The Ele­phant Is Dead . . . Long Live The Ele­phant!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

I’ve of­ten won­dered why suc­ces­sive gov­er­nors gen­eral and prime min­is­ters so of­ten see the need to re­mind us that we are a spe­cial breed, re­silient beyond com­pare. There is hardly a throne speech or a bud­get ad­dress on record that does not be­gin with that line about how tough we are “as a peo­ple.” If only they would also see the need to iden­tify the ev­i­dence that sets us apart from the rest of the herd. To my mind, ac­cept­ing without se­ri­ous ques­tion what­ever is served us by politi­cians marks us as pas­sive, not re­silient; weakkneed, not tough; and eas­ily sat­is­fied or dis­tracted. I re­call be­ing asked by a vis­i­tor sev­eral years ago about our “fight for in­de­pen­dence.” Quite pos­si­bly with Gre­nada in mind, he wanted to know how many brave Saint Lu­cians had died so their brothers and sis­ters might be free to make our own de­ci­sions. When I in­formed him that the process had been blood­less and that the shots fired were aimed at the stars in cel­e­bra­tion of our new sta­tus, he ap­peared con­fused.

Per­haps I should’ve made it eas­ier for my friend. I should have told him straight that our fight for in­de­pen­dence was fought right here at home, with Saint Lu­cians on both sides de­ter­mined to rip out each other’s throats. Then again, per­haps that would’ve been even more be­fud­dling, since he seemed to be­lieve we had the same goal. In all events, the whole “free to do as we please” thing had been delu­sive; at best sym­bolic—as are most lo­cal oc­cur­rences. Which brings to mind the writer V. S. Naipaul, as fa­mous for his acer­bic wit as for his pen­chant for dis­pens­ing in­con­ve­nient truths, one of which cen­tered on our na­ture.

Per­mit me to para­phrase: The Caribbean is doomed pre­cisely be­cause its peo­ple refuse to rec­og­nize the vi­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween re­al­ity and ole mas. We laugh the loud­est when the joke is on us—which, I sup­pose, is in­dica­tive of a kind of re­silience! But then shouldn’t there be a point to re­silience, de­fined as “the ca­pac­ity to re­cover quickly from dif­fi­cul­ties?” By our own mea­sure our peo­ple have been the tar­get of po­lit­i­cal slings and ar­rows go­ing back cen­turies. Still we suf­fer in rel­a­tive si­lence. Where is our re­cov­ery plan?

We seem al­ways to be pre­par­ing for war, but al­ways against one an­other. De­pen­dent on whether the per­pe­tra­tors are garbed in red or yel­low, we hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. So we con­tinue to per­pet­u­ate evil, lesser or greater. To quote once again the per­cip­i­ent Sir Louis BlomCooper, to whom we handed over a king’s ran­som to tell us what we’d al­ways known but re­fused to ac­knowl­edge, let alone take re­me­dial ac­tion: “I have dis­cerned a cul­ture in St. Lu­cia of stud­ied in­dif­fer­ence or, at the very least, inat­ten­tion to the prac­tice, even the con­cept, of pub­lic ac­count­abil­ity; a cul­tural cli­mate in which ad­min­is­tra­tive tor­por is of­ten the con­se­quence, and mal­prac­tices in gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing cor­rup­tion, can thrive, un­ham­pered by de­tec­tion or, if and when un­cov­ered, by dis­ci­plinary ac­tion.”

He had iden­ti­fied in his re­port of a 1998 com­mis­sion of in­quiry “cer­tain as­pects of se­ri­ous mal­prac­tices and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion in gov­ern­ment: A se­nior civil ser­vant dis­re­garded, if not pos­i­tively de­fied, a clear pro­hi­bi­tion on en­gag­ing at any time in any pri­vate ac­tiv­ity which might be in con­flict with, or harm­ful to gov­ern­ment; a breach by a former min­is­ter in gov­ern­ment of the strict rules re­lat­ing to gov­ern­men­tal con­tracts [Guy Joseph had not yet started his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer!]; and a se­ries of acts of mis­man­age­ment, not to say im­proper ac­tion, by the chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of a gov­ern­ment agency es­tab­lished to man­age gov­ern­ment hous­ing. Min­is­ters and civil ser­vants should be re­minded of the rules re­lat­ing to pub­lic ex­pen­di­ture, and those per­sons ap­pointed to pub­lic au­thor­i­ties or gov­ern­ment agen­cies must com­ply strictly with their re­mits.”

But some­thing in the back of Blom-Cooper’s brain—per­haps his dis­cerned es­tab­lished lo­cal in­dif­fer­ence to un­cov­ered cor­rup­tion— gave him rea­son to is­sue the fol­low­ing warn­ing: “More, a great deal more, will be needed to dis­pel the per­va­sive in­flu­ence of the cul­ture that I have iden­ti­fied. Other­wise, the al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion which prompted the [Kenny An­thony] gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish the com­mis­sion, will con­tinue to flow. The sus­pi­cion in the pub­lic’s mind that the ma­chin­ery of gov­ern­ment is not work­ing, and con­se­quently that cor­rup­tion is rife, is al­most as dam­ag­ing to the pub­lic weal as in­di­vid­ual cor­rup­tion it­self . . .”

More­over: “An im­pe­tus to­ward a changed at­ti­tude in the var­i­ous de­part­ments of gov­ern­ment will be nec­es­sary. If the gov­ern­ment has at least put St. Lu­cia on the road to good gov­er­nance by en­cour­ag­ing the ex­po­sure of past fail­ures, the fu­ture de­mands a per­ma­nent search­light . . . St Lu­cian sun­light on gov­ern­ment has been too of­ten clouded over by an un­will­ing­ness of those in author­ity to ex­pose to pub­lic scru­tiny the pub­lic ac­tiv­i­ties of ei­ther them­selves or of oth­ers. St. Lu­cians should be as­sured that fail­ures and mal­prac­tices in gov­ern­ment, once iden­ti­fied, will not go pub­licly un­no­ticed.”

How im­per­cip­i­ent of the im­ported com­mis­sioner, that he failed to re­al­ize cor­rup­tion can thrive only with the per­mis­sion of the peo­ple; that cor­rup­tion is a bi­par­ti­san ac­tiv­ity. There have been other com­mis­sions of in­quiry since Sir Louis BlomCooper sub­mit­ted his re­port to the Kenny An­thony gov­ern­ment nearly two decades ago. In all that time, while all kinds of al­le­ga­tions con­tinue to pol­lute our Chris­tian at­mos­phere, not a sin­gle sus­pect of­fi­cial has been re­quired to ac­count for his stew­ard­ship be­fore a judge.

As I write an ele­phant half the size of the build­ing that houses it sits more or less ig­nored in a cor­ner of its cage while the pub­lic pays through the nose for its up­keep. The birth of the red pachy­derm named Gryn­berg has yet to be ac­counted for by its pu­ta­tive pro­gen­i­tor. Mean­while, at least half the na­tion, the ma­jor­ity also clothed in red, in­sists the ele­phant is but a fig­ment of some­one’s imag­i­na­tion, some­one yel­low-garbed, and that if in­deed there ever was an ele­phant hid­ing be­hind the prime min­is­ter’s chair, it long ago had passed away.

The ele­phant is dead . . . long live the ele­phant!

None so blind as those who will not see po­lit­i­cal pachy­derms in the House!

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