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Leadership replacement or succession planning?


I missed the announcement of the Cabinet reshuffle, which may well be a good thing, having not been within earshot of the gossip and not being on the political roundabouts on social media. It gives me wider room to comment on substance rather than form.

Quite naturally, one question which pops out automatically concerns the timing of the announcement. Just two weeks before, the country celebrated our 38th anniversary of Independence. It is usually a platform for grand announcements and, with the ‘goodies’ cupboard relatively bare these days, it could have been an opportunity to focus the national debate on leadership of the future. That did not happen until two weeks later; what new set of circumstances prompted the timing?

Yet, there is no rule which determines when to make such announcements. Our Constitution is such that it is the sole prerogative of the Prime Minister to choose his Cabinet and to change it, whether at whim and fancy or political convenience. There is no argument on those grounds. But it will be interesting to hear what the next party conference will say in terms of leadership succession, since the Prime Minister himself wrapped his reshuffle announcement in that garb. Will the conference take any decision or make any pronouncement on leadership?

Unfortunately the merits or demerits of the Cabinet reshuffle are drowned in the sea of comment about who will succeed Dr Ralph Gonsalves as leader of the governing ULP. Thus, the logical responsibility for Minister of Information at last going to Education Minister St Clair ‘Jimmy’ Prince is lost in the succession dialogue. The reality is that people are lining up to express views on which of the two, new Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves and Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar, would succeed the ULP leader. Interestingly, the talk and debate revolves around which of the two will be the next Prime Minister. Is this an acceptance of the ULP’s continuing governance or an affirmation of faith in PM Gonsalves stepping down before the next general elections? What if the election petitions filed by the Opposition should find favour with the court before the ULP transition is complete?

Prime Minister Gonsalves has long identified these two, Caesar and the younger Gonsalves, as the twin jewels in his political crown. Both have excellent credentials, but curiously, by virtue of Camillo Gonsalves being the son of the Prime Minister, the succession has become complicated. Gonsalves Jr has both the advantage of being the son of an outstanding leader, and the disadvantages arising from that parentage. It is a fact that son succeeding father raises the vexed question of dynasty, a situation with which very few of us can be happy.

But shouldn’t both young men be judged on their own merits? Should Dr Gonsalves’ son, in the minds of supporters, be given preference because of their allegiance to his father, or vice versa? Conversely, shouldn’t Saboto Caesar be judged on his own accomplishments?

More than the matter of Caesar against the Gonsalves clan, as some wrongly put it, one has to look at the matter as not just choosing a new political leader, of not simply stepping in the enormous shoes of Dr Ralph Gonsalves, but rather the much more important issue of succession planning itself. That, for our country, is the crux of the matter, for too many countries, businesses, organizations and institutions have suffered because of their failure to address the matter. To his eternal credit, Dr Gonsalves has pinned this banner on his masthead, not only in terms of his immediate successor, but encouragingly, that of leadership in the country as a whole, ranging from the political leadership to that in the Public Service.

I will address this matter, hopefully, next week in my succeeding column.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.