Last week, Senior Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence when questioned about the suitability of an LGE candidate, who was supported by the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance For Change coalition after he was charged with child molestation, made some very unfortunate and damning remarks.
The Minister, who is also a senior People’s National Congress executive, was quoted in another section of the media as saying that the candidate was “not convicted” of any offence while being fully aware of the gravity of the situation and the seriousness of the allegations.
Apart from the fact that Lawrence’s comment were made at a very unfortunate time as the coalition was preparing to contest Local Government Elections (LGE), she also appeared to be defending the candidate.
But what we find most reprehensible is the fact that the Minister appeared to be dismissive of the allegations made against the candidate and even said: “This is a family issue that has been going on and on and on and on for whatever reason, I can’t tell you, because if I had a brother, even if there was an accusation, this is not how I would go about helping him.”
It should be noted too that the alleged molester’s sister has also accused the Minister of directly trying to dissuade her exposing her brother’s alleged wrongdoings against innocent children so that the coalition’s image could remain intact.
The woman alleges further that she told the Minister that her brother needs to be jailed for his involvement, but Lawrence asked her not to pursue such actions as “he has worked hard for the party and he needs to be rewarded”.
Also, the Minister has not found it fit to issue a statement clarifying her position on the issue nor has the Government for that matter, party politics aside.
Instead, the coalition issued what appeared to be a rushed statement withdrawing support for the candidate after the Minister’s unfortunate statement gained widespread publicity and attracted outrage from the ever-watchful eyes of the populace.
So objectionable were the Minister’s remarks that Red Thread saw it fit to lead the call for her resignation before mounting a series of picketing exercises aimed at forcing President David Granger’s hand despite the fact that he gave an undertaking to “ask her for an explanation”.
The truth is, President Granger needs to do much more than ask for an explanation.
He must recognise the importance of the post held by Lawrence and the impact her continuity will have on the confidence, morale and commitment of all those under her who every day pledge their lives to working in the interest of Guyanese children.
Lawrence cannot, on one hand, be seen giving exquisite speeches at local, regional and international forums and then on the other, appear to be defending persons who are charged not once but twice for this sort of crime.
The portfolio that she holds is extremely important and demands more than just lip service.
Surely, a person who sees allegations related to rape, child abuse or sexual assault made by one family member against another as a “family issue” is unfit for the job as Social Protection Minister.
Therefore, the Minister’s statement albeit wearing her political cap is insensitive, insightful into her psyche and shameful to say the least.
Had this been a PPP Minister or politician, the outcome may have been different because the coalition would have expressed outrage and would have left no stone unturned in seeking to have the President dismiss the individual because they were unfit for the job.
If the President is willing to continue to have Lawrence serve in her post, he must expect that others will expect the same sort of treatment whenever they make similar utterances and appear to be defending their political interests ahead of the nation’s children.
Also, the Government should ask Minister Lawrence to issue a public apology for those who were aggrieved by the utterances made by the Minister and the coalition’s inability to properly vet those who it supports for public office.
Politicians and Ministers in particular must be accountable for everything they say and the circumstances in which they make their statements.
It is, therefore, not difficult to understand those who strongly feel that Minister Lawrence should be disciplined or asked to step down from her post as Social Protection Minister.
Integrity in public life requires it and good governance demands it.