To listen to our leaders speak, you would think that each of them, and each of their parties, won the local government elections.
The PNM, clear winners, appeared quite muted. Dr Rowley’s understated reaction surprised many; perhaps he was surprised too. The ILP, the green horse in the race, did not fare well. Its leader, Mr Warner, tried to reposition his party’s place in the public consciousness as the “third party” as opposed to one with a shot at taking the government whole. This seemed to be clarified by the more emotional sentiments expressed by ILP chairman Robin Montano whose pointed “we failed” stood out as a single moment of clarity in an otherwise ghostly night of political misinterpretation.
The UNC and COP gave us the richest display of all, perhaps because they had the most to lose, and indeed lost most of that. The COP, which appeared to be dying to everyone but its leaders, boldly asserted that the party “lives to fight another day”. The basis of this assertion is not clear, since, having won nothing and lost everything, a pulse is not immediately evident.
Perhaps the best reaction came from the Government. Having lost its third election in a row, the Prime Minister’s declaration “We did not lose” suggested either a narrow legal definition of losing or a heady inebriation brought on, presumably, by exhilarated supporters. In 2007, Mr Panday’s declaraton of victory in general elections he had clearly lost seemed eerily similar.
Such delusions aren’t new. France’s Marie Antionette reportedly suggested her people should eat cake if they had no food. More recently, at Oxford University, Sepp Blatter, who has never disclosed his salary but wants credit for financial transparency at FIFA, said he is not “a ruthless parasite sucking the lifeblood out of world football”. Mr Blatter and the truth clearly need to establish an acquaintance.
All of this makes one ponder, why do our leaders seem so disconnected from reality?
The Arbinger Institute argues in leadership and self-deception, that, in the absence of appropriate governance, leaders can become detached from their moorings, from reality, and effectively occupy a headspace of their own construction. In this la-la land, gravity works differently and things that should sink, float, and things that should stink have a floral bouquet.
This mental framing can have catastrophic personal consequences. When it comes to leaders of a developing nation, the dangers multiply exponentially.
We started laughing at our leaders since Mr Chambers, and we have never stopped. As our mirth increased, respect diminished, even the media not bothering to put a Mr or Mrs or Ms in front of a name. It’s all Kamla, Jack and Rowley. When we demonstrate no respect for each other, what do we expect from our children?
But our leaders only have themselves to blame, making themselves a spectacle at every opportunity and further diminishing, if that were possible, the population’s respect for the very instruments of democracy which we need to make this a better country. We need leaders who are rooted in a strong sense of themselves, not intoxicated and of diminished capacity. To deny what is blatantly obvious is to create a circle of self-deception that will, in time, hit home hard.
All the while, the politics of distraction continues to ignore the growing population of criminally insane people in our society. With no good examples to follow at the national level, local criminals present a ready model for emulation. Our weak institutional environment means that criminal psychopaths and sociopaths alike have a straight run to the very boundaries of social instability, and they are going to carry us with them.
This is the critical aspect of political behaviour that our leaders have yet to understand. There is a direct and powerful link between poilitics and crime in the Caribbean, with prominent examples from Jamaica, Antigua, Grenada and Guyana over the years. Now, add T&T to that mix.
One need only look at the people who overtly deny that criminals get State contracts, even though that is most certainly the case, to understand how pervasive our self-decption is. This is not about who won or lost an election. It is about a pattern of behaviour that, accompanied by no consequence, leads to a dishonest, violent society which will believe anything about anyone because we know we are all liars anyway.
The issue of no consequence should be prominent in our minds. More than a decade of Integrity Commission, and not a single prosecution for corruption. Much hullaballoo about FIU, no convictions for money laundering or drug financing. Years of Equal Opportunity Commission, no resolution of racist or ethnic issues, even glaring ones committed by denominational bodies.
The flipside of no consequence is victimisation, and there is plenty of that here. The Chief Justice was either delusional or concerned about victimisation when he close to speak very mildly about the collapse of our judicial system and instead take a random intellectual perambulation through a ganja plantation. Feeding our appetite for distraction, his bathtub rumination sparked an irrelevant national debate when the glaring issue remains the fact that our courts, the primary consequence mechanism of a democratic society, are severely under-resourced and have all but failed.
The power of the executive in our democratic system has compromised everything. How many are truly independent? Too many depend on the executive for position, well being, power and wealth. To speak out is to risk victimisation and marginalisation. This is what I think happened to Lloyd Best, Morgan Job and other voices like them. Our Parliament is a creature of the executive. Our intellectuals have vacated the ivory tower for some government silver, as have civil society leaders. Labour is in the wilderness and cannot galvanise as a political force. Religion has retreated. The checks and balances in our society have been hollowed out, only facades remain.
Every five years we get to choose who our dictators are. What if we do not have a democracy here, merely the semblance of one?
• Dr Rolph Balgobin is an