Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Resignation as absurdity

Anil Roberts is still to tell us what he was doing heading the Ministry of Sport. His former ministry is embroiled in a financial scandal of incredible proportions; he disowns responsibi­lity, blaming public servants in his ministry and personnel in SporTT; and his letter of resignation complains he was forced to resign even though he had done “absolutely no wrong whatsoever”.

One part of his letter even claims “the Westminster system posits that a minister’s resignation is unwarranted when departments under his portfolio over which he exerts no direct control nor (sic) ministerial authority operate ultra vires to good cooperate (sic) governance practices”. Where did he get that understanding from?

After we all already knew about the most execrable financial dealings in his ministry (including SporTT, for where else is this body?), Roberts admits there were departments “under his portfolio” that operated “ultra vires to (sic) good cooperate (sic) governance practices” but that he “exert[ed] no direct control nor (sic) ministerial authority” over them. Where did he get this notion of direct control from?

The Constitution of the country declares in Section 85(1): “[W]here any Minister has been assigned responsibility for any department of Government, he shall exercise general direction and control over that department; and, subject to such direction and control, the department shall be under the supervision of a Permanent Secretary whose office shall be a public office.”

It says “general” direction and control, not “direct” control. “Direct” describes a control without intervening intermediaries. No minister has direct control of his ministry; the office that has that is the permanent secretary. They don’t need to have direct control in order to resign when things break down.

Is Roberts suggesting there are some ministries/departments over which ministers have direct control, and others over which they don’t? Or is he saying ministers do not have direct control, perio­d, so that poor performance of their ministries or scandalous developments in them are no basis for resignation? If so, where did he pick up this (mis)understanding?

Across the Commonwealth, ministers resign for any of the following reasons, but especially the first two: financial scandal; personal error; departmental error; sexual scandal; policy disagreement; personality clash; performance; and criticism of a minister’s policy. Clearly, some of these categories can be conflated, but whether separate or conflated, which of them—if not financial scandal and/or departmental error, or personal error (as in the case of the suggestive video), or policy disagreement and/or criticism of a minister’s policy and/or personality clash (as in the public squabble with Gary Griffith)—would Anil resign for?

His performance as a minister? No, because his letter says as well that he is “proud of [his] performance over the past four years as Minister of Sport and Member of Parliament”.

Perhaps sexual scandal? Well, this is the only one left, but we are not sure he would resign over that because the horse has bolted and, even if it hadn’t, he might have, as in the case of Mary Jane, denied he was ever involved in such a thing while he was a minister, which the Prime Minister would have believed short of a thorough investigation.

When he was being made minister in 2010, Roberts also swore or affirmed he would “conscientiously, impartially and to the best of [his] ability discharge [his] duties as minister and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”. The key words are “conscientiously” and “to the best of [his] ability”. The question is: as minister, did he act in this way?

If he is proud of his performance as minister, we must assume he holds that he discharged his duties conscientiously. And he tells us clearly he served constituency and country to the best of his ability. What all this amounts to is that, for Anil Roberts, there are/were no grounds for resignation—either as minister or MP. Which is why he could tell the Prime Minister he resigned so as to avoid a negative impact on the team and to allow it to govern “without hindrance”.

Absurdity in the extreme! The impact had already been created and it is the Government that is hindering itself!

A simple check of credible websites would reveal individual ministerial responsibility is a convention that obliges a minister to bear the ultimate responsibility for the actions of his ministry even if he had no knowledge of the actions because, as one website says, he “approved the hiring and continued employment of the relevant [public servants]”.

So Roberts is splashing froth... as usual.