By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 20, 2007
My mother used to say, “The more you live; the more you see.” She was correct. I never thought I would live to see the day when the Prime Minister of our country, at the opening of Parliament, offer his hand in friendship and camaraderie to the Leader of the Opposition, only to have the latter shake his hand and then wipe off the handshake with his handkerchief as if to say “I will to have nothing to do with you or this deliberative body.”
I never thought I would live to see the day when members of Parliament would be so rude to the Speaker of the House of Representatives that they would refuse to shake his hand at the opening of Parliament. Mickela Panday, caught in between what was courteous and what was crass simply nodded to the Speaker. If this is the lesson a father teaches his daughter in the glare of the national spotlight one wonders if he really has anything meaningful to say to the nation’s children.
The members of the Opposition could not even share a ceremonial drink with the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate. They preferred the hospitality of Crown Plaza Hotel.
The members of the Opposition do not understand what civility, public accountability or plain decency demands. When someone is elected to the Parliament he ceases to represent him or herself. When one enters Parliament one speaks for the thousands of people who gave him or her the right to speak for them. One expects each person to do his duty and to conduct himself with grace and dignity.
In The Case for Party Politics, Eric Williams quoted Edmund Burke to give a sense of what it means to occupy such a high office. He said: “Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of Bristol; he is a Member of Parliament.”
Parliament represents the apogee of a people’s aspirations; a distillation of their political views; and a reflection of their noblest selves. We expect our representatives to conduct themselves in an honorable way which is why we call them honorable which, according to Webster’s Dictionary, designates behavior that is performed or accompanied with marks of respect and attesting to creditable conduct. Can we say that the behavior of these gentlepeople-except that of Winston Peters and Nizam Baksh-was accompanied by marks of respect or attested to credible conduct?
Is this the behavior that the members of public should expect from their servants who they granted the honor to represent their affairs in a public space? Is this the crassness and denigration that the Opposition wishes to communicate to our children?
During the elections, Jack Warner and Panday flew fourteen hours non-stop to meet Nelson Mandela. Some say they went to seek his endorsement; Panday said they went to get his guidance and advice. Whatever they went for there is one fundamental Mandela principle that they failed to receive from Mandela: that is, his belief that one cannot merely appeal to the head of one’s opponent to convince him about the truth or righteousness of one’s cause. One must also address his heart as well. This is why Mandela was victorious in South Africa.
UNC also brought Martin Luther King, III to convince the population that their project was one of peace and love. The UNC never understood Martin Luther King’s message to his people. King preached a gospel of the redemptive possibility of love. He believed that love is a more powerful emotion than hate and that you win over your opponent by love rather than hate. He lived and died by this message.
In one of his song, Bob Marley chanted: “You can fool some of the people, some time,/ You can’t fool all of the people, all of the time.”
This was the trinity (Mandela, King and Marley) through which UNC chose to convey its election message. However, UNC practices one kind of politics during election time and another after election. When the election is over the UNC releases its real fangs on the population.
How long they can live the charade of bombast; classlessness; crassness and bad manners?
Mr. Panday may have felt that he was slighting Mr. Manning. Yet, whatever his faults, no one can take away Manning’s class, his sophistication and his gravitas. He may not have been born of kings but he certainly carries himself in a kingly light. Panday, Warner or any of UNC’s lesser lights can never dim the luminosity of his presence.
The people who elected the UNC and in whose name they serve deserve representatives who understand what it means to act honorably. It takes little to be generous in spirit and even less brought-up-cy to understand the nobler cause that a Member of Parliament serves. The nation wins when the Opposition embraces these virtues.
5 thoughts on “The More You Live…”
DENIS SOLOMON WROTE THIS ARTICLE IN 2005.
By Denis Solomon
February 28, 2005
I would be less than honest if I did not admit to heaving a sigh of relief when the UNC was defeated at the 2002 election. I hold no brief for the PNM. But five years of Panday was more than enough, on aesthetic grounds alone.
When the UNC took office in 1995, all the pent-up frustration its previous avatars had accumulated over 30 years in opposition burst out in a flood of vulgarity that stripped from the politics of Trinidad and Tobago whatever slight veneer of civility it had acquired. PNM corruption had been subtle and underhand; UNC graft was open and in-your-face.
The PNM manipulated the media; the UNC beat up reporters in the Mid-Centre Mall. The PNM packed the Service Commissions; the UNC leapfrogged individual favourites over the heads of more qualified candidates and blamed the international donor organisations. Manning locked up the Speaker; Panday insulted the Head of State, and the President of Ghana for good measure.
Under the PNM, debate in Parliament was mere empty reciprocal vituperation: under the UNC, Dhanraj Singh offered to show his “gun” to a female member of the Opposition, and boasted on the floor of the House of his wife’s sexual prowess.
