High-wire and High Office

The fact that in the majority of legislative structures most if not all appointments are of a political nature means that those in office are constrained by party political obligations and expectations. Those individuals awarded appointments are invariably done so on the expectation that either they will merely sit and occupy the position for the length of their tenure or implement directives that invariably are not of their own making. Such is the jaundiced view that society has of politicians that few individuals recognize the potential for politics and therefore politicians to be agents of positive change.

Existing legislative/ministerial structures are rarely designed to liberate, their constraining nature ensures that those appointed stay within a given brief and thus invariably maintain the status quo. Governments generally prefer a safe pair of hands to over active individuals, who might in some way upset the equilibrium. Charisma is often deemed a dangerous thing, not least because it potentially threatens to over shadow those who occupy the highest public office in the land. If governments are fearful of colorful characters on a mission to get things done, the danger is that in instead they end up with bland individuals who give the impression of being largely inert and as such ineffective. Such apparent inactivity can be equally dangerous as it leaves Administrations open to the charge of inactivity based on inability, nepotism or some other bias centered upon ethnicity, clan/tribal loyalty or religious or regional affiliation. Essentially the challenge facing ministerial structures is comparable to that of the tightrope walker, something which when viewed in that light enables stakeholders to have a clearer understanding of challenges, demands and dangers involved.

So what precisely are the qualities required of these latter-day Blondins that we expect so much of? A successful funambulist (tightrope walker) requires a number of characteristics, none of which on their own will guarantee their success and longevity. If for a moment we think of Ahdili Wuxiuer (better known as Adil Hoshur), a current practitioner of dawaz – the Uyghur tradition of highwire walking (who is also in the Guinness Book of World Records) we can concentrate our mind on what would be required to execute such a hair raising feet with aplomb. Whilst there may be some debate and discussion around the precise qualities and attributes required, the following are certainly essential:

  • ambition,
  • application,
  • conviction,
  • courage,
  • judgment,
  • mental and physical agility
  • as well as nerves of steel.

Those seeking or being called to high office are similarly exposing themselves to danger and equally they require an in depth understanding of the risks and challenges they face and an appreciation of that which is possible and that that which is extremely unlikely. The analogy of the tightrope walker is a pertinent one, not least because a range of other factors come into play

Tight rope walkers have a point to prove to themselves and to others. Whilst undoubtedly some practice and preparation takes place out of the public eye, for their achievements to be truly recognized they need to be seen. The adrenalin rush and much of the thrill that undoubtedly acts as a driver when attempting such a difficult feat lies with achieving something against the odds. Those who put themselves up for public office have to be equally single minded and experience moments of intense elation when certain goals are achieved, whether it be there being selected as a candidate, elected or be called to serve in government.

For some the path to ministerial responsibility is undoubtedly easier than others. Up until April 2012 when his father Abdoulaye Wade failed to be re-elected as President of Senegal, Karim Wade (born 1968) was Minister of State, Minister of International Co-operation, Air Transport, Infrastructure and Energy. No matter how capable an individual, such an extensive portfolio raises questions about whether others could have brought their own strengths and insights to the task. Whilst most individuals who seek public office at a governmental level will undoubtedly subscribe to the notion of public service, the actuality is often more complex.

No nation describes itself as a meritocracy and so the reasoning why certain individuals are appointed varies on a case by case basis. It has to be assumed that during their allotted tenure in office a minister will desire to bring about a positive change and therefore leave a positive legacy, but it is perfectly reasonable to ask – what is meant by positive?

Accepting an appointment is only the beginning; the Minister will have to motivate themselves and their staff, often against the odds. Some ministers have an over-inflated view of what they can achieve, only to be disillusioned once they discover the actuality of their remit. To a new or junior minister it can be a rude awakening to discover that decisions are frequently decided in Cabinet to which a minister finds themselves committed and yet may fundamentally disagree with or has at times had no direct say in. Ideology, political expediency and the vicissitudes of life will all conspire to blunt the drive and effectiveness of the most gifted of ministers. When it comes to issues related to the arms industry, national security and foreign policy matters often become even more opaque.

Training requires guidance and guidelines which help provide an operational framework to enable ministers within which to channel their enthusiasm. The loser the framework, the greater the possibility that ministers and ministries will stray into areas that could be viewed as ethically suspect. Ministerial Codes are not there to be paid lip service to, but are a constant reminder of the responsibilities of high office. When we examine such a code (In this case one that applies to the Westminster Parliament) we soon become aware of just how challenging living by such a code is.

The Seven Principles of Public Life, sometimes known as the Nolan principles

  • Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

  • Honesty – Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

  • Integrity – Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

  • Leadership – Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

  • Objectivity – In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

  • Openness – Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

  • Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.

The motivation of those who seek high office takes on various forms; for some are scions of political dynasties, the trappings of power and influence is a magnetic pull, whilst others are in the Disraelian mould and seek to ascend the greasy pole. Others end up in ministerial posts more by accident than design.

Law-Makers are not meant merely to maintain the status quo, yet in reality the Executive of some countries acts as a bulwark against change and seek to appoint ministers who are pliant and biddable. Whatever their motivation, few of those who take up key appointments ever achieve all they set out to achieve, and from the outset have to be ready to make compromises and sacrifices which over time may dilute and occasionally sour the powerful elixir that took some of them into politics in the first place.

The easiest thing in the world is to stand on the sidelines and criticize Senators, Members of the House of Assembly, Parliamentarians and those appointed to high office by the Executive. Political office may appear attractive from a distance, but in truth it really is like a high wire act, with all the attendant dangers.


More by :  Mark T. Jones

Top | Opinion

Views: 3327      Comments: 0

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.