Walter Roban did the right thing by stepping down over the Ministerial planning permission scandal, even if he continued to maintain he did nothing wrong.
Mr Roban’s reasoning, that he was resigning so as not to be a distraction to the Government, is not uncommon in political resignations, and typical of a man who has invariably put the Progressive Labour Party ahead of himself.
But it should not distract from the fact that Mr Roban’s behaviour was highly questionable, and while he had the right to exercise his discretion as Environment Minister, there was no public interest served in either of the appeals for which he has been criticised.
Neither Health Minister Zane DeSilva nor Tourism Minister Wayne Furbert were being unduly penalised by the zonings on their land, certainly no more than many other private citizens. And the question has to be asked: If they were private citizens, would they have received the same treatment? In Mr DeSilva’s case, it is interesting to note that the application was roundly criticised for lack of and contradictory information, which almost all parties said made it impossible to make a decision. On that basis, you cannot lay down conditions for a development when you don’t know for sure what the development is.
Some of the credit being given to Mr Roban is because he has actually resigned. This has been so rare under the PLP in the midst of scandals that when it happens, it is seems amazingly refreshing, when it should be seen as natural. The gut instinct of the PLP has been to circle the wagons and brazen out all scandals. That this approach has damaged the PLP’s reputation, and created a hubristic belief that any behaviour is acceptable, cannot have escaped Premier Paula Cox, and for that alone, she deserves credit for accepting Mr Roban’s resignation. Now at least there may be some standards of behaviour in public office.
So this is a small step in the right direction towards better governance. Mr Roban may maintain that he did nothing wrong, but at least Mr Roban has resigned. His rehabilitation can now begin. The positions of Mr DeSilva and Mr Furbert are curious. They were the beneficiaries of the decisions that damaged Mr Roban’s political career, but it can be argued that they did nothing but act on their rights. But their actions placed Mr Roban in an impossible position, and ultimately led to the Government being embarrassed. Even if they brought no pressure to bear on Mr Roban, the mere act of appeal did so, yet it would seem that they will not be sanctioned at all, while Mr Roban has fallen on his sword. That seems a little unfair.
The broader question remains unresolved, however. The whole question of Ministers giving special development orders and turning over zonings has been thrown into disrepute in recent years.
The appointment of the Independent Inspector in considering planning appeals was supposed to bring some objectivity to the process and to remove the appearance of personal involvement by the Minister. Clearly, when a Minister can overturn two decisions concerning appeals by political colleagues on his last day in office, the system is not working.
The time has come for an independent appeals tribunal, perhaps advised by the independent inspector, to make the decisions. The tribunal would have the right to hear public interest submissions and to take those into account. It must be obvious that the current system of Ministerial discretion is not working and is doing more harm than good.