Apologise, PM, you're accountable!

Monday, September 25, 2017

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Dear Editor,

The following is an open letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness:

Recall these words, Prime Minister:

1. “I pledge to serve the people of Jamaica faithfully, with all of my energies, all of my heart, mind and soul.”

2. “The people are sovereign and their views and votes must never be taken for granted.”

3. “There is only so much trust that pledges and statements of commitment can buy. I understand that the Jamaican people now want to see action in building trust.”

These words which bespeak a passion for accountability to the Jamaican people, as sovereign, were uttered by you, dear Prime Minister, on March 4, 2016 when you took the oath of office. You explicitly said that these words reflected your understanding of the oath you took.

Not accountable to the political ombudsman? I did not hear it directly, but I have no reason to believe the media report of Friday, September 22, 2017 was untrue. You told the political ombudsman that you are not answerable to her office? But if the Jamaican people are sovereign, Prime Minister, how can you not be accountable to the political ombudsman, both as an individual citizen and a holder of a public office?

We are all human, Prime Minister, and your words may have been spoken in a moment of rare (public) anger, and if so I urge that you apologise before the end of today. If you do not see the need to apologise to the Office of the Political Ombudsman (OPD), then the country, the people who are sovereign, will have no choice but to reasonably conclude that the words you spoke reflect what you truly believe. This would mean that what you said at your swearing-in is not what you truly believe.

My late mother used to tell my siblings and me that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh”. So the real question is, Prime Minister, “Did you misspeak or were you speaking from the heart?”

Martin Luther King Jr in one of his many sage utterances counselled us that it is not where a person stands at a time of tranquillity and ease that tells us the measure of the person, but where he or she stands (and what he or she says) at a time of conflict and controversy. So the prepared speech (or as some call it the “set play”) is not what exposes the real intents and beliefs of a person but what the person says “off the cuff”.

Some of us will recall US President Donald Trump's twists and turns on the Charlottesville riots. The set plays were not his words and feelings. It was what he said on his own, without the prepared text, that told the world what was in his heart.

So, do you stand by what you said about not being answerable to the OPD, or was it really a moment of exasperation which you regret? If it is something that you said in the heat of the moment — which I would want to believe is the case — the time is fast passing for an apology or withdrawal. A coaxed or negotiated apology would be a hoax and inauthentic.

Let us agree, Prime Minister, you are answerable to us for every dollar of public funds that you collect, spend, and borrow in our sovereign name. You are accountable to us for everything you do in your roles in public office. Any argument to the contrary is a betrayal of the trust of the people of Jamaica.

Transformational leaders count it an honour to account for their actions to citizens. This accounting is not only because it is a duty of public office, but a desire of the soul. Great leaders place accountability above being admired, adored, or feared.

Canute S Thompson

canutethompson1@gmail.com

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