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To resign or not to resign?

Lloyd B
Smith

Thursday, April 12, 2018

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It is not customary for public officials to resign that easily in Jamaica, even when there is mounting evidence that they ought to. Such a culture of ethics does not exist in this country. The Opposition People's National Party (PNP) and its spokesman on health, Dr Dayton Campbell's calls for the resignation of Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton in the wake of the Cornwall Regional Hospital debacle are likely to be dismissed as just sound and fury signifying nothing.

Unfortunately, such calls — coming as this one does from a political party — never usually gain much traction unless civil society and influential interest groups join in the foray. Let's face it, neither the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) nor Dr Tufton is likely to take such a call seriously. No doubt it has already been dismissed by many citizens as merely political mischief or one-upmanship. In any event, Prime Minister Andrew Holness had only recently shuffled his Cabinet during the same period when Dr Tufton was dubbed the “star boy” of the RJRGleaner Don Anderson polls — scoring highly (some 26 per cent as the best-performing minister.

It is reasonable and more than fair to give Dr Campbell kudos for holding Minister Tufton's feet to the fire because he has a great deal to answer to in terms of how he has been handling the crisis at that multi-disciplinary medical facility. But resign?

Both the JLP and the PNP have traditionally used this 'noise' to embarrass and discombobulate their high opponents in government, but history has shown that when the dust settles it is business as usual. Maybe Dr Tufton may capitulate under pressure and call it a day, but it will not be Dr Campbell's or the PNP's call that makes him do it. It would more than likely be a judgement call or a decision taken by his boss, the prime minister, based on the exigencies of the situation and the possible political fallout if the court of public opinion sends the appropriate signal.

So far now, a beleaguered Dr Tufton is saying to a strident and seemingly aggressive (assertive?) Dr Campbell — the “big bad wolf” — you can huff and you can puff as much as you want, you are not going to blow my house down. What a preckeh! The cynics in the society may well say, as they fight for the power and the glory, Cornwall Regional Hospital goes to waste.

In 1999, the article 'The Ethics of Resigning' was published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management and fast became the most authoritative on this subject. It was written by Dr J Patrick Dobel, professor and associate dean at the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA. He holds a PhD from Princeton and is much recognised for his work on public ethics. Here is what he wrote:

“Resigning from office is a critical ethical decision for individuals. The option to resign reinforces integrity, buttresses responsibility, supports accountability, and can provide leverage. The moral reasons to resign flow from three related moral dimensions of integrity. Individuals in office promise to live up to the obligation of the office. The promise presumes that individuals have the capacity to make and keep promises, the competence to do the tasks of office, and the ability to be effective…

“Getting out, or staying in, marks a defining moment for a person in public life. Most decisions in office are woven into a fabric of habit, experience, and professional judgements. Only a few decisions threaten the fabric of integrity and can unravel a life or office. At these frayed edges of self-hood, where people decide to stay or resign, persons define their integrity within an institution.”

In a most timely intervention, newly installed Custos Rotulorum of St James Bishop Conrad Pitkin announced during his installation speech that he would be launching an ethical campaign. The parish's first citizen ought to be commended for this type of intervention at a time when our public officials are in many instances lacking in integrity and have turned a blind eye to accountability and transparency.

In this vein, rather than just calling for the resignation of Dr Christopher Tufton, the PNP should join in this call by Custos Pitkin and use its national reach to establish an ethics awareness campaign. Let's face it, one of the main reasons the PNP's call for the resignation of the health minister has not garnered overwhelming support is that people are saying that there is a certain amount of hypocrisy involved; as when the shoe is on the other foot the dice is rolled differently. In other words, what is good for the goose should be good for the gander. And, as the good Lord said, let him that is without fault cast the first stone.

As Custos Pitkin has said, “The time is right for us to begin an ethical campaign…let us start this campaign with the tag line, 'Unashamedly Ethical'.” Politicians in this country must embrace ethics if they are to gain the trust and respect of the populace. Once the society is sufficiently saturated with ethical principles then if the situation arises when a public figure must resign, for whatever credible reason, then the people will speak in one resounding collective voice, “For God's sake, go!”

Opinion writer Yen Makabenta has stated that resignation cannot be regulated by laws, neither should it be considered as an act of weakness, but as an ethical action which manifests the nature of public servants in inglorious events that happen while governing. In order for citizens to regain their trust in the State administration, today, more than ever, we need public servants who are both able and have character.

Lest we forget, one of the greatest threats to any democracy is leadership that shuns ethics and, therefore, put personal aggrandizement and party interests before the country. Too much of this practice is taking root in Jamaica's body politic. It is in this context that young politicians like Dr Campbell and Dr Tufton must interface with the electorate. Tom drunk, but Tom no fool.

Lloyd B Smith is a veteran journalist and newspaper publisher who resides in Montego Bay where he is popularly known as “The Governor”. Send comments to the Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

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