Successful organisations, governments included, distinguish between strategic, big-picture issues and operational matters. Strategy sets the tone for operational decisions. Successful countries usually determine where they are; the current reality, and where they want to be; the future state. Then they must develop the measures to get there. This means that they need to set out their domestic policies and their counterpart foreign policy positions.
Leaders are responsible for setting the timing, tone, and tempo to ensure the strategic direction is followed and that the operational decisions align with the overriding strategic interests. Evidence of this is provided by the way a country’s budget is formulated and presented, and the consistency of effort in addressing the priorities identified. Leaders are also responsible for ensuring that there is a competent team selected to make the agenda a reality. At a minimum, the team must also meet the integrity standards required by legislation by declaring their assets and ensuring that the organisations for which they are responsible are properly managed. Even Jesus Christ had to select and train disciples.
Maintaining organisational discipline is difficult. Environmental circumstances change adding complexity to the key tasks; people change too. Everywhere one looks in the world there are shortages and fragility. The current energy shock may have brought increased revenues for T&T’s declining oil and gas production. But it has also brought lower world economic growth, higher fuel prices, and imported inflation in the form of higher prices for food and other basics causing lower living standards in many countries including T&T and its regional trading partners.
The energy shock, therefore, can have a negative political backlash. Unstable economic conditions often lead to instability and conflict. But conflicts are a part of life and can be a powerful catalyst for change. If not adequately addressed, confidence can decline creating conditions for disorder which can come in many forms. The current public dissatisfaction with the Government’s wage offer is both a challenge and an opportunity.
The country has been through many labour disputes before, most of which have not led to civil disorder. Citizens, most of whom are not unionised, are facing the same difficult economic conditions. The language of victimhood is accompanied by claims of oppression, removal of rights and harsh and oppressive treatment. Will this impasse be diffused or become a full-blown conflict? Will both sides ramp up the rhetoric or will they come to a consensus to benefit the country? Will the Government stand firm on its offer and allow the Special Tribunal to decide?
Responding to comments from the heads of the various unions in their Labour Day pronouncements the prime minister indicated that he “…was puzzled by the strong language of the labour movement.” Really?
The country is seven years into this journey. There is a chasm in understanding between the parties; bridging the gap requires agreement on the weak economic fundamentals. The issue is not whether the country must borrow to meet wage demands, but whether the country can continue doing so as it has for the last seven years. The options are retrenchment, salary cuts, or salary freezes.
What are the strategies, policies, and programmes to increase the economic pie? These questions must be addressed in the public domain as this concerns all citizens. Deflection, division, and distraction are tactics, not policies.
Whether one is building a team, community, or nation, uniting people around a common goal is just as important as understanding the divisions that will cause dissension. Good leaders understand not only how to unite the group, but also how to save the group from others (external threats) and even themselves (internal threats/weaknesses). And that is where the vision, acumen and wisdom of the leader are displayed.
The leadership and the Cabinet team selected must have gravitas and credibility if they are to inspire trust and confidence. There can be no lieutenants with integrity issues, or who cannot answer basic questions about questionable financial transactions involving public money. The prime minister needs no advice on this matter having had to disappoint Marlene McDonald three times in his first stint as prime minister, notwithstanding the UNC’s lesson of Jack Warner. It doesn’t matter if it is red or yellow, if it walks like a duck and quacks, it is a duck.
Confidence in a government rests on five key elements. First, a strong commitment to good governance and transparency. Second, respect for the rule of law and property rights. Third, transparency and a robust public procurement system. Fourth, is unfettered access to public information. Fifth, a commitment to the deployment of appropriate technology to assist in the delivery of government services.
Yet violent crime and murder are everyday occurrences. State venues are used to stage public events with lurid names like “Stink and Dutty” where the aftermath is gang violence. Is this the definition of T&T culture that is supported by state institutions?
These are difficult times. The unions did not create the problems that face T&T. They are articulating challenges faced by everyone. T&T and its institutions must consciously adapt to address these challenges. Parliamentarians are elected for that purpose, to exercise responsibility, to unite, not to divide the country. To whom much is given, much is expected.