Public Servants should cover yourselves; save the paperwork because when the chips are down, and ministers will feel the cold breath of accountability!

PM Minnis and Former Finance Minister Turnquest

The Editor
Bahamas Press

2nd December 2020

Dear BP

There are rules, traditions and conventions which regulate how Bahamian governments govern, how government ministries and the civil service function and how our law enforcement agencies operate; hire, train and dismiss officers; how state occasions including funerals are planned and executed.

As a former British Colony, the Bahamas had a lot in common with all former colonies i.e. the rules and procedures were all the same. In theory a civil servant could be transferred to any post in the British Empire and function efficiently because these standardised rules applied to everything he did; there was no guesswork involved. Indeed, newly hired Bahamian officers and managers were trained in public administration either locally, in Jamaica or the UK so that each knew these administrative procedures and could apply them.

When we achieved independence, these rules were in place in fact they are still largely operative although our politicians, bureaucrats and some public officers now choose to ignore them if it suits their purpose; one such rule is the runs of conduct under the Westminster System. Under these rules a minister is assumed to have known or should have known whatever happens in his or her ministry.

Then there is the convention of collective cabinet responsibility.  Cabinet collective responsibility, also known as collective ministerial responsibility, is a constitutional convention in Parliamentary systems that members of the cabinet must publicly support all governmental decisions made in Cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them.

But the person ultimately responsible is the Prime Minister. So, the recent public thrashing of the former Minister of Finance is not only unseemly but attacks the very basis of this convention. I will not get into the weeds about whether or not the loan that he negotiated contained favourable or unfavourable terms and conditions. I will say that the cabinet of the Bahamas cannot walk away from it and place the blame entirely on him. This was a collective decision by the cabinet; they all agreed with his
decision and would by convention should have resigned if they did not.

There is no way for his cabinet colleagues to walk away or try to put distance between them and him and feign ignorance. How Mr Turnquest is being pilloried in the press over this loan with little support from his former cabinet colleagues is also a cautionary tale for senior public officers especially as an election Is on the horizon.

The General Orders of the civil service protects officers who disobey any unlawful order whether written or verbal. Since it appears that our government is being run by text message, they should be careful with what they do and protect themselves, their families, and pensions.

The Bahamian landscape is littered with the broken carcasses of public officers whose only defence was that they were only following orders. It did not help them then and wont protect you in the future. So, my advice is cover yourselves; save the paperwork because when the chips are down, and ministers feel the cold breath of accountability, public humiliation, and disgrace on their necks they will throw you under a bus.


Michael J. Brown