Austria’s highest court annulled their recent presidential election. In delivering the decision the head of the court said:
“The decision I am announcing today has no winner and no loser, it has only one aim: to strengthen trust in the rule of law and democracy”.
That quotation set me thinking about this country’s elections that are constitutionally due in less than two years.
Over time there have been many calls by well-intentioned persons to change the electoral laws to ensure that elections are free and fair. My view is that their focus is too narrow. There are more than adequate laws to ensure that the system of electing the government is fair and transparent.
The obstacle to achieving fairness and transparency, in this regard, lies in what I describe as a system that is designed to be corrupt. The fact that no one has been prosecuted for corruption so far is testimony to the ingrained honesty of Barbadians or that the system has worked well to cover corruption.
It might have been unintentional, but the first steps in the process to where we find ourselves came with the passage of the 1974 constitutional amendments. Those amendments gave the Prime Minister the right to recommend the appointment of judges, after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition; and the right to be consulted on the appointments of permanent secretaries and their deputies, and heads of department and their deputies. But, from inception, the right to be consulted has been misinterpreted to mean that the Prime Minister recommends the appointments. In essence, the Public Service Commission has abdicated its role. Persons who have experienced the Public Service prior to 1974 lament the dramatic decline in today’s standards and output and trace the genesis to those amendments.
It is now widely accepted in the Public Service that an officer does not reach those grades unless he/she has some connection to the party in power or some other relationship to a political operative. A person who obtained an appointment this manner might find his/her impartiality compromised, and be less inclined to be apolitical as the Public Service Act requires.
While in power both political parties have complained that persons who were appointed by the “other side” have given less than their best when called upon to do so. This might be the reason why persons who were acting in senior posts, when the government changed in 2008, continue to act to this day.
To my mind, the Government might be using acting appointments to ensure the loyalty and compliance of those officers. A situation like this would lead to an officer giving his Minister the advice he wants rather than the best possible advice. Failing to give the Minister the advice he requires would result in the acting officer being reverted and replaced with someone more amenable to the Minister’s will.
The corruption in the system ensures that the politician always gets his way on important matters, whether awarding contracts or the appointing staff.
The political contamination in the electoral system is as bad or worse than the infelicities in the general Public Service. Under our laws, a politician can imprisoned, lose his seat, or disqualified from seeking future political office, if he/she is found to have overspent, bought vote, or filed a false return. The problem with the system is not that there is an absence of laws to regulate the process: it is that there is little or no enforcement.
Again, this lack of enforcement comes from the fact that politicians are required to select the persons who are required to regulate the same politicians who selected them in the first place. If that is not a recipe for corruption nothing is.
To strengthen trust in the rule of law and democracy, those well-intentioned persons would be better employed, campaigning against the entrenched corruption that is the Barbadian way.