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Leading by Example

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 23, 2012

Indiscipline has its consequences. As a nation we are paying for this indiscipline in every phase of national life up to and including the unprecedented road fatalities on our highways. Yesterday it was the Acting Chief Justice; tomorrow it could be the President or the Prime Minister. If we do not come to our senses we will pay drastically for the indiscipline that plagues our nation. It is a disease that the old are passing on to the young.

Over the years, we have grown accustomed to hearing the nauseating groans of regret from official sources when these tragedies occur. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar says that she is profoundly saddened by the recent accident and that it brings into focus "the absolute need for much greater care and caution on the roads, just one moment of indiscretion can create immense danger and cause the fatality of innocent citizens."

These are empty words. There is no such thing as "an innocent citizen." We are all implicated in this drama of national indiscipline and frenzied chaos. There is much the government can do to prevent these acts of carnage but then again there is always the canard of the PNM to fall back upon. We elect governments to change the behavior and tone of our people's lives. When it fails to do so it ought to assume responsibility for its failure.

A few days after Francois Hollande assumed the presidency of France he set a new tone for his nation. At his first cabinet meeting he imposed a 30 percent salary cut on himself, his prime minister and all of his ministers. All 34 of his members of government, split evenly between men and women, were made to sign "an unprecedented ministerial code of ethics, which among other strictures requires them to use trains for any journey under three hours, respect red lights when traveling in their ministerial cars and hand over any official gift worth more than L150" (Financial Times, May 20). This is called leading by example.

There were two opposite responses to Hollande's announcement. David Henley, professor of European politics at Cardiff University, says: "There was an element of posturing in this. One of the reasons Hollande won was because of [Nicolas] Sarkozy's image and his personal style. He benefited hugely from this so it makes sense for him to continue to play on it."

Laurent Bouvert, professor of political science at the University of Versailles-Saint Quentin, counters that such a move reflects Hollande's character: "He's like that—he is normal, as they say. He doesn't like money and elaborate protocol annoys him." He does not want to be seen as "the president of the rich."

Perhaps the most perspicacious comment came from Jerome Fourquet of the pollster Ifop: "The image of a government is forged in the first few weeks and it tends to last. In a period of crisis they have got to set a good example." Fourquet forgot to mention that if a government wants its image to last it must act in a consistent manner and continue along the road [bad pun] it started upon.

I cannot blame the People's Partnership [PP] for the chaos that has come over our land. It would be unfair. Nor am I prepared to suggest that indiscipline arrived when the PP took over the reins of government. That, too, would be unfair. However, since the PP came into office it has given no sign of a reflective government bent on correcting the evils of the past and setting a new course of action for the future and for this they must be held accountable.

I can forgo the insane amounts of moneies the Prime Minster spent on her sister or the enormous sums the government spent on its trip to India. I can even overlook the ridiculous sums of money that have been passing hands at the Airports Authority or the vulgar sums involved with the CAL charade. I am even inclined to turn a blind eye on the indecent amounts of monies we have given to our calypsonians (soca monarchs and calypso kings), chutney artists and various national festivals. But if we say we are concerned with building a nation the transformation should start with our leaders and the example they set.

One would have thought that curbing road fatalities would have been one of the easiest things to do. Simply enforce the laws that govern the uses of vehicle on our roads; no exception. Prime Minister, President; minister should all obey the road signs. No exceptions. Set standards for the types of vehicles that are allowed to use our roadways and limit the amount of vehicles licensed to be on the road. But in a picaroon society (that's what V. S. Naipaul calls us) there is always a desire to demonstrate one's importance by flouting the laws or trying to get one over on the other. So that when the PM's car flashes through the lights—it may be necessary for security concerns—and this is followed up by everyone who wants to demonstrate his or her importance then we have a problem.

When the PM decides suddenly that her sister must be paid x dollars, that is indiscipline. When every Tom, Dick and Harrilal decides he must go to India at the government's expense; that is indiscipline; when Jack Warner declares that he ought not to heed the concerns of those who did not vote for the PP, that's indiscipline; and when one gives contracts to family friends because one slept in her home when one became elected; that is indiscipline.

Empty phases help no one when tragedy strikes except that it makes the speaker feel good about herself. We need to lead by example especially when we are going down the wrong road and there seems to be no one in the government with the moral authority to say "'Tun back now. We are killing ourselves morally, socially and physically."

Isn't it about time we said enough is enough.

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