ALL AH WE IS ONE – Kellman’s CEO
St Lucy MP Denis Kellman must be congratulated for injecting a new perspective into the ongoing debate on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s leadership style.
Whilst the other interventions put forward to defend the Prime Minister against the charge of aloofness were largely dismissive of public concerns, Kellman’s suggestion that the role of the Prime Minster should be similar to that of a modern corporate chief executive officer (CEO) took the debate into a new, healthy direction.
His intervention was devoid of confrontational undertones and emphasised a technical explanation as distinct from a propaganda response.
Interestingly, Kellman’s perspective echoes a view expressed by the distinguished former Prime Minister of St Lucia, Dr Kenny Anthony. In a frank interview almost one year after his 2006 electoral defeat, Anthony suggested that given the challenges of running the state, he should have, on hindsight, opted not to hold a ministry but should have transformed the office of the Prime Minster into a CEO function, allowing him to oversee his team of ministers, while retaining full responsibility for the work of the government.
If the combined Anthony-Kellman perspective can be taken as an indication of a moment of transformation in the role of the Caribbean prime minister, such a development cannot occur in a socio-cultural vacuum.
Other architectonic shifts are expected to follow. Cultural expectations of the Prime Minister’s visibility, the relationship between PM and Cabinet, and even constitutional rules and administrative practices may have to be adjusted to accommodate a CEO PM.
What is clear, however, is that Kellman’s intervention was intended to nudge the Barbadian expectation away from the grassroots, democratic prime minister, in touch with and responsible for every major development, towards a prime minister who is behind the scenes and removed from day to day management of the country.
His new role would be to manage ministers, rather than the country. Once accepted as a legitimate role for the Prime Minister, the public would lower its expectations of prime ministerial visibility and “give the PM a break”.
If indeed Kellman was fully aware of the full implications of his suggestion then his well intentioned defence of his leader might have had the opposite effect. This is because such a significant development should not have been communicated in such an ad hoc manner, and would have been best expressed by the Prime Minster himself.
As the example of Kenny Anthony above suggests, a shift to a CEO PM, no matter how justified, requires a long period of public conditioning and debate to gain acceptability and legitimacy.
A forum in which the Prime Minister can share his vision with Barbados is badly needed. This would be an ideal place to outline and elaborate upon a reconfigured prime ministerial role, if this is indeed his perspective.
Without this, Kellman’s “out-of-the-blue” CEO claim resembles an excuse, rather than an explanation.
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus specializing in analysis of regional affairs.