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FIRING LINE: Reshuffle! Why?

Shantal Munro Knight

FIRING LINE: Reshuffle! Why?

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Right now, it is absolute heaven for political analysts, commentators, pundits and just ordinary people interested in the political happenings in Barbados and the region.
With the dramatic removal of governments in St Lucia and Jamaica, after one term in office, and an upcoming election in Barbados due by early next year, political discussions are the main topics in rum shops, living rooms and office spaces alike.
When you add to this the rumour mill about an impending Cabinet reshuffle, then heaven, if possible, just got sweeter for political commentators.  
I am a bit hesitant about adding my voice to the fray, what, with the esteemed Mr Gilkes – just on the right – and the two political gurus some pages down.
I am sure most readers have their fill of political commentary today, but please bear with me; it’s all too exciting and perhaps too relevant for me not to add my say. I promise to make my observations quick and to the point.
First, with the return of Portia Simpson Miller as Prime Minister of Jamaica, we now have two female prime ministers leading two of the most historically male-dominated, “maximum leader”-styled countries in the region – Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. Could it be that we are seeing the first stages in the demise of male-dominated prime ministership in the region?  
These two countries, because of their size, resources and history, have traditionally been seen as the critical movers and shakers in the region, determining policy and setting the benchmark for Caribbean political leadership. That benchmark is now being set by two women. Interesting. Perhaps this could have some lessons for political parties and political leadership right here in Barbados. Enough said!  
Second, in the attempt to localize the outcomes of the St Lucia and Jamaica elections to the Barbados situation, an overstatement in my opinion, the analysts have failed to emphasize the underlying reasons for the demise of the now Opposition parties in Jamaica and St Lucia.
In both cases, the Bruce Golding and Stephenson King-led administrations were dogged by allegations of corruption and maladministration. This suggests to me that Caribbean people are no longer prepared to have short memories about issues of corruption and serious wrongdoings, whether real or perceived; they are now prepared to vote out governments swiftly and decisively.
This should be a lesson for incumbent governments – do the people’s business properly and appropriately or get out.
Finally, I am completely confused by the calls for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to reshuffle his Cabinet. It is suggested that this reshuffle would allow him to show his power and discipline his troops. But hold on, one Cabinet reshuffle does not a strong political leader make.
A strong political leader operates in a certain context with a history of action that gives rise to others applying the label of “strong”.
I would suggest that the reshuffling of the Cabinet would not immediately reverse his leadership style or modus operandi – it is what it is.
My understanding is that the reshuffling of the Cabinet is usually about moving some weak ministers and getting the best team at the forefront of leadership. If it so happens that you move a trouble-maker, then that’s a bonus. If a PM has to resort to reshuffling his entire Cabinet to discipline some members of his troops, that is like putting a plaster on a festering sore; folly makes no sense.
If, as a leader of a party and country, you cannot call a meeting or call other people to hold meetings and get your troops in line, then reshuffle or no reshuffle, your leadership will continue to be tested.
I recall that when former Prime Minister Owen Arthur felt the need to discipline some Cabinet members, he used the power to appoint and dis-appoint – no need to hide behind a Cabinet reshuffle.
 Moreover, Cabinet reshuffle or no Cabinet reshuffle, this Government still has to answer the critical questions relating to managing the economy, dealing with the rising unemployment, prospects of another ratings downgrade and increasing prices. That’s what I would like to hear about in the next prime ministerial speech: a good strong plan, a way forward for the country.
Strength is derived not only from the exercise of brute force but the application of wisdom and maturity.