EDITORIAL: Clearly a mistake

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We are going to hold our noses and jump feet first into some of the thorny issues surrounding the recently leaked letter from Senator Colin L James to Chief Immigration Officer, Annette Mark.  Very likely, you are expecting us to tackle the public debate on the nationality of immigration officers but that is already being publicly ventilated and it is a topic that requires far more than a few hundred words. 
Suffice to say that Antiguans and Barbudans seem to be following the nationalistic and protectionist trends sweeping the globe and in many cases, our people are missing the real issues facing our nation because of the creep of xenophobia used for political gain. Issues that have never been major before cause the sideshow to move to the main stage, while the acts of those in the main event slink into the shadows.  Just think, for years, Antigua & Barbuda has been at the forefront of regional integration, our borders have been soft to our Caribbean brothers and our society has been a melting pot.  Our police force and public service have been a lure for non-nationals.  And today, a Vincentian-born professional leads our immigration department. 
Is there room to improve the process to ensure that citizens are given the best and first chance?  Certainly, but does it take a seismic shift in the way that we do things to achieve that goal and a reversal of decades of unity? We think not.  The direction right now is towards the creation of a wedge between “us” and “them” and that is not a healthy decision
nor in everyone’s best interest. 
Having said that, we would like to get to what we see as one of the meaty issues of the letter, and one which demonstrates the disconnect between politicians and their roles and responsibilities to the people of this country.
To make our point, we have to go back to the July 31, 2017 letter from Senator James.  In that letter, he wrote, “I am hereby recommending Ms Shernett Reid, a resident of Lightfoot, for an available position as an Immigration Officer within your department.”  The letter continued, “In this regard, I am hereby requesting a three months (sic) extension for Ms Reid. Her time will expire on 12th August, 2017. Ms Reid is the holder of a Jamaican Passport …”  Outside of the usual salutations, etc, that is the content of the letter which was composed on the letterhead of “Sen Hon Colin L. James”. 
The letter and its intent aside (one can hardly believe we could commit that to paper), the response is equally, if not more, concerning.  The first came from Ms Mark who said that the request for the Jamaican visitor to be considered for a position as an Immigration Officer was a mistake.  What does that mean?  Was it a mistake for the Senator to write and make the request?  Or was there a mistake in the way the recommendation and request were made?  Syntax maybe?
One does not simply say that a mistake was made without identifying and explaining the mistake.  Then there was the Trump-like deflection that the matter was internal and should not have been made public. How is that argument even applicable? We are unsure of the reason for Ms Mark to make these statements in defence of Senator James but they were not well-reasoned and has exposed a serious lack of transparency and respect for the people to know how public officials attend to their jobs. 
The Chief Immigration Officer provided few answers to the public other than to say that the original letter was ‘clearly a mistake’ and it had been retracted and replaced by another request solely for an extension of the visitor’s stay.  She did not say whether she granted the Senator’s request for the extension nor did she say whether the lady in question was under consideration for a position within the Immigration Department.
Then we move on to the originator of the letter, Sen Hon Colin L James who, like Ms Mark, is paid by the taxpayers to do a job for them.  He declined to comment – he had nothing to add to the comments of the Chief Immigration Officer.  How is that possible?
How can a politician, who requires the trust of the people to get elected, not simply man-up to a “mistake”, apologise and give an account of his actions to the people who pay him and to the people he hopes will vote for him?
Unfortunately, this unaccountability is par for the course in our bit of paradise.  Politicians, on all sides, feel that they are not to be questioned and that they do not need to answer to the people that pay their salaries and put them into office.  That demonstrates a certain level of disdain for the people of this nation and it must stop. 
The highest authority in a democracy is ‘the people’ and every time one of the people’s employees (ie, politicians and public servants) say “no comment” or refuse to answer questions or are rude in their responses, they snub their noses at authority.  A clear sign of disrespect.  To become an economic powerhouse, we have to do better than that.  At the very least, employees must respect that their employers have the right to ask them about their job performance and request an accounting of their actions. 
And think of it, what example does that set for our children?  If politicians, who are role models, can snub their noses at authority, then can we expect more from our children?  Their retort is simply: “You hired them, so if they can do it then why can’t I?”
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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