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Leadership and governance towards a better society

Howard Mitchell

Monday, November 26, 2018

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The following is a lightly edited version of the keynote address by Howard Mitchell, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, at the launch of Dr Canute Thompson's latest book, Reflections on Leadership and Governance in Jamaica: Towards a Better Society, held at the Regional Headquarters of The University of the West Indies on Wednesday, November 21, 2018:

I am confidently asserting that Jamaica has achieved momentous milestones of economic reform and fiscal restructuring. I stand ready to declare, without hyperbole, that we have laid a foundation for economic recovery the like of which has not been seen in modern times. We will be written into textbooks of economic history and held up as a standard of fiscal determination and discipline, and if we continue on this path money will run like a mighty river and the song of prosperity will, like the voice of the turtle dove, be celebrated in the Songs of Solomon and heard throughout the land!

We must all work to this objective, and all of us must share in it!

At the same time, however, it has become universally recognised that genuine national growth and development must be managed and directed, and in order to be sustainable must be supported and sustained by the majority of the nation.

History is replete with examples of “Dutch Disease”, where unaccustomed wealth and revenue become enemies of growth and development, and corruption and incompetence drag progress into the arms of stagnation and decline.

Successful investors in the private sector look closely at a company's governance and its systems for accountability to its stakeholders and transparency in its dealings because these are strong indicators of its potential for long-term profitability and success. Increasingly, transparency, accountability, and morality are becoming hallmarks of success in business; and, ethics and corporate social responsibility are ranking equally in the curricula of universities with accounting and financial courses.

It is accepted by hard-nosed business people in the private sector that efficiency and profit follow strong decisive leadership and predictable, fair and open dealings — the collapse of Enron and the scandals in the global financial sector as well as the interdiction of Carlos Ghosn of Nissan [last week] are hard evidence of the trend away from shadowy boardroom dealings and grey market accounting practices. What's more, the prevalence of anti-money laundering and anti-tax evasion statutes and treaties are evidence of a global surge away from convenient blindness to corrupt State and multinational corporation conspiracies to a new era of equity and responsibility. And, finally, the change in how we interpret democracy and the broadening of participation of the citizen in the affairs of the State that governs us all point conclusively towards a change in how we lead and how we manage our affairs.

And this is why this book is so important!

Its author has opened the closet in which we store our nasty little transactions that all of us know about but most of us want to pretend are not there. He has opened the door just a little by raising important questions about issues that we like to sweep under the carpet or throw into the back of the national secrets closet to lie there festering and stinking like old sneakers. The articles and sections of the book fearlessly expose very real events and activities and place them squarely within the circle of light made by accepted standards of ethics, accountability and leadership for our examination.

The themes of this book are ones which more of us are beginning to examine and which more of us need to discuss and demand for their application in public life. In this respect the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica has been preaching governance for over a decade and we have seen results — not as much as we would like, but we have made a mark.

The people of this wonderful nation are beginning to realise, I believe, that's if we settle for less that what we will get. We must elect people to lead us, not rule us. In matters of national substance, inclusiveness, accountability, transparency, and mindfulness of the long-term interest of our country must be supreme over tribalism and cronyism, and finally that corruption and indiscipline are pathways and gateways to violent crime and State failure.

This is the message that Dr Thompson is preaching in the wilderness of a culture that owes much to the patterns of slavery and colonialism that we have adapted to so well. We need to move these thoughts to the centre of our attention and, as we carry forward our fiscal and structural reforms, we all — private sector, academia, church, State, and civil society in general -- need to work to formulate a body of rules, protocols, principles, and behaviours that will over time create a culture that restrains indiscipline and expels corruption because of their inherent inefficiency and uselessness in the struggle for our nation's success against tremendous odds.

In the words of Professor Patrice Lumumba, “We must form conspiracies against State corruption and the unethical and unprincipled behaviours of our individual politicians of whatever party.”

We must honour and recognise and congratulate straight dealings and transparent behaviour and reject the specious and disingenuous protestations of politicians generally, and ministers of government in particular, who take the oath of office, ignore principles of governance, appoint incompetent and corrupt persons to statutory boards, dictate how policy is to be implemented, and who is to be hired to implement it and then plead lack of responsibility and ignorance of events when things go inevitably wrong.

The subject of governance must be a mandatory exercise for aspiring politicians as much as it is becoming a requirement for persons who operate in the space of publicly listed companies. They all have a fiduciary responsibility for the efficient stewardship of assets. In the case of politicians, the duty of care is higher, in addition to being caretakers of Jamaica's physical assets, and they are custodians of our hopes, dreams, and the aspirations and plans for Jamaicans yet unborn. The squandering of those hopes and dreams over the past 56 years is a dark indictment on our political class that will take years of correction to erase.

Jamaica is poor because our leaders have chosen the path of poverty. We are poor because we have allowed and cooperated with them in keeping us poor. In 1972 our gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was US$5,300; however, in 2017 our GDP per capita was US$4,798.

So before we bruise our hands applauding ourselves, we need to understand that the road is long and we are just beginning. We need to understand that poor governance means poverty, and the gains that we have made over the past 10 years are due to improvements in governance, and in discipline and accountability in our fiscal management. It's not magic; it's a formula!

And so I congratulate Dr Canute Thompson on his fearless excursion in bringing these issues and these principles to our attention. It is my hope that we will see more of him in print, and in media generally, and that his sterling work will encourage the governed to call for the right thing to be done, and for our governors to do the right thing without it being called for.

Our responsibility as citizens goes much further than merely to exercise our right to vote. We are called upon as citizens of the greatest little country in the world to assist our leaders to lead in the right way. Dr Thompson's incisive and profound commentaries are of significant value in helping us to do our duty and I commend his efforts to the general public and encourage that we all read this publication.

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