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PM Providing leadership or just holding office?

Published: 
Monday, August 10, 2015
Tony Fraser

“It is clear that we are interested in the impact of leaders: we want to know to what extent they modify (transform) the society they rule. First, ‘real’ leadership has to be distinguished from purely formal office-holding, since the two concepts overlap but do not coincide.” —Prof Jean Blondel, Political Leadership

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her strategists are pursuing what they consider her superior leadership qualities over her main opponent, Dr Keith Rowley, to support her re-election bid. But can the record of leadership performance of PM Persad-Bissessar stand scrutiny on the real issues that have faced the economy, polity, society? And what of the leadership qualities and actions displayed by Rowley?

The issues on leadership of the PM range through leadership to avert corruption in government and state agencies; leadership to punish corrupt practices of the past—the basis of the People’s Partnership election to office in 2010; leadership out of the morass of ethnic and racial divide; leadership out of poor governance practices; leadership towards achieving the objectives of Caricom integration; leadership to root-out entrenched criminality; leadership to establish legal and regulatory systems to counter corrupt practices in the financing of campaigns of political parties; timely passage of procurement legislation; leadership to convert a pre-election outfit (2010) into a resilient and representative coalition; leadership at the cabinet level to forge policies and manage plans to transform the economy; leadership to bring root and branch transformation to the Constitution; leadership in the health and education sectors vital for development: transformational compared to transactional leadership.

Assessment of the PM’s leadership must be contextualised: the possession of a large quantity of political currency because of Kamlamania and disgust with Manning; $300 billion dollars in budgetary expenditure over five years; foreign exchange reserves averaging over US$12 billion; US$6 billion in foreign direct investment; leadership opportunity to build, with the suspension of ethnic conflict as reflected in the 2010 election; the favourable disposition to a female leader; widespread media support; a society willing to accept change; the support of labour in the Movement for Social Justice; the incorporation of the conservative political element—Congress of the People; the urban black desirous of change in NJAC; and Tobago.

First up, is an examination of the choices made by Persad-Bissessar in selecting her team of candidates/representatives and ministers to lead the government. Those with question marks over them before and after the election stand out: Jack Warner, a senior Fifa official entangled in controversy and alleged corrupt practices for a couple decades. Herbert Volney, a judge who made highly-controversial judgments from the bench—Persad-Bissessar encouraged and facilitated his overnight jump from the bench to the political platform; there must surely be questions surrounding such leadership ethics and judgment of a political leader and potential prime minister.

The PM soon claimed Volney misled her and the cabinet. Did she exercise quality leadership insight in Volney’s selection, or did she simply want a high-profile individual to win the marginal St Joseph seat?

Anand Ramlogan, a bright, young rising lawyer but one about whom there was unhealthy controversy; immediately in office he showed his disagreeable self with uncouth and uncalled for remarks about the police commissioner James Philbert. Ramlogan found a gun behind every shadow, including a missing piano which was right there looking at him. 

The PM brought her own leadership choices into question as within three years she fired Volney and Warner. Anil Roberts, Mary King, Baptiste-Cornelis, Sharma, Partap, Sandy, Gary Griffith, Ramadharsingh, St Rose-Greaves and Ramlogan were also got rid of. Then there were those selectees she tossed from pillar to post like Emmanuel George, Roopnarine, Alleyne-Toppin, even Dookeran, the PM suggesting by her constant transfers that her original decisions were faulty. 

Persad-Bissessar adopted two patterns to her firing practices. Those of little political consequence were summarily removed: King, Sharma, Ramadharsingh and Partap fell into that category. Those with political clout and those she owed some form of political debt and had allegiance of one kind or the other with: Warner, Ramlogan and Roberts all but fired themselves “by public demand.” 

In the instance of Warner, Persad-Bissessar accepted his encouragement, inspiration and different forms of assistance he would have given for her conquest of Panday and the political leadership of the UNC. He was at the forefront of the party’s campaign to secure the government in 2010 and he was the most prominent minister for almost three years; the first one to act as PM.

The historical allegations against Warner and the advice even from within the cabinet to have him “clear his name”—which the Prime Minister eventually said “was all I ever wanted of him to do,” were overwhelming. 

Unlike what she subsequently claimed, ie, that at the first opportunity she “accepted his resignation,” and later on she said she “fired him,” she did not demand of him that Warner face the Fifa Ethics Committee (2011). 

She made no public demands of Warner in 2011 when the allegation circulated that on home soil he had allegedly facilitated Fifa official, Mohammed bin Hammam to illegally bring hundreds of thousands of US dollars into the country. 

Did she require of Warner that he testify before the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (2011)? Readers should decide whether on the basis of the above, the Prime Minister displayed integrity-filled and proactive leadership.

n To be continued.

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