To Be Or Not To Be . .

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

I miss John Comp­ton! I was mop­ing over the old coot’s de­par­ture even be­fore his fi­nal cur­tain on Septem­ber 7, 2007. By the time he per­mit­ted him­self to be per­suaded to un­der­take his last po­lit­i­cal ad­ven­ture, Comp­ton was no longer the man I had come to know and not-so-se­cretly ad­mire, never mind a quar­ter cen­tury’s worth of po­lit­i­cal life’s vi­cis­si­tudes.

And now, dear im­pa­tient reader, the Fake­book ge­niuses in par­tic­u­lar, please try to re­sist the mined temp­ta­tion to un­der­stand me too quickly. What I am about to re­veal has lit­tle to do with our first prime min­is­ter’s count­less achieve­ments, whether or not uni­ver­sally ap­pre­ci­ated. Let us for once choose not to re­call the sins of the passed, if only to avoid em­bar­rass­ing en­coun­ters with the much alive man in the mir­ror.

But lest I di­gress too far, let’s re­turn to my start­ing point. I miss John Comp­ton most of all for his wit, for his bon mots, more of­ten than not de­liv­ered in­ad­ver­tently—al­ways with the straight­est face. The bi­b­li­cal les­son about prophets in their own land comes to mind; but then it also oc­curs to me that Comp­ton was not to this manor born—which might ex­plain why he stood out from the rest of the herd. But that’s for an­other Sun­day.

To re­turn to the gems that seemed to fall so nat­u­rally out of his mouth, usu­ally in lo­cal kweyol, and de­spite that he was “a Vin­cie boy” who never set foot on Saint Lu­cian soil un­til he was about fif­teen or six­teen: Toutes Lay­bar say voleur; toutes Lay­bar say en­vi­o­leur! (For fur­ther elu­ci­da­tion, in­ter­ested young read­ers, as un­fa­mil­iar with the mother tongue as with lo­cal his­tory, will for a change have to de­pend on the me­mory banks of their thirty-some­thing par­ents!)

Shortly be­fore he passed, one of my re­porters tried to pry out of Comp­ton the rea­son he had pub­licly de­clared the Labour Party—of which he had once been a lead­ing mem­ber—a party of thieves and rapists, al­beit in kweyol. His re­sponse: “You’re ask­ing me about a sub­ject no one knows bet­ter than your pub­lisher. Ask him!”

The re­porter, who was not yet born when Comp­ton spat out his fa­mous put-down at a Vieux Fort rally of his United Work­ers Party, re­turned to her desk ab­so­lutely ker­fuf­fled. As she re­lived her mo­ment with Comp­ton I couldn’t help won­der­ing how long he had been wait­ing for the par­tic­u­lar ques­tion from a STAR re­porter’s mouth.

While driv­ing through Cas­tries on a re­cent wet evening, the de­ceased prime min­is­ter came to mind. Per­haps the ubiq­ui­tous garbage I en­coun­tered en route to my home was the trig­ger. I re­called yet an­other of his ral­lies, this time in Wil­liam Peter Boule­vard, when Comp­ton had taken to task the then leader of the House op­po­si­tion, whose wife and the late prime min­is­ter’s widow are sis­ters. In re­tal­i­a­tion to what­ever his po­lit­i­cal op­po­site had said, Comp­ton im­plied that all Saint Lu­cia had go­ing for it was its im­age in the eyes of trust­ing for­eign in­vestors—and for which he alone was re­spon­si­ble.

“When you sully my rep­u­ta­tion,” he lec­tured his au­di­ence, “you sully the rep­u­ta­tion of our coun­try. With­out my rep­u­ta­tion all you have is trash.” Did he mean to say his rel­a­tive by mar­riage was garbage? Only the Shake­spearean Comp­ton knew for cer­tain.

As I drove home with trash on my mind on the re­mem­bered rainy Sun­day I won­dered how many of our par­lia­men­tar­i­ans would dare to brag dur­ing a House ses­sion about how they value their unas­sail­able rep­u­ta­tions way above any num­ber of BMWs and off­shore bank ac­counts. Can you, dear reader, con­ceive of the pop­u­lar re­ac­tion? As for you, se­cret wannabe Kar­dashian, what would you not give for a Chanel or a Louis Vuit­ton clutch bag?

Con­sider, if you will, a lo­cal hot-shot com­plain­ing to a re­cent po­lice train­ing school grad­u­ate that some jumbie had jumped his wife and grabbed her purse—mul­ti­ple credit cards, valu­ables and all— while mo­men­tar­ily dis­tracted by the up­lift­ing am­bi­ence of the Cas­tries wa­ter­front. Imag­ine the of­fi­cer ad­vis­ing the poor man not to worry, go home to his TV, and thank his lucky stars his wife’s rep­u­ta­tion re­mained in­tact. Would the gen­tle­man of­fer a thank-you-Je­sus prayer that all his wife had lost was trash, that it wasn’t as if she’d lost her good name to some name­less se­rial rapist?

Okay, let’s get closer still to home. Let’s imag­ine you woke up one morn­ing to dis­cover as you’re about to set off to work that the brand new left-hand-drive Honda you parked near your home the night be­fore has van­ished. Would your first thought be “he who steals my car steals trash” and all that other Shake­spearean guff you picked up in col­lege?

What if lo­cal mag­is­trates should sud­denly take it into their learned heads to dis­miss the pend­ing scores of rob­beries and bur­glar­ies be­fore the courts, on the Shake­spearean premise that what re­ally mat­ters are our rep­u­ta­tions, not our trashy purses and wal­lets? Would we take to the streets with plac­ards bear­ing mes­sages that speak loud­est about our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem?

As I write, some flak catcher is on the ra­dio car­ry­ing on about how Saint Lu­cia once was listed among the world’s least cor­rupt na­tions, thanks to a for­mer won­der­ful prime min­is­ter with his un­shak­able be­lief in trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity.

If John Comp­ton was cor­rect back in the day when he said our coun­try’s most valu­able as­set was its leader’s squeaky clean rep­u­ta­tion; if the hack on the ra­dio spoke noth­ing but truth, then why do we con­tinue to bor­row more and more mil­lions in the name of sur­vival? Why can’t we shop in the good name of our lead­ers?

Could the prob­lem be our propen­sity for dis­pos­ing of hard cash—earned, bor­rowed or stolen—as if truly it were trash? Or could it be our rep­u­ta­tion has al­ways been trash?

The late Sir John Comp­ton: He be­lieved strongly that a na­tion’s for­tunes rise or fall, de­pen­dent on the world view of its leader!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saint Lucia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.