EDITORIAL: MATURITY IN PUBLIC OFFICE
The issue of maturity in public office is quite topical following Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States of America. Persons are considered to be in public office when they occupy a position which concerns the people as a whole. This description clearly applies to the elected and appointed persons who are privileged to occupy positions within the Executive and Legislative branches of our Government. Much is expected of persons who are called to ‘higher office’ and we often immediately consider whether such persons possess the academic qualifications we view as necessary for such higher office. The qualifications for public office, however, extend well beyond academic qualifications. The ability of public officials to respond appropriately to the demands and responsibilities of public office requires a significant level of maturity, which translates into the proper application of discretion and common sense.
Maturity is reflected in a number of ways, some of which are considered more significant than others, in the context of public life. Some of the qualities of maturity, which come to mind in the context of public office are, the ability to be calm, peaceful and rational rather than desperate, frantic or irrational; being flexible and open as opposed to being resistant, controlling and unreasonable; the ability to see and prioritise the big picture rather than being driven by one’s own desires and ego; and the ability to seek guidance before acting, even when clearly authorised to act.
I have highlighted attributes of maturity which I consider to have particular relevance to Anguilla – where there is shared authority in public office between elected Anguilla officials, appointed Anguilla officials and an appointed UK Governor. In an environment where the Constitution of Anguilla and the laws of Anguilla accord different responsibilities and authority to these officials, there is a need for them to demonstrate maturity as they perform the functions of their offices, if the well-being of Anguilla, which should be at the forefront of their minds, is to be realised.
The recent transfer of permanent secretaries by the Deputy Governor, to whom the Governor has delegated her responsibility for the public service, has been followed by the announcement of the Chief Minister that, acting in accordance with section 27 (1) of the Constitution, he advised the Governor of the reassignment of certain ministerial responsibilities he wanted among his ministers. This appears to have caused some consternation in some persons. The possible responses to this situation highlight the need for maturity in public office. The Chief Minister’s advice to the Governor clearly has implications for the transfer of permanent secretaries, effected by the Deputy Governor. Maturity in public office requires that the relevant public officials recognise that acting together, to ensure the effective and optimal utilisation of the human resources available in the public service, should be the key consideration rather than who feels undermined or who should have the last word.
This is an occasion which requires that the Chief Minister, the Governor and the Deputy Governor, consider the big picture, which is Anguilla and its people, rather than their individual desires or egos. A clinical consideration of the transfer of permanent secretaries and the proposed reassignment of ministerial portfolios suggests that it is possible for all the relevant public officials to achieve their stated goals, in respect of the transfer of permanent secretaries and the reassignment of ministerial portfolios. The transfer of the permanent secretaries has been effected and even with the implementation of the proposed reassignment of ministerial responsibilities the permanent secretaries would have substantially new areas of responsibility. Meanwhile, ministerial responsibility would have been reassigned as the Chief Minister desires and in accordance with what is generally considered to be his prerogative.
In the exercise of their responsibilities and authority, public officials are to be cognisant that regulations, laws and constitutions are all guiding documents. The spirit that these documents are expected to capture should not be denied in their application. This is something that our Governor, Chief Minister and other public officials must recognise and honour as they reference the documents that establish their authority, when seeking to exercise that authority.
Maturity in public office is to be expected of Anguilla’s public officials just as it is expected of President Donald Trump. In that respect, individual egos must be cast aside and issues examined at arms’ length with the understanding that every situation does not have to result in an obvious winner. The attributes of maturity which one should expect and which we should require in our public officials are well referenced in the following quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. She stated:
“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably.”
It is certainly not asking too much to expect the behavior of our public officials to ref