By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
December 13, 2011
Annabella stocking want patching
She want de doctah to help she with dat
Johnson trousers falling
He want de doctor help he wid dat
Some want a zephyr motor car
Others want a piece of land
[Now] Dorothy loss she man
She want to complain to Doctoh Williams.
In 1958, as the demands upon Dr. Eric Williams grew, the Mighty Striker penned “Don’t Blame de PNM” in which he elevated Dr. Williams to the status of godhead. Dr. Williams may have been ironic in quoting this poem in his autobiography. However, Striker was on target when he satirized the fickleness of our people’s understanding of government when he observed that even when yo’ lose yo’ man, yo expect the prime minister to help yo’ with dat.
As the calypso suggests, politics in a colonial era centered on the omnipotence of the leader. Fifty three years later, after all of the criticism of Doctah politics, the party that was supposed to usher in a new day is still singing the same old song and practicing the same old politics. While the maximum leader may have been acceptable in the age of colonialism, in 2011, it is anachronistic.
Take the case of Akini Gill, a young man who broke through barriers of dyspraxia and dyslexia to achieve a first degree at UWI and accepted thereafter into a MA program at New York University (NYU). It is a program I know because my younger daughter received a MA degree in business-music from NYU some years ago.
After Akini was accepted, the heavy hand of bureaucracy intervened. Ten days after having been awarded a scholarship the government informed this young man that the award of his scholarship was “an administrative error.” This is rubbish. I have been a part of the United States higher education system for almost forty years. Once a scholarship (or admittance) is granted to a student it stands whether it is an error or not.
According to the Guardian (the story was broken by the Mirror), the government advanced three reasons for withdrawing the scholarship: a) NYU only accepted him because he has a learning disability and they will receive a grant; b) the Scholarship Selection Committee had no right to recommend Gill for that kind of scholarship; and c) several Cabinet ministers do not support granting Akini that kind of scholarship because they would have to make similar waivers for others in the future.
I do not know how “the Cabinet” gets into such matters? One would have thought that such a decision was within the purview of the committee selected for making such decisions. Most citizens remember the big hullabaloo the Prime Minster made when she revealed that the previous government awarded close to 43 million dollars in scholarships to fellow citizens. No one can forget the spectacle she made when she lamented that over 90 per cent of these scholarships went to Africans without regard to merit or criteria.
Yet, this same government who belabored the unfairness of the PNM scholarship program is now telling us that every Tom, Dick and Harripaul that they can reach into every area of national life to make decisions that affect the most intimate aspects of our lives.
One would have thought that once a competent committee was set up to administer a scholarship program the government would have abided by their decision, the assumption being that it knows what it is doing. I would not expect our Minister of Multiculturalism, for example, to know one thing about the criterion for a student who wishes to pursue a master’s degree in physics. And there is really no reason why he should know about it because it does not fall within his area of responsibility or his knowledge base.
But such is the politicization and over-bureaucratization of the society that ministers of government have their hands in everything. The Minister of Works tells the Port Authority who to hire and fire; the Cabinet tells the Scholarship Committee to whom to award scholarships; the Minister of Foreign Affairs decides the correct balance of ethnicities for foreign consulates; while the Minister of Ideological Affairs decides the race of the child that is admitted into “his” school.
Just when things were looking hopeless, just as Akini began to despair, our loving Prime Minister intervened and, in one splendid moment, she turned water into wine. Akini was awarded his scholarship. Our divinely-anointed Prime Minister declared that “in the spirit of love and giving” “her government will give to young Akini.” And we say that miracles do not happen again.
What remains striking his how little things have changed over the last fifty-two years. Personality and arbitrariness still take place over laws and procedures; the Prime Minister still acts as a god; and every one still bows at her behest. She still see herself as goddess, an anachronism in this day and age and a reduction of the democracy to the “I am that I am” principle.
The prime minister has elevated her status to the point where she asserts that everything in the country revolves around her. Without a trace of irony she declares that “there is always resistance to change that is a known scientific factor…in terms of change in any institution, organization in a society…I am consumed by the need to address all kinds of matters…There is a huge responsibility to get it right and so many people depend on the decisions I make.”
So that what began as a coalition of parties and shared responsibilities reduces itself to a glorification of self to a point where she has the power to give and take; the ability to make and break; and the capacity to fool herself with simplistic rhetoric.
Under the circumstances, one is forced to ask: “In this country, what has changed over the last eighteen months and can we point to one institution that embodies the change of which our Prime minister speaks?”