Or ‘How impartial are Government Boards?’
With all the heated discussion going on, particularly on social media, about the ‘White Mental Illness is Killing African Bermudians (Racism)’ sign, including CURB’s statement on it, the reports of CURB’s charitable status being ‘on hold’ makes for a curious development.
Whether the rationale given is legitimate (and personally I’m reckoning it’s just a temporary bureaucratic issue which will soon be sorted out), the timing was always going to raise eyebrows.
After all, even if there’s a legitimate reason for the delay, with a good likelihood of it being resolved shortly, one must wonder whether or not some sort of deal or understanding could have been reached so as not to sacrifice CURB’s tag day.
Furthermore, there are some who perceive CURB as being critical towards the OBA Government.
All the above notwithstanding, this issue does raise an interesting question concerning the impartiality of Government Boards.
In the explanation given by the Ministry of Home Affairs (the responsible Ministry) states that:
“At their meeting on July 10, 2014, the Commissioners considered the application by CURB to re-register as a charity and decided to defer it pending answers to several queries pertaining to their application.”
It continues, and later emphasises that:
“It is also important to note that it is the Commissioners, and they alone, who collectively take all decisions related to charity applications. The Ministry of Home Affairs and his staff only become involved when those aggrieved by the decisions of the Commissioners wish to make an appeal.”
This all sounds fair enough, at least initially.
The question that pops into my head on reading this, however, is ‘who are the Commissioners?’
As a public board their membership is a matter of public record, printed in the Official Gazette (currently the RG), although it’s quite challenging to find it outside of the time of printing. Which raises a side issue about improvements, including an easy-to-use permanent official Government website version of the Official Gazette, which, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist.
However, there is an article from August 2013 which lists the Commissioners, and I would imagine that list is still valid today.
This article gives the following composition for the Charity Commission:
Cummings Zuill (Chair)
It should be noted that a March 2014 article has Richard Ambrosio as the Chair, but doesn’t list the rest of the Commission, so in lack of further information, I think it’s reasonable to consider the list above as correct.
Now, provided the list above is correct, there’s a number of different ways of looking at this list.
One could look at the gender imbalance – two women versus five men.
One could look at the racial composition (particularly relevant to CURB) – by my count its two Blacks to five Whites.
Or one could look at age, or occupation, for example.
Or, one could notice that it contains three individuals who were OBA candidates in the 2012 election:
That’s half of the Commissioners, excluding the Chair.
Seen in this context, it’s perhaps more concerning about whether or not the decision to defer CURB’s status was a genuinely objective decision or one influenced by the biases inherent to the composition of the Commissioners.
This can be either from a racial perspective or a political perspective – on the casual reading that those most vocal in voicing anti-CURB sentiments appear to be predominantly White or OBA supporters.
At the very least it raises the question about whether or not we can truly see such boards as impartial.
And this is just as true today as under the PLP – while some people are appointed to Boards on the basis of expertise, a large number are primarily political appointees. Boards were dominated by PLPers between 1998-2012, and they’re dominated by OBAers post-2012.
And this isn’t the first time where the impartiality of Boards has come into question – we need only look at the Lamb Foggo Clinic issue from 2013, or a little further back in time, the impartiality of the Broadcast Commission on ruling on radio electioneering breaches during the 2007 election.
The current set-up seems to build-in uncertainty about the impartiality of Government Boards from the beginning.
Perhaps it’s time we look at how Boards are appointed, and whether they should better reflect the gender and racial demographics** of our island, let alone avoiding cries of political interference…
*I concede I cannot be 100% sure, on the basis of this article alone, whether this Anthony Francis is the same person as the C. Anthony Francis who ran for the OBA in the 2012 election, although I believe it is a reasonable conclusion to make.
**In my 2012 election platform I explicitly called for:
“Equal gender representation at all levels of Government, including Government boards.”
I also called for:
“Enact Workforce Equity legislation to require all workplaces with more than 10 employees to develop a workplace equity review and plan to ensure gender and racial equity in the workplace concerning wages and decision-making.”