Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Governance – the real Trafigura lesson

After enduring Trafigura for the past two weeks, the question all Jamaicans must ask is how have we benefited? Have our leaders dealt with the issue in a manner that will significantly reduce the risk of it ever happening again, and more importantly than preserving a political party, will ensure that Jamaica maintains a good image.

The way we have handled the Trafigura issue brings to mind the 90/10 principle, written by well known author Stephen Covey. The 90/10 principle tells us that we cannot control 10% of things that happen to us, but the other 90% we can. The example he gives is as follows:

You are eating breakfast when your daughter knocks over a cup of coffee onto your shirt. You have no control over what just what happened. What happens next will be determined by how you react. You curse. You harshly scold your daughter for knocking the cup over. She breaks down in tears. After scolding her, you turn to your spouse and criticize her for placing the cup too close to the edge of the table. A short verbal battle follows. You storm upstairs and change your shirt. Back downstairs, you find your daughter has been too busy crying to finish breakfast and get ready for school. She misses the bus. Your spouse must leave immediately for work. You rush to the car and drive your daughter to school. Because you are late, you drive 40 miles an hour in a 30 mph speed limit. After a 15-minute delay, and receiving a speeding ticket, you arrive at school. Your daughter runs into the building without saying goodbye. You arrive at the office 20 minutes late and find you forgot your briefcase. Your day has started terribly. As it continues, it seems to get worse and worse. You look forward to coming home, When you arrive home, you find a small wedge in your relationship with your spouse and daughter.

What happened is completely determined by your reaction to the spilling of the coffee. Alternatively you could have said nicely to your daughter not to worry about it, go upstairs and change the shirt and everything would have worked out fine.

Political conduct
Similarly the Trafigura situation occurred. I am among the first to say that the accepting of even a donation from Trafigura is poor governance, and am pleased, though not surprised, by the comments attributed to Dr. Davies that accepting the donation was an error. But what followed the incident further compounds the poor state of governance. The reaction by the government, and the opposition to a lesser extent, showed us how sorry a situation Jamaica is in with respect to leadership.

The fact is that the display by both political parties is in breach of the political code of conduct as on both sides party paraphernalia is clearly hanging out even more than the flags along Mountain View a few weeks ago. This hanging of “party colours” climaxed for me on Tuesday night in Parliament when both garrisons were at each others throat in defense of their object of worship, the party. Clearly both the government and opposition forgot that they were supposed to be sitting in Parliament representing the interest of Jamaicans, as they unashamedly drew the line in the sand, daring each other to cross it while snarling and gnashing their teeth in defense of their colleagues in the pack.

And after over seven hours of debate, and electricity and media costs, can Jamaica truly say that we have got one step further to finding out what went wrong and learning from it so that it will never happen again. And can we say that we have taken appropriate action where it needs to be taken, to ensure that anyone involved in such an unethical breach does not purport to represent Jamaica again.

The opposition brought a motion against the government, but it must have failed, as it is uncertain whether the PNP members are even fully aware of all the circumstances. Still they continue to support the tribe and jeer the opposition, and many could find themselves apologizing as the Attorney General did. But in all fairness one could not have expected them to support the opposition even if their conscience would have moved them in that direction, because they may not even know what happened.

It is ironic though that even without the benefit of full knowledge, on either side, they all carry on like a set of school children, consistently talking when a member was on the floor. The prime minister commented on this, as clearly she was incensed by it, giving some amount of hope of it being arrested.

A different approach
Let us assume a different approach had been taken. The opposition leader came across the information and immediately brought it to the attention of the finance minister and prime minister, and alerted them to the fact that he would be bringing it to the attention of the political ombudsman and police commissioner if necessary. He then gives them two weeks to investigate the matter and make a public statement on it, after which he will be going public.

The prime minister investigates and finds that some members of government are implicated and takes appropriate action, and communicates it to the opposition leader. The opposition leader then goes public with it after agreeing what happened with the prime minister. He still calls for the resignation of the government and puts it to Jamaica that such an arrangement is scandalous. The prime minister makes the findings of the investigation public and the matter is discussed in parliament with all the facts and debated without heckling from both sides, so that Jamaicans are not treated to this sort of display by our leaders in the highest body of the land.

The result would be that the public is made aware of the facts, a proper investigation might have been done, the banking act would not have been breached, and the world would not have to sit by and watch the lack of substance of our leadership. The private sector leaders, who have spoken out may not be wondering if they are to consider further investments in Jamaica.

Wouldn’t this have been a better option for Jamaica, and it may not have been necessary for members to stand in Parliament and defend one unethical action by saying that the other side does it also. In all of this did anyone remember that it was more an explanation for Jamaica rather than trying to keep the other party quiet by accusing them of the same thing, or is Parliament a place for political “knights” to jostle. I guess a good defense of a crime is that everyone else does it. I am again heartened by the report that Dr. Davies said he would be fully investigating the income tax leak and taking action. A glimmer of hope.

What Trafigura has shown is not that our politicians are capable of errors. What it has shown is that Jamaica has a weakness in governance. After all is said and done it is the way that we deal with our problems that make us seem like a developed country with proper leadership, not the fact that we have issues.

This is no different from a company that is in crisis. It is the reaction to a crisis that determines if you continuously remain in crisis mode or are able to rise above the tide and swim to shore. That in my view is a mark of good leadership.

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