said that everything in SVG is a nine-day talk and then fades away. Not so with Mr. John’s accusation against Senator Morgan and others in her company.
Initially, it was said that Parliament was powerless to censure Senator Morgan. Then we were told she could not be asked to step aside while the investigation goes on. Now the sustained advocacy of the people did not only ensure that she was charged but that she withdrew from Parliament pending the outcome of her trial.
Step by step, we are taking our democracy to higher heights.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].