The twists and turns of public life in this country occasionally throw up a moment so bizarre that it’s impossible to choose between laugh and cry.
Yesterday’s almost-appointment of attorney Garvin Simonette to the Cabinet represented one such case. For the third time in the Rowley administration, the appointment of a Cabinet minister was botched. First there was the case of the now fraud-accused Marlene McDonald who was appointed and fired from the Cabinet all in the space of 24 hours following public condemnation of her invitation of a man known to the police to her swearing-in ceremony. Then there was the case of Robert Le Hunte whose appointment had to be revoked when it was discovered that the newly-appointed Minister of Public Utilities was a Ghanaian citizen. He had to step aside until his citizenship status was regularised.
Now we have the case of Mr Simonette who, minutes away from being sworn in at President’s House, had his nomination withdrawn after mugshots of his arrest on DUI charges in the United States surfaced. With no second nominee in hand for the Public Administration portfolio, Dr Rowley took over the responsibility, presumably on an interim basis.
The Cabinet is not the only institution to be embarrassed in its appointment of persons to high office. Two years ago, the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) elevated Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayres-Caesar to the bench only to discover that, in her elevation, she had left behind her 52 undetermined cases. She was asked to resign, and did, and the sequel to that matter is now being played out in court.
What these cases suggest is a serious deficiency in the vetting process for appointment to the highest offices in the country. Either there is a rigorous process that is being ignored or a weak process that does not capture basic candidate information such as citizenship status and criminal record.
However, even if these possible shortcomings were factors in the case of Mr Simonette, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley must accept some responsibility for yesterday’s fiasco. Ever since Ms McDonald’s arrest it was evident that there was at least an even chance of her being charged and therefore needed to be replaced in the Cabinet. With at least three days to vet prospective candidates, and especially knowing the slip-up that had occurred with Minister Le Hunte, one would have expected Dr Rowley to have exercised extra care in ensuring a thorough background check on Mr Simonette.
We recognise that Mr Simonette was not walking off the street into the cabinet. After all, he has been a Government senator since September last year. However, the PM clearly applies different standards in appointments to the Senate and to the Cabinet. After all, he has not been bothered by public criticism about his decision to retain Dr Lester Henry as a Government senator despite the latter’s guilty plea on a drunk driving charge two years ago.
Whatever the rationale of the PM’s decision-making, the series of unfortunate incidents indicates the urgent need for setting standards for appointment to high office.