be tempted by the shine
only for a taste of justice
that you have is your soul
afternoon in Couva, the rain was splattering untidily over garbage-filled
drains - KFC boxes, plastic bags, bottles, soggy newspapers. Ragged
children of school-going age ran out of their wooden houses to stare and
smile at the sight of dozens of suited men parking their cars on the
narrow streets and pavements, before disappearing into a local restaurant
for a South Chamber of Commerce meeting.
was a buzz when the feature speaker, Carlos John, well-groomed in an
impeccably-cut day suit, with manicured hands, (no doubt, if one got close
enough, his cologne would be expensive and subtle and his breath, minty)
bustled into the restaurant, bringing with him the aura of importance,
high connections, plush-carpeted Board rooms, and weighty matters of
was late, he said, because he was in a meeting, (implied: high level) and
there was another he was missing, chaired by the Honourable (John)
Humphrey, to attend this one. Never mind, he had already attended the
meeting chaired by the Prime Minister. The audience took it as it was
meant - a compliment that his regard for them was so great, that despite
his position, he took time off his busy schedule.
between the discreet clashing of knives and forks on plates, the gathering
listened attentively to what was described afterwards as a lecture on the
state of the nation’s roads.
was a plan, said Mr John, (delivered as if it were an epiphany). Every MP
was being asked to submit the ten top priority roads in their area. Of
these, the top five would be dealt with first. We are the wealthiest
country in the region, he said, and there is no reason why our
infrastructure shouldn’t be the best.
the rain drummed outside, this small audience watched this man, whose
every smooth pore screamed of success, wade cautiously into politics. He
spoke slowly, carefully reading his carefully-written speech as well as he
could. The main thing this time was not to fumble or make mistakes.
no doubt, as his confidence grows, he will draw on his experience as an
insurance salesman - to convince, persuade. We will forgive him if his
delivery was somewhat stilted, halting, read rather than spoken. Then
there were times when he was a bit muddled, as if unsure of his position,
since he made references to “My Government” followed by “Our
Parliament - since Government is made up of two sides” and the piece de
resistance when he vowed to complete “what we were elected to do”.
That is, fix the nation’s roads in record time.
sat down, then came back impulsively to the mike to refute the impression
“out there” that he was implementing “the Carlos John Plan”. On
the contrary, “The Plan” was to be a team effort of highly-qualified
public servants. He sat down to applause. No one looked as pleased as he
did with his own magnanimity.
don’t know much about Mr John, except that he dresses immaculately, that
he paved the Savannah in record time, was a major player in the Miss
Universe Contest, and is or was a former CLICO executive. And now, a
would be a cheap shot at this stage to call the Honourable Carlos John an
opportunist who has entered politics only for his own benefit. Let’s
give him the benefit of the doubt. Too often we are mean-spirited to
hard-working, driven people and grudge them the rightful financial and
social fruit of their labours. The green-eyed monster of envy makes us
pull people down, so we can feel tall, instead of pulling ourselves up,
Mr John would be naive not to recognise, that like all our politicians, he
will be presumed guilty by the objective observer of being self-serving,
until he proves otherwise. Mr John, a newcomer (like Mr Gillette), is
being closely watched by an intelligent and wary population, with a kind
of fatalism which comes from experience and disappointment, to be betrayed
and exploited again by yet another politician.
there is always a sliver of hope which defies reality. Maybe, this man
will do what he is supposed to do - represent the voiceless, serve and
improve the lives of the thousands of citizens who can barely scrape
together a living.
the great politicians of our age: Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela,
Jawaharlal Nehru, Winston Churchill, John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln - men
whose passion and spirit burst out of their individual bodies to encompass
countries, stretch across continents.
became substantial, wise, popular, humanist, liberal not through PR but
the weight of their character formed by vast knowledge of history,
economics, science, sociology.
charisma is no secret. Their fire and ideals had a solid base of a
lifetime of unswerving conviction that somehow, they had to elevate their
people; that they had the power to carve out, light up thousands of lives,
project the destiny of a people and country, way beyond their individual
we live in the era of the quick fix, where finance and technology rather
than the humanities, drive men to the top. The irony of new technology is
it creates many men and cities of tinsel.
we don’t take our history and social sciences as seriously as we do our
MBAs and management and sales courses, we will continue to allow history
to repeat itself, spin top in mud, as we have these past 50 years.
We can mourn the past but we need to work with the
present. So let us presume, for his sake (and ours), that as Minister
Carlos John was being driven out of Couva, he was able to see through his
tinted glass, the connection between his present power to the ragged
children playing near unsanitary drains outside flimsy wooden houses; the
connection between his belief we are a wealthy country to the need to
spread the wealth more evenly; the connection between breaking bread with
the upper crust to duty to his country as a representative of the people;
the connection between power and responsibility. We hope.
VS Naipaul wrote more than 43 years ago in “The
Mystic Masseur”, there was no politics in Trinidad, only personalities.
In “Guerrillas”, published ten years later, he was clear on his
opinion of the politics of a small tropical island: narrow, insular men
without world views, operating without context or history. Naipaul
intimated in “Guerrillas” that our politicians are phony, ambitious
men without substance, who are ejected and admitted into a politics of
shifting sands based on short-term expedience, rather than the strength of