Trinidad and Tobago President Anthony Carmona gave a typically insightful and rousing address to Parliament last Friday, which the equally articulate and astute Clarence Rambharat described as “a well-deserved whipping” in his Trinidad Express column.
Here are some highlights from Carmona’s speech: “The elected government of the day is not a benefactor of the Nation’s riches but rather a facilitator of its distribution. The government should ensure that the nation’s resources are evenly and fairly distributed, not based on how one chooses to cast one’s vote…
“Members’ conduct (…) has to meet the expectations of those who placed their confidence in an elected representative…
“For many years, there have been allegations of profligate enrichment by persons in authority. There have been complaints and observations for just as many years that the asset base of politicians is inconsistent with their income and tax returns…”
Was his speech stirring and poignant? Certainly. But a whipping for who exactly?
In my day when you got a whipping, you knew it. You could not sit down for hours and you looked over your shoulder for days. But everyone in Parliament seemed to think that Carmona’s “whipping” was meant for someone else.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s response was that Carmona’s speech was “very refreshing” and “thought provoking.” Like a cool glass of mauby on a warm day.
ILP boss Jack Warner said it was the best speech he ever heard and suggested that everyone should have a copy of it in their homes. Perhaps it will be in the next Sunshine issue.
COP political leader Prakash Ramadhar’s experience seemed almost orgasmic as he said Carmona “spoke to my heart” and made him feel “lifted.”
Former UNC leader Basdeo Panday somehow heard a kindred spirit in the address as he said that: “I thought I was a voice crying in the wilderness.” Presumably, Panday promptly gave Carmona his Blackberry pin.
To be fair, Opposition Leader Keith Rowley did seem to take some responsibility.
“He did in fact take us parliamentarians to task for not measuring up,” Rowley told the Trinidad Express. “…Things are falling apart in this country, our standards have been allowed to fall.”
But not everyone in his PNM party felt that way.
The best example of Carmona’s failure to make any meaningful effect in Parliament came during his admonishment of theatrics in the House of Representatives, which sparked finger-pointing between the Prime Minister, PNM MP Marlene McDonald and UNC MP Roodal Moonilal.
“She (the Prime Minister) was trying to tell me that I engage in theatrics. But I never come in the Parliament with big helmet on my head and goggles and gloves,” said McDonald. “So I looked at her and pointed my finger at Roodal Moonilal and then I put my hands down.”
At that point, Carmona should have realised the futility of appealing to the maturity, decency and moral conscience of this lot. It is like having a mud-slinging competition with a pig; and the Chaguanas West campaign showed us how productive an exercise that can be.
Carmona should have immediately summoned Blackman’s principal, Arlene Blackman, for a round of toilet flushes.
But then his speech was never going to be more than media fodder. Management 101 warns that scatter-gun criticism is often a bad idea.
The targets of your speech are either unaware your barbs are meant for them or they feel that, since you are addressing the entire congregation, they must have lots of company in wrongdoing and take comfort from this notion.
And, at the other end of the scale, those who behave immaculately can become frustrated as they now feel they are being unfairly tarnished along with the miscreants since you could not be bothered to call names or are just not brave enough.
So, with all due respect to Carmona, your eloquence was probably wasted. Try sticks and stones next time; by which I mean, get those regulatory bodies in shape. Nothing else will work with this bunch.
Most of Trinidad and Tobago’s influential politicians today would not recognise an astute moral argument even if it whipped them in the polls.