Arnhim Eustace and ‘The Peter Principle’
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In terms of the politics of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, just about everyone seems to have forgotten that there was a sort of interregnum between the moving aside of James Fitz-Allen Mitchell and the arrival of Ralph Everard Gonsalves at the helm of government in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The man who held total sway during that short, but historically very important period, was Arnhim Ulric Eustace. Up until that ascendancy, his career was star-bright and, as far as we know, spotless. Given the overwhelmingly positive economic and social situation in SVG at that time, the vast majority of people were looking forward to a political, not an economic re-baptism of SVG. After all, this guy had been an extremely successful technocrat, a shining star, who had been pulled out of the technocratic front rooms, professionally pampered, rewarded, and handed a top political career on a golden platter by his political godfather, James Fitz-Allen Mitchell. Very few people would have expected that, a few short months after his anointment to the pinnacle, he and his experienced crew would have been ignominiously shunted aside as a result of the antics and poisonous actions of one man, Ralph Everard Gonsalves who, until then, had been viewed as an untrustworthy, ideologically tainted, rabble-rouser.
During his short reign as Prime Minister, Arnhim Eustace would have become very familiar with the outstanding economic and political issues facing the then NDP administration. The Gonsalves-led cry of corruption had become the political staple during the last two years of the Mitchell regime and Ottley Hall was clearly the penultimate boondoggle of the Mitchell regime. As Prime Minister, Mr Eustace was duty bound to deal with that issue. According to the subsequent, still unfinished inquiry, it would seem that no other minister in the government knew much about the ins and outs of Ottley Hall. They all seemed to have operated on the assumption that James Mitchell, the man at the top, who had led them, many years earlier, out of the political wilderness and onto the political centre stage, was completely capable of handling the complex details of a possibly extremely remunerative new industry for the forward looking country. As Prime Minister, Mr. Eustace would have become far more knowledgeable on the unknown details surrounding Ottley Hall, far more than he would have known as a finance official.
The hallmark of this man’s life, to that date and since then, hints at an admirable technocratic quality – uprightness and honesty in his approach to everything, no matter the consequence. Given that characteristic, and armed with uncomfortable new classified information as Prime Minister, he would have experienced an extreme moral and psychological repulsion toward his political benefactor. Many individuals have since characterized his behaviour towards Mitchell, possibly inaccurately, as ingratitude on his part. But, not many people have taken into consideration that, if there were unseemly details and, if Mr. Eustace had gotten any hint of underhanded dealings between Mr. Mitchell and Aldo Rollo or, later, between Mitchell and Gonsalves during the now infamous “walk on the beach”, this moralistic technocrat, this then political novice, would have descended into a righteous rage. From his perspective and based on his since articulated approach to matters of government and corruption, he would have instinctively dealt with such matters with righteous anger. The golden platter which had been handed to him by Mitchell would have seemed very tainted indeed; it would have lost its appeal and lustre. His high and enraged sense of morality, when combined with his lack of political leadership experience in the tempestuous, almost unmanageable, world of SVG politics, might have melded together and morphed into what turned out to be an albatross around his righteous neck.
As a result of his good intentions, in a few short months the NDP party that James Mitchell had built was torn apart. One of his first decisions, for example, the one having to do with the temporary payment of salaries to “two prime ministers”, resulted in a major split in his cabinet; four cabinet ministers, still very much attached to Mitchell, who opposed the decision were quietly ostracised as Mr. Eustace began to take command. In effect, this attempt at establishing himself as the “big fish in a small pond”, the hallmark characteristic of every political leader in SVG since Ebenezer Theodore Joshua, backfired and the wholehearted, united front which the NDP should have presented during the avoidable and ill-conceived 2000/2001election never materialised. The result — Ralph Gonsalves, a man who should never have been elected to any political office in SVG, ran away with the ill-gained political spoil.
The lesson! Politics everywhere is a funny, funny, dirty thing and the too “good” guy will always finish last. No one would have suspected that, in changing from the role of technocrat to politician, Arnhim Ulric Eustace might have become a prime example of “The Peter Principle” at work. As posited by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in the 1969 book entitled The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, the principle has been ably stated as follows: “in an organisational structure, the assessment of the potential of an employee for a promotion is often based on their performance in the current job which results eventually in their being promoted to their highest level of competence and potentially then to a role in which they are not competent, referred to as their “level of incompetence”. There is no doubt in my mind that, when Mr. Mitchell decided to clear the way for Arnhim Eustace to succeed him, he made the decision that Mr. Eustace, based on his professional, economic background and outstanding contributions to his government, was the most qualified and best candidate for the job. But, did Mr. Mitchell take into consideration the political world and culture of SVG? Did he, in his backroom manoeuvres to make Mr. Eustace Prime Minister, underestimate Mr. Eustace’s level of political incompetence?
The upcoming election in SVG signals the fourth time that Mr. Eustace would be facing the political astuteness of Ralph Gonsalves. Based on the previous three elections, it is fairly obvious that Mr. Eustace did not develop the political acumen or attain the ability needed to defeat the political juggernaut that is the Gonsalves ULP. True, with each subsequent election the results show clearly that Mr. Eustace and the NDP have shown positive signs of gain in the right direction. True, given the economic, social, and political miasma that is SVG today, the possibility of an NDP victory in the upcoming election looks very good. But, is this the result of a default in leadership because there is no other real alternative to Ralph Gonsalves and his ULP? True, in terms of his predictions, Mr. Eustace has demonstrated his mastery of the economic difficulties facing SVG. This he presents mostly from a technocrat’s perspective. But, predictions are only one side of the coin and a technocratic approach to confronting a political debacle is not a winning political stratagem. The more pressing need is for him to somehow translate and articulate the technocratic knowledge into a simpler language that the common man can relate to and understand. That language must signal the way, in the minds of the long-suffering masses, a massive, toward albeit a painful, national economic turn around.
In short, can Mr. Eustace move from his technocratic level of competence to one of political competence and superiority? Does he have the ability to become a national, economic, social, and political trend-setting leader? Just as important, has Mr. Eustace learned the most important lesson of all — personal righteousness and political sensibility do not mix! Given his still very righteous bent, if he takes control of the inherently divisive reins of power, will he be able to hold together, as a unit, his mostly disparate group of inexperienced, self-centred politicians, all holding conflicting agendas? Will he be able to shape them into a united political, policy motivated, team in the way that Sir James Mitchell did when he first came to power? And, will he, within five years, be able to hand over leadership to a possibly, more capable, political successor?