A standard above the rest: What are we doing about accountability

Yoshitaka Sakurada.

Just last week Japanese Olympics minister, Yoshitaka Sakurada, was forced to apologize for being three minutes late to a parliamentary meeting. According to news sources, the minister’s lateness was not well received by his colleague ministers, who considered the act “disrespectful.”

While Sakurada is no stranger to controversy, the public nature of what seems to be such a minor infraction remarkably signals a culture of accountability.

Public apologies for being late are not uncommon in Japan. In 2017, a Japanese railway operator issued a grave, public apology for the “tremendous nuisance” caused by a train departing 20 seconds early.

Transparency and accountability have recently become buzzwords in The Bahamas, especially in the realm of politics and the conduct of political leaders.

With the recent and ongoing intervention of organizations like Citizens for A Better Bahamas and the Organization for Responsible Government, along with reams of studies produced by international organizations on the social and economic costs of corruption, we are becoming more and more aware that transparency and accountability aren’t just buzzwords. Moreover, it is becoming more evident that, from apparently minor things like tardiness to more significant breaches, perhaps our culture doesn’t lend itself to transparency and accountability and that this has to change.

For example, a former prime minister marshalled a reputation for being consistently late for public appearances. There were apologies upon arrival, indeed, but nothing that could compare to Sakurada’s. Bahamians seem to accept these kinds of incidences as par for the course.

The Free National Movement (FNM) administration was elected, in part, because of its campaign’s focus on transparency and accountability.

The Speech from the Throne noted, “The Bahamian people elected this government to vigorously address the culture of corruption, which was a way of life for many in the PLP. We will continue to fulfill this mandate.”

Notice the distinctly political way in which corruption was characterized—as a way of life for PLPs specifically.

The government set up an anti-corruption unit within the Royal Bahamas Police Force and passed the necessary legislation to make the Department of Public Prosecution independent.

The government has arrested, charged and taken to trial ministers and others in positions of authority from the former administration who have allegedly engaged in acts of corruption.

Despite this, Bahamians are still awaiting fully realized Integrity Commission, Freedom of Information and Fiscal Responsibility legislation. The government has also promised to reintroduce the Ombudsman Bill (2017).

If enacted, all of this would be inherently revolutionary for the Bahamian politic landscape. Lemarque Campbell, a leading voice on transparency and accountability in The Bahamas and a key member of the Citizens for A Better Bahamas team noted, “We should strive to be a leader of good governance, not just in the region but in the hemisphere, by making the necessary reforms needed for our particular jurisdiction.”

The first corruption case brought against an official of the former administration has since ended in an acquittal. An appeal is on the way, however, given how corruption was characterized in the Speech from the Throne as a PLP “way of life,” it is important to point out that the acquittal was partially a result of the alleged misconduct of FNM ministers.

In particular, two ministers were criticized by Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt for the “egregious” way in which they interacted with chief prosecution witness in the case.

Unlike Sakurada’s tardiness, these ministers have been defended by their colleagues. Minister of Tourism, Dionisio D’Aguilar, along with asserting that these ministers did nothing wrong, used their performance in their respective ministries as reason enough for them not to resign.

I don’t know if Sakurada has been doing a great job as the Olympics minister, but it did not matter to his colleagues. It was his lateness that was disrespectful.

Beyond the campaign promises and political rhetoric, there is something Bahamians must keep in mind: it does not matter who is in a political office, it is the integrity of the office that matters most. When citizens begin to lose faith in the institutions and offices that govern them, they will become ungovernable.

This potential loss of faith is why those in political office must be held to a standard above the rest.  And, until we have a society where everyone from train conductor to government all understand that they are accountable to those around them, we will continue to battle with widespread misfeasance and corruption.