IT USED TO be the case that the value of leadership was intangible, even if palpable. We once judged a leader by their morality, their attention to the plight of those they serve and their legacy.
Nowadays, some would have us believe the value of the work of an MP can be boiled down to how many cars they are allowed tax-free.
But not in all quarters.
The Prime Minister’s capitulation to the calls – from this newspaper, from the Opposition Leader, from the population – for a cap on tax breaks for MPs was a demonstration of what leadership should be about.
Dr Rowley was not afraid to swallow his words and change course.
The Prime Minister not only listened, he adopted a careful approach: his policy announcement of a $350,000 cap on car tax breaks will not extend to judges, thereby treating the judiciary with an appropriate degree of circumspection.
If Dr Rowley changed his mind to his credit, opposition MP Dr Roodal Moonilal changed his to his detriment.
“I will give up my concessions,” Dr Moonilal said last week, “if Government demonstrates their commitment to tightening their belts.”
But after the PM’s announcement, the Oropouche East MP sang a different tune.
Dr Moonilal dismissed the cap as “mamaguy” and defended his own use of tax exemptions, at the same time saying: “Parliament is only my part-time occupation.”
In other words, MPs deserve their tax breaks come hell or high water.
It was a far cry from what Dr Moonilal said back on February 21, 2014, when he was the one in the driving seat.
“While we would be eager to see a reflection of our work in our terms and conditions of employment,” the then Government Whip said, “we were mindful of the general economic position of the country.”
Not only does Dr Moonilal’s position differ from that of his own earlier incarnation, it diverges markedly from the spirit of collaboration put forward only days ago by his leader, Mrs Persad-Bissessar.
Worse, to compare MPs with full-time executives in the private sector ignores the very “part-time” nature of the role noted by Dr Moonilal. It further ignores the fact that MPs have constituency offices and staff paid for by the treasury, as well as other concessions and allowances.
And to say, as Dr Moonilal and others have, that this is for the Salaries Review Commission (SRC) alone is to ignore the voluntary nature of this measure: MPs choose when, whether and how to take it up.
It also ignores the fact that it is for the government of the day to choose whether to accept SRC recommendations.
As Dr Moonilal said himself, on the night of February 21, 2014, tabling a motion modifying SRC recommendations: “The Cabinet reserves the right, yes or no, to accept such recommendations.”
How times have changed.