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C. Jama Adams | Czar: Why do we need one?

Published:Monday | May 30, 2016 | 5:00 AMC. Jama Adams
Adams

We have governance systems charged with facilitating us living lives that are loving and productive.

Given our history of a lack of resources, low social trust, and institutions that were structured to control rather than to serve, these governance systems have not been up to the task of facilitating growth for the mass of people.

One response has been to further concentrate authority, be it Cabinet, don or now czar, with the hope that such persons can deliver where the system has failed.

Such an intervention can work if it embraces the paradox of the czar: devoting and focusing resources to re-engineer the system, so as to make the role of god-like czar unnecessary.

Institutions in Jamaica and other countries that have a history of illiberal governance approaches, were structured to control the mass of people and rob them of the fruits of their labour. As just one telling example, the British were here for hundreds of years and greatly enriched the Crown and the elites, but it was only in the twilight of their direct rule that they established a university for the masses.

So we do not have a long history of an institutional ethos that nurtures and protects the people.

The educational, justice and economic institutions, among others, were never historically structured or resourced to help the masses; to facilitate national development.

 

APPEAL FOR THE DIVINE

 

At the same time, there is an under-reported history of relentless struggle at betterment, at realising our potential as a people despite institutional indifference and contempt. These attempts, however, often with the best of intentions, replicated the centralising and autocratic tendencies of the colonisers. Such approaches exacerbated social mistrust and a contempt for rules that suffocated rather than nurtured self-development.

Given such arrested institutional development, the appeal for almost divine intervention is understandable.

We need superhuman figures, such as Joshuas and czars, to establish the conditions for equal opportunity and growth.

Such an appeal is informed by an admirable need to unleash creativity, increase productivity and improve the lot of the masses. It is driven by political time with its emphasis on immediate results within the existing authoritarian administrative structure.

The czar must also be sensitive to the effects of trying to bring about relatively quick change in institutions that operate on administrative time.

Such time is slower, more deliberative and often reflective of archaic practices that protect the status quo and limit substantive growth.

The appointment of a traditional czar will often result in administrative systems being even less responsive as administrators resist the limits on their authority and resent the imposition of new ways of thinking.

Vladimir Putin, Russia's czar-like leader, reports that only 20 per cent of his directives are carried out. So a major risk for any czar is being expected to achieve unrealistic outcomes in the context of dysfunctional but threatened administrative systems that will thwart his efforts. The history of modern political czars in a democracy is that they are thwarted by administrators and the judiciary, given the czar's need to violate the often archaic but established rules of addressing tasks.

The successive drug czars in the United States have failed miserably as evidenced by more illegal drugs being available at historically low prices.

 

THE CZAR'S ROLE

 

A czar does offer possibilities for change if he can embrace the central paradox of his role. His major task is to bring about systemic change so as to make it unnecessary to continually create czar-like authority superstructures. He must be adroit at working effectively in the different time zones. The political directorate wants to see productivity increases relatively soon, as they were elected on the promise that they would quickly deliver jobs and treasure. The administrative classes, often slow, under the guise of being deliberative, will focus on process - often with little regard for outcome.

So a major task of the czar is to embrace the administrative class as partners in bringing about vitally needed systemic changes. He must excite and motivate them as agents of change, rather than demonise and attempt to sidestep them. They have time and the archaic laws on their side and if they sense they are being disrespected or ignored, will simply wait out the czar, who they know is working with a political clock that is quickly running out of time.

The second task he faces is communicating and entering into dialogue with the larger community.

This is challenging as there is no sustained history of engaging the mass of people as true partners in national development. The vision is often developed by the elites, handed down from on high and ignored by the masses, who feel it will not impact substantively and positively on their attempts at self-development. One easy test is to regularly assess the degree to which the growth czar engages in true dialogue with small business persons so as to thoughtfully consider their perspectives and include them in his attempts to facilitate growth.

So we welcome the czar and look forward to a short but transformative reign.

• C. Jama Adams, PhD, is a clinical psychologist with publications and extensive experience in the areas of child and family psychology, at-risk youth and organisation psychology. He is also an associate professor and chairperson in the Department of Africana Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice-City University of New York.