SOMEBODY HAS TO MAKE THE SACRIFICE
On the eve of a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee to consider recommendations for confirmation of the appointments of some staff members of his Office, the issue of the wife of the Minister of Finance serving as the Deputy Auditor General was once again raised in commentaries and in the letter pages of the daily newspapers.
One political party has also commented on the matter indicating that a conflict of interest existed by virtue of the position held by the wife of the Minister.
It must be recalled that the Minister of Finance was himself a former employee of the Office of the Auditor General. Strangely, no claims of conflict of interest were said to exist by virtue of the Minister’s own employment history as a former head of the Audit Office.
In short, those willing to criticize the fact that the Minister’s wife are surprisingly, by the same logic, not questioning whether the Audit Office itself is not going to be compromised by virtue of it having to audit the accounts of the government whose Minister of Finance was also once a senior official in the Audit Office and would be well known to senior staff.
This does not mean that a potential conflict of interest does not exist in relation to the employment of the wife of the Minister. It obviously does, given the responsibilities that the position of Deputy Auditor General entails. But should the wife of the Minister be forced to leave her job simply because the man whom she married while he was at the Audit Office subsequently became the Minister of Finance?
Should the wife of the Minister be denied the right to pursue the career of her choosing simply because of this fact? Should she give up her position that she has earned by her years of service? Is it fair that she should have to give up her job because there is the view that she could find herself in a possible conflict of interest? In short should the Deputy Auditor General be asked to resign or retire simply because her husband is the Minister of Finance?
The answer is no. She does not need to give up her job. Her husband can make the sacrifice and resign as Minister of Finance so as to ensure that his wife does not have to resign or retire because of a potential conflict of interest between the two posts.
When the Minister of Finance was appointed to that position, those making the appointment should have done the background checks to avoid the present situation that has developed. They should have considered that both he and his wife worked at the Office of the Auditor General, that his wife holds a senior position there and thus by virtue of this appointment as Minister of Finance, a conflict of interest was bound to arise.
In taking the job, the Minister may have overlooked this potential problem. It now presents a real dilemma for the government and for the Minister and his family. A decision will have to be made and it should be made quickly because those arguing that a conflict of interest may arise have a strong case.
A decision therefore has to be made as to how this situation is going to be resolved. Somebody has to step aside and it will be for the Minister and his wife to decide which one of them is going to do so.
Years ago when commercial banks offered limited services, husbands and wives were not allowed to work in the same bank. The position then was because the range of services offered was then mainly confined to deposits, withdrawals and loans and because the staff of banks was small, it was possible that a man may end up having to supervise his wife.
If she made a mistake at the teller line and he was her supervisor this could present a real dilemma since he may be constrained in recommending her dismissal. The potential for a conflict of interest existed. For this reason, banks did not employ couples at the same time. If per chance two persons got married while employed at the bank, one of those persons had to resign.
Today this situation no longer exists because banks are now complex organizations that a person’s marriage partner can be put in a section in which the other partner has no supervisory functions, thereby avoiding any potential conflict of interest.
It is difficult to see, however, how in the case of a couple in which one person is the Minister of Finance and his better half the Deputy Auditor General how potential conflicts of interest can be avoided. Somebody has to make a sacrifice and it needs not be the wife of the Minister.