Kamla takes the cake...icing et al
By Raffique Shah
October 14, 2007
Money, even politicians will tell you, is the root of all evil. After all, ever since this country's coffers were boosted by oil dollars back in the 1950s, many an elected member has been accused of stealing from the public purse. When Dr. Eric Williams came on the electoral scene in 1956, one charge he used to crush the burly "Bertie" Gomes with was corruption. Shortly after he was put in charge of the Treasury, Williams would himself be accused of corruption. Or, more accurately, that he harboured corrupt ministers and underlings.
Eventually, after Williams died and the PNM fell from grace, corrupt rats like John O'Halloran, Francis Prevatt and John Ou Wai jumped ship quite literally. O'Halloran was found guilty of corruption posthumously (probably the first Order of Corruption so awarded), and Prevatt and Ou Wai, not wanting to face the stench of jail on Frederick Street, fled to Panama.
Today, with so much more money coming from our oil and gas, more politicians can be seen in the corridors of the corruption courts than in their constituencies. Since 1981 or thereabouts, we have seen the emergence of party financiers. These are the filthy rich who can afford to buy entire parties, banking on hefty returns once their "man" gets into power. After his electoral success in 1995, when he matched the PNM by winning 17 seats, Basdeo Panday's first expression of gratitude was to "Brian, Ish and Steve". That all three are now stalking the corridors of the courts, not the corridors of power, shows just what money means in today's political arena.
But these distractions aside, money has killed the spirit of elections as recorded by eminent Trinidad writers like Vidia Naipaul (Suffrage of Elvira) and Earl Lovelace (Wine of Astonishment). With voters being pampered (transport to all meetings, grog, food, T-shirts, etc.), wooed and even bought, the new configuration has eliminated a comical character from our political landscape-the omnipresent heckler. Depending on the constituency in which one campaigned, the number of hecklers could change. In one's stronghold, there would be one or two drunks who harass speakers with barbs that would send your own supporters into stitches. In an alien constituency, you could encounter more hecklers than listeners. In that case, you beat a hasty retreat amidst a barrage of cuss.
It was all clean fun: if, as a politician, you could not handle a heckler (hell, you had the mike, he had only his mouth), then voters would use that as a measure of your mettle-or lack thereof. Whither goeth the heckler now? He has been banished forever from the campaign trail. With parties ensuring they bus supporters even to cottage meetings, what heckler mindful of his corpus would dare shout: "Manning...yuh mudder...was a nice lady!" Or: "Bas, yuh went for cane with Gypsy!" Who would dare walk up to Winston and shout: "Here! