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Thomas Wynne: Leadership – the answer or the problem?

Saturday 23 March 2024 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion


Thomas Wynne: Leadership – the answer or the problem?
Columnist Thomas Tarurongo Wynne. Photo: CI NEWS/16040843

Guilty as charged, and now the sentence has been handed down and jail terms will commence. Not just for the three defendants that appeared in Court yesterday but for us all, our country’s good reputation and a withdrawal made from the public bank of trust and goodwill, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

In the Oath of Allegiance taken by all elected to Parliament, each person swears to ‘justly and faithfully’ carry out their duties as a Member of Parliament of the Cook Islands. These duties include adhering to the ‘Code of Conduct for Members’ set out in Standing Orders and related provisions, to maintain the highest standards of ethical behaviour and to protect and maintain the integrity of Parliament (SO 393) and our country.

The expectations of office are not vague and easily understood. Our legislation is clear on the expectations of our elected officials. So where does it go so badly wrong, time and time again. Because let’s be clear, the three defendants simply got caught. We all are aware of other indiscretions that got swept under the carpet, promoted, or left the country, but its effects remain for the public who pay for this out of their own purse.

Over and again poorly decided, poorly advised, and poorly accounted promotions, projects and government plans have left the public with a bill far greater than they expected or were sold at its outing. And with several projects ahead for the country where public trust and goodwill will be expected and drawn on again to support it, how then does the public respond?

The bank of goodwill and public support is not an endless account. It too has a point by which politicians will be in overdraft and when they go to draw on it that cheque will bounce, because no one owns an elected seat or an electorate as we saw in the last election here and in Aotearoa.

Party lines have faded over the years and the public are making their own mind up on who they trust and who they do not. You cannot keep making withdrawals on the public good and then ask them to trust you again. You cannot abuse the responsibilities of public monies and expect the public to top that up when it goes wrong not just with public money but with public goodwill also. There is a point where that simply runs out.

Some have complained about a recent conference for government leaders and training around being good leaders and directors. Apart from the fact that our own Caren Rangi is one of the best Pacific women governance practitioners regionally, if not globally, I would suggest that the money spent here to build our leaders and directors is money well spent because we are either going to pay it here, to build their capacity to lead, or pay for it when their leadership goes terribly wrong.

Proverbs 11:14 says for lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.  This week in Wellington, it was a joy to meet with Hon. Tingika Elikana, chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, along with other members including Vaitoti Tupa (deputy chair), Tina Browne, Te-Hani Brown, Sonny Williams, Teokotai Herman, Robert Heather, and government officials. They were here learning from their counterpart’s leadership skills and capacity building.

Having worked in two governments in the Cook Islands and two here in Aotearoa with very different leadership styles and ways of running the country, it is clear that leadership is either the answer or the problem. We must invest in our leaders, but they too must be hungry and humble to learn and do and be better leaders, or we should vote them out.

Because when they do well, we do well also, and when they thrive, we thrive as a country. But when they abuse their position and public monies, we are all battered and bruised by their decisions, leaving the bank balance of public trust and goodwill in overdraft yet again.

Leaders and governments come and go, but their decisions and we the people remain. And the consequences of their decisions for good or for bad remain with us also.


Sally Wyatt on 25/03/2024

Not a truer word spoken about leadership, "we are either going to pay it here, to build their capacity to lead, or pay for it when their leadership goes terribly wrong."