The more I reflect on the Prime Minister’s address to the nation last Thursday on the state of the economy, the more I remain convinced that she is at the top of her game and a leader for these times.
I am not unmindful of the usual chorus that her speech lacked specificity, realism, and the positivity expressed was inconsistent with the perceived requirements of painful adjustments.
These comments suggest that our validating elites may be out of touch with the feminine leadership style and many of them appear inextricably trapped in an outdated “macho” style hierarchical, top-down, messianic leadership approach where the leader must profess, most times incorrectly, to know all, to appear to have all the answers and to pontificate even when all the variables that affect a decision are not known.
It is manifestly clear that no one knows where energy prices will be tomorrow, far less next week. Any detailed pronouncements of adjustments will at worst be entirely irrelevant next month and at best be a prognosis based on inadequate or ever changing information. What the PM wisely did was to identify and quantify the challenge, indicate clearly her priorities which in this case are the social safety net, job security and areas such as health, education and infrastructural improvements and lastly to point out in conceptual terms with examples how she will address the shortfall.
That was all that was required in the circumstances. Any messianic pronouncements would have been injudicious and unnecessary.
Her address to the nation was not, and never could be, another budget speech with details and specificities about revenues and expenditures. If she did that, she would have fallen into the trap of having to give a revised budget address every Thursday as the vagaries and unpredictable trends of the global energy markets impacted on revenues. It must be noted here that there is even no consensus on whether the changes in prices are structural or cyclical far less on where they will be next month.
The PM wisely, like a mother, sought to reassure her family that she understood the nature of the crisis, the adjustments required, the guiding philosophy which would inform the adjustment process, who will not bear them and an indication of how the shortfall will be met like IPO offerings, reduced fuel subsidies, elimination of inefficiencies in the system and cuts in expenditures in government departments. Who is to say there cannot be more IPOs if circumstances warrant them? The framework has been set.
Having provided the conceptual guidance and framework, it was left to the various ministers to implement the adjustments. That is 21st century leadership. Bill Gates never provides all the answers. He identifies the vision. He selects quality employees to carry our his vision. He empowers them and then leaves them alone.
It was no surprise therefore that the PM announced on Saturday in her address to the Seventh Day Adventist community that her ministers will, in the not too distant future provide specific details of the adjustments.
Her approach has all the hallmarks of a 21st century, consensual, Bill Gates leadership-style. Like Gates, our PM is a transformative rather than a transactional leader.
It is clear the Opposition does not have a clue of its role in a 21st century democracy. Its role is not merely to criticise but more so to provide an alternative vision. The PM has outlined hers. I am still not clear on Dr Rowley’s alternative vision. Does he agree on the revised energy prices on which the PM’s assumptions were based? Is he with her on the projected shortfall? What superior proposals would he have come up with? Is he still committed to the Rapid Rail project which would cost the country upwards of $40 billion?
It cannot be, as Colm Imbert said, that the opposition is not the government and therefore has no requirement to suggest alternative policies. That is a People’s National Movement (PNM) cop-out.
Once again, we are seeing the PNM at its game which is to criticise, shout corruption to the highest heavens and hope the population will not notice that they have no plans to take us forward. My hope is that they will do the hard work of thinking, planning and coming up with ideas. The population cannot be hoodwinked anymore. They have travelled. They are more educated. They know when something important is missing.
This election is about a choice between two leaders, two visions, two teams, two sets of policies for taking the country forward. The PNM in my view and as indicated in this economic adjustment debate, needs to step up to the plate.
The sooner the better.