I have read our National Hero Sir Lester Bird’s and Opposition Leader Dr. Baldwin Spencer's response to the US 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (NCSR).
Both have expressed strong support for PM Gaston Browne's commitment to champion Antigua and Barbuda's cause.
The US indicated that our Citizens by Investment Program (CIP) is extremely vulnerable; that our country is riddled with too many allegations of corruption and too few instances of bringing those alleged to justice; that our offshore banking is tax free, and two high officials are allegedly tied to the 8 million dollar bribery scandal associated with Oderbrecht/Meinl Bank.
The Report also mentioned that the government has made some positive strides in confronting financial and drug-related challenges.
PM Gaston Browne responded that the Report made wrong claims about the country’s achievements. That much had been done in transparency, safeguards, compliance with international standards, cooperation with various US agencies, and several levels of due diligence, to secure revenues for the CIP program, and to improve the nation’s image.
However, his tone and mood in Parliament did not reflect the public dignity that conscientious residents and citizens expect of their Prime Minister.
The issue is not whether the PM should have ably defended Antigua and Barbuda’s good name. The issue is how best he should have done so.
The values that guide marketing are instructive. To be impactful, both product and packaging matter.
Similarly, attitude and decorum give direction and structure to a public mission. Uprightness and courtesy give purpose and meaning to leadership results.
Could the PM be devoted to a good cause, and at the same time, be tactful in promoting it?
Bird and Spencer embodied skill, subtly and sensitivity in their reply to the US Report.
Bird remarked: “Those who wrote this false report about Antigua and Barbuda maligned our country, but they failed their own government as well. For they have compiled a report in the name of the US government that cannot stand up to scrutiny. However, we have an obligation to defend our country.”
While the implication being that the duty to defend candidly reinforces the obligation to defend judiciously, Bird’s contribution sparkled with dexterity and elegance.
Spencer commented: “In my view, the PM could have chosen to employ a more compelling diplomatic strategy that would raise Antigua & Barbuda’s de-risking profile. If our twin-island State is to prosper in the global marketplace, we have to employ the most credible tools of statecraft to get good results.”
Recognizing the importance of good diplomacy to the health of our nation, Spencer’s response was a class act. He made the case with admiration and nobility: the exercise of statecraft requires firmness and finesse.
Clearly, Bird’s and Spencer’s interpretation of the Report suggest a rare grasp of the complexities of this situation. Their approach was clear and convincing about the broader issues at hand.
During their tenures as Prime Minister, I have listened to Sir Lester Bird, and Dr. Baldwin Spencer managed difficult national and regional matters against other foreign states with added value.
They both did it with class, panache, professionalism, appropriate social behavior, respect, and good manners.
Nothing is wrong with defending our country robustly and pointedly.
It is perfectly correct to indicate errors in the US 2017 INCSR that have the potential to bring us injury and proffer correctives.
“Honey catches more flies than vinegar.” This elderly saying suggests that there is a wrong way to do a right thing but there is no right way to do a wrong thing.
In disputes between nation states, the WHAT, (mutual interest) does matter as much as the HOW, (decorum).
However, when the power gap is wide, being wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove makes sense.
Passionately defending of our country is worthy and appropriate.
Yet, defending our nation’s interests without restraint and modesty could lead to chilling vices and injustices that could bring untold harm to our people.
Credible leaders are forthright without being rude.
Several months ago, Sir Lester Bird raised a cautionary note in Parliament. He addressed Gaston Browne's frequent groundbreaking ceremonies without project implementation, as ill-conceived.
Sir Lester’s critique, in essence, was that what Browne was doing may be good. However, how he was going about it was neither strategic nor efficient.
One simply cannot separate sobriety and strategy when operating on the international scene or at home, to right perceived wrongs.
There are consequences to our behavior in private and in public.
Therefore, it is grossly misleading to think that good intention is more important than suitable outcomes.
How we manifest our good intention cannot be taken-for-granted. Good intention can be defective because its impact on others can produce serious consequences or unintended results.
Just because I am a well-intended driver who hit and kill a rabbit does not change the outcome of my driving. The rabbit is dead.
Even if Gaston Browne had just cause to defend Antigua and Barbuda of inaccuracies in the US 2017 INCSR, he was also duty bound, to do so with refinement.
At stake is this: What public deportment the PM should have deployed, to produce better diplomatic results, which could change the country's de-risking profile for the better?
The outcome so far is not helpful regarding the US's response to the PM's critique of its Report. It is my understanding that the US will no longer provide due diligence data, for our CIP applicants.
A fearless challenge for the right mission is an act of virtue when style does not undercut prudent objectives.
Take my case for example.
The PM defamed my character with apparent malicious intent while pretending to defend our country’s good name. I took the position that Browne’s defense though necessary was crass and uncivil.
The PM shot back by saying that I was fired by former PM Baldwin Spencer for ‘misconduct’ and ‘wrongdoing’ when I was Ambassador at Large of Antigua and Barbuda.
Spencer rebuffed Browne’s statement by declaring that it is “false, baseless and unsound in principle.” The Opposition Leader made clear that he has recommended my professional services to governments and political parties with high marks.
The rush to unscrupulously dish out terror to any private citizen for opposing Browne’s approach to governance is odious and unjust.
Browne also said that the Observer Media Group, one of the most reputable and renowned newspapers and radio organizations in Antigua and Barbuda, is a great danger to our country’s development.
In good faith, I will not support the PM’s ruthless abuse of his office. I see every effort to shut down scathing critiques or honest disapprovals of his style, policies, and initiatives as a violation of the principles of democracy.
It is possible to defend the country and still oppose diversity of views, as a mechanism for effectively safeguarding the country’s interests.
Gaston is the chief servant of the people.
He must serve them with respect for their varied perspectives on heated national issues. He must come to view different opinions, as a vital function of achieving nation-building goals, and defending the country.
Perhaps more importantly, I read Browne’s brutish tendency to tarnish, insult and castigate perceived opponents, --in the media and wider community-- as a reflection of a crude and creeping dictatorship in Antigua and Barbuda. This galling reality has more shadow than the sunshine.
Indeed it is disastrous for Browne’s leadership.
It is harmful to the good people of Antigua and Barbuda.
It is dangerous for the Caribbean.
As a Professional, devoted to regional advancement in thought and practice, I cannot let this stand.
Prudence demands that in the exercise of leadership with intelligence and integrity, both end and mean must cohere.
The mean does not justify the end.
I hope I have illustrated the point. Browne has a moral obligation to ensure that his defense of Antigua and Barbuda is rightly couched in self-control.
A good defense does not guarantee good results. There must be a clear direction.
Diplomatic effectiveness harnesses mutual relationships, preserves shared welfare, makes practical tradeoffs, and manages disputes maturely.
The PM should have thought through his response to the Report more thoroughly. Perhaps better synergy between tact and our nation’s cultural ideals would have been achieved.
If Gaston Browne is not fully aware of the real world effects that his defense of Antigua and Barbuda is having beyond his persona, our country will be gravely wounded because of it.
Note: Dr. Isaac Newton-International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser who specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood University, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, leadership, political, social, and faith-based issues.