Tobago Lessons


Much has been already said about the recent Tobago elections.  One view printed in the Guyanese press stood out for me.  Some believe that one of the tragic flaws of the PP election campaign and perhaps a flaw of our governance in general (both past and present) is the tendency of the leadership to surround itself with sycophants who consistently tell them only what they want to hear – at the expense of the truth.

During the heated campaign, numerous opinion polls were conducted.  In the article I read, NACTA’s Vishnu Bisram appeared to be of the view that pollsters seemed to make predictions that were favourable to those who commissioned it.  In other words, those who paid the piper called the tune. 

Examples given included a poll from a UWI Professor (a constitutional expert) who apparently conducted two polls.  Another example was from a pollster from central Trinidad commissioned by TOP, which conducted several polls.  This showed a close contest with its final poll showing TOP winning seven seats, and “based on that projection, the opposition chilled the champagne for a victory celebration on Monday night”.

Interestingly independent pollsters, allegedly “had it right in terms of seats and the voting trends in the electoral districts...”  Furthermore, “pollsters associated with TOP expected a low turnout and felt a higher turnout would benefit its candidates”.  Based on this conclusion, Trinidad based MP’s campaigned heavily in Tobago.  PPG pollsters failed to realise and report to their bosses that a “higher turnout meant voters were coming out to vote against the incumbent in Trinidad and not the incumbent in Tobago as the voters were angrier with the Trinidad government than with the Tobago government”.    

It is of course a common flaw among weaker leaders that they feel more comfortable surrounding themselves with ‘yes men’ and ‘yes women’.  When forced to choose, they unhesitatingly sacrifice talent and professional competence to perceived loyalty.  Of course this always comes back to haunt them at some point.

Some leaders, perhaps warned by Machiavelli, recognise this trap.  Here in the UK, the Chancellor of Exchequer (rough equivalent of the Minister of Finance) launched an international search when it came time to recruit a Governor of the Bank of England.  He went through great effort to recruit whom he considered ‘the finest Central Banker of his generation’ – Canadian Central Banker Mark Carney.  Analysts said that the appointment reflected the Chancellor’s admiration of the performance of the Canadian economy through the global downturn of 2008-09.  It is noteworthy that no Canadian banks needed to be bailed out in the crisis while in the UK, an estimated £1 trillion has been spent to prevent the banking sector from collapsing.

Furthermore, Mark Carney is said to have been personally persuaded by the Chancellor to apply as the two men have met at various international policy forums including the G20, the G8 and the World Economic Forum in Davos.  Furthermore the recruitment process was quite robust and included an interview panel that included the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, the two Second Permanent Secretaries, and the head of the Court of the Bank of England.

US President Barack Obama is another leader whom I believe also demonstrates the strength needed to have independently minded advisors around him.  At the beginning of his first term, he surprised some by retaining a few of his predecessor’s advisors especially in National Security.  As I write this, President Obama’s present pick for Secretary of Defense is actually Republican - Chuck Hagel.  A choice that is receiving much criticism from both sides of the political aisle.  Most notably for me is Hagel’s apparent anti Lesbian-Gay voting record when Obama himself continues to support equal rights for those of all sexual orientations. 

Hopefully the COP has paid close attention to the fate of the TOP.  As the apparent driver of constitutional reform within the governing coalition, perhaps the COP should advocate for changes in the way that positions of national importance are decided.  Such positions would include not just Senators (which I suspect is their greatest focus at the moment for obvious reasons) but also Chairs of Special Purpose State Enterprises, Service Commissions, the Equal Opportunity Commission, the Integrity Commission etc.  These should all at least be subject to the negative resolution of the Parliament.

I am aware that when one party dominates the Legislature, this becomes a formality but at least it would open up such appointments to greater scrutiny and intelligent debate.  Most importantly it may lend itself to a transparency that could prevent many of the present issues.  Issues that arise especially where competence is sacrificed to loyalty.American Tax Singapore

Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.  Read more on derrenjoseph.blogspot.com 

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