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The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is relieved at the exoneration of the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr. the Honourable Christopher Tufton and Permanent Secretary, Donovan Stanberry, in relation to charges of perjury and breaches of the Contractor General’s Act, as recommended by the Contractor General in his Report on his investigation of two (2) contracts involving Mr. Aubyn Hill. Both the Minister and the Permanent Secretary were always convinced that the charges would not have been proffered by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) because of the pureness of their intent, and their conviction that it was in fact the intent of Cabinet for Mr. Hill to be awarded employment contracts, based on the nature of assignment Mr. Hill was called upon to undertake.
Though relieved at their exoneration, the Minister and the Permanent Secretary suffered untold anguish due to the assault on their reputations, and therefore would wish to highlight a number of issues arising from this case, that must be speedily addressed, due to their implications for public administration in the future.
The Ministry fully endorses and respects the work of the Contractor General as critical to the integrity of the public sector’s procurement systems and accountability in the sector. There is no doubt that the Contractor General enjoys enormous independence and power, as may be required for that office to execute its duties effectively. It must also be appreciated that because of the prevailing perception by the public that the public service is inherently corrupt, the Contractor General enjoys wide public support and may unwittingly influence public opinion and perception in relation to corruption in Government’s contracts award system. Within this context, it is critical that the Contractor General exercise the utmost care in his investigation to understand context motives and intent before recommending criminal prosecution, as once he makes these recommendations to charge public servants, the said public servants’ reputation immediately come under attack in the court of public opinion.
It is instructive that the Office of the Auditor General enjoys no less independence than the Contractor General, and which has a much wider mandate to ensure probity in all Government transactions, as a matter of convention affords public servants an opportunity to respond to its various reports, before they are tabled in Parliament. It is in fact the case that through this interaction, public servants are able to clarify a number of issues before the Auditor General’s Report is tabled in the House. While this practice is not enshrined in legislation, it is highly commended to the Contractor General, as it can clear up a number of issues and prevent anguish to public servants who might make genuine mistakes in their work.
The fact of the matter is, if public servants are going to continue to be tried in the court of public opinion without prior opportunity to defend themselves, then soon we are going to have inertia in the public service, as no one will be willing to make decisions in instances where rules are not straight forward. Additionally, our brightest and best minds will refuse to enter the service, to avoid the kind of negative publicity and trauma reminiscent of this case.
In this regard, it is critical that the legislation governing the operations of the Office of the Contractor General be re-examined to allow for a greater level of interaction between public servants and the Contractor General before cases are referred to the DPP and disseminated to the media.