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Thursday 20 June 2019
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Commentary

Do you know who I am?

REGINALD DUMAS

LAST YEAR’S Piarco Airport incident involving Ministers Dennis Moses and Camille Robinson-Regis jogged my memory. Pardon – alleged incident. Didn’t Moses tell Parliament there had in fact been no incident “per se” (whatever that means)? And we know politicians never lie. What they do is constantly discover new truths. Anything at odds with a new truth is fake news.

But if there was no incident, why did the Airports Authority penalise the security guard concerned? Punishment over a non-incident? What does the authority know that Moses doesn’t? We heard there was a video of the incident, but no audio. If so, on what firm evidential basis did the authority act? But if there was no incident, what could possibly have been videotaped? A video of nothing? We could yet lead the world in cutting-edge technology.

I recall a similar case from nearly 30 years ago, when I was permanent secretary to the prime minister. A minister came to see Winston Dookeran, who was acting as PM for ANR Robinson, then recuperating from his July 1990 trauma. At that time, the PM’s office was in the Central Bank building.

On security grounds, the minister was told he couldn’t park in the bank basement. He took humongous and immediate offence; after all, he was a minister. I was told he shouted at the guard: “Do you know who I am? I am (so-and-so)!” The guard was unimpressed.

The minister then stormed upstairs to complain to Dookeran, who requested my urgent presence. I contacted the bank security chief, who quickly arrived and supported the guard’s position. The man was carrying out his instructions; he therefore couldn’t be disciplined. I later heard – this might interest Moses – that he vowed never again to vote for the minister’s party.

It’s not only politicians, and it’s not only TT; the behaviour is universal, and found at all levels, in every facet of society – politics, yes, but also sport, business, entertainment, the foreign service etc.

I remember a South American ambassador slapping an Indian Customs officer at New Delhi Airport; the officer had dared to follow the rules. And the wife of a TT diplomat refused on her arrival at Piarco to pay charges on dutiable items she was bringing in. Her argument? “I’se a diplomat.” Of course.

But though such attitudes are everywhere, they are particularly noticeable in the small society, where room at the top is severely limited, and the scramble to rise particularly intense, even vicious. A directorship, say, or, better, a chairmanship, or, even better, ministerial office – even the prospect of any of those – makes apparently normal people descend into astonishing self-centredness, like crabs in a barrel, as Eric Williams called us.

Ego suddenly incandescent with imagined “power,” you now assert a never-see-come-see “authority,” which derives from the position (and/or title) you hold; you are “in charge,” “in control.” And how do you go about showing that? Repeating that mantra, certainly, but in other ways as well.

You stamp hard in your yard; you walk and talk loudly (a former senior executive of a major insurance company comes irresistibly to mind). At someone else’s expense, you lavishly refurbish your office. You “bouff” people in front of others.

For their part, government politicians are forever “instructing” or “directing” or “mandating;” they hardly ever ask or request, because “soft” language like that could be interpreted as weakness. And they are hell-bent on showing us, who put them in office, that they are indeed “in charge.” Of us.

A mischievous person, or a psychiatrist, could argue that such an obsessive need to show you are the boss might suggest that you aren’t really sure you should be the boss, and that you suspect others also feel the same way. You don’t allow yourself to be deflected by such considerations, however. So even if you are a politician who may one day seek the public’s favour again, you condescend to that very public. Tobago provided a good example of that recently.

Afra Raymond gave a public lecture on his Sandals experiences; it was extremely well-attended and informative, with lively interaction. A few days later, the THA Chief Secretary, Kelvin Charles, issued a media release in which he said that, as Chief Secretary, he was “compelled to make a statement on comments uttered (at the lecture)…and to bring a measure of clarity and balance to some of the issues raised…”

In other words, some of what had been said at the event was, for him, unclear and unbalanced, and he, from his Chief Secretary perch, would dispense enlightenment. Alas, his release was not in consonance with any such dispensation.

May I politely ask: “Do we know who we are?”

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