I really worried about the image of female leadership in this place you know.
Last week Saturday, on its premium news page, page 3, the Trinidad Guardian announced a special in-depth interview from a former government minister. Even though we swimming in former government ministers after just 2.5 years of The PPs term in office – Sandy, Cornelis-Baptiste, Ramgoolam, King, Partap, Volney – female instinct told me that the interview had to be with Verna St Rose Greaves. Here was a chance for the public to get eye witness accounts of the inner workings of the Cabinet on issues like the SoE, the Cheryl Miller Affair and even the gender policy that is quietly making its way through Parliament. Though Greaves’s term in office lasted just shy of a year, she is known to be bold and outspoken. Finally, clarity.
Instead what we got sounded like the script to a Lifetime Movie. A female PM surrounded by oppressive men, with both mental and physical health problems fighting to be the leader we all hopes she can be. The victim narrative is back!
Rumors of the PMs alcohol problem are probably greatly exaggerated, but the public may never know because no one has ever commented on it authoritatively. It remains in the realm of gossip and conjecture. Her weaknesses as a leader however are played out in the public sphere daily. Greaves took the opportunity this weekend to link the two, without any solid evidence. It was my deepest hope that St Rose Greaves’ lengthy interview would shed light on these things. Only to read for two days a column that dwelt firmly in the realm of hearsay and conjecture. Not even fully fleshed out anecdotes about instances during her tenure as the Gender Minister. Instead what we get only adds fuel to the rumour mill.
A major feature of this PMs tenure is a lack of personal responsibility and accountability. Any mistakes and missteps are always the fault of the overwhelmingly male Cabinet around her. If the public is lied to or there is evidence of corruption or nepotism these actions are cleverly re-worded to be misspeaks, missteps and good family values.
The column starts melodramatically, ” There are elements within the Cabinet of the People’s Partnership Government that are trying to engineer a national crisis in order to sideline Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and ‘slip in and do what they want’.”
So, if Kamla wasn’t there as PM, things would be worse? She is the only thing saving us from chaos? Say it ain’t so! The entire time I thought Persad-Bissessar’s leadership was part of the problem, it is actually the solution to our issues? In that one opening sentence we are once again fed the image of a beleaguered Prime Minister. Poor Kamla. Surrounded by sinister people who only want to do her in. Mind you, this is a Cabinet that from all appearances the Prime Minister chose. And if Greaves is suggesting that Persad-Bissessar didn’t chose her Cabinet, then she should come out and tell the public who are the people calling the shots behind the scenes. But bandying about words like “elements within the Cabinet” without supporting evidence really should remain on the pages of Tom Clancy’s novels.
Later on in the interview, Greaves calls for the PM to “stand up and step up”, another suggestion that Persad- Bissessar is weak willed and not doing her job. When Greaves is asked who is in charge she responds, ” It depends on what is being discussed….At any time it’s a group of people who is in charge.” No names. Nothing. So the myth of the secret, shadow cabal persists. Then Greaves goes on to say that the PM is not charge and fearful, but fearful of whom or what, Greaves cannot say. So, then you ask yourself after reading the entire Sunday column, if you don’t know, why exactly are you repeating mere conjecture? To what end?
Greaves refers to the uproar over Vidwattie Newton as, ” all the drama about money…” Perhaps conveniently forgetting that the money in question was State funds and that no one objected to Ms Newton accompanying her sister whenever she travelled, we objected to it being done at state expense, especially since a travel companion isn’t covered by the PMs budget. In overlooking this crucial fact, Greaves belittles the public’s very real concerns about state nepotism.
She then discusses the flawed processes in Cabinet. The fact that no minutes are taken and the general lack of transparency even within the structure of the Cabinet. Again, Greaves does not speak as if Persad-Bissessar is actually culpable here. Instead the talk is about collective responsibility.
Imagine the head of the Cabinet and Government is not ultimately responsible for the flawed processes within it? Greaves is quick to point out that the PM must have strengths and skills, because she has survived in the very masculine world of politics for so long. Again a quiet plug for the poor beleaguered female unable to perform because she is surrounded by men.
Ironically, by the second part of the interview St Rose Greaves is saying that it is time to move beyond gossip and whispers about the PMs and treat with it. What the “it” is she never specifies. and the article heads right back down conjecture cul-de-sac.
Hundreds of words later we know that there is a conspiracy against the PM within her own government…but we don’t know who the conspirators are. The PM hasn’t been able to lead her government because of these ‘elements’; however she has great people skills…but has not been given the chance to lead. Nepotism really isn’t that big a deal when compared to having family around. And if the PM would only give St Rose Greaves a chance, she could help her.
The entire 2-day column becomes a study in weak female leadership using the same shadowy rumors and scandals already in the public’s consciousness to explain, and even justify, why Persad-Bissessar’s tenure has been so spectacularly poor. And from a minster who was present for a year and could easily name names and describe events we instead get the subtle message that it is a shadowy cabal, no doubt male, coupled with frail health won’t let the PM run her government as she sees fit. If what Greaves says is true, then Persad- Bissessar should step down. If what Greaves says is true, female leadership is down for the count.
I can say this though, the Cheryl Miller conspiracy might be a trilogy!