Making our leaders do the right thing
In the past week, there have been threats of resignation from some board members of the Estate Management Business Development Company (EMBD). There have also been protests from staff of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA). In both cases, the complaints centre around unprofessional and allegedly unethical practices by the individuals in charge of these organisations. And there have been similar grumblings emanating from other State-controlled entities.
While these matters are yet to play themselves out, poor management is at the core of many of the complaints. But, because these are State-run bodies, the management issue is really a political one. Allegations that the ruling party has been putting "their people" into key posts have been rife. However, that in itself is not necessarily a justifiable cause for complaint. The core problem is that all political parties have used State companies as feeding troughs for their supporters, and if the People's Partnership is replacing the PNM's political appointees with their own, then the complaints, as local wisdom phrases it, are just a case of "do so doh like so".
The inevitable result of such practices, however, have been poorly-run State companies, with hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars being frittered away or even stolen through corrupt practices. It may sometimes be the case that individuals who have been appointed due to their political connections are competent and ethical, but this is the exception rather than the rule. And, even when no laws are actually broken, the penchant for State board chairpersons to pursue the trappings of office – in particular, luxury vehicles – sets a poor example in these deficit Budget times. As reported in the last Sunday Express, one State board chairman even said that he "didn't need to answer to any reporter, I answer only to my line Minister and the Prime Minister", as though these offices trumped the rule of law.
Such practices persist only because they are tolerated by too many people, including some of the same persons who most vehemently preach about the need for meritocracy and ethical behaviour – but only when their party isn't in office. Yet it appears that fewer people are willing to tolerate incompetence and corruption, no matter which party is in power. Many professionals are now less likely to let their reputations be compromised by mere association, and make public their issues and/or resign from their posts. Such actions send a message which politicians prefer to avoid.
In other words, if enough people in enough posts make enough noise, politicians will be forced to act ethically, not necessarily because they believe in such standards, but because they want to hold on to office. Which, for now, is sufficient for progress.