October 19, 2007

Ignorance or arrogance?


“People with this kind of attitude should not be in the Public Service” – Hon. Selmon Walters, Minister with responsibility for the Public Service, October 8, 2007.{{more}}

If that quote from Minister Walters is indeed accurate, then it is difficult to reconcile it with the fact that the Minister still continues to be in charge of the Public Service. Not after his own shocking revelations of flagrant disrespect, both for the Public Service and, worse, for the law itself.

Minister Walters, whether out of crass ignorance or gross arrogance, chose the occasion of a formal address to public servants at the opening of Public Service Week to disclose, not one, but two major transgressions on his part. According to him, after a bank teller had (unreasonably or not) refused his request to jump the queue, he (Walters) boldly told the Manager of the state-owned bank to have the teller removed from his post. Not content with this disclosure of an open show of political muscle, Minister Walters, flush with “success”, proceeded to demonstrate his prowess. The audience listened in horror as Walters boasted of not only defying the instructions of a uniformed police officer, but of offering to “knock down” the officer if he did not get out of the way of his (Walters’) jeep.

Subsequently, most likely under instructions from his superiors, the Minister apologized for his actions in letters sent to the Commissioner of Police, the CEO of the bank and the President of the Public Service Union. In the wake of these apologies, P.M. Gonsalves has sought to put the matter to rest, expressing the hope that what he termed as Walters’ “sincere apologies” would “bring closure to the issue”.

It is not as simple as that. Transgressions of the magnitude of these cannot be dismissed lightly or brushed off with a mere slap on the wrist. They represent gross interference in the performance of the duties of those public servants involved, and, in the case of the police officer, possible violation of the law itself. The fact that Minister Walters related these indiscretions as part of a lecture on the conduct of public officers shows that even his judgment is woefully impaired.

Obviously, P.M. Gonsalves is seeking damage control in asking for a “closure” of the issue. What, may we ask, would have been his position had he been in Opposition and a Government Minister, the one with responsibility for the Public Service itself, had committed such misdemeanours? The mere acceptance of Walters’ apologies is not enough in the circumstances. This Government came to power precisely because the electorate wanted a new type of governance, the “good governance” so faithfully promised by the Unity Labour Party. It can do no less than issue a firm rebuke, and at the same time a stern warning to would-be transgressors who may get too big for their boots.

Minister Walters, by his own admission, has failed the test of being in charge of the Public Service, and as such, he should at least be removed from this portfolio.