By Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner Columnist
A friend wondered what made me devote last week's column to leadership. I had not given the question much conscious thought.
First, as an Op-Ed columnist, one is not given subjects by an editor to pursue. It's a personal thing - you're on the team so go out and bat. We don't expect you to give away the store with libel, but we'll check nevertheless. Apart from that caution, proceed with gusto.
So I began the rummage through my mind for the pathways I took to the decision: Leadership matters whether it is that of the lion's pride, the sledding team of dogs in Alaska, Apple Computer, Jamaica or the United States.
Furthermore, the impact of leadership becomes much more important at moments when the task ahead seems a huge lift, having enormous stakes for the future or perhaps even undoable.
I was actually thinking of the battle for leadership in the two political parties - the one apparently more orderly and deliberate in the PNP, more rushed, tornado-like in the JLP.
We know how the deliberations played out and can guess about marks or scars left for healing. Those between Peter Phillips and Portia Simpson Miller seem to have disappeared without so much as a whiff of cocoa butter.
Commentators have generally addressed perceptions, particularly of the prime minister, as she must lead the country through a period of crisis defined by shortfalls of resources to provide services the population has come to expect, and to repay loans coming due.
The question of advisers
Negatives, for instance, have been trumpeted about her capacity to speak off the cuff, absent prepared remarks. I remember at least one commentator comparing her quite unfavourably to former Prime Minister Golding - yet, the infamous 'no gays in my Cabinet' 'Hard Talk' comment didn't come from her lips.
And, of course, this leads to the question of advisers. The prime minister, as leader, needs not know everything about a subject. Rather, she needs to know where to find that knowledge if it exists. The general perception of 'Sista P' (or is it now 'Mama P') as caring and genuine would go a long way towards achieving 'buy-in' to shared sacrifice tough times demand.
Focus on the short term
The big threatening outcome here, though, is that the leader gets into the bog of short-term crisis management, completely missing longer-term goals that need addressing.
Private-sector lobbying interests generally tend to focus either short term, or on goals that give a lower profile to national interests. It is in this arena that think tanks and trusted advisers come into play.
Actually, this week, marking the 10th anniversary of the US-Iraq war, is as good a time as ever to consider this issue as it relates to former US President George W. Bush. Dick Cheney, his former vice-president, does not look back for flaws - he values 'success over honour' - although people should find it hard to identify success from that endeavour.
All their stated objectives were unmet: no weapons of mass destruction, no welcoming in the streets, no six-month victory plus the real outcome of catastrophic human loss, trillions of dollars added to the US deficit and enhanced instability in the region.
Today, a majority of Americans view this endeavour as a mistake.
'Mistake' must be one of the set choices pollsters provide on the survey instrument. Actually, the whole thing was a massive and fraudulent disinformation campaign enabled by a pervasive patriotism that one might consider morphed into jingoism, which the media now wishes to downplay. This, without mentioning the arrangement of having no draft, thus ensuring unwilling children of the privileged shall never have to serve and collaterally, making the decision to wage war easier for lawmakers as parents, who don't have the awkward reality of possible loss of a son or daughter.
Another thing out of the news this week: the incredible proposed solution to the Cyprus fiscal crisis, including taxing existing savings accounts 10 per cent or more. This proposal was hard to understand until news of alleged holdings of corruptly acquired Russian funds of over US$30 billion held in Cyprus' banking system.
Conceivably, no European Union leader would ever agree to shave money, retroactively and arbitrarily, off its savings depositors. Such is unthinkable. A haircut on government bonds is difficult enough. Penalising savers is perhaps the economic counterpart to treason.
If a side element, however, is to tax the Russian Mafia there may be an unmentioned objective wafting around the conference room. Cypriot leaders need no advisers to figure out how to play this one.
Wilberne Persaud, an economist, currently works on technology change and capital solutions for Caribbean SMEs.firstname.lastname@example.org