THE PIPER: Angels and Devils in Government

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Reacting to the latest revelations on the facility rented by the Ministry of Public Health – putatively for the storage of Pharmaceuticals and the details of which are so notorious that they need no review – Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan is reported to have given his take on the matter as follows: “Think of it like a game of cricket. One man drops de ball at a crucial point in the game. Wuh de Captain must do? Box the man behind he head, tell he walk off the field and call a truck to drive over him? No. We are humans and we will blunder. We are not a Cabinet of Angels.”

piperMinister Ramjattan made a very interesting point in connecting the actions of the Minister of Public Health George Norton to “human nature”. Men, he asserts, not being “angels” who are pure, are in fact inherently prone to making mistakes and should therefore be excused when in fact they do so.

Over two hundred years ago, in the debate on the crafting of the US constitution following their successful war of independence against Britain, James Madison also contrasted  human nature to that of angels: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan
Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan

So the crisis we are facing, according to Madison and Ramjattan is for the government to “oblige it to control itself.” But unlike Ramjattan, Madison did not just wring his hands at the imperfectability of human nature: he proposed a solution that when in Opposition he has preached with messianic so fervor:  that there be “checks and balances between the different departments” of the government.

“The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

And in the instant case of procurement of goods for government, Ramjattan and the opposition had insisted the PPP’s practice of vetting contracts through Cabinet’s “no objection” be scrapped and a Procurement Commission be constituted to perform that task. The Cabinet’s power would be balanced by the autonomous Procurement Commission. Therefore, the problem with the actions of Norton and the Cabinet in approving a fatally flawed contract is not that it was a “mistake” but that it was a foreseeable one that could have been avoided if indeed the Cabinet wanted to do so.

Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton
Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton

To compound the “mistake” that was brushed off as due to “human fallibility”, the government appointed Norton’s colleagues from the Cabinet – who Ramjattan pointed out were as culpable as Norton – to sit in judgement of him. There was not even a genuflection to the mechanism designed to circumvent the weakness of “human nature” – an independent Commission of Inquiry.

Minister Norton did not just “drop the ball” on the warehouse rental: he deliberately deflected it to the detriment of the taxpayers. He must be sanctioned.

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