By Raffique Shah
December 28, 2014
In the spirit of the season, which for me means extra-laid-back, lazy if you will, certainly not busy with chores that people ignore all year only to attack feverishly only at Christmas time, I thought I’d round of the year on a high note even as I lay low.
Really, we cannot be so blighted to have endured yet another year of foul-ups by those on high and lawlessness from top to bottom, crime down but criminals running free, a health system that’s ready for the dreaded Ebola but takes two years to deliver cataract surgery, costly free education that churns out a handful of bright young people but a mass of dumb others—surely, we would be spared worse in the final few days of the year.
Or so I thought.
Then news broke of a very senior police officer, assigned to lead the complex anti-crime charge in Tobago, but the man could not even switch off a simple cellphone! Tell me, how can residents of the sister isle repose confidence in this man, however impressive his record in fighting crime may be?
In this modern world where criminals use digital devices to augment their armouries, the last thing citizens need is for the police high command to place the fate of an island in the hands of a technology-challenged officer. Who knows what other handicaps he has?
However, in a country where the blind lead the blinder, stranger things happen. I shan’t be surprised if the officer in question is promoted for being valiant (to wit, battling the captain and crew of a hostile aircraft), or even elevated to Commissioner. Nowadays, it seems, any cook or ace bottlewasher can be a commissioner.
My lazy-daze was further interrupted by the overnight appearance of billboards bearing the Santa-ific images of our esteemed Prime Minister, erected along the highways, wishing the nation a happy Christmas. Fresh from delivering tens of millions dollars’ worth of toys to a hundred thousand or so children, the origins of which remain shrouded in the mystery of kickbacks if not the myth of the central and south growth poles, the PM, or her handlers, upped the propaganda ante with promotion of the personality cult.
Now, if the PM had used such billboards in an elections campaign, and if they were paid for by her party or openly sponsored by some financier, I would have yawned, curled up in my hammock, and promptly dozed back into a Christmas coma.
But there are several irregularities hovering over these billboards that disrupted my reverie. Communications Minister Vasant Bharath said they cost $60,000, small change really for today’s politicians.
Fine. But who paid for them? Were they Government-funded, corporate-sponsored, or mysteriously materialised by hands as unseen as those that produced toys by the tonnes? The answer to these questions is of material interest to the nation. If it was public funds used, who authorised the expenditure, from what ministry?
Ordinarily, I’d just yawn over something like this. But this Prime Minister has the distinction of having her face etched on more objects than all her predecessors combined, and quite possibly more than all Caribbean leaders ever, except for Haiti’s Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and I wonder why.
I have never seen the lady in the flesh, but maybe she thinks she has the prettiest face in the country, so why not flaunt it? She smiles at her supporters from coffee mugs and teacups, T-shirts and bandanas, postcards and stationery, posters and placards, banners and buntings, tissue and toilet paper… Really, the lady smiles through every crack and crevice in the country.
Her omnipresence reminds me of some of the more notable practitioners of the personality cult of an era I thought had long expired, mostly men, who stamped their larger-than-life personalities on their people, a few by acclaim, most by decree. I refer to the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Churchill, Franco, de Gaulle—names that mean nothing in today’s world.
France’s wartime leader de Gaulle epitomised this trait of near-divinity when he all but trumpeted Louis XV’s “L’Etat C’est Moi” (I am the State). A visiting head of state, walking with de Gaulle on the grounds of the Versailles Palace commented, “Lovely morning, Charles.” “Thank you!” replied de Gaulle. After all, He created the morning!
When a leader assumes God-like airs, he or she sets herself up for a fate worse that political death. As towering as the men above were in their heyday, when they fell, it hurt. Churchill was dumped as prime minister immediately after the war. Mussolini was killed and discarded by Italians. Hitler took the cyanide exit. Stalin died mysteriously, and so the mightiest who thought they were supreme, indispensible, were booted out of power in ignominy.
As I watch the Prime Minister touting her face in the hope that it launches a million votes, I recall the adage “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Now, let me return to my doze: wake me up when it’s over.