Politics is often seen as a dishonourable occupation. Many yet scramble to become a politician. How does one explain this seeming paradox? I once regarded politics as a desirable career, but gave up the idea after I started observing leaders. No regrets whatsoever. Has the quality of our politics deteriorated since Independence, and if so, is it because standards have fallen generally in most areas of life, or is it that it is the quality of our political institutions which constitute the problem?
Many people become involved in politics by accident or in a state of absent-mindedness. Some do it by conscious choice. Some inherit office from a retiring family member or some other benefactor. Some become involved because they see politics as a lucrative or a status-giving occupation. They are also motivated by hubris or arrogance.
Fewer regard the political vocation as a way of helping to change for the better the lives of people in communities or the nation at large. And less but by no means least, some become involved because they see politics as a job or an avenue within which they could accumulate pots of free money, free food. One now insists that he/she "want ah food", however "hot" it might be. And one is not talking here of the one-parent woman in East Port of Spain whose father is a ghost.
Appetites for free money have grown and inhibitions to acquiring it have declined. No one seems to be upset if they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Money can buy impunity. Kamla cannot easily catch the guilty ones even if she did secure justiciable evidence and tried really hard to put miscreants away.
The boys and girls are too quick and clever on the draw these days. I therefore sympathise with her if she plans to wait for the evidence to come to her. I am reminded of Peter the Great of Russia. Peter was told to get rid of all the boyars who were corrupt. Peter looked at the complainant with a grin and asked, "and who will run the state?"
Politics is seen by some women as an attractive calling, a theatrical stage upon which to display their identity and their sense of purpose, absent the viable male.
Many do not carry through with their disposition because they see what happens to other women who do. Many who are tempted to buy a seat at the table hesitate to do so because they fear what they might have to do to sustain their reputations. Some fear that they might have to sacrifice their privacy and that of their families, and much else.
Some fear that they would have to buy too many outfits if only to keep up with others who can afford to buy a new one every day.
But can small societies afford to lose all those good men and good women, both at the same time. If neither good men nor good women opt not to enter politics, who will mind the public's business?
Who would prevent more "Section 34s" from being slipped under the parliamentary table for a mess of pottage?
And then, there is the old question of good institutions and good operatives. Assuming that there is a difference between them, what contributes more to achieving governability in a small society such as ours, good institutions or surplus stocks of good social capital? Both are of course vital, but which seems to matter more? We seem to be failing and flailing. What ails us? Is our Constitution in need of revision, or are the protocols in need of a make over?
Unfortunately, many states pay more attention to reconstructing constitutions than rehabilitating their depleted stocks of social capital. This is very much the case in much of Latin America where the tendency has been to construct institutional platforms to ensure that having been retired to the barracks, the military does not sneak back in.
Latin constitution makers generally sought to institute elaborate checks and balances in order to prevent a recurrence of coups. Many of them also established electoral systems based on extreme forms of proportional representations that empowered individual voters as opposed to parties. This complicates the process.
The governability of a state in large part depends on the mix of political types that are attracted to office. That mix not only helps to delineate the institutional footprints of the state, but also its political culture.
There was a time when political philosophers believed that the important thing was to have the right institutional package. They neglected to calculate how systems perform if the lines of communication were too open or too limited. What was often not analysed is the social and human capital endowment with which the system was endowed.
Often in politics, there is a capacity problem, more or less. One often does not have a sufficient complement of cadres to operate the system at optimum levels. Trust is often also scarce. If trust is there, decisions are easier to negotiate. If there is none or little, the costs of reaching consensus or closure are high and the energy consumed is higher than it should be.
The governability of a state in large part depends on the mix of political types that are attracted to office and the prevailing stock of social and human capital. That mix not only helps to delineate the institutional footprints of the state, but also its political culture.
It may also help to determine the psychiatric wellness of one's political leaders, many of whom come into office sick or become so when they have to deal with stress levels. So many deal with their health by faking it. They and those in the Throne Room do not want it known that they are ill. They often seek medical help abroad rather that relate to their own medical expertise.
This type of behaviour is particularly evident in a small society where the "main man" or "main woman" plays multiple cross-cutting roles and carries the organisation on her/his back.
The result is either excessive misgovernance because there are so few meaningful checks and balance and few key persons who are able to undertake the due diligence exercises that would normally occur in environments where the system is more pluralistic. Ideals and hope are not all that are necessary.
One result is that some good leaders are overworked because they have to account for an unmanageable number of role performances, which may lead to "burn out". That helps to explain why so many leaders become afflicted with psychiatric ailments which remain unreported. As Prof Jerry Post explains, "questions of factional politics become entangled with questions of health. The chief physician is not just treating a patient, important as that patient is: he or she is also treating and affecting an active political process."
To be continued