They say never judge a person until you walk a mile in that person’s shoes. But in Trinidad and Tobago few people seem to care about that and everybody is an expert on how to run a political party and a government.
And everybody, it seems, has a negative opinion about politicians or public officials without ever considering the circumstances that guide the person’s actions. If you listen to what passes as commentary on national radio you would wonder how a country that boasts of a 97 per cent literacy level can generate such illiterate and ill-informed talk.
Take the new national pastime – Kamla bashing.
I keep hearing people criticising the lady based on a lot of the propaganda that opposition parties and some media are circulating about her. Yet when you confront these people they will insist that what they are saying is true without offering any credible supporting data other than the misinformation circulating in the public domain.
I have asked many ‘critics’ if they know the lady, whether they know Jack Warner or Keith Rowley or Anand Ramlogan, Suruj Rambachan, Roodal Moonilal and many of the other politicians about whom they have such strong opinions. And they almost always answer that they don’t, yet quickly add that what they say about them is true.
Well I think I can comment about them because I have known many of them for several years and worked closely with some of them including the Prime Minister, Dr. Moonilal, Dr Rambachan, Anand and Jack. And I have known Dr Rowley since he was a seismologist working at the University of the West.
What I can tell you about all of them is that they have a genuine desire to serve the country and some of them have a better than average track record of doing it right.
So when I hear people paint everyone with the corruption brush I wonder why nobody can present the evidence. Sure you hear all manner of allegations but an allegation is often so vague that there is nothing for the police to act upon so we continue to hear the slander and the misinformation, which become ‘facts’ in our rumour mongering society.
And this brings me to walking that mile in the shoes.
It seems that many people are of the view that being the Prime Minister is a walk in the park, a glamorous job where you just ride around in PM1 and give speeches that someone else writes, kiss babies and make pledges.
Well I am sorry to disappoint you but there is much more to the job and it starts with leadership and also involves 20 hour days without a vacation to lie on the beach and put the world behind you. There are no weekends offs.
The job of the Prime Minister is a full time one and the financial reward is less that what most mid-level private sector managers make. So why do it? I have worked closely with Kamla for 15 years and I could tell you why she does it. She cares about people. She is compassionate and caring, has always cared about people and that is what guides her in this stressful, thankless job she has undertaken.
Kamla is wide awake at three and four in the working for the people. There is no camera watching to provide a photo-op. And if she has an issue that needs the input from one of her advisers or ministers, she is going to call that person at four in the morning and get answers.
But that is only one aspect of her daily routine. She is the leader of government, she is the MP for Siparia, she is in charge of her party and is also the leader of the People’s Partnership – four jobs that you can easily identify. She must do all four, switching between government and party, attending social functions and government and party events. She does it all and remains focused on serving her country.
Kamla’s career began before some of her critics were born yet they are ready and willing to say some of the most vile and slanderous things about the woman who redfined our politics and changed the country for the better.
She won the leadership of her party, the United National Congress (UNC), with a commanding majority against its founding leader but accepted the change with humility and used it an an opportunity to unite the party and the country in a way that few thought possible and no one ever did.
That spirit of dialogue and compromise led to the greatest test of participatory democracy this country has ever know – the formation of the People’s Partnership.
It included the widest cross section of the national community, banishing race, social standing and geography to create a coalition of interests representing Trinidad and Tobago. People who could never get close to government are now a part of the decision making process because Kamla discarded the idea of a single hegemonic party and embraced unity and diversity and made them an integral part of her political life.
When Kamla and her colleagues won a landslide in 2010 with the largest block of votes ever for a political movement, she could have governed without her coalition partners since her UNC had a clear majority, but she was determined to keep her pledge to the people and involve everyone.
She discarded the maximum leadership model for a more practical and humane approach to leadership and governance. Her election manifesto became state policy with a focus on dealing with poverty eradication, national security and rural neglect, which was meant to correct the developmental imbalance that the country experienced during the Manning years from 1991-1995 and again from 2001 to 2010.
Kamla’s model did not see race in politics. For her hunger had no ethnicity and poverty had no religion. She worked hard on behalf of the people and stayed firm to her belief that the UNC must remain UNC and that other members of her coalition must also keep their identities. That way, through discussion involving a diversity of views and political positions, she was able to generate the type of debate necessary to work on behalf of the people.
Sure she made some mistakes as she herself has readily admitted. But she has also demonstrated that when she does, she can correct the problem and move on. She was decisive and surgical when she had to remove certain members of her cabinet and when she was wrong she was the first to admit it.
Kamla has demonstrated that she doesn’t need props to guide her. She knows how to listen, analyse and then decide. She consults members of her inner cabinet and considers their opinions before making decisions; she consults her coalition partners, principal stakeholders and the people in order to get the clearest possible view of a situation before she takes action.
Kamla has already left a legacy that is a credit to her personal style and her love for people and country. For her, leadership is not about muscle, but about getting along with people.
It is a tribute to her leadership that she has done what no other leader of T&T even tried to do – that is to keep such a diverse group of political leaders together, to argue and discuss with them issues of politics and governance while also maintaining the identity of her own party and living true to its ideals of social justice, freedom and equality.
Kamla’s mission has always been to create a just society in which everyone would be equal and have access to every opportunity to blossom and grow. That is why she is so focused on education and technology, housing and social welfare, health and wellness, rural development, the creation of jobs and developing and maintaining a buoyant economy.
But there is a saying that the person who leads the orchestra must turn her back to the crowd.
And perhaps that is where she might have lost the connection with the people. She has admitted it and is now determined to get back to the people, going as far as promising legislation to fire any MP who fails in her/his duties and responsibilities.
So those who are eager to say Kamla has done nothing for the people, please take a drive throughout this country and you would discover the lie. To those who talk about corruption, do the math and see how many projects have been done in record time and below the projected cost. And those who talk of leadership, ask yourself how well you would manage if you had to spend a day as Prime Minister and walk a mile in her shoes.
Jai Parasram – 03 November 2013