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Jamaica deserves better than Scooby Doo and Shaggy-type leadership

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, April 13, 2014    

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"If you always make the right decision, the safe decision, the one most people make, you will be the same as everyone else."

— Paul Arden

I have never been an admirer of weak wishy-washy leaders who tend to suffer with what I call the 'Scooby Doo and Shaggy' affliction, [and please, spin doctors I am not calling anybody a dog. For those not familiar, Scooby Doo and Shaggy are cartoon characters who are always afraid].

Let me hasten to say that I do not support Communist dictatorships and/or despotic rulers either. Wishy-washy leaders are like half-baked potato pudding without the crust -- soggy and a burden on the taste buds.

Take Neville Chamberlain, former British prime minister, for example; he has gone down in history as one of the least admired leaders ever primarily because of his policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany. When it was clear to almost all that Adolf Hitler was a suicidal maniac who wanted to take over Europe and the rest of the world, Chamberlain was busy navigating, in a political sense, Hitler's true agenda, instead of aggressively and openly posturing England for war.

Thanks to Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, a truly great man, and the British People, Chamberlain was effectively booted, 'resigned', from office. If that had not taken place, the world as we know it now would be a totally different place. Leaders who are afraid to make decisions, because of uninformed fear, rabid political opportunism, self-aggrandisement, corruption of conscience, political Angina Pectoris, or unwillingness to be unpopular are the scourge of the earth.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar, since her inauguration, has impressed me as a leader of action, tremendous intellect, fortitude and sound judgement. I am not surprised, since she is a University of the West Indies, Mona graduate and, importantly, a 'Taylorite'.

Her statement, that "Trinidad was not the ATM of the Caribbean" angered many, some because of their mendicant proclivities. But in that statement I saw the trappings and trimmings of an astute leader who was willing to challenge the status quo and make a difference.

Margaret Thatcher, former three-time prime minister of Britain, once remarked that she did not enter politics to "become somebody, but to do something". Persad-Bissessar in many ways reminds me of Thatcher.

But it is her latest set of actions in firing 11 ministers of her Cabinet that has, in my view, distinguished her as a leader of particularly admirable acumen and strength, especially measured against weak Caribbean political traditions.

A story in the Jamaica Observer on March 25, 2014, titled: 'T&T PM fires minister of the people and social development' captured brilliantly the innate herculean traits of Mrs Persad-Bissessar in her quest to root out crassness, crudeness, lewdness and rudeness from her Cabinet, while establishing consistently high performance as a key matrix by which her ministers are retained, detained or released. The item read inter alia:

"PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) -- Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar Tuesday night announced that she had dismissed her minister of the people and social development, Dr Glen Ramadharsingh, following his disorderly conduct on board a Caribbean Airlines (CAL) domestic flight from Tobago to Trinidad earlier this month."

In supporting her actions she reiterated: "As I have always said, regardless of the consequences, I remain resolved to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. My decisions in the past demonstrate this consistency regardless of whether you are in my Cabinet or not. No one is exempt from the measure of value-based leadership. In the circumstances I have advised the president of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, His Excellency, Justice Anthony Carmona, to revoke the appointment of the Honourable Minister of the People Dr Glen Ramadharsingh."

Dr Ramadharsingh was alleged to have behaved inappropriately when he was given instructions by a flight attendant. The attendant, Ronelle Laidlow, claimed that Ramadharshingh touched her breasts. She reported the matter to airport authorities. Ramadharsingh denied the allegation and argued that he was merely trying to ascertain her name.

While admitting that his actions were inappropriate, he argued that he was stressed and fatigued. Maybe that is why Ramadharsingh forgot that he could have just asked the attendant for the name on her badge. Maybe his fatigued persona was got control of by an extra-terrestrial force that propelled his hands to her blouse. Who knows?

In a story in the Jamaica Observer on March 26, 2014, entitled 'Record 11 ministers fired from Trinidad's Government', the clearest indication of Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's 'statesmanship' or, if you want to be politically correct, 'stateswomanship', was illustrated in the following details:

"Out of the 11 people fired, four were axed in response to specific allegations. In May 2011, Mary King became the first minister to be dismissed in this Government, following allegations of conflict of interest in the award of a contract. Next in line was minister in the Ministry of National Security Collin Partap in August 2012, following allegations that he refused to take a breathalyser test after leaving a nightclub. One month later, then Justice Minister Herbert Volney was given the boot for allegedly misleading the Cabinet over the Section 34 fiasco.

