It was not the first time since it achieved independence from Britain that the House of Assembly of Saint Lucia had been diverted from its true purpose – that of debating and passing legislation. When it met on Tuesday 11 February, 2014 it had before it a Bill titled ‘The Anti-Gang Bill’. The historic moment of welcoming its first female Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was instead used to divert attention from what some observers believed was a sinister move: to undermine the free association of persons through that Bill. It appeared that certain politicians, who claim ‘experience’ in the art of politics, fell for the diversionary bait, hook line and sinker. The last time that happened may well have been when the House was invited to debate and pass an important money bill, seeking approval for financing road repairs and other unmentionables. Only later did parliamentarians, journalists and the public discover that the package of expenditure included payments to Rochamel and Frenwell for cost over-runs and the like. Still later, the identities of these two became evident and the details which the deals revealed made the government look callous, incompetent and foolish.
At that Tuesday’s sitting the extended display of false sympathy towards the dethroned King by the government benches bordered on unmitigated evil and callousness. So too was the grudging welcome which was offered the new leader of the minority. The display begged further analysis, perchance to discover the motive behind the evil. Such an analysis is befitting a country on the cusp of its thirty-fifth anniversary of political independence and one which has produced noteworthy scholars in every era.
To assist a deeper probing and insight I determined to return to the great treatise of Adam Smith, ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’. In the introduction to the ‘Theory’ we read: ‘That we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others is of a matter of fact too obvious to require any instances to prove it; for this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it.’
In the instance of the sitting of the House under review it was apparent that the pervasive emotion of many persons viewing the proceedings, including this writer, was one of sorrow. Sorrow because it appeared that the country’s parliamentarians did not care how they behaved or sounded in the eyes of the electorate who look to them for guidance. The ‘Honourable gentlemen’ allowed their abundant testosterone to take control; they fell woefully short of grace in welcoming the first-ever female Leader of the Opposition to a status enshrined in the island’s constitution.
On seeing the vulgar display, many persons simply dismissed it with a derisive smirk. Others offered comments that are unprintable. Cheap politics and male hormones had apparently mixed in a volatile concoction which flared up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The reckless verbosity which one observed during an election campaign was on show in the House that day. The campaign for such conduct appeared to be the laying of hands on the National Treasury, and Taiwanese Aid Funds.
The display also reminded one of the former gangs of New York. It was difficult to avoid the thought that the Anti-Gang Bill should also have described the ganging-up of politicians in dark suits who habitually rape and abuse the Treasury and the voiceless and the innocent voter. Some argued that the Anti-Crime Bill should also have provided for senior police officers to enter the House of Parliament and arrest politicians who are shielded from such arrests by the customs and practices of our civilized, parliamentary democracy.
Another point of interest that Tuesday was the confessions of a coward who could not have his way, and hopefully never will, in the reorganization of the United Workers Party. His performance in the House was way beyond pathetic. Someone should tell him that when one is not afraid of any man, there is no need to shout it out or to foolishly emulate the coward who whistles past the darkened cemetery. A person’s strength comes from the conviction of his arguments and from the depth and respect for scholarship and for the opinions of others. Inner strength is conferred by the Creator. Proper nurturing strengthens what God has already blessed. Others will recognize it, and whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, is a matter for them. Grandstanding and childish outbursts merely serve to give the empty boast away. The wise, the experienced and the initiated were not impressed.
In addition to sorrow, one also felt a sense of sympathy for the boys who have been elected to do a man’s job. Here is Adam Smith again: ‘Sometimes, a man can act with perfect prudence, strict justice and proper benevolence but his own passions are very apt to mislead him. The most perfect knowledge, if it is not supported by the most perfect self-command, will not always enable him to do his duty.’
In another place, Mr. Smith writes: ‘Every individual is naturally more attached to his own order in society . . . his own vanity, the vanity and interests of many of his friends . . . are a good deal connected to it.
There is, in ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’, extended discussion about prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude which persons versed in the theology of the Christian church would recognize, and that are embedded throughout the work. Yet Mr. Smith makes no claim to religion or to an unhealthy advocacy of morals without sound reason and succinct arguments.
Perhaps as a gift to Saint Lucia on its thirty-fifth anniversary of independence, a list for compulsory reading should be compiled for persons wishing to enter the honourable and noble profession of politics. ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’ by Adam Smith, along with his later work on economics, ‘The Wealth of Nations’, should be high on the list of priority reading for would-be politicians and friends.
The following was first published on February 22, 2014 in the STAR Newspaper.