By Raffique Shah
Sunday, May 10th 2009
“There is one trait in the character of a leader that above all things, really counts-being straight. No amount of ability, knowledge or cunning can ever make up for not being straight. Once those under him find out that a commander is absolutely straight in all his dealings with them, and free himself from the slightest trait of self-interest they will love him trust him, work for him, follow him-and should the occasion arise, die for him”
—Basilisk Talks on Leadership, extracted from the “little red book” of Sandhurst, Serve to Lead.
On very rare occasions I start my columns with quotes, mainly because I believe this is my space to express my views on whatever I choose to write about. Today, however, I veer from that course by seeking material from one institution that regards personal integrity as being paramount to good leadership.
To illustrate just how Sandhurst values integrity, I refer to one incident that occurred when I attended the academy. A very bright Senior Under Officer (SUO), the highest rank an officer cadet can attain in his final semester of training, virtually on the eve of graduation, was asked by his sergeant-major if he had handed in his rifle to the armoury.
“Yes, sir,” he replied. Truth was his rifle had been checked in at the armoury. But instead of doing it himself, he had asked another cadet to perform the simple task. The CSM double-checked with the armourer and discovered the truth. He reported this minor misdemeanour to the company commander. The SUO was summoned to the OC’s office where he was upbraided for “telling a lie”, then sent before the College Commander, who ordered that he be “back-termed”!
In ordinary language, that punishment meant the SUO did not graduate with my Intake when we paraded on square and marched up the steps of Old College, through the Grand Entrance to officially become commissioned officers.
Bright as he was, not to add very competent, he had to parade with the non-graduating Intakes, and spend an extra semester before he was allowed to don his “pips”. His fate could have been worse. Many years earlier, author Ian Flemming, whose James Bond series became the most popular spy-stories in history, was expelled from the academy-for attempting to sneak a girl into his room.
This long introduction to a very short topic, integrity, says it all. The quote I opened with describes what is expected of leaders-in this case military officers-if they are to command the respect and loyalty of their troops. The writer of the original used the term “being straight”. What he meant was integrity.
The imbroglio that has erupted around the Integrity Commission, the appointments and disappointments, the lies and bigger lies by men and women who are supposed to be leaders of this country, has exposed a “high command” whose integrity is at best questionable. I should add that one cannot use law to instil integrity: It’s either a person has it or he does not. No laws can change a scoundrel into an honourable gentleman.
Over the past few weeks the people of this country have witnessed questionable statements and actions by its leaders, they must wonder just how rotten things are in the State. First, President Max Richards appointed to the new Integrity Commission two persons who did not qualify under the relevant legislation. Deputy chairman Jeffrey McFarlane’s name ought never to have been there. Common sense dictates that one cannot be a judge in his own cause. President Richards has not denied, too, that he had promised retired judge Zainool Hosein deputy chairmanship of the Commission, only to name McFarlane to the position.
But the issue got “curiouser” when the appointed chairman, Fr Henry Charles, said he had informed the President that allegations of plagiarism had been made against him, which he did not deny. President Richards, Charles said, indicated such matters “were not uncommon among academics”, or words to that effect. That was a serious indictment against academia. Charles also said he had raised his appointment with Archbishop Gilbert, who “thought it was a great idea”. Within a week, the ecstatic Archbishop would find there were canonical laws that forbade a practising priest from taking up such appointment.
By then Hosein, McFarlane and Charles had tendered their resignations from the Commission. But wait: Before he made the appointments in the first place, President Richards was obliged to inform both Prime Minister Manning and Opposition Leader Panday of his choices. Manning obviously saw nothing wrong with the names proffered. Panday claimed he never received the hand-delivered letter. Like Manning, he, too, had an opportunity to advise the president of the irregularities. He said nothing-until the mess hit the fan.
So from President to priest, Archbishop to Prime Minister, and others we may never know were involved, the country has been taken on a not-so-merry-go-round that morphed into an unholy mess. Sensible citizens are justifiably questioning the quality of our leaders. To end where I started, no amount of ability or cunning can make up for not being straight. Father, forgive them not, for they damn well knew what they were doing-the whole lot of them.