"Now Ramadharsingh has been dismissed as minister of the people and social development. Sources said yesterday there were calls for Ramadharsingh to resign his Caroni Central seat in the Parliament as well, a seat which the UNC has never lost and is therefore considered very winnable for that party.

"Apart from having a specific infraction levelled at them, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has also fired ministers for apparent non-performance. In these instances she gave the vague reason of Cabinet reorganisation. In June 2011, Subhas Panday, minister in the National Security Ministry, was relieved of his portfolio in the first Cabinet reshuffle, along with Therese Baptiste-Cornelis and Nan Ramgoolam. They were all senators and were replaced by Devant Maharaj, Verna St Rose-Greaves and Nicole Dyer Griffith (who was a parliamentary secretary).

"By the next reshuffle in June 2012, St Rose-Greaves was out, along with John Sandy and Dyer Griffith. In came Jamal Mohammed and Marlene Coudray. Mohammed's appointment was, however, short-lived. He was fired in September 2013 and replaced by Gerry Hadeed. In September 2012, when Volney was fired, Christlyn Moore was appointed. Moore's appointment was terminated in September 2013 when Gary Griffith was appointed national security minister. Griffith replaced Jack Warner, who had resigned in April of that year and was temporarily replaced by Emmanuel George."

Here we have a leader who is not worried about leaving a legacy of election victories as her major accomplishment; but is much more concerned about the kind of country she will bequeath to her children, grandchildren, and the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Evidently, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, is not dwarfed by realpolitik that is influenced by a process of what I call 'regional political osmosis'. She has shunned the description that PJ Patterson attached to Jamaica's politics -- "a fight for scarce benefits and spoils carried on by hostile tribes which seem to be perpetually at war".

That description by Patterson probably best explains why Mr Ian Dave Hayles, minister of state in the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change headed by Robert Pickersgill, has not apologised or been fired by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

I heard Hayles on tape broadcast on Nationwide News Network saying that the mayor of Lucea -- Her Worship Shernett Haughton, who is also the chairman of the People's National Party (PNP)-controlled Hanover Parish Council -- was going around the constituency spreading rumours that he [Hayles] wanted to have intimate relations with her.

He also went on to suggest that the mayor did not match up with his 'taste'. His statement triggered a firestorm of criticism from public commentators and women's groups. Some called for an apology, others stopped just short of demanding his resignation. Hayles' pronouncements were also condemned by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) as well as the Association of Local Government Authorities.

Some PNP demonstrators in Hanover decided to up the ante; they openly called for his resignation and some were heard on tape broadcast on Nationwide News Network questioning his stewardship as a member of parliament.

Whatever the mayor did or did not do that irked Hayles cannot justify his disgraceful and ungentlemanly public display. In true Neville Chamberlain style, the PNP hierarchy decided to walk the road of appeasement and political expediency instead of taking resolute action against the member of parliament. A committee was appointed, headed by former PNP minister of government John A Junor, to 'investigate' the matter. 'Investigate', the classic euphemism in Jamaica for circumvention, obfuscation and elongated postponement.

This Scooby Doo/Shaggy approach to decision-making is polar opposite to what Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has decisively demonstrated in the twin island republic.

The PNP more than the JLP is replete with examples of former ministers of government, and indeed public officials, who, because they were genetically connected to the fortunes of their party, received 'blighs' and 'letoffs' [slaps on the wrist] when they needed to have been shown the door or sent to 'wuk house' [prison]. Something is desperately wrong with this kind of moribund and anti-development politics.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller cannot continue to bury herself in convenient political hibernation when incidents like the Hayles imbroglio happen. A prime minister does not exist only to cut ribbons, kiss babies, wipe old ladies' tears, and deliver bear hugs. That kind of presentation is what my dearly departed grandfather referred to as 'Sunshine Leadership'.

We cannot continue to ask our youngsters to embrace good values and attitudes when national and political decisions are inconsistent with what they are taught. Is this what Dr Peter Phillips, minister of finance, meant when he said "in Jamaica, the man who plays by the rules gets shafted"?

Jamaica deserves better and we must begin to demand better. Scooby Doo and Shaggy-type leadership has served only to retard our social and economic growth and development. What more convincing do we need?

"Leadership does not always wear the harness of compromise." -- Woodrow Wilson

— Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Comments to higgins160@yahoo.com

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