PEOPLE & THINGS: Leadership, please!
If it is not already obvious, this article is a companion to that which was published on January 15, under the caption Governance, Please, which spoke to a similar issue, but was slightly more nuanced toward the political deficiencies that were being identified.
Naturally, I assumed at that time that the Prime Minister’s involvement would have precipitated a speedy resolution of The Alexandra School issue, although I was then and continue to be sceptical about this Prime Minister’s capacity to resolve anything with the degree of dispatch necessary in these times. Notwithstanding, I, along with other Barbadians, was pleased to see the teachers return to the classroom after the initial meeting and, like others, I believed that his phased approach would ensure that they remained there and continued to teach the nation’s children.
Like many other Barbadians, I understood the Prime Minister’s intervention to mean that he was committed to resolving the issue “speedily”; that he had identified several phases which were intended to bring about this resolution; and these phases were to start “tomorrow”. I am now satisfied that I completely misunderstood he Prime Minister’s plan, the phases, the speed and outcome.
His most recent statement that “anybody at phase two was way behind me. I passed phase two a long, long time ago . . . although I am not at liberty to say what phase we are at now” clearly demonstrates the depth of my misunderstanding, and obviously I have no right to clarity in this matter.
There are also a few other related issues that appear “misunderstood”, and one such is this School Inspection Report which is now one year old. This type of report was fully explained by a former principal to be the most serious of educational investigations that identified critical problems at the school and provided clear guidance on the way forward.
I mistakenly assumed that reference to this report, along with the Prime Minister’s stated refusal to consult with either the principal, or any other non-BSTU functionary, meant that the root cause of this issue was already understood and his “phases” would systematically speak to the root cause.
It is therefore surprising that the first anyone has heard of this issue since “phase one” was at the announcement of a commission of inquiry into the issue, which one presumes is investigative in nature and designed to identify the “root cause” of an issue that I mistakenly thought the Prime Minister already understood.
This brings us to the central matter of the commission of inquiry as a way forward, and it should not surprise readers to hear that I am not a big fan of the commission of inquiry, and find it especially useless in this instance.
Commissions of enquiry are slow, expensive and cumbersome relics of a bygone era of political shenanigans, which have traditionally not “fixed” anything, but have instead made recommendations. The most infamous would be the St Joseph Hospital Report that meandered for several years before its completion, and thus far its most profound impact has been its price tag.
There have been some, like the inquiry into the fire at Glendairy, that made some interesting conclusions; however these were no different from remarks made publicly by various professionals affiliated with the institution, prior to the fire.
The lesson here is that if Government would listen more to its internal mechanisms (like the School Inspection Report) it could deal with many issues before they reach crisis level.
Commissions of enquiry are truly unique political tools because they appear to convey a level of seriousness and urgency, but in reality can achieve very little. As such the inquiry is entirely consistent with the leadership style of Prime Minister Stuart, since it would allow him to state that he has acted with dispatch and intensity, but he has essentially avoided making a decision on the way forward (yet again).
Presumably this commission will meet, investigate and deliver a report, which the Prime Minister will in turn review (after he is finished with the CLICO report). Thereafter we can expect the establishment of an implementation committee that will devise an action plan (in phases) to resolve each issue identified, which will then be passed back to the Minister of Education for “action”.
One suspects that by the time the wheels of administration have fully turned, most of the students now at The Alexandra will be pursing Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees. Although hypothetical, this scenario demonstrates that the commission will not in and of itself be able to resolve this dispute, and its use therefore amounts to more governmental meandering when what we need is decisive leadership and political action.
One feature of this most recent interview which is politically relevant is the Prime Minister’s mention that his Cabinet supports the move; which is, to say the least, “odd”.
The convention of collective responsibility presumes that once no minister has resigned, that person stands in support of any policy that emanates from Cabinet. Hence members’ support would be presumed, especially as the Prime Minister chairs Cabinet and summarizes its opinion.
Under normal circumstances one therefore hears ordinary ministers reminding the public of Cabinet support to evoke the “protective shield” of Cabinet’s collective and shared political capital. It is most unusual for a Prime Minister to invoke this protection and one therefore presumes that this move reflects a realization that several of the DLP ministers do have considerable (residual) individual support or political capital that the Prime Minister wishes to exploit on this occasion – which is not a bad idea for him.
It is, however, slightly less advantageous for the individual MPs and the DLP as a whole, since it forces us now to tar all of them with the same proverbial brush of procrastination. This is especially ironic since the matter has already made its way through the Ministry of Education, as well as a Ministerial Select Committee and was referred to the Prime Minister specifically. It is therefore his issue and one on which he could easily have reversed people’s perception of him in a positive way.
Sadly on this occasion there has been more of the same and we are now also being encouraged to associate this type of inaction with the entire Government – not just its leader.
Peter W. Wickham ([email protected]) is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES).