The Minister was out of order
Last Wednesday, at a meeting convened to discuss work permit issues affecting Brazilians mining gold in Guyana, Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission Karen Livan was subjected to a thorough tongue-lashing by Natural Resources and Environment Minister Robert Persaud. The occurrence took place in the presence of a number of Brazilians, local miners and mining officials, colleagues and subordinates of the Commissioner and representatives of the media.
The details of the incident and the apparent reason for the Minister’s outburst have already been reported in sections of the media, including this newspaper. Those issues are unimportant to this editorial. What is important is that a minister of government chose to hold a state functionary up to public ridicule. The circumstances do not matter. The Minister has no such right and the Commissioner would be entirely within her right to feel decidedly affronted. One might add that displays of petulance and unbecoming behaviour by ministers of government and other high officials are by no means infrequent. Numbered among these excesses have been other instances not entirely dissimilar to the one which occurred last Wednesday.
Mutual respect and mindfulness of persons’ pride and self-esteem are prescribed by boundaries which simply should not be crossed. There are no exceptions for ministers, presidents or anyone else. No one is exempted from the obligation to recognize and respect those boundaries. As it happens our politicians are sometimes inclined to behave as though they are laws onto themselves, the persistence of the practice having much to do with their misperceptions of the limits of their authority coupled with the fact that their excesses are usually allowed to pass without public query or protest.
One can, of course, only speculate as to the ways in which the incident would have affected Ms Livan. Some of those may go beyond the immediate discomfort which she would have felt while the Minister was having his say. There may well be considerable loss of face and erosion of authority which might have implications for her ability to provide effective leadership as Commissioner of the GGMC, a circumstance for which the Minister would, of course, have to take responsibility. After all, for as long as she remains in that position, she must continue to interface with subordinates who witnessed the incident, issue directives and engage miners and other officials, some of whom would have witnessed her ordeal and others who would by now have learnt of it. More than that, the likelihood the subsequent engagements between herself and the Minister might be affected by last Wednesday’s incident cannot be ruled out. For her sake we must hope that Ms Livan, one of the country’s longest-serving public servants, suffers no irreparable harm either to her self-esteem or to her capacity to manage the GGMC.
If, as we believe he should, the Minister recognizes that there can be no justification for his public dressing down of the Commissioner, then it remains for him to demonstrate a measure of contriteness by extending an expression of regret to her. There is simply no other way of putting it. Nor would the Minister’s own image as a high official of government be hurt by such a gesture.