Kamla Persad-Bissessar is turning out to be a unique Prime Minister; not merely because she is the first woman PM or because she turned our economy from an inherited below zero growth to stabilisation and now growth, or because she has an engaging personality, but because she listens.
And then she takes decisive action.
This came to mind this week when she intervened, very correctly in my view, to safeguard the rights of our young interns from the St Augustine campus of The UWI.
We all know that in a very hierarchical sector like medicine, it is the juniors who are most vulnerable—and interns fit that bill. So without much consultation and despite the fact that their colleagues who graduated from other UWI campuses had a single year and notwithstanding the fact that during their five years of study they had a legitimate expectation of having to spend one year as an intern, someone, somewhere decided otherwise.
Normally that would be the last thing we would have heard on the matter.
But not on Kamla’s watch.
After reviewing the matter, engaging all the stakeholders and listening to the various perspectives our Prime Minister took decisive action in favour of greater transparency, in-depth consultation, and consensual leadership.
I am advised that she has gained many scores of disciples among the interns.
This is evidence of a Prime Minister who listens.
Contrast that with prime ministers of the past. Eric Williams coined the phrase: “Let the jackasses bray.” He mastered the art of removing his hearing aid to show that he was not interested in feedback or in hearing other perspectives.
It was Patrick Manning who was voted out of office precisely because he refused to heed the calls of a citizenry who had become fed up of autocracy, dictatorial attitudes and onemanism.
Dr Keith Rowley last week emphasised this PNM trait. In spite of repeated calls from all and sundry he simply refused to listen and continued supporting two pieces of very unpopular and highly criticised pension legislation. He attempted to justify his stubborn and very rigid attitude by invoking all kinds of intellectual gymnastics and spurious arguments.
Though she later apologised for her poor choice of words, his favoured pit-bull was reduced to calling those who objected to the legislation “rats”.
Clearly listening to the views of the electorate or the perspectives of civil society is not in Dr Rowley’s DNA.
There are many examples where the PM has shown that she has cultivated the habit of listening.
How else does one explain the decisive action taken against errant ministers when the facts became clear and the citizenry demanded action? Her polling numbers rose as she took action which voters felt was consistent with their own views on the matter.
It is an axiom of past prime ministerial practice that no action be taken against those who erred no matter who said what.
Mr Manning kept Calder Hart. Johnny O’Halloran straddled the corridors of power for decades. The story of Gene Miles is well known. It was she who paid the price not the perpetrators of the crime. The Tesoro scandal remained unpunished and it was the great Eric Williams who said, when he refused to take action against Patrick Solomon, “who doh like it get to hell outta here”.
It is on Kamla’s watch that the procurement legislation is on the threshold of becoming law. This after listening to the cries of generations calling for such legislation. It was more than 36 years since the legislation was first contemplated and nothing happened. Neither Patrick Manning, nor Basdeo Panday nor Arthur NR Robinson listened to the calls for such legislation.
Kamla listened and so we have even the Joint Consultative Council saying that the legislation reflected the concerns of civil society. In other words, Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s Government listened to calls for a review of aspects of the legislation especially those relating to “government-to-government” contracts.
It is precisely because she listens that Kamla has succeeded in dealing decisively with all these so-called powerful men who have gotten in her way. The list includes Basdeo Panday, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, Patrick Manning and Jack Warner.
Look at where all four men are today… in the political wilderness!
The next general elections will provide a clear choice between two leaders with two visions, two histories and two contrasting styles.
What separates them is that one listens empathically and actively while the other does not.