Commissions of Inquiry: Counselors or Inquisitors?

In a strange twist and as if to curtail punishment against wrongdoing, Jesus required that only those who had no sin should throw the stones of punishment (see John 8:7).   It is therefore not surprising that one of the most quoted principles in our culture is, “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

In this article, I argue that by adhering to that principle we forgo ample opportunities to improve our lives in general and to promote good governance in particular.
The principle that sinners should not throw stones is usually evoked by politicians who are accused of wrong-doing.  They unashamedly claim that their accusers have no legitimacy to point out such wrongdoing because they, the accuser, did the same thing.
Invariably, politicians in opposition (and their supporters) invoke that principle whenever Commissions of Inquiry are appointed to examine the validity of actions they took while in government.

Persons investigated through these inquiries become apprehensive because, among other things, it is generally perceived that Commission of Inquiries are established not only to determine culpability but,  more onerously, to humiliate those who did wrong.   Mr Michael Gordon demonstrated his awareness of that possibility when he observed, “Mr Commissioner [Blom-Cooper], you have it in your power to kick the bucket of Ausbert d’Auvergne’s reputation. There are many who would urge you to do so, not for any objective reason, but only to fulfill some twisted political agenda of vengeance.”
Fortunately, we can easily agree that the focus of the such inquiries should be to establish the a) protocols, procedures or policies that were violated; or b) the mechanisms that should be established to mitigate future instances of wrong-doing.   In short, recommendations of such Commissions are generally aimed at improving governance.
For example, the appointment of a three-member Commission, as was the case with the Ramsahoye Commission, was one of the recommendations made in the Blom-Cooper report.

Saint Lucian taxpayers had to sacrifice almost three million dollars for the Ramsahoye Report.  Regrettably, the Member or Castries-Central scoffed at an excellent opportunity
to help the Saint Lucian public understand the functions of Commissions of Inquiries.  During the recent budget debate he could have helped us become aware that the Blom-Cooper was given the responsibility “to identify any legal and/or administrative deficiencies which allow or facilitate acts of impropriety, illegality or acts of misadministration by public officers or other employees of the Crown in the course of their duties.”

The honourable member could have reported the King administration’s intention to make significant amendments to the Finance Act as a result of the findings produced by the Ramsahoye report.  Instead, he used his considerable Kwéyòl (and acting?) skills to ask,
“Madam Spika, si ou ped ven dòla, ou kwè ou kay péyé  òn moun dé san dòla pou aché-i ba ou?”

By placing so much emphasis on recovering money (my recollection is that he asked the same question to make the same point during last year’s budget debate) the representative gave the impression that recovering money was the major objective of the inquiries. This was never part of the terms of reference given to Blom-Cooper.

What’s more, he gave detractors the opportunity to argue that the Blom-Cooper Commission was just as successful as the Ramsahoye Commission because in both instances no money was recovered.

Criticism can, and indeed should, lead to improvement.  Therefore, an administration which has established a Commission of Inquiry should be anxious to follow its recommendations.

An administration that has a genuine interest in enhancing good governance should be willing to establish Commissions of Inquiry to investigate the lapses of their rivals as well as the infelicities of their friends.

What’s more, governments should be prepared to establish Commissions to look into their wrong-doings.  In the State’s interest, the importance of establishing good governance must void the typical belief that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

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