There is a scene in the movie Invictus where the late Nelson Mandela, brilliantly portrayed by Morgan Freeman, asks Francois Pienaar, captain of the Springboks, the national rugby team, “What is your philosophy on leadership? How do you inspire your team to do their best?” A nervous Pienaar, played by Matt Damon, cautiously replies, “By example, I always thought to lead by example.” Mandela then nods his head and smiles, “That is exactly right.”
Leadership by example is perhaps an apt description of Mandela’s personal philosophy having spent 27 years in prison, refusing numerous inducements to publicly denounce his principles. Like Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi often put his life on the line to defend his beliefs. Both men felt they could not abandon the hopes and aspirations of the people in order to “eat a food”.
This is in stark contrast to the style of leadership that seems to prevail today, where greed and self-promotion are the driving forces behind those who seek to lead. Egos are running wild in T&T and the latest victims are our young masqueraders who just want to jump up and enjoy themselves.
And when our leaders aren’t jostling for photo opportunities and media attention, some are busy stuffing their pockets with money that does not belong to them. Many see leadership as an opportunity for enrichment and it is no surprise T&T continues to plummet in the annual Perception of Corruption Index.
At the same time, in the land of $50 billion budgets, 20 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. There are other signs of dysfunction, including the rape and slaughter of innocent young children and the remarkable ease with which illegal drugs move in and out of the country. These are more dangerous than any vulgarity in Carnival which in any case, is merely a symptom and a reflection of a wider decadence that extends far beyond the two days of mas’.
The recent International Narcotics Control Strategy Report should also cause some concern. It notes that “senior leaders have not been successful in translating political will to combat trafficking into operational effectiveness” and even more disturbing is the statement that “only 58 small-scale traffickers were convicted during the year”. The “big fish” continue to swim freely.
Admittedly these problems are not new, but as Reginald Dumas pointed out during an address on governance at the AGM of the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) last year, “our descent has accelerated, accompanied by a coarsening of society and a flight from the norms of civilised behaviour”. So it is good to see that the same TTTI is maintaining the focus and will be staging later this month an international anti-corruption conference that “will bring together international, regional and local experts to identify the key weapons for the fight against corruption, and how to implement them now”.
Hopefully leaders from all sectors will attend and listen attentively, especially to those topics that fall in their own backyards. No doubt it will require some deep introspection.
A few weeks before Carnival, the American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) set the trend and hosted a seminar entitled “Tackling the Scourge of White Collar Crime”, raising important issues for the nation’s leadership elite. For instance, local anti-money-laundering expert David West emphasised that “the first place to fight crime is white-collar crime. That’s where it starts. If you take away the money from the criminal there will be no crime... no money to buy a gun, to pay for lawyers, no money for anything”.
Despite the obvious link between white-collar criminals and gang violence, West stated that extensive investigations into white-collar crime in Trinidad and Tobago are “non-existent”. And Amcham president Hugh Howard provided a timely warning when he reminded the audience that “white-collar crime could lead to violent consequences for the wider society”.
Nevertheless, billions of dollars in suspicious transactions are ignored while anti-crime initiatives focus almost exclusively on so-called hotspots and at-risk communities. On the other hand, a pall of suspicion hovers over the leadership of the local banking sector, where the recent sale of shares has raised more than a few eyebrows. Then there is the secrecy surrounding cocaine that was removed from the stomach of a drug mule by a senior doctor at a prominent private hospital.
Compare this to the manner in which hundreds of young men were swiftly and publicly rounded up and thrown into prison during the infamous state of emergency. It is this disregard for fairness and social justice that is fuelling much of the anger that is building throughout the country. There is a strong perception that those who hold leadership positions in many of our key institutions are too busy “feathering their nests” to secure the interests of the people.
Not unexpectedly this sentiment was reflected in many of the calypsoes for Carnival 2014. In the “Lost Psalm of King David”, Kurt Allen, runner-up in the Calypso Monarch competition, highlighted the greed of people who “for their own sake, they take and take and take. They want to have it all and still eat their cake”. And Alana Sinnette focused on the failure of leadership to develop a just and equitable society. In the plaintive “Sea Lots”, she highlighted the problems of discrimination and class prejudice and asked, “Why it is that once you come from the ghetto, you are treated like the child of a lesser God?”
But perhaps it was Mr Famous who best captured the ominous tide of cynicism sweeping the country and the public’s massive disappointment in the quality of leadership. “Doh study dem,” he sang. “Study yourself.”
• Richard Braithwaite is a