During Wednesday’s September 8 live hearing of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), Commissioner Hon. Sir Gary Hickinbottom seemingly opposed Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Hon. Vincent Wheatley’s statements that despite being hand-picked, members of statutory boards are expected to be apolitical during their tenure.
“Boards are supposed to be autonomous, but … by choosing people whose commitment to the policy agenda of the government is paramount when selecting board members, is that not an overtly political act?” Commissioner Hickinbottom
The Commissioner was referring to the new policy of the Hon. Andrew Fahie
led-administration that now limits the tenure of board members to the time that the ruling government is in office.
In response, Hon. Wheatley said: “The fact that I am choosing a member it could be said, but it could be said of any public officer who serves in any ministry. So they are supposed to be fully apolitical that is the understanding, thought I am choosing someone, it must be understood that they must be apolitical.”
The Commissioner replied: “Someone is not apolitical if the way they are going to be on a board is that their commitment to the current government’s mandate is paramount. That is not an apolitical stance. An apolitical stance would be despite what government’s policies are, we have our functions under our statutes…we are going to get it done.”
In retrospect, Hon. Wheatley said he agreed, adding: “Maybe the whole process of selecting persons needed to be looked at, but we have to make a decision, we have to appoint persons. We don’t go base on the person’s political affiliation; we are not supposed to know. I don’t know who these persons vote for; these are persons you look at their competence and their abilities, to carry out the mandate, not their political affiliation.”
“The perception could be you are only choosing persons, but what about those members who you met on a board and you don’t move? Are you going to say they are apolitical and the ones you brought on are not? I don’t think that’s fair,” he added.
Hon. Wheatley further explained that under the new policy, replacing the entire board was an option, but it does not mean that it will be done.
“In our context, I don’t see any real reason to change every board member now, but maybe in another context or something, it maybe the wise thing to do. What this does is it gives you the option of standing the best chance of achieving your mandate,” he said.
“By your mandate, you mean your political agenda?” Commissioner Hickinbottom
Hon. Wheatley said, “yes, of the government.”
Hon. Wheatley also pointed out that the possibility of having a challenge with members who were hand-picked by previous administrations could affect the government’s work.
“There is evidence of this …it is a risk that it might not be shared the way you think it is going to be shared. The aim is to reduce that risk as much as possible," the Minister told the CoI