Noble: The smartest guys in the room; will Angostura, Industrial Court and Integrity Commission pay price for hubris?

EPL Infrafred Sauna

In 2001, Enron—named the ‘most innovative company ’ by Fortune magazine for six consecutive years—collapsed. 

Enron’s chairman and chief executive officer, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, were two arrogant and belligerent men who believed they were the ‘smartest guys in the room’. They believed that, through their sheer cleverness and creativity,  they had created the most innovative corporation in the USA. 

Photo: Former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay and CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

Nobody wanted to be disloyal and therefore said nothing. These leaders did not start off being dishonest. The silence of their peers and praise of a fawning media created the dreaded decline. 

What happened? Subtle but deadly corrosion of morals: failures of integrity, responsibility, transparency, and accountability. 

The news coverage of this week raised the memory of that episode. Our leaders, filled with hubris, showed us how to engender a national loss of trust. Will our loyalty and silence trump what is right?

The week began with the news about the appointment of Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards to the board of a publicly listed company, Angostura Holdings Limited. Corporation Sole (the Minister of Finance, who in this capacity holds all property vested in trust for the State) is the significant shareholder. 

The Angostura Chairman has been trying to convince us that she is vital to the diversity and innovation thrust.

Photo: New Angostura Holdings board member and Ministry of Health Principal Medical Officer Dr Maryam Abdool-Richards.

This company has been ethically challenged in the recent past with claims of misogyny, bulk rum shenanigans and a revolving CEO position. Its core product, bitters, sold in far-off places, contributes 58% of total revenue.

Given the history and the nature of the business, is the board being strengthened? Will the company become more management-driven, and will that be wise?

This company became a ward of the State after the injection of public funds caused by the CL Financial debacle. Does Corporation Sole believe that staying with this board would remove the inherent misogynistic tendencies? Will a lack of legitimate business experience keep this company afloat?

Will this board and the recent inclusion of two very busy women improve the ethical or business performance and save us from having to bail out this company again? What is the track record of the good doctor in business innovation? 

We are again introducing the problem of ‘moral hazard’ in our business dealings. A moral hazard occurs when one party takes a risk, knowing that somebody else—in this case, the public—will pay the price should it sour. This company has been the victim of that type of thinking.

Photo: Angostura chairman Terrence Bharath.

Will we repeat this pattern through these board appointments? Is this risk to public funds acceptable?

Like in the appointment of Mr Kevon Swan as the Registrar of the Industrial Court, are we being shown that there is little store placed on specific trade knowledge and experience? We need more than ‘pretty for days’ men and women.

For national success and building of trust, we need to be thoughtful in selecting leaders. Without intentionally building trust, we sow seeds of destruction. 

The Industrial Court is a ‘hot spot’. As in all industrial relations matters, the notion of fairness is central. The other important issue is the notion of building trusted relationships. The Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) needed to answer the question: ‘did any of the panel members declare a conflict of interest due to having a close relationship with any of the applicants?’ 

Given the peculiar nature of this job and Court, did the JLSC discuss the relationships with the Court and its key stakeholders in arriving at the criteria for hiring? 

Photo: Chief Justice and JLSC chairman Ivor Archie lays a wreath at Memorial Park, Port-of-Spain on 8 November 2009.

Using wrong criteria leads to inappropriate hires. The Court has had a history of concerns by the business community and the trade unions. Would this appointment raise the hackles of either? One of its judges sued this Court based on unfairness; will this Registrar have the cojones to stave off similar situations? 

David Hume, an 18th Century philosopher, noted: “This avidity alone, of acquiring goods and possessions for ourselves and our nearest friends, is insatiable, perpetual, universal, and directly destructive of society.” 

A word to the wise and discerning.

Making a cameo appearance is the chair of the Integrity Commission, Professor Rajendra Ramlogan. Challenged by a story about fairness in the Express, he opted to issue a media release that did not address the questions asked. 

Instead, he unwittingly unearthed a more pressing issue: how is it that so many contract officers run the Integrity Commission? This institution handles the most sensitive matters of our leaders, and yet, we appear comfortable with temporary staff handling those matters. 

Photo: Integrity Commission chairman Professor Rajendra Ramlogan.

‘Common sense make before book sense’, my departed mother used to say.  Should we remind ourselves that five previous chairmen resigned before the end of their terms? 

Should we remind him and Her Honour Donna Prowell-Raphael that the banks evoke a visceral reaction because of the notion of a lack of fairness? Is it that their patron(s) cannot speak sense into them? Are they so sure of their worth that lesser mortals matter little? What bestows this power?

The level of public scrutiny will continue to get higher because of traditional and social media activism. 

Leadership is about trust. Citizens have entrusted part of their future to our leaders. It is expected that there will be patronage but putting unqualified people in positions of influence damages our democracy. 

We have seen this movie before many times, regardless of the political party. 

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and Minister of Finance Colm Imbert.
(via Trinidad Express)

This week’s performances fuel the belief that it’s not what you know but who you know that will land you a job. Meanwhile, the poor and socially unconnected will suffer unfairly and unnecessarily. 

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About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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