Minister Rohee and the Becket syndrome
In his defence to demands by the opposition that he should resign over the police action at Linden that killed three innocent protestors, the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Clement Rohee, claimed that he did not manage the police activities on the ground on that fateful day and did not give the police the order to use deadly force, which is contrary to standing operation procedures for dealing with peaceful protestors, and that as such, there are no grounds for him to resign. However, I believe that there is a very important, more or less overlooked, dimension to this entire tragedy.
I am not one of those who demand the resignation of public officials for minor infractions. As J. Patrick Dobel noted in his “Ethics of Resigning” (1999 – Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management), “In public life, no persons get all they want all the time. Most officials lose more battles than they win, and victories are always imperfect. So public officials find themselves compromising and contributing to imperfect outcomes. Moral effectiveness does not flow from innocence or scrupulosity, and a responsible public official should not resign over every conflicted principle but has to learn to live with moral imperfection while keeping his or her moral compass and integrity intact.”
Although to resign and publicly criticize an errant proposal or action may provide useful additional information to the public and add credibility to dissent “Like any human action, however, resignation cuts both ways and can also harm accountability. If everyone opposed to a policy exits, the institution loses its capacity for internal reform. Exits of dissenters narrow the range of options within an inner circle, encourage groupthink, and undermine the internal trust and communication needed for honest policy discussion” (Ibid). Dobel quoted the resignation speech of British Minister, Aneurin Bevan, to the effect that: “No member ought to accept office in a government without a full consciousness that he ought not to resign it for frivolous reasons.”
Dobel also showed that very complicated reasoning and motivations can be present in any decision to or not to resign. He argued that the moral status of holding office flows from the individual promise to live up to the obligations of that office and this presumes: “(a) the moral capacity to make and keep promises, (b) the competence to perform duties, and (c) effectiveness in actions.” These obviously demand that one be competent, obey the law, respect due process, be accountable and devise actions in keeping with legal and institutional norms.”
“Two broad classes of reasons to resign arise from the promise to live up to the responsibilities of office. In the first class, individuals fail in the basic competencies required by the position. In the second, they confront demands to participate in actions that violate legal or professional norms or the basic moral conditions of the office” (Ibid).
Many aspects of official duty are routine but some do require sophisticated judgments and discretion. Here, the official must be able to prove to the relevant stakeholders and superiors that their actions are in keeping with the legal and institutional requirements of the office as well as help those who depend on its functioning.
If we accept this kind of analysis, it appears to me that even if Minister Rohee’s action was in keeping with the legal requirements of his office, by his own and his government’s reckoning, it has blatantly failed to help those who depend upon it! When we enquire into the reasons for this failure, we find that it possibly resulted from the existence of more subtle institutional deficiencies; the existence of what I call the Becket syndrome.
Thomas Becket rose from a position in the household of Theobald of Bec, Archbishop of Canterbury, to become Lord Chancellor of England in 1155. Effective in extracting the king’s revenue from all and sundry, including the ecclesiastical community, King Henry II and Becket became good friends and on Theobald’s death in 1162, Henry persuaded the reluctant Becket to take the Archbishopric of Canterbury.
By way of the Constitution of Clarendon in 1164 Henry sought to enhance the power of the state vis-à-vis that of the church and assumed that his friend Becket would support him. While most of the clergy succumbed to Henry’s demands, Becket would not. His new position had changed him; he had become austere, wore penitential hair shirts, had himself frequently flogged, was a strict observer of church laws and opposed Henry over the supremacy of the ecclesiastical courts. As a result of his opposition to the king, Becket had to flee to France, but returned to England after Henry offered a compromise.
However in 1170, when Henry’s son was crowned the Young King at York by the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Salisbury, Becket would not condone the breach of privilege that gave Canterbury the right to perform coronations and excommunicated all three. Henry was furious and is reported to have said “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”, whereupon four of his knights hightailed …..To continue reading, login or subscribe now.