By now Prime Minister Freundel Stuart should have re-read the relevant sections of the Constitution, the Public Service Act and the Commission of Inquiry Act and realised that he has seriously blundered in his handling of the industrial relations problems at the Alexandra School. He is sticking tenaciously to his explanation that he acted in accordance with the rule of law, but he did not go on to say which law.
I have done a diligent search and I have been unable to discover the particular rule of law that allowed the Prime Minister to intervene in a matter that involved allegations of misconduct by a public officer. Instead, I have found every reason why he should have steered clear of the now infamous Alexandra debacle. Judging from the state of the economy, he had better things to do than usurp the role that was already bestowed on others by the Constitution. It is enough to quote section 94 (1) of the Constitution to show who is responsible for disciplinary matters in the Public Service:
94 (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, power to make appointments to public offices and to remove and exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in such offices is hereby vested in the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Public Service Commission.
Allegations of misconduct against public officers are supposed to be dealt with in accordance with the Code of Discipline in the Public Service, which can be found at the Third schedule of the Public Service Act. The code is quite detailed but in essence, if the Public Service Commission (PSC) is of the opinion that an officer has a case to answer in relation to an allegation of misconduct of a serious nature, it is empowered to bring a charge of misconduct against the officer and establish an investigatory committee to conduct an inquiry. The committee consists of three persons, one of which must be an attorney-at-law. It is empowered in much the same way as a commission of inquiry to summon witnesses and administer oaths. If they find that the charge is proven, they would set out to the PSC the reasons for arriving at its opinion and also recommend the penalty that may be imposed. The PSC may then make such decision as it considers appropriate and advise the Governor-General accordingly.
Paragraph 6 (1) of the Code of Discipline sets out the penalties that may be imposed if a charge of misconduct of a serious nature is proved:
(a) suspension on half pay for a period not in excess of 6 months;
(b) reduction in rank;
(c) suspension of future increments for a period not exceeding 2 years;
(d) reprimand in writing;
(e) compulsory retirement; or dismissal
So far there was no role for the Prime Minister.
Instead of allowing the established disciplinary procedure in the Public Service to work, the Prime Minister has chosen to set up a commission of inquiry which would investigate the Alexandra affair and make recommendations to the Governor-General. The question to be asked is: who would benefit from the establishment of such a commission of inquiry? The short answer is other than the lawyers representing interested parties, the only persons to benefit would be any person who is guilty of wrongdoing who is called to give evidence. That might seem strange but the easiest way to escape punishment for any offence is to go before the commission of inquiry and admit to any wrongful act that you would have committed.
Section 13 (2) of the Commission of Inquiry Act states:
No evidence given by a witness to an investigatory commission may be used against him in any subsequent trial or in any criminal or civil proceedings other than a prosecution for perjury in giving that evidence.
The procedure adopted by the Prime Minister for dealing with the Alexandra matter would ensure that any person who is guilty of an offence could escape any repercussions if he tells the truth before the Commission of Enquiry. On the other hand, if the PSC was allowed to do its job, anyone who would have been found to have committed an offence would have been subject to a range of penalties up to dismissal from the Public Service.
I understand the Prime Minister’s frustration over the protracted nature of the dispute. I also understand why he would use every opportunity to make himself look good, to the electorate, ahead of the election. However, I do not understand why he did not allow the PSC to do the job that it was constitutionally appointed to do, after all a new PSC was only appointed days before the announcement of this commission of inquiry. Do you still think that he was right to intervene?