Leadership is a choice, office not a prerequisite

By Dr Indera Sagewan
July 14, 2021

Indera Sagewan, PhDNot all Ministers are leaders, but all Ministers believe themselves leaders. This is the misnomer of politics in T&T. I battled to stay on course with my promised part 2 of “people-centred recovery.” But, the offensive flaunting of parliamentary privilege to own a Benz/Prado, when thousands don’t have bread to eat won the war. Office does not equal leadership.

Were your vehicles, like mine, 10year plus and in frequent need of repair? Was change an urgent need or a desire? Mine is a need but not yet urgent (save for fossil fuel usage). Further, if yours were a need, did it have to be so ostentatious? Prado? Mercedes Benz? I get that customs duty exemption is your right (you can get one every year. Oh horror!), but what of a duty of care for the feelings of your constituents financially reeling from loss of employment, loss of savings, loss of hope? Didn’t sensitivity suggest that the timing was wrong? Was the loss of an annual benefit too high? Some people have lost everything. So many called greedy in their desperation for a handout. Perspective.

I’m an economist who cooks. I can turn cheaply sourced materials into a king’s table. How? I’m a market lady, (Tunapuna and Chaguanas/Macoya Farmers market not Fresh Pic or Aoli). I go late for the deals and, I support the poultry/fish depots not Massy and Tru-Valu. I even did a small catering stint “Indera’s Kitchen”. I’ve been posting pics of my food on social media for years. But lately, it dawned that posting what’s on my table is insensitive to the many whose tables are empty. I stopped. Leadership is a choice, office is not a prerequisite.

The Benz/Prado purchase awakens other leadership issues. Should Ministers be exempt from policy? No. They must be the change, lead by doing. Is the Benz CNG or electric powered? I ask because, the Minister of Energy is responsible for government’s policy “to reduce its cumulative carbon emissions by 15%.” “CNGification” is a part of this. Millions spent and foregone on CNG fueling infrastructure and tax incentives for conversion kits and factory ready CNG/electric vehicles respectively. The Minister of Energy should inspire collective action by what he drives not just what he decrees.

Instead, average Joes/Janes are denied luxury rides, even if protecting the environment. In 2018, the Minister of Finance chastised “us the people” for abusing the fiscal incentive on electric vehicles to buy luxury models, thus robbing the state of taxes. He ruled forthwith, that the “no customs duty” on hybrid electric vehicles would be restricted to engine size not exceeding 159 kilowatts. But, no analogous action implemented to check the “nearly 30 million dollars (tax loss) in the last decade” (TV6 2018 report) from Parliamentarians’ purchase of luxury gas-guzzling vehicles.

Their exemption remains annual on any size or fuel source vehicle. Misalignment between policy and power. The Opposition’s response is also disappointing. One senior member took umbrage only to the timing of the purchase, himself guilty of multiple exemptions of a similar nature. His solution, a moratorium, not revision of policy. Self-interest trumping country interest. But, should politicians have to be pigeon-holed into doing the right thing? In T&T, yes. We have office holders not leaders.

Here’s what leadership by example looks like. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands rides a bike to office once weather permits. He does so for several reasons, “congestion plus the environmental impact” and because, “The health benefits of cycling…reduces the risk of illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, and can help boost mental wellbeing.” He’s also biking “on the science”. “Switching from a car to a bicycle saves an average of 150 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer” (Netherlands Institute for Transport Policy Analysis), and a 2015 study found more than 6,000 deaths in the Netherlands are prevented each year due to cycling, and it adds six months to the average life expectancy.” This latter saves the country over $20 million a year. This is a coincidence of politics, leadership and office.

In politics, timing and perception are everything. If a Minister can afford to buy a million-dollar plus vehicle, he can afford the tax and should damn well pay it! This allowance cries for reform to better align parliamentary benefits to country policy priorities. Those referred to as leaders must be accountable to “we the people” for their actions, we must stop being hapless pawns in their machinations. If politicians cannot lead of their own volition, “we the people” must insist that they be decreed into leadership or replaced.

10 thoughts on “Leadership is a choice, office not a prerequisite”

  1. I am a Trini. , residing abroad. I have never taken the time to comment on any article . This is the first. Well thought out and revealing. I applaude you.

    1. MSG couldn’t find the time to comment on any article until written by an indian woman. The article is fake and disingenuous! As soon as “they” gain office, the tune changes! Fool us once…

      PP hypocrisy now plain for all to see

      Jeremie to Anand: What about taxes on Range Rovers?

      Porsche questions

      T&T minister slammed over Porsche

      This was the same behaviour pre 2010 election… all these fake outrages and lofty ideals UNTIL Indian “Hindu” government ah come to office… the it’s back to brahmin exemptions on all wrongdoung and bad behaviour.

  2. Yes very good exegetical analysis of current burraha. If the law allows for such then criticism should be muted. But the reason why it is not muted, it is because of the current economic climate in the nation.
    People expect politicians to identify with their suffering. The truth is a live in a world disconnected from the suffering of the citizenry. Yes some make the effort to go into poor people home and sit with them and seek to help. But most in the urban areas simply do not care or understand. They live in the lap of luxury and have need of nothing. The disconnect is terrible, around election time they show up…..

  3. Dear Indera:
    It would be nice if you can provide an economic overview of our current economy. Marla Dukharan had to move to Barbados because she sounded the warning bell. But we depend on your insight and vast knowledge to educate the plebeians who seem to be economically impotent given the economic meltdown. Speak truth to power please.

    1. Why didn’t Marla Dukheran (Guyanese surname) , move to her family in Guyana? Or Suriname? Or Mauritius?

  4. Yes bad optics, but why focus on the Ministers. From CNC3 news and I paraphrase…in April 26, 2021, Couva North MP Ravi Ratiram had been granted exemptions of 356,967.68 for the purchase of a Toyota Prado valued at 600,450.99. In April 30, 2021, San Juan/Barataria MP Saddam Hosein was exempted 395,696.49 for purchase of a land cruiser. David Lee, MP Point a Pierre, was granted exemptions of 1,416,292.65 for the purchase of a Mercedes Benz Roodal Moonilal has accessed exemptions twice in 2017 for the purchase of a Jaguar F-Pace and in 2019 for the purchase of a Mercedes Benz, the exemptions totaled 799,583.40. Moonilal is entitled for an exemption on November 7 and he said he intends to purchase the same car as the PM did. You know the Minister, who is a leader, has to set the example. Why does this smell like Trini smart man tricks?
    But in this Covid season it’s not only politicians that have bad optics. Banks, for example, are not giving any leniency on their loans while raking in big profits over the Covid crisis. “Scotiabank Trinidad and Tobago Limited has reported a two per cent increase in income after taxation of $146 million for the first quarter ended January 31, 2021, compared to $143 million in the same period last year…Total assets stood at $27.4 billion representing growth of $452 million or two per cent as compared to the same period last year. Even as loans to customers have declined over both the prior year and prior quarter as customers pay down their loans, new loans continue to steadily improve. Deposits from customers increased by $233 million or one per cent year over year driven by growth in both the corporate/commercial and retail segments.” https://tt.loopnews.com/content/scotiabank-records-q1-profits-2-2020
    RBC also, while declaring an after tax loss “from continuing operations”, RBC states, “Despite these setbacks to earnings, the total assets of the Company did increase by $859.2 million with deposits up $3,162.5 million year-over-year. The Company’s regulatory capital ratio at year end stood at 22.9%, which is well above regulatory thresholds.” http://www.rbcroyalbank.com/caribbean/tt/document/tt-financial-financials-2020.pdf So they are doing well, deposits are up by more than 3 billion dollars.
    Supermarkets in T&T never seem to give us any data on their profits, they seem to always be crying. They raise prices when things affect their costs (for example when cost of transport goes up), but have you noticed they never, never decrease their costs when costs go down. On the 4th January, 2020, the Supermarket Association of Trinidad and Tobago (SATT) released a press statement indicating an impending rise in prices of supermarket items. This statement credited this imminent increase on the supply end as a result of “various challenges in the operating climate”. http://www.news.gov.tt/content/announcement-price-increase-supermarkets#.YO79lhtKiZU
    Have no doubt about it though, supermarkets were open right through the pandemic and they had a captive market. They making plenty money while many people are laid off, lost their jobs or lost their small business that kept them going.
    “The Massy Group’s strategic decision in 2019 to shift its model from a traditional conglomerate to an investment holding/management company proved to be effective, as the company recorded a $743 million profit after tax for the 2020 financial year (ended September 30).
    That’s a 21 per cent improvement over last year’s $613 million – despite the general economic uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic for much of the year.” https://newsday.co.tt/2020/12/24/massy-makes-743m-profit-for-2020-in-midst-of-pandemic/
    So the optics are bad all around.

      1. One of my pet peeve is when public figures pretend to be defending democracy only when it suits them or their interests. While what Indera Sagewan says sound “impartial”, the “Impartiality” only timed when she wants to appear impartial (the PNM is in power and not the UNC). Kamla has done some of the most asinine things like using Parliament to accuse Dr. Rowley of being a rapist. What did we hear from the impartiality of Sagewan – NOTHING! . Kamla fired the experienced and competent Security chief and picked a novice off the street to man the security of the whole nation and what did Sagewan say – NOTHING! . Now, she is coming to tell us “If a Minister can afford to buy a million-dollar plus vehicle, he can afford the tax and should damn well pay it! “.
        Yes, I agree with that statement but it should not be timed for when your party is not in power!!! We are not too far removed by what is going on in the United States where voters belonging to a certain ideology is trying to impose upon the rest of the country, a man who is without a conscience, lacks shame, lost an election and boldly claiming he won it, has done some of the most outrageous thing while holding power and still wants to be returned to power. Kamla is not far removed from this characterization. She left government with only three days worth of credit to run the country, yet she wants us to support her claim that “Rowley is incompetent”. That is the pot calling the kettle black. People with NO SHAME do the vilest things then blame others for it.
        Of course, we know that is what the push for destabilizing the Rowley government is all about. For too long we stood by and allowed the UNC to lead “the PNM is incompetent” mantra and we should cll it for what it is. The complain about the “PNM till ah dead” refrain. Truth be told, as long as the UNC continue to behave as an “immigrant party” we should all remain “PNM till we dead”.

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