Two resignations in the last two weeks involving Members
of Parliament in different Caricom countries have brought
to the fore the question of when it is desirable that an MP
resigns, especially if his reputation is in some way tarnished.
Naturally such a question can only be answered by considering
(1) what tarnished the reputation and (2) to what degree.
In that regard let us look at the two recent cases and compare
them with instances where MPs conduct was called into question.
The first matter involved a minister in Bahamas, the minister
under whose portfolio the Immigration Department falls. It
appears that he had approved the granting of residency status
to the infamous Anna Nicole Smith sometime before her death.
Subsequent investigations by a Bahamas daily newspaper revealed
not only that the approval had come before the actual application
but also that the minister and Smith enjoyed what appeared
to be a cosy relationship.
After days of denying that he had done anything wrong the
minister finally resigned his post in the interest of the
party, according to him. Apparently it was felt that the allegations
were too damaging to be swept aside.
The other matter pertains to a Grenadian Opposition MP, Mr
Recently, reports flourished in Grenada that he had inflicted
violence on his wifein short that he was guilty of domestic
violence. My sources informed me that the incident was sparked
when another woman either dropped him off or picked him up
at his home. His wife understandably became incensed and damaged
the car. From there things escalated and violence was used
on the wife.
Following a swirl of rumours about the incident the MP issued
a statement last week. In it he said he did not condone violence
against women but admitted that he had behaved in a
manner unbecoming of a parliamentarian. Stating that
his actions have brought the party into disrepute
the MP decided that he had no choice but to step down.
The MP however only stepped down as a member of his partys
executive and other committees of the party.
He did not resign as an MP even though his acknowledgement
that he had behaved in a manner unbecoming of a parliamentarian
seemed to foreshadow this. His concern appeared to be more
focussed on the disgrace to his party, which had campaigned
on morality in public and private life.
Still one must give Mr Fullerton credit for taking the bull
by the horns and actually admitting that he had behaved in
an unbecoming manner as a parliamentarian, a husband
and a man. Not many Caribbean politicians would have
done that possibly seeing such an admission as political suicide.
At home in T&T we have had few instances where Parliamentarians
leave the office by choice. MPs who cross the floor never
do, although the Constitution says that an MP having been
elected a candidate of a party resigns from or is expelled
by that party vacates his seat. Although issues have
arisen as to whether that provision can be enforced (in the
absence of any Standing Orders identifying and recognising
the leader in the House of every party) one would have thought
that an MP who swears to uphold the Constitution
would have complied with its specific intent and vacated his
seat if he crossed the floor or joined another party. In T&T
where people are not elected on the basis of individuality,
to act otherwise cannot be right.
We have also had many examples of people who have been accused
of unbecoming conduct not even acknowledging it or acting
wrong and strong.
Consider the conduct of Larry Achong who during a public debate
on the smelter not only demonstrated an aggressive demeanour
but shouted out, Shut up.
People who attended the debate and viewers of the televised
proceedings indicate that he also mouthed obscenities.
Mr Achong was defiant that he was not resigning and has not
apologised for his crude (to say the least) behaviour. One
may contrast this to Minister Ken Valley who in 1994-1995
in the face of recalcitrance by then Speaker Occah Speaker
burst out as she was leaving the Chamber, Yuh could
run but you cant hide.
As I recall at the next sitting Minister Valley humbly apologised.
Ministers have been charged with criminal offences while they
were in office. Both Eric Williams and Franklyn Khan are before
the Courts on corruption charges. Khan resigned as Minister
of Works and Williams as Minister of Energy, but not as MPs.
Should they have resigned as MPs?
If this were England then we might say yes but in T&T
where we have had a prime minister before the courts (on a
charge before he came to office) this might be too much to
expect. I guess what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the
gander and one may recall that Dhanraj Singh when a minister
accused of slapping a senior policeman and breaching the traffic
laws, did no such thing.
The recent happenings in the Bahamas and Grenada should be
a wake-up call for Caribbean politicians that political behaviour
of the past is no longer acceptable and will not be tolerated.
I am of course not speaking to the unbecoming conduct or the
criminal charges themselvesI am referring to the politicians
response to it.
Matters of impropriety will no longer be swept under the carpet
in the hope that they will be forgotten. The Grenadian MP
who admitted that he acted unbecomingly will have a longer
political life than a Larry Achong. A party that causes a
minister to resign where he has been shown to be involved
in giving political favours will continue in power longer.
Politicians of this country should take heed.