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Exactly where the buck stops

Published:Saturday | January 9, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Taking responsibility for the failure of others is perhaps one of the hardest things to do. In fact, one of the safest refuges of weak leaders is to blame subordinates for failures. This week, we heard American President Barack Obama invoke the famous maxim of another wartime president, Harry Truman: "The buck stops here," in reference to the failed attempt to bomb a US-bound airliner.

In the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day bombing many predicted that heads would roll for what amounted to a spectacular national-security failure. Obama was harshly criticised when at first blush he suggested that members of the security community had "screwed up". But after meeting with his team, Obama acknowledged the failures and accepted full responsibility. His next step is to tighten security aggressively and strengthen defences with new equipment and advanced technology to lessen such events in future.

Parallel to our security situation here at home, where we have been waging an internal war which has resulted in blood washing our streets in a cycle of unexplained killings. While there appears to be no real strategy to tame the monster of crime, the public has grown more frustrated. And what have our governments done? We have seen a parade of ministers and commissioners of police. We have heard new crime-fighting squads named. Yet the solutions to a more peaceful, less-violent society continue to elude us. With the police calling on the Church for help, and possibly divine intervention, it seems we have run out of security strategies. What we have not heard is a leader taking responsibility for failed policies and resolving to do better.

Problems continue

The economic situation is no different. As the national debt and heavy taxes threaten to overwhelm us, there have been calls, including from among these columns, for Finance Minister Audley Shaw to be replaced. But long before Shaw there were problems associated with the economic policies and fiscal management, and they are not purely internal. We have endured bad governance, incompetence, malfeasance and corruption. But so far no leader of this country has ever owned up to making mistakes; instead, the accusatory finger is always pointing somewhere else.

When people elect a government they expect that the leader and his team will be working to move the country forward. They want to be motivated to be the best they can be. The leader becomes the embodiment of the country's hopes and aspirations. The people expect that the leader will assemble the best team to tackle the job.

Admittedly, it is a stressful job. However, if the team is failing it is the leader's fault. He must then make the necessary changes and adjustments and be prepared to put aside partisan loyalties and choose the best people for the job. Ultimately, the success of the mission is more important than the popularity of the leader or the party. Leaders everywhere would do well to take a leaf out of Obama's book.

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