There is a saying that a cynical old political mentor quoted to me once: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
He was, of course, speaking from experience in his own political life. He had supported a friend who was running for office in a political party in which my mentor was at that time a very senior office-holder.
After the young man won his seat, within a year he supported a group opposing his mentor, who was then voted out of office in an internal election.
It doesn’t matter which organisation it was. I have learned that, as Mr Panday said: “Politics has a morality of its own.” They all do it...It may be based on the lust for power, or on a desire for status and public acclamation. It may be based on a genuine belief that one can and will actually correct social wrongs. It may be a lust for money and survival in people with no other marketable skills. It may arise from a determination, once in power, never, ever again to lose that position.
It is an equally familiar phenomenon outside politics, especially in NGOs aligned to religious bodies. Spiritual power is as much of an addiction as is political or financial power.
It is discernible in corporate politics. And as one man said to me in a heated debate two decades ago about gender disparities: “We men have power in this world, and we are not going to just hand it over to women. You will have to fight for it!”
He was not being cruel, or disputative. He was just “telling it like it is,” sharing his perception of reality. The advice at that time commonly given to women in business schools was that they would have to work twice as hard and be twice as good as a male counterpart to get half as far. It was not given as a challenge, but as a fact of life, and women took it to heart and worked. As a result, it is no longer unusual to see women in corporate executive positions.
People once in power truly become addicted to its status and aura.
This was writ large for the country last week in the midst of the international pandemic panic over the distribution of vaccines that the WHO said were effective against the symptoms of the virus, which were received by countries in the Caribbean other than TT. It seems we had not put in advance orders for any.
Apparently, if you can believe press reports, TT had contributed millions to the joint research efforts, I guess assuming that grateful manufacturers would reward us by giving us preference in allocating vaccines. But that is not how the world works. You have to get it in writing.
So when Ansa McAl, a group of companies so concerned about employee welfare that it never laid off a single employee when the shutdown came a year ago, offered to source vaccines for its employees and at the same time for TT, our government apparently felt diminished by being shown up as seriously less effective than the private sector. And?
Ansa McAl is a hugely effective business organisation. It employs world-sourcing procurement specialists and displays the level of efficiency that none of our state enterprises has. In private enterprise, corruption at the level that has been revealed at WASA would have been wiped out by shareholders after the first audit. Even though some WASA departments such as truck-borne delivery are now far more efficient than pipe-borne delivery was when the PWC report was written, it will take years for the damage done by a political morality of managerial nepotism to be overcome, if it ever will.
At independence, our economy was equal to that of resource-poor Singapore, where politics was governed by sometimes overly strict ethics. Look where they are now. Does anyone ever ask why?
During the catfight in the Senate last week when the Opposition raised a no-confidence motion against Colm Imbert, that minister pointed to the growth in the stabilisation fund as proof of his good governance. He pointed to the billions removed from what had been a positive balance in the previous government’s current account when it demitted power in 2015 to billions in the red when he took over in 2020 as evidence that the Opposition, during its turn in power, had overspent.
That is a familiar old method wherein you refute their argument on unrelated premises. So they are both right and both wrong at the same time, as any UWI student who remembers Thouless’s book on Straight and Crooked Thinking would recognise at once.
There are three government funds: the Treasury, the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund and the current account held by Central Bank. Claiming only one in three as successfully managed is actually saying, as the whole country knows, that two were not, so we are in serious trouble and have been for the decade in which a private-sector company grew into a multinational conglomerate.
To decry someone else because they may have the ability to solve problems that you cannot, and to use your authority to block them from trying is to punish them for their good deeds. actual or intended.
Claiming that Ansa McAl’s offer was a self-serving ruse to make money is more than the pot calling the kettle black. It was an attempt to punish a genuine patriotic offer now joined by other companies. It showed resentment of abilities that other sectors or people can bring to the table.
Singapore brings them to the table. We prevent them from threatening to show us up.
It is curious that powerful people in our government sometimes seem to regard the private sector as enemies rather than as fellow Trinis. Fortunately, somebody up there changed that dialogue to one of co-operation.