By Oliver Mills
I recently watched a movie on Julius Caesar, titled, ‘Rome.’ In one scene, Caesar was riding triumphantly in his chariot, having defeated his enemies in battle. But in the chariot, was another figure, who whispered in his ear, “Remember, you are not a God,” as the crowd chanted. This is important, since Caesar’s armies had conquered a number of countries, and as it was said Rome ruled the world. What the figure in the chariot was telling him was that he should not allow power to get to his head, and change the way he thought and ruled.
Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada and an MA from the University of London. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
This is relevant to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), in that we have had a number of elections over the years, and our heads of government, even many of our ministers of government forgot who they were and allowed power to go to their heads. In one instance, one of our heads of government was passing through one of our airports, along with his deputy. As he passed by one of our distinguished citizens, he put his chin in the clouds without acknowledgement, and gazed straight ahead. His deputy, however, said a pleasant hello to this ignored person. Was this the politics of power?
In another episode, an important matter was about to be discussed in a meeting at one of the ministries of government. All who were present were professionals in the area, except the head of government. But seconds before the meeting began, the maximum political leader did not want the senior officer in the meeting to attend. After being convinced that he should, he agreed, but then said that the senior officer should not make any contribution to the meeting, even though the senior officer had all of the required information. Did the maximum political leader feel he would be shown up? Did he feel he would be upstaged? Did he have an unfounded fear of the senior professional? Or did he feel that most of the others were his supporters, and therefore posed no threat to his dominance and he was therefore safe without the presence and contribution of the senior officer? Is this the politics of power in action however odd?
Here, we have instances of politics taking precedence over professionalism. Power politics being used to stage a particular result, although the country would be the casualty. With our recent elections, and the coming into power of a new government, we have to ensure that power politics, and political authority do not take the place of reason, good judgment, and professionalism. In our political history, we have heard of instances of political leaders, both heads of government and ministers, taking decisions, or overriding them, either to suit a narrow constituency, or to show they had the power to act in particular ways. This has been seen in politically influenced transfers, in decisions about who should get what resources, and what kind and quality of benefits. The power of politics at work?
In other situations, we have seen where elected politicians, with no knowledge of a particular area, giving stern advice on what should be done. A minister of health suddenly becomes an expert on such matters. A minister of education miraculously becomes highly competent to make decisions, and take action in this area. This also happens in higher areas of the bureaucracy. It hampers the proper execution of policy, and contributes to unintended results. Where the bureaucracy is concerned, this is another form of political power. It is the power to influence through authority.
The politics of power is also seen where, although a group of professionals may agree on how an issue should be handled, the minute the politician appears in the room, there is instant agreement with his position. This is power through political presence. And it is dangerous. In the bureaucracy as well, there is playing up to the Arawak chief to gain favour, or to show affinity with his or her position with the hope of being accepted among the disciples. This is position power.
With our recent elections behind us, our new government has the moral and ethical responsibility to use power and influence as a force for good. This power can be reflected in a deeper respect for democracy, and our democratic institutions. For example, democracy has to do with rule following. When this is observed, good governance results, a higher trust develops between government and people, and the international community shows respect, and most importantly interest in wanting to do business with us. So adhering to the codes of democracy pays off in an ethical way, and in a way that makes successful and efficient government possible.
Our new government must also demonstrate the power of persuasion through how it communicates with the people. There must not only be transparency in governance, but communication should be clear, direct, and honest. This ensures that the public gets the message fully, and that it is also respected. They are also gently persuaded that a course of action is necessary, and why, and also what would result, and would therefore feel they are an integral part in making it happen. The politics of power is therefore connected to the politics of communication and persuasion.
Our new government must also demonstrate power, through character. Character is an important ingredient of personality, and good breeding. It has to do with keeping promises, being believed, doing the right thing, and doing things right. It gives others confidence in you because of the actions you take, and further brings commitment and support. Character, through political action must therefore be a cardinal virtue of our new government. It must do what it says it would, it must be credible, and do what is just, right and good. It should also treat everyone with the same level of respect. With these values, scandals would be avoided, and decency and honour will prevail. This is positive political power.
Most importantly, the new government must politically educate the people. Show what is possible, and what takes more time. Explain their role in good governance, and how they could help to shape policies to their benefit, and the benefit of the country. The people must also realise through political education, how the institutions of government work, and how they could refine them, and transform them, when the way they operate is overtaken by changing times and conditions. This is power through education and knowledge.
With people power they would also recognise they are the real force. They are the government. Realising this, they must know they should not pressure the government, and the institutions of power to do things that are unholy. And that could have unintended consequences for them and the country. Our people must not have the mentality that they have put the government there, and therefore it must do what they want, even if what they want does not pass the ethics test. We should therefore be reasonable, rational, recognise limits, and act with decency. This is the politics of power by the people, which is central to democratic practice. And the people who will constitute our government should never think of themselves as political gods, despite temptation.