Even little children know without prompting what people who live in glass houses should not do. And while I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting a house made of glass, let alone meeting someone who lives in one, I have often wondered about others like myself who inhabit homes made of wood or concrete or a mix of both. Is it all right for us to throw stones?
Though I know only too well the risks involved, I will throw my stones and let the chips fall where they may, notwithstanding we are especially famous for ignoring the song while mercilessly running down the singer. This is a national idiosyncrasy that may be at the root of the wall-to-wall mediocrity that for as long as I’ve lived on this Rock of Sages has plagued our population. Let the dogs bark, this train will remain on track!
But first, a question: Was there ever a time when Saint Lucians took pride in the institution of parliament? Was there ever a time when we demonstrated more than passing interest in the way the nation’s business is conducted? I venture to say that for as many years as we’ve had adult suffrage, that’s how long we’ve decried and tolerated our standard of parliamentary representation. And though it may true that most of us living today never set eyes on such as Oleo JnBaptiste, J. B. Collymore, JMD Bousquet, Beryl Edwards, Maurice Mason, Heraldine Rock, Garnet Gordon and Francis Carasco, it can hardly be that the median age of 30 is to blame for our knowing next to nothing about the named ladies and gentlemen—all of them leading Saint Lucian politicians. I suspect the greater truth is we don’t now, and have never given a hoot about who represents us, whether in parliament or in the field of sport or on the calypso stage. Yes, let’s just chew on that a while! Another irreducible truth: those who knew the earlier mentioned Oleo JnBaptiste and George Charles, the father of the Labour Party, are likely to recall without the least difficulty that they were both alcoholics who eventually were forced to rely on the generosity of the UWP leader John Compton for room and board—and nothing else.
Whatever good the two Labour stalwarts (both quit the SLP in disgust to contribute, if only for a time, to Compton’s secret service!) may have done for Saint Lucia’s labor movement has been left to others to brag about in their own selfish interests. There are no books about JnBaptiste and Charles on our library shelves, or about Sir Garnet and the others earlier mentioned, whether by the long deceased politicians themselves or by other writers. Students have only the newspapers at the Vigie archives to rely on for related information. None of our dead prime ministers—Winston Cenac, John Compton, Allan Louisy— left behind a personal account of his services to the nation. The same may be said of the much-loved Allan Bousquet and George Odlum.
But trust Kenny Anthony to calculatingly resurrect and purposefully embellish Charles’ reputation for campaign reasons, in the process dragging him around to party rallies long after the old man was able to deliver addresses or stand up unaided for more than a few minutes. In his final months the sight of George Charles slouched over and dribbling in his on-platform chair, unseeing glazed eyes staring straight ahead, too often reminded of nothing so much as a museum mummy. But then the SLP leader may have redeemed himself with his erection of Charles’ bust at our airport named in honor of the nation’s first chief minister. One of the Labour Party’s more revealing boasts about its founder went like this: “George Charles is a poor man today only because he was never corrupt in government.” If the line suggested why other former parliamentarians lived in relative luxury, it also sounded like a general indictment of local politicians. As if further to underscore the point, more than one local politician is on record as having recklessly vowed never to “end up like George Charles!”
As recently as 2006, in the midst of a controversy centered on the police discovery of marijuana in a van owned by a local politician (it turned out he had no knowledge of the contraband when he loaned the vehicle to a young relative) a Labour MP phoned Andre Paul’s What Makes Me Mad in defense of his party. Finally, this was his shocking admission: “Andre, there are criminals on both sides!”
Obviously, I am not as well informed as the MP on the particular situation but this I do know: convicted criminals have financed local election campaigns or openly participated in party rallies, often taking their turn at the microphone, without negative public reaction. When the UWP was criticized by the STAR for permitting a known drug trafficker a prominent place on its platform, the day’s attorney general offered this response: “The man has as much right as anyone else to speak freely wherever he chooses!”
A similar riposte came from the Labour Party at the height of the House Speaker-McDoom affair. In their determined defense of the man McDoom accused of raping him several times when he was still just a boy and living with him and his wife (McDoom’s aunt), this is what two Labour MPs said on TV: “What a man does in the privacy of his home is his personal business not ours to condemn.” Evidently, even when what he is privately engaging in is a felony!
No need to say much on the well-known Jessica scandal. Not only was its central figure—the nation’s prime minister—defended by his Cabinet and party colleagues, even church representatives sought to give him cover. When the then leader of the Christian Council was confronted with evidence of the prime minister’s affair with a school girl and asked to comment, this was how he defended his resounding silence: “If John the Baptist had been more careful, he might’ve saved his head!”
Admittedly, much has changed since the days of John Compton but in the field of politics I fear such change has largely been for the worse. Our current parliamentary representatives on both sides of the House routinely describe each other as criminals, in effect giving credence to the MP’s earlier recalled revelation to Andre Paul.
Are our MPs really criminals? The answer depends on its source. The Labour Party, despite the findings of recent commissions of inquiry, boasts that its representatives are holier by far than their UWP counterparts. No surprise that the UWP swears its own side is as close as man can possibly get to godliness. Somewhere between the two sides resides the provable truth. But then, are we really interested in verifiable truth? Not by the evidence. We are far more dedicated to supporting our own son of a bitch (as in 1939 President Truman referred to Samoza) against the other side’s son of a bitch.
Few Labourites are disposed to acknowledging the obvious wrongs of Kenny Anthony while in office, preferring instead to relegate the record to the forgettable past. Talk about Rochamel, the NCA mess, the Helenites cover-up, Helenair and now Grynberg and instead of recognizing a pattern of behavior they quickly try to draw you into a tit-for-tat exchange.
They cite the issue of the Tuxedo concessions, some even juxtaposing that against Grynberg. They remind you of Richard Frederick’s tussle with the customs over alleged under-invoicing, and the traffic offenses involving two government ministers that for unexplained reasons went nowhere. The UWP, on the other hand, offers every possible excuse for the more obvious shortcomings of the current administration. So do we deserve our governments, regardless of their mediocrity? Are our parliamentarians replicas of ourselves or do they represent only the worst aspects of the Saint Lucian character?
Not long ago I had reason to write about the Adventists in Parliament, AIPs for short. When was the last time one of these openly religious good guys stood up for what is right, what is good, what is Godly? Is it in harmony with Christian belief to have babies with several women out of wedlock—or to dispose of them before they are born? Is it okay for married MPs to fornicate with the wives of other men, or with their neighbor’s husband or with a harem of jabals? Why do our MPs best known for their advertised spirituality sit so comfortably with ostensible criminals, holier-than-thou pretenders, and other amoral characters with clearly no sense of right and wrong, never offering even a word for the general good—even as they enact laws for the betterment of the society? Is there not one among them with the legitimacy to caststones in defense of the nation’s soul?
No need to remind me, I know it’s the way the rest of us hypocrites live our lives. And yes (in anticipation of that boomerang), count me among the front-line offenders. But then I have never professed to be anyone’s role model, let alone sainthood—unlike the AIPs and their brethren who sit in parliament all puffed up with self-importance, hubris and hypocrisy. Then again, even if the vast majority of us live by the moral code of alley cats, does that justify our placing in the House the worst insults to human decency?
Have we no shame left? Must we allow ourselves to be represented by people we would not welcome in our homes when our wives, children and pets are present? Must we continue to accept our sorry situation as de kolcha?
Even at this late hour there is time yet to demand a higher quality of election candidate. After all, only evil men and women can possibly settle for perceived lesser evils destined with power to become great evils. Despite the depressing evidence, I am not yet convinced the majority of us would willingly help this nation sink any lower than already it has!