Editorial: Robbing Peter to pay Paul

- Advertisement -

The School of Nursing recently gave us a good example of collective responsibility, albeit a flawed one. Disciplinary action, in the form of suspensions, are expected to be meted out to two students who refused to pay a $10 contribution toward the replacement of money that was stolen from the institution
Details are a bit sketchy but it would appear that over $500 was stolen from the school. No one owned up to the theft and the investigators were unable to identify the perpetrator(s). Short the $500 plus dollars, the school’s administration decided to apply a little bit of “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” theory.
We will not go into the history of this well-known saying because etymologists (those are the people who study the history of words) cannot agree. Some say it dates back to the times before the Reformation when Church taxes that had to be paid to St. Peter’s church in Rome were neglected in order to pay to St. Paul’s church in London. Others say it predates that period, while others say it is simply an old saying that uses the alliteration of Peter and Paul, much in the same way that Jack and Jill are often paired.
Sorry, back to the story (the amateur etymologist inside got the better of us). The gist here is that since no one would own-up to the theft, then everyone would have to pitch-in the pay for the transgression. As an aside, the school is said to have an enrolment of over 80 students so the math doesn’t add up for us. $10 x 80 students equals $800. I guess they did not specify just how much over $500 was stolen. In any case, we can understand why someone may object to paying for someone else’s crimes. How many of use would want to layout some hard-earned cash or do time in prison for unsolved crimes? None, we will assume, with a great deal of surety.
That said, it did get us thinking about a good application of the “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” theory. How about we implement it in government? Stay with us. What if politicians were required to dig into their pockets to reimburse the taxpayers for overspending of “missing” money.
Let’s use a hypothetical situation … let’s say the government decided to erect fences around public playing fields. And let’s say that the work received fell way short of the money paid for the fences. Wouldn’t it be great if the politicians had to divvy up the overspend and put it back into the treasury? We could see it now. The collection basket being passed in parliament and each member digging deep to make their contribution. If that does not bring a smile to your face then nothing will.
Or, how about if the government decided to build an airport and the cost was way out of whack. Naturally, we would prefer to see the overspend corrected before it is spent but it may be worth the temporary overspend to see the parliamentarians’ faces live on television filling the basket as it was passed along.
Can you image the change to how government went about spending taxpayers’ money if they were held personally liable under this sort of collective responsibility regime? The Tenders Board would become the busiest department in all of Antigua and Barbuda and whistleblowing legislation would sweep through both the Lower Upper Houses in record time.
Go ahead! Smile. It is a pleasing thought. It will never happen, but that does not take away that one moment of joy that we got while thinking about it.
Getting back to the School of Nursing situation. There was a troubling bit of news that went largely ignored but caused us to pause. The students who were offended by the request to pay and brought it to the media’s attention, as is their right, refused to go on record because of fear that their actions would be held against them. It appears that they were right. While our reporter was still on the scene, the principal of the school, Laurellyn Williams, apparently indicated that the students will be suspended for refusing to pay but the suspicion that they may have informed the media of the situation seemed to play a part.
That should never be the case. A student’s vocal opposition to an administrative decision, such as this, should never play a part in the determination of a student’s discipline. Freedom of expression is a right. For the record, we also do not agree that the innocent should pay for the guilty. It does not deliver the right message. Collective responsibility only works when people agree to it ahead of time, and when there is an avenue for reporting wrongdoing.
It is similar to students making noise in a classroom. The teacher walks in, gets upset and everyone gets detention. The message received to those that were being quiet and studious is that it does not matter. Forget being rewarded for your good behaviour, make some noise, because you will suffer the consequences anyway.
There is a reason and meaning for the first word in the “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” saying (or idiom if you prefer); ‘robbery,’ in most cases, is a crime!

- Advertisement -