By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 25, 2011
Almost invariably, nations, parties and individuals possess different narratives of themselves some of which they present to the world; others that they keep quietly to protect themselves from the world and others. Some of these narratives are wrapped in perfumed sweetness while others are left to petrify, hidden from the public gaze, until their stink pollutes the nation and the self.
Take the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), the head of the IMF, who found himself in trouble last week. By all accounts he is an unflappable diplomat, brilliant economist and astute politician who had every chance to become France’s next president. But then there is the other side of the man. He could not see a skirt and who, it seems, is incapable of keeping his precious parts within his pants.
Everyone around him knew his failings. Living in a society where male privilege is taken for granted and open expressions of sexuality are seen to reflect healthy egos it is easy to see how sexual indiscretions are encouraged, excused and even applauded. Even his third wife, Anna Sinclair, accepted these indiscretions as part of her husband’s essential maleness.
And then the bombshell struck. He seems to have taken liberties where he shouldn’t have and in a place (Protestant America) where such indiscretions take on criminal dimensions and where, given the society’s egalitarianism, no man is above the law. So that what seemed to be gallant and manly in one culture became criminal and boorish in another country for which DSK may pay an enormous price and which has brought much embarrassment to himself, his family and his nation.
Although his friends knew he had a problem few were willing to acknowledge and/or talk about it publicly. In France, it seems the private is precisely that: private and personal. What happens behind closed doors is expected to stay there although it always has the possibility of blowing up in one’s face thereby bringing shame and scandal to the family and the nation.
This brings me to a similar phenomenon-an unspoken narrative– that is being played out quietly in our country behind closed doors among a few friends and which, even our national newspapers, is unwilling to talk about openly and/or examine its implications for national development and our international self-image.
On Tuesday the People’s Partnership (PP) celebrated its first anniversary in office. Seeing her approval rating drop from 68 percent to 54 within a year in office, the PM acknowledged having made mistakes and promised “Better days are coming…We have learnt and continue to learn from positive and negative, and even as we strive with you to find the most effective path to good governance.” Dr. Roodal Moonilal, in ventriloquist fashion, quipped: “We have learned from our mistakes, we commit that these mistakes will be fewer and that we will eradicate all.”
However, the PM and her colleagues did not tell us what is the source of these mistakes; how they intend to eradicate them; and what accounts for such lack of efficiency? For example, how does a Prime Minister fail to read a memo that her Minister of Planning sent to her five months previously? And how does a prime minister tell a nation that many things come across her desk that she is unable to read and respond to?
How does she determine what is important to the nation and how does she miss a regional meeting of Prime Ministers as she stays home to prepare for her party’s fete? Is this one of the memos that came over her desk that she was unable to read?
One wonders why the nation did not rise up in righteous indignation over the fact that the PM took five months to acknowledge receipt of a memo or did not even have the decency tell the nation why a party fete is more important than attending to national business.
Since so many matters of state come across the PM’s desk daily and, as she confesses, she does not have sufficient time to read them all, one wonders how many important matters of state are left in abeyance and what impact such dereliction of duty has on the nation? More importantly, does the PM’s purported “drinking problem” affect her ability to carry out the nation’s business?
During the UNC’s internal election Basdeo Panday accused our PM of having a drinking problem. He stated: “I know she has a problem; you know she has a problem; everyone knows she has a problem. She has a weakness that can be exploited.”
On January 12, 2010, a Newsday headline read: “I do not Have a Drinking Problem!” The article continued: “With these words Siparia Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday dismissed speculation about her drinking habits which surfaced when Political Leader Basdeo Panday claimed she had a serious problem which made her unfit to lead the UNC.”
According to Panday and Ramesh Maharaj, “the rumor” of Kamla’s drinking problem was started by Jack Warner who claimed that her behavior in India was unbecoming. When questioned by Newsday, Warner retorted: “I made a foolish remark in Rio Claro on the campaign trail and that’s political banter. I was not in India with her….and therefore I cannot say anything about her…”
“(Vasant) Bharat, (Roodal) Moonilal and (Wade) Mark should have known better and told Panday, ‘Don’t go that way chief’ but instead they joined him and feel that by bad-talking Kamla that made them feel macho.”
Questions about Kamla’s “drinking problem” persist as an underground narrative of the nation. There are those who believe that her “drinking problem” prevents her from carrying out her duty in an efficient manner? Forty percent of persons sampled in the MFO poll were “somewhat dissatisfied or not at all satisfied” with the management of her Cabinet while 22 per cent remained neutral. Only 34 percent of the respondents assessed her ability favorably.
Does the nation have a right to know if its Prime Minister has a drinking problem and, if so, does it prevent her from carrying out her duties promptly and efficiently? Her colleagues may wish to keep this information under wraps but can the nation afford such a luxury. Better days cannot come if our leader is either sick or in denial of her condition?
Such national blindness can lead to disastrous consequences. Strauss-Kahn and the French people learned this to their regret.
It can happen here.