The news media, social media and blogs have been saturated of late with extensive reports and commentary about the conduct of public figures. Such saturation has led some to believe that unethical behaviour and corruption is rife within the corridors of political power and civil administration and that this has adversely affected good governance. Untrue.
The overwhelming majority of people involved in public service conduct themselves with high levels of professionalism and ethical conduct and has never been so much as tainted by the hint of corruption. For those who do cross this line there is an existing framework for dealing with them.
For those who engage in corrupt behaviour we have a police service and public prosecutions who act independently of the political arena and who are empowered to collect evidence and bring charges where there is sufficient evidence of criminal conduct. One person was recently convicted of corruption and others have been charged with corruption and are now before the courts. I have no doubt that anyone else with evidence of corruption against them will also be brought before the courts. Our judicial system has always operated completely independent of the political arena and there is a long history of practice to expect this will continue.
For those who have engaged in unethical behavior as it relates to the abuse of power or the public purse there are also remedies available: one can be removed from the position, be prevented from holding any such position again, and lose the privilege of serving the public in any other capacity. These remedies are the domain of leaders responsible for the appointments and these leaders’ assessment by the public will adjust depending on the nature of the remedy they impose. At issue here is public confidence and sending the correct message about acceptable behaviour. And we cannot ignore the electoral aspect: voters disillusioned about how abuses of power are handled have another reason not to come out to vote or will simply vote against the government.
With all the legitimate outrage at some of the actions of public figures we should not be enveloped by the political web some are attempting to weave by saying, suggesting or intimating that government is drowning in a sea of unethical and corrupt behaviour. It is not.
Put in perspective, the expenses scandal involving corrupt actions by scores of UK politicians and which led to jail terms for MPs as well as members of the House of Lords, outraged the British public. The crooks were dealt with but few, if any, came to the conclusion that the UK government itself was inherently corrupt.
It is therefore surprising that there have been calls for the UK to come in and conduct a Royal Commission into corruption in Bermuda. Our governor does not see the need; our ratings agencies hold the view that Bermuda is well governed and has affirmed our high ratings; and, most importantly, there is no evidence of widespread abuse of power.
Government has already committed itself to introducing new legislation to ensure higher standards of governance, including greater transparency. We should assess the seriousness of government’s intentions in this regard based on what it accomplishes legislatively. For those who continue to demand an inquiry this is something I would be prepared to countenance. But it would need to be done appropriately.
Surely any such inquiry examining allegations of corruption or unethical behavior must be broad enough to dispel any notion of there being a witch hunt. My proposal would be that the inquiry commence from the dawn of Cabinet-style government in 1968 so that successive governments could be compared and contrasted. My own personal interest in this regard would be an examination of two issues: (1) why the 25 acre Wreck House property offered for free to government came to be owned by a government Minister and (2) how the franchise for McDonalds (then located at the American base) was granted to a former premier, who led the negotiations for the base closure.
These are serious issues during deeply challenging times. We must address them and those responsible for inappropriate actions must be held accountable—whoever they are. We cannot and should not, however, destroy people through innuendo and allegations without evidence. While justice demands people be held accountable for their actions it equally requires they be accorded due process and fair treatment. I think this is something we can all embrace.