Since sweeping power as a populist government in 2004, the UPP has struggled mainly because it’s defter at campaigning than governing; but also due to its anachronistic model of "great man" leadership. Even after a narrow return to power in 2009, the thoughtful remain unconvinced this government can ably position A&B’s economy.
To many, it’s a bereft tax and spend regime. Also, from very early, the UPP has been dodging various bullets of corrupt allegations; but then the rains came... in the form of Wadadli Power Plant!
As things fall apart in the blue tabernacle, the prayer of the faithful is at once an anxious ponder: Can the prime minister and his executive survive ‘Wadadli’?
Something tells me this deal and ordeal may well be the government’s Humpty Dumpty moment! The premonition is driven by striking similarities this drama shares with noticeable features that attended the precipitous endgames of the Golding, Manning and Panday governments.
1. It’s Big & Egregious Enough: Even if new, cost of the plant is at serious odds with its total power wattage capacity. If old and used, malfeasance is tenfold. We are not talking chum change. Close to EC150 million in any economy, especially a small one, is big money. Further, when heavy direct taxing of ordinary citizens funds the treasury, potential misfeasance is likely to be seen as "picking" front pockets instead of back pockets; and therefore is evil magnified.
2. It Involves the Prime Minister’s Office. No one has said the prime minister’s hand is in the cookie jar - yet. Still, as minister directly responsible, the cookie jar seems firmly positioned in his lap. What if, despite the prime minister’s assurance to Cabinet and country, the plant is an old used outfit? What then if the prime minister’s word is at odds with the eventual truth?
Surely governmental paralysis! Though the odd minister goes down the road of perdition, no Caribbean government can survive if the prime minister is directly implicated; and his word turns out false on a major matter of accountability. Caribbean people do not tolerate whiffs of turpitude emanating from that office. They tend to see national pride, respectability, and integrity lodged in the image and office of the prime minister; and rightly so. Just ask Basdeo Panday, Patrick Manning, or Brue Golding.
3. There’s a "Holy Rogue": No Caribbean prime minister has ever survived a worthy direct public accountability call out by a very senior cabinet colleague. In every verity, Wilmoth Daniel’s ask for a public inquiry into Wadadli is really a request that is an accusation. My guess is, like Rowley in Trinidad, Daniel knows he’s sitting on a "royal flush" (pun intended). Colin Sampson’s absorbing piece Daniel in the Lion’s Den rightly captures various aspects of the intrigue. But while Daniel may well be in the lion’s den, I won’t be surprised if the prime minister and his inner circle aren’t in fact lions trapped in Daniel’s den!
4. There is Quagmire: The prime minister is in an awkward and perhaps compromised position. He must urgently do two things: 1) prove his word to be true that the plant is brand new (which of course he won’t be able to if it’s not); and 2) justify the vast expenditure of US53 Million (and counting) for a 30 mega watts capacity plant (which is extremely difficult given APC fairly recently installed a brand new 51 mega watts capacity plant for US49 million).
From this point on, unless he first does these two seemingly impossible things, any other move he makes is bound to be a mistake. Isn’t that the definition of quagmire? Once trapped, every effort made to extricate oneself only aids faster sinking.
5. There is Corky Rationalizing: The venture safeguards nationalism! Where have we heard that before? Genuine nationalizing won’t need shrouded concealment. Denying basic information to citizens is disempowering; and antithetical to nationalism. On anomalies like this C.S. Lewis says: “those who hurt us for our own good do so without end, for they do it with the approval of their own conscience”! Nationalistic passions have always been useful for hiding agendas.
The secret, Selwyn Ryan suggests, is to learn to read politicians crooked in order to understand them straight! How does one interpret this very costly argument for national ownership while acknowledging said government past up on free transfer of 1st APC plant (Black Pine: 27 mega watts) to APUA as provided for by initial BOOT (build, own, operate, transfer) contract?
6. There is Myopia & Hubris: Myopia manifests itself through decided silence/concealment; and attempts to pass issue off as a quasi governmental APUA problem. Hubris is evidenced in insensitive effrontery to peoples’ concerns. The finance minister, of all persons, said cabinet and party executive saw no merit in an inquiry. Such claim serves no useful purpose, except to certify UPP’s dysfunctional inability to self correct.
To assert a glaring questionable situation does not require thorough official review indicates myopia and hubris to the hilt. It also unmasks a weak, spineless cabinet; and an equally impotent, if not irrelevant central executive. Both entities clearly lack the insight to sense danger, the resolve to do what is morally right; and the cojones to speak truth to power.
Each new revelation and the Prime Minister’s eerie silence make a silly but oft expression very apt: “things are only getting ‘curiouser’ and ‘curiouser’!” Still, if the above delineated parallelism with fallen governments is accurate, we may witness governmental meltdown in A&B. The UPP gov’t is tottering on the brink with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana skin! Will it fall suddenly or become a ‘living dead’?
Either way, holding on to power will be difficult. Just like the governments of Panday, Manning and Golding riding this fiasco out appears little more than a whispering hope.
Not unlike fallen references, the government in St John’s is at once both culprit and victim of a peculiar irony that exists between politics and government within Caribbean society. We tend not to see the root cause of the problem and as a result lessons are hard to learn.
To be exact, Caribbean governments run into a trap and fall (as this one likely will) primarily because our preference for ‘great man’ leadership is at sharp variance with ideals and values of Westminster government regarding prime-minister-ship.
In Westminster, for all intents and purposes, the prime minister is the government; but, the person holding the office is not! That is to say (here we must get a little nuanced), Baldwin Spencer is prime minister; but the prime minister is not Baldwin Spencer. The prime minister is an institution bigger than the individual who holds the position. Westminster model anticipates the person must rightly demit EARLY ENOUGH; that is, resign (‘jump’) or be pushed, rather than tarnish the institution of Prime Minister. The person is servant to the institution.
Great man leadership emotions make no distinction between person and office - at least not before it's way too late. The holder is esteemed equivalent to the office, if not bigger. The institution is servant to the ego. The person is expected to hold onto office and face down detractors at all costs.
Once very serious questions gather only EARLY separation between person and institution can help the party in power save the government. The problem, however, is that a prime minster that is potentially a culprit of malfeasance or misfeasance is often at the same time a victim of the great leader syndrome we have wrapped him/her in. No wonder it is difficult, even unseemly to resign early and do right by the institution he/she represents!
From this discussion, it is easy to see how the psychology of our politics is in dire conflict with the values and ideals of our governance structure. To-date no besieged Caribbean prime minister has shown alertness to the challenge of an early enough "jump". (Even Bruce Golding got the timing wrong.) The ambiguity between admiration and responsibility seemed to have confused them all - and their parties paid the ultimate price.
Will Caribbean politics witness another requiem mass? Alas, we await the outcome in St John’s!
Raymond S Edwards, PhD Organizational Psychologist & Minister of Religion - is an International Development Consultant and Executive Leadership Specialist. © 04/19/12. Email
This is the first in a three-part essay series.
Part I: Things Fall Apart: Can the Gov’t Survive?;
Part II: Things Go Awry in the House of Red;
Part III: On Crisis & Cure: It’s Your Time A&B!)
See related stories:
Dr. Raymond S. Edwards is a Columbia University trained organizational psychologist & international development expert; as well as a New York state certified staff development and training specialist. His consulting services include Cabinet retreats, Executive Team workshops and Organizational Change seminars. He is also an ordained minister, qualified educator, prolific writer and motivational speaker.
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