Now it is once more in Opposition, the UNC has become even worse. There has never been bipartisanship of any kind in our legislature, but within the limits of political bias, there was some discussion of issues.
Now every issue serves only to whip up blind animosity among UNC adherents, and the discourse is openly racial.
The present controversy about the Chief Justice demanded to be handled with kid gloves by all concerned. Unscrupulous politicking could only diminish the public’s already slender confidence in the system of justice.
Yet unscrupulous politicking is all we have had from the UNC. First Wade Mark’s accusations of a government conspiracy against the Chief Justice. Then Sat Maharaj’s irresponsible threats of race war.
Panday showed himself equally irresponsible not only in the language of his letter to the Prime Minister (“apparent vendetta” and “relentless persistence”) but in his enumeration of completely irrelevant High Court judgements “against” the government. His call for “frankness with the public” sat ill on a man who, as Prime Minister, once suppressed the report of an enquiry that he himself had commissioned.
Panday also not only deliberately misinterpreted the Constitution, claiming that it made the Prime Minister “judge, jury and executioner”, but in the process maligned the President by calling him the “agent” of the Prime Minister.
Panday either does not know or does not care that this kind of politics inevitably falls prey to the law of diminishing returns. Even when he has everything going for him, Panday spoils his case by dragging in irrelevancies and lapsing into abuse. A case in point is the Anti-Terrorism Bill. This is a very dangerous piece of legislation. There are strong arguments that it severely and unnecessarily limits civil liberties, and that its vagueness makes it a potential weapon against dissent of all kinds.
In the Trinbagonian context there was nothing strange in the spectacle of press freedom being defended by a man who did his best to muzzle the press with his demands for the dismissal of editors, his refusal to sign the Chapultepec Declaration, and his nefarious Green Paper; or in the spectacle of citizens’ rights to protest being defended by the man who increased the penalties for “unlawful” assembly in the Summary Offences (Amendment) Act.
But only Panday, in a debate where he had all the good points on his side, would turn it into a cat-fight by talking about putting the law “into the hands of a Government that has shown it is prepared to subvert the Judiciary.”
This, mind you, from the man whose Attorney General was the most sedulous subverter of the judiciary in the history of Trinidad and Tobago, a fact confirmed by the prestigious commission he himself appointed to report on the administration of justice.
And like all those who prize abuse over facts, Panday is also ignorant. The Chief Justice controversy has provided him with yet another opportunity to trot out his weary mantra of constitution reform.
The Chief Justice’s appointment, he says, should be confirmed by a parliamentary committee. Not only is Panday confusing the mechanism of appointment with that of dismissal, but he doesn’t know that in the American system he is lauding, the dismissal of the Chief Justice is theoretically much easier than in ours.
The Americans are dependent on no external Privy Council. The Chief Justice can be impeached by the Senate by a two-thirds majority of those present (not even of the whole Senate).
In fact, a petition is now being circulated by the Democratic National Committee to impeach the Chief Justice and four other Supreme Court judges for having blocked the counting of votes in Florida during the election that gave Bush his first term.
Despite the theoretical ease of the process, the impeachment will not take place.
Why? Because in the American system there is an element that Panday will never understand. Decorum.
Denis Homepage | Trinicenter
Copyright © 2005 Denis Solomon
Thank you Carl, for re-printing the annals of pond scum.I am always lauding my country to people going to work there or wanting to visit.
Yet the national embarassment that is Mr. Basdeo PAnday continues to threaten the spirit of dwelling together in harmony. Such a pity that the media continues to give excessive coverage to the antics of such an unstable and destabilizing person. It is testimony, perhaps to their mindlessness in the search for news as entertainment.
What is needed is a dynamic unifying force to propel this country forward, to aggressively address the ills in society. Can you imagine what would happen if every institution in T&T conducted its daily business like Parliament?
One important lesson to be learned from the Soca Warriors in Germany is that even with a weak frontal attack there can be a near impenetrable defense which commands respect. Let the criminal element know we are a force to be reckoned with. Let the international community know we are an ingenuous people.
What this country needs is unity, a unified people.
I have always been a staunch believer in democracy, freedom of speech and expression, but Mr. Panday and his followers really do test my tolerance levels. Besides being a national embarassment, he is also a personal embarassment because people frequently make the mistake of associating ALL Indotrinis with him, his utterances and perceived racist remarks. I, like you Linda, do live abroad (Canada)but I always try to promote my homeland to friends and potential visitors. I also have two young children, in whose eyes I always try to big-up Trinidad, espouse racial tolerance and promote the diversity of humankind. God only knows what sweet T&T will be like in years to come, with people like Mr. Panday influencing and poisoning the thoughts and opinions of today’s youth and possibly tomorrows leaders.
Panday has attained the status of Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela. Of course all of you hypocrites will only say this when he is dead.
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