By Caswell Franklyn | Sun, August 26, 2012 - 12:00 AM
For many, it is still unclear what Government is hoping to achieve with the appointment of a commission of inquiry into the administration of Alexandra School.
The country has been allowed to come to the conclusion that the protracted problems at that school will be solved when the commissioner issues his report. At that point, many will be disappointed because it does not appear that the expectations of Government and those of the other parties coincide.
When I was a boy at school, I resented having to study Shakespeare. Now I am glad that I paid attention because it has helped me to understand Government’s apparent motive for ordering the inquiry.
I well remember my English master, Keith Roach, using Henry iv to put the war between France and England in context. That lesson almost 40 years ago has fully explained Government’s rationale for instituting the inquiry.
In the death scene (Act 4, Scene 5) of Henry Iv Part 2, the dying king said to his son: Therefore my Harry, Be it thy course to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels: that action hence born out, May waste the memory of the former days.
As I understand it, the king on his deathbed was telling his son and heir to occupy the country with foreign wars so that his enemies would not have time to plot against him when he became king.
It does not take an Einstein to realize that Government has used the inquiry to take the focus off its inept performance. With an election around the corner, Government should be trumpeting its achievements to make out a case for re-election.
Instead, with little to show, Government prefers to giddy our minds with salacious revelations coming out of the Alexandra School Inquiry.
So far, the inquiry has provided some entertainment but what else can it achieve? It certainly cannot legally achieve the separation that the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union has been insisting upon. We must first understand that nobody at Alexandra is employed by the commission of inquiry and therefore no one can be disciplined in any way by that commission.
The report of the inquiry can only make recommendations that are binding on no one. Broomes and the teachers are employed by the Public Service Commission. Only it can set up an investigatory body whose recommendations could be used as basis for disciplinary action against a public officer.
Code of Discipline
The procedure for dealing with disciplinary matters is set out in the Code Of Discipline in the Public Service which can be found at the Third Schedule of the Public Service Act. Paragraph 4 (6) of the code is relevant for the purposes of this article and states:
“(6) Where the commission determines that a breach of one or both of the codes referred to under sub-paragraph (5) may have occurred, the commission shall within 14 working days of that determination,
“(a) bring a charge of misconduct against the officer; and
“(b) establish an investigatory committee of three persons from the resident panel of persons to conduct the necessary enquiry into the charge, and
“(i) at least one of the three shall be an attorney at law; and
“(ii) each of the members should be selected with due regard to the standing of the officer concerned and to the nature of the charges made against the officer.”
Even though The Alexandra School Inquiry has as part of its terms of reference a requirement to consider and determine whether, in the performance or non-performance of their duties as public officers, if those involved would have in any way infringed, breached or contravened the Code of Discipline or the Education Act so that any such infringement, breach or contravention may be referred to the Public Service Commission to be dealt with as provided by law, that requirement cannot trump the provisions of the Public Service Act and the Constitution.
If Government were truly interested in punishing those who breached the rules, the Public Service Commission would have been allowed to perform the duty that only it is empowered to do. Thereafter, a commission of inquiry could have been appointed to inquire into the administration of the school.
Section 13 (2) of the Commission Of Inquiry Act states: “No evidence given by a witness at an investigatory commission may be used against him in any subsequent trial or in any criminal or civil proceedings other than a prosecution for perjury in giving that evidence.”
It is therefore clear that the proceedings before the Alexandra School Inquiry would render any action by the Public Service Commission against any of Waterman’s witnesses a nullity.
It further demonstrates that Government was not serious about solving the problems at Alexandra. The commission of inquiry makes the Government look as though it is doing something but in reality it is giving any wrongdoers a free pass.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator.
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