April 20, 2004
A well-known Caribbean commentator who worked for some time as a consultant to a government in Africa and gained a clear insight into the exigencies of power in a poor, developing country later told his colleagues that he had obtained a better understanding of how difficult it can be to get things done given the various bottlenecks that exist, not least in the area of human resources.
Running a company, a trade union, a political party, a non-governmental organisation gives similar insights. Without systems, leadership, stamina, discipline and hard work little will get done. There is no magic formula. Once you get involved you recognise how little you know, how much there is to learn, how hard it is to run things effectively, how many skills are required ranging from management to human relations. Indeed it leads to a greater understanding of the difficulty those running governments and other institutions face and more tolerance for their shortcomings and failures.
Ironically, it is often those with the least experience who criticise and pontificate most vociferously. Not having participated in running or managing anything, they have no understanding of the difficulties involved and feel free to put forward nice sounding proposals that take no account of the real difficulties involved and have no chance of being adopted or implemented in the real world.
By contrast, many have served selflessly in various organisations and though their achievements are modest, respect is due. Take our long running series on local government in which time and again it becomes clear that only two or three dedicated persons in the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils which group various villages have held strain since the last elections ten years ago to keep things going. It has been a now familiar tale of too little revenue to do the many jobs required which can include repairing roads, cleaning drains and canals, and clearing rubbish, while residents are most reluctant to pay rates. The legal process is slow and there are huge arrears.
Whatever their limitations, these persons have served the community for little remuneration. That is also the case with those who serve, usually voluntarily, in business or other organisations at a great sacrifice of their time and energy though anyone who has been involved will be aware that some only give token service. They attend some meetings but fall down on duties assigned to them.
Informed criticism should start from an awareness of the difficulties and the constraints facing those in charge in terms of personnel and other resources. It should offer modest solutions that do not assume exceptional and unrealistic improvements in some areas. It should be fully aware of background and context, as has been the case with the best commentators and analysts.
Open, public criticism of those who wield power of one kind or another is the lifeblood of a democratic society. But the fairer and more informed it is the more effective it will be. The next time you're ready to blast off stop for a minute and try to think of the difficulties facing those involved.