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IN LEADERSHIP, PRESENCE AND WORDS MATTER

Published: 
Sunday, June 25, 2017

When the flashing blue lights, countless meetings and all the pomp and ceremony is over, the legacy of being a leader is defined by just a few moments frozen in time and burned into the memory of the population.

For ANR Robinson, that moment was in the Red House during the attempted coup when he refused to surrender and instead told the Defence Force to “attack with full force.”

It was a turning point in the insurrection which, in the end, failed.

For Basdeo Panday, his moment would also be linked to the Jamaat al Muslimeen, when during a showdown between the Government and the Muslim organisation, Panday would famously tell Yasin Abu Bakr that there was only one Prime Minister in T&T and then instructed the army to take back the section of state land that they were encroaching on.

In 1962, during his Independence message, Dr Eric Williams defined the nation by saying: “There can be no Mother India, for those whose ancestors came from India, there can be no Mother Africa, for those of African origin, and there can be no Mother Syria or no Mother Lebanon. A nation, like an individual, can have only one mother.

“The only mother we recognise is Mother T&T and mother cannot discriminate between her children.”

In leadership, presence and words matter. It is a leader’s presence and statements that the people turn to in times of uncertainty and despair.

This is not a paradigm exclusively to the shores of T&T. For many leaders, times of disaster provide history-defining moments.

The legacy of George Bush was tarnished by his absence and disconnect in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when he was flown over New Orleans to take a look at the devastation instead of doing an on-the-ground inspection.

In the UK, just last week, Theresa May was faced with accusations that she lacked compassion because she had failed to meet with victims on her first visit to Grenfell Tower after the fire.

Those two scenarios lead me to think that our Prime Minister has fallen into the same hole like George Bush and Theresa May in his slow-to-action response to tropical strom Bret.

In less than an hour after the tropical storm warning was lifted on Tuesday morning, one could see the response by many elected MPs, councillors and aldermen on the ground, trying to assist with whatever little they could.

Littered on social media were photos of Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in rubber boots, surrounded by flood waters doing the same as well as meeting with the chairmen of southern regional corporations, and with MP Roodal Moonilal at her side.

But where was the Prime Minister?

Dr Rowley’s promise to “never put his behind” in one of the national security helicopters has now come back to haunt him.

The 15-minute helicopter ride from Tobago to Piarco would have given him the opportunity to see the devastation from the air on Tuesday morning and also would have put him front and centre with the clean-up and recovery effort on the ground, which in his absence was left to the real heroes of tropical storm Bret—the mostly ignored local government councillors on both sides of the political divide and the Opposition MPs.

It would take Rowley almost 48 hours to finally make an appearance, and when he did, his words did little to bring comfort to the people whose lives were literally under water.

When asked about his whereabouts since the storm, he would respond by telling the journalist that “you are sounding like my wife” and “I am here now.”

These words lack compassion needed by those looking for his leadership.

While the argument can be made that unlike the issues faced by both George Bush and Theresa May were different since in T&T there was no mass loss of life, the storm still delivered a harsh confirmation to a sentiment being expressed by many, that the Prime Minister is clearly disconnected from the realities of life faced by the citizens of this country.

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