Members of an organisation are entitled to their own perspectives and the right to disagree with a decision and direction of an organisation must be respected. But when the leadership of an organisation takes a position, it is presumed to be reflective of, and binding on, all leaders in the organisation. If this principle of collective ownership of a decision or position of an organisation is not upheld, it weakens the organisation, especially if opposition to the decision of the organisation is expressed publicly.
There are at least two reasons the public expression of differences with a (public) position of an organisation is problematic. The first is that it sends mixed signals to those who are looking to the organisation for guidance and assistance with interpreting issues, and secondly, rooted in the first, members of the organisation may begin to perceive that there are different camps within the organisation and begin to align themselves with one or the other.
The result is that people who look to the leadership of the organisation will be unsure whom to trust and the uncertainty will likely breed disunity.
The increase in salaries for politicians
There is widespread public opposition to, and shock concerning, the massive increase that the Holness administration has given to members of the political directorate. While there are some people aligned to the government, and probably some who are not, who have supported the increase, it is apparent that the weight of public opinion is one of opposition to the increase, and (in my opinion – as I have written previously) rightly so.
The parliamentary opposition, the People’s National Party, (PNP) having not received a copy of the script of the presentation of the Minister of Finance and forced to respond initially to the presentation on the increases based on limited information, initially expressed that it had “no problem in principle” to the increases. The focus of the presentation of the Minister of Finance in parliament was not on the quantum of the increase whether in percentage or nominal terms, but on the principle that the formula used was established in the “Manley era”. This formula was that of the pegging of the salaries of Ministers to that of Permanent Secretaries. It was this principle, as I understand it, to which the Opposition Spokesperson on Finance and the Public Service, Julian Robinson, said he was not opposed.
Having indicated support based on the limited information available, the PNP, later that same evening, realizing the enormity of the increases sought to walk back its earlier support. The position of the PNP, as I understand it, is that there should be a roll back to 20%. If the government does not implement a roll back, Leader of the Opposition Mark Golding says he will be giving 80% of his salary increase to social causes to help the needy. Golding has also called for the setting up of an independent body to review the salaries of parliamentarians. If there is no roll back, it is my view, that all members of the party, should donate a portion of the increase to needy causes consistent with their call for a roll back.
The PNP’s journey to the position of calling for a roll back has been somewhat tortuous with its position “evolving”. However untidy its journey towards its #RollItBack position has been, it has happily arrived at that position, and although the position has been publicly embraced by all potential beneficiaries, there was no public opposition, until (yesterday) Sunday June 4, 2023, when a former aspirant for the post of President of the Party and Member of Parliament for Southeast St. Ann publicly opposed the Party’s position on the issue.
Hanna’s actions are totally unacceptable and divisive.
The arguments advanced by Hanna to support the salary increases are at best spurious, lack context, and have not addressed the substantive issues which have evoked public opprobrium. But the weaknesses, or otherwise, of her arguments are not the bases of my concern. The basis of my concern is that Hanna is a senior member of the Party, who is expected to assist in providing leadership and direction to the Party and its followers, and who by what she says and how she behaves, has a duty to uphold the principles and positions on which the Party stands.
But Hanna, like all members of the leadership, has a right to her views, but she does not, have a right to dissent with the Party’s position publicly. The principle or doctrine of collective responsibility applies whether a political party forms the government or the opposition.
I often invite leaders to use, as a basis for assessing the actions of leaders, the maxim or doctrine of what the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) calls the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative essentially says that a person [a leader] in considering a course of action and in weighing its appropriateness, should assess whether that action could become a universal norm or a standard for others and for other situations.
Applied to the conduct of Ms. Hanna, the categorical imperative asks:
- What would happen to the organization if every leader who may disagree with a position of the leadership should make that position public and thus fly in the face of the body as a whole?
- If you were the leader of the Party and you led the Party to take a decision (especially one which is of high public importance), would you regard it as acceptable for a member of your team to publicly oppose the Party’s position?
- Would you continue to have confidence in a team member who publicly opposes your position as leader or the position of the Party?
- Would you regard the act of publicly opposing a position of the Party as advancing the goals and objectives of unity and trust?
I invite Ms. Hanna and all members of the PNP to consider applying the test of the categorical imperative to utterances and public and private positions they seek to take. One of the damning things about seeking the position of leadership is that we must bear in mind that our past actions, except those we have repudiated, remain a justifiable basis for assessment of who we are. It is my view that Ms. Hanna knows that what she has done in this matter, and some of other things she has done or said, are wrong and unhelpful. That my friend Lisa knows better, she should do better.
It is noteworthy that the public recalls that I had supported Ms. Hanna for leadership of the PNP but had publicly committed that I would support whoever emerges as leader. All members of the Party should reckon that if the Party is divided it cannot succeed!
Professor Canute Thompson is Professor of Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership. He is author of eight books, eighteen journal articles and nearly two hundred newspaper columns. He previously served as Chair of the Policy Commission of the People’s National Party.