Monday, February 19, 2007


Honesty, trust and the grapevine

I wrote last year or so about the First Lady's reliance on people she can trust to give her a view of reality and enable her to reach a reasoned assessment. I felt then, and still feel, that I am one of the people she does trust because I don't have anything particular to gain by not telling her the truth about how things are. However, I realise that the counterpoint to this form of sense-checking is that a) it is still highly subjective, agenda-driven and opinionated, given that most people she consults do have a vested interest in what she thinks, and b) she will often trust the view of a non-expert she knows over an expert she doesn't. In fact, I'm finding that she places quite a lot of weight on unsubstantiated gossip, whether about her, the President or her projects, as if the grapevine had a sort of oracular quality.

Don't get me wrong; I'm delighted she consults (as if it matters whether I approve or not!) and it's good to know what is the word on the street, or at least the word that reaches her. But given that one instinct here is to try to look good by making others look bad, defensive criticism is rather a common currency, and some of the more negative stuff that comes back to me about Massar is really not worthy of her consideration. It's also the case that rather than sort out issues (which always crop up) between the managers concerned, people here always send things up the pipe until they come to a point of shared responsibility. They discharge their own responsibility to sort the prolem our by reporting it to their manager. For almost all non-governmental projects, that means Ministers and Governors getting issues fed up to them and they of course raise them with the First Lady's office, and she then with me. So, however trivial, they are immediately given substance, and take on the appearance of exceptional problems rather than the normal bumps that any project encounters and has to work through.

I am fighting against the desire to Do Unto Others in this respect. There is one trusted advisor to Mrs A with whom we are having quite a lot of dealings at the moment. She is universally regarded as someone only out for herself, who starts up projects that make her look good but doesn't stick with them, doesn't keep her word, and she is making mischief for us. Yet the First Lady trusts her implicitly and won't hear a word against her. So I smile and keep quiet.


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