Obedience, loyalty and the Uff Report

If the nation’s soul is endangered at all, it’s much more likely to have been wounded by the terms of Mr Calder Hart’s employment, the de-regulation of those constraints which were framed in order to force some accountability and the political protection which Mr Hart enjoyed.

Minister Emily Dick-Forde’s see no evil, know no evil, speak no evil, was an important plank in the scaffolding of protection. Outside of this “see no evil, speak no evil,” was the “wajang” behaviour of Keith Rowley or the implacable construction wars. This protection was not only the question of Calder Hart although this threw the consequences of protection into sharp relief.

It was also the question of how ministerial duties and Cabinet responsibility were understood and now expected. Technically the Cabinet in the Westminster system, was designed as one of the major checks on Prime Ministerial flights of fancy and Prime Ministerial uses of power. Cabinet responsibility for decisions implied that these decisions had been fully aired and discussed within Cabinet, modified where necessary, and brought to the House only when a consensus within Cabinet had been achieved. At Cabinet level therefore, the power of the Prime Minister was checked by other ministers. It was not only the question of power being checked. It was also the geographical and sometimes religious or ethnic representation which ministers informally brought to the debate and the variety of sources of information and of knowledge, which Cabinet Members brought to the discussion table. Cabinet was the inner circle of the Prime Minister. He was only the first minister among a number of other ministers. The real criticism of Tony Blair was that he attempted to act as if he held presidential power. Cabinet responsibility was the first level of democratic participation and decision making. Loyalty flowed from this. It did not precede it.

Loyalty and Obedience

One of our major problems is the confusion between loyalty and obedience.

This confusion is now so ingrained as to risk becoming part of the Trinbagonian’s individual psyche It is not only there in politics. It is there in the learn by heart of the education system, there in that obey “like a corpse” Qur’an or Bible, Pundit, Imam, Priest or “Prophet” which is the cornerstone of “Fundamentalisms.” Reason important in both Catholic and Anglican traditions, is considered highly suspect. Following is there in the follow the dictates of a “we culture” or of the consumer guidelines of television programmes.

The supposition that the Internet can provide the answer to all questions and that its information is always valid, has added to this culture of obedience and learn by rote.

Management, as the supreme ingredient of success whether in business, religion or in household affairs, has consecrated “follow the rules and regulations” without fundamental questioning. It is a short step from these to follow the political leader without questioning. To be disloyal to the party is to be disloyal to the country and both flow from disobedience to the Party’s Political Leader. (will someone ban that term!) It is not surprising that with all the formality of screening candidates for the next General Election now on the horizon, it is taken for granted that the final choice of candidates will be made, in the case of the PNM, by the Political Leader.

The elimination of Ken Valley and of Camille Robinson Regis in the last election of Pennelope Beckles in this, suggests that “screening” may be used as an important disciplinary tool against real or supposed “harden” ministers.

Over the last few years this has not always been as true of the UNC indicating not a greater sense of democracy on the part of Mr Panday rather the importance of Plums of Office for Party cohesion. What it will be under Kamla Persad-Bissessar remains to be seen. The moves to unity with COP will in any case modify at least in the first years, the power of Kamla Persad-Bissessar to choose all candidates for the next election. This does not necessarily imply that the constituency will have the final say. It may only imply horse-trading between Mrs Persad-Bissessar and Mr Dookeran.

The Power of Recall

The importance of the choice of candidates cannot be over-estimated. It is this choice which governs that important provision in all democracies: the right of recall. That right in our constitution is not only there in the General Election. It is embodied in the way the Prime Minister as well as the Political Leader of the Opposition may be deposed by their colleagues in Parliament. Outside of this there is no other way between elections to recall someone who has lost the confidence of the party and/or the people.

The policy of the party and its intention to carry out policy as displayed in any manifesto which may be produced, is best judged by the choice of candidates for the General Election, and, beyond what the Party Constitution may state, who in fact makes that choice. Where this choice is made by the Political Leader or by his agents, the party is in fact only the mobilising adjunct to the Political Leader but is of little political relevance in itself.

It is the gradual drift to this which is there between the lines of the Uff Report. It is this drift which makes obedience the primary virtue.

This is confused with loyalty but loyalty, in the final analysis, to the person of the Prime Minister. When this happens, ministers no longer fulfil the role of a check on the power of the Prime Minister nor yet the important intellectual role of debate before consensus.

The Public Service

In the case of Udecott, the role of the minister had already been severely downgraded. That was the quarrel with the then Minister Keith Rowley. More important was the fact that Udecott operated outside of the Public Service and outside of the regulations framed to ensure accountability and some protection against nepotism and cronyism. The creation of Udecott outside of the Public Service was deliberately done.

Mr Calder Hart was answerable to no one but the Prime Minister. The result is there: “the observations … are nevertheless indicative of an accounting system which is seriously deficient to an extent that should not be tolerated in any commercial organisation, let alone one handling public funds.” But there was nothing and no one to remind Mr Calder Hart that Udecott “was handling public funds.” Seen from the vantage point of a slightly interested citizen, Udecott seemed to consider its brief as satisfying the Prime Minister’s desire for major construction projects whatever the cost.

Whether major construction projects was the way to go for the development of a small country with a galloping gap between the poor and the well off is in itself worthy of informed debate. This is what the Public Service at its best can provide. What was certainly not the way to go was the “freeness” and a certain illusion of grandeur, which seemed to underpin Udecott projects.


"Obedience, loyalty and the Uff Report"

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