by Capil Bissoon
It was former prime minister Patrick Manning who said all that was needed for success in a ministerial position was a “level head and common sense”.
While some may debate Mr Manning’s assessment of the qualifications needed for the job, yet he was, given his vast experience in politics and in governance, alerting us to the need for political office holders to exercise sound and mature judgment. For him this characteristic is an important prerequisite for success in leadership positions, including ministerial ones in the country.
Mr Manning’s comments provide a perspective to assess the actions of Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. The country has witnessed his most recent behaviour in respect of his winning on a 17-year-old in a Carnival band in San Fernando.
Some have argued there is nothing wrong with anyone wining on a female during Carnival since there is no law banning such actions. Other Rowley supporters have said there was nothing immoral in his actions since morality is not absolute but is relative to time, place and circumstance. Carnival provided the People’s National Movement leader with the contextual cover to absolve himself from any moral responsibilities in the matter.
Even if we accept those arguments, there remains the nagging question of Dr Rowley’s judgment. Did he exercise the best judgment having regard to all the circumstances? He must know that general election is just months away and as an aspiring leader, a certain circumspection was required from him.
He should have considered that a significant segment of the population still adheres to an absolutist position on the sanctity of marriage and the inappropriateness of certain behaviours at Carnival time and many of them will be voting in the upcoming election. He should have considered statements he and his party made about the appropriateness of the Prime Minister’s behaviour when she was photographed dancing, albeit elegantly, with the Jamaican prime minister at an official function.
The fact that there was a huge difference in age between himself and the young lady in question ought to have crossed the mind of a mature, educated man aspiring to lead the country.
If after taking into consideration all these concerns, Dr Rowley saw it fit to wine on the young lady, then I must question his judgment.
Dr Rowley wants us to believe he is an upright and forthright leader. But here again I question his judgment. It was Dr Rowley who raised an alarm about corruption taking place at UDeCOTT. However, he remained silent for five years as a senior Cabinet minister and only spoke up when he was fired. Not a word from him while he enjoyed the perks of office.
What about his incessant attacks on his leader, which drove Patrick Manning to accuse him of being a raging bull.
Dr Rowley must have known he was breaking a sacred tenet of his party by washing PNM’s dirty linen in public. His actions laid the foundation for a new culture in the PNM so it is now okay to vent in public. Today we have Louis Lee Sing, Barry Garcia and others taking on the PNM hierarchy in public. That’s a consequence of Dr Rowley’s judgment and past actions. Tomorrow it could be Penny, Manning and others. That new culture Dr Rowley created may indeed turn around to haunt him.
Did he exercise the best judgment by bringing allegations on emailgate to Parliament without proper checking? Did he use the best possible judgment by holding on to this information for six months even though a journalist’s life was allegedly threatened?
If Google says that the emails were bogus then Dr Rowley has no other option but to resign. PNM’s deputy political leader and Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Orville London is on record as saying if the emailgate documents are false then Dr Rowley must resign.
What about his secret meeting with the chairman of the Integrity Commission on a matter in which he was a party? It is almost like me having a secret meeting with a judge who has to adjudicate in a matter in which I am involved.
Did Dr Rowley exercise good judgment by using the same contractor on his wife’s housing project when that contractor was doing work for his ministry?
What about his withholding information on David West?
While some argue he did not have a legal obligation to so do, he had a moral responsibility to speak the whole truth.
When I consider all these issues, the more I look at Dr Rowley, the more I see someone who has made it a habit of exercising very poor judgment.