“Lisa, please come this way,” was the instruction they gave as the guards pulled a long red rope to barricade the perimeter. I was not allowed to cross. That was it. The final curtain call. I exited stage left as the bright lights heralded the new queen.
That was the evening in 1994 when I crowned Miss India AishwaryaRai as the new Miss World. I was no longer the reigning Miss World. The flashing lights were no longer on me. This time I was behind the red rope. How quickly the perks disappear once the title and position of prestige are taken by another.
None of us have lived usefully if we haven’t learned from life’s many and varied experiences. So, perhaps it was the sudden impact of this 20-year-old transition why I had no difficulty calling my permanent secretary on the night of February 25, 2016 and preparing her to accept my returning the Government vehicle, diplomatic passport and electronic pass assigned to the minister early the following morning. It was clear my Government lost the General Election that day and my ministerial title would be stripped to herald the crowing of a new “queen”.
The red rope was once again brought out for me to make another graceful exit to allow Jamaica to crown the Honourable Olivia “Babsy” Grange.
Sometimes the Red Rope, like a red card or red flag, signals immediate exit “Do not pass ‘go’, do not collect $200.00.” At other times it’s an alarm to warn us there’s danger up ahead. If WE don’t see that red flag, then we often make the wrong decision which has often proven the difference between life and death. This is what happened in New Orleans.
General Mathew Broderick, formerly head of USA’s Homeland Security Operations Center, was a man with great experience and fine credentials, having led the centre through many hurricanes. He’d been involved in operations centres in Vietnam and in other military engagements. His experiences taught him a fundamental principle: early reports are often wrong; wait for the ground truth.
On August 29, 2005 Katrina hit New Orleans. Broderick had received several reports of major flooding and levee breaches. However, he trusted the conflicting reports of The Army Corps of Engineers and CNN. Broderick’s years of experience told him that these contrary reports were the ground truth he was looking for. As the head of the centre he issued a statement that night proclaiming the levees were not breached. He promised a further assessment the next day. What he did not take into account with all his experience was one minor but important detail: New Orleans was below sea level. Katrina ravaged New Orleans that night, making the devastation to the city and people’s lives one of the worst disasters in human history.
In a recent study Harvard University identified three factors which cause leaders to make bad decisions by encouraging them to see false patterns. They call these: Red Flags.
(1) The presence of inappropriate self-interest. This often manifests itself in an improper personal weight we give to information resulting in us seeing only what we want to see,
(2) The presence of distorting attachments. It’s uncanny how attached we can become to people, places or practices especially in politics as people who may have helped out on campaigns are just not qualified to hold positions in your ministry after the successful campaign; and
(3) The presence of misleading memories. This is similar to (2) whereby sentimental memories relevant to past successes may appear translatable to your current responsibilities but, in reality, are illusions likely to lead you into significant error. Campaigns and executive office, as one Donald Trump is learning daily, involve different techniques, different skill sets all due to differentiating details.
In my relatively few years in politics, I notice a “money-mek-fi-spend” philosophy creeping into our governance structures that may have been relevant to campaign funds but is totally improper when you become a custodian of taxpayers’ resources. Perks and trappings of recently acquired offices ought to be sparingly used and never flaunted because, as sure as there is another election to come; as sure as the Miss World title changes annually; the time will come when you see that impassable red rope being drawn before your eyes and, if you’ve become too attached to form over substance, the transition will be difficult for you.
Over $440 million has been allocated to the Ministry of Culture this year by GOJ for celebration of Jamaica 55. The money has been correctly earmarked for the JCDC, given its mandate, as prescribed in The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission ACT 1968 to:
- promote cultural programmes and activities in communities throughout the island;
- encourage and organise each year, Independence anniversary celebrations and other celebrations marking occasions of national interest, etc.
A ‘Jamaica 55’ Secretariat was established by Minister Grange to plan and execute the festivities at the ministry. If the invitation to the launch at Vale Royal next week is anything to go by, this ‘milestone’ year of Independence will be a grand affair. But, I’m forced to ask “What is the role of the Jamaica 55 Secretariat?” and “from where does its authority to spend taxpayers’ funds (or even advise on its spending) arise?”
Are the Jamaica 55 funds being spent with a painstaking adherence to the Government Procurement Rules? …what’s the purpose of a “consultant” when the JCDC has a board with a clear statutory remit? Is 55 a significant milestone? And will we have a Jamaica 56 Secretariat?
I see carelessness in the approach to trappings of office everywhere. Entourages to every event, especially Olympics, World Champs and Boys’ and Girls’ Champs, are bursting the bag of cash needed to support them while at the same time they cut the CHASE fund budget by $122 million.
Minister Grange and the Government will soon realize that they must recoil from their habits of inappropriate self-interest, distorted attachments and misleading memories when taking decisions on our behalf. They are extracting “the last pound of flesh” from the pockets of most, if not all Jamaicans, who are not content to attend ad hoc Independence activities intended to make them feel good when they can’t pay their child’s “free school fee” shortly thereafter.
The sirens are loud, there is danger up ahead! The Jamaican public has hoisted the Red Flag. Heed the warning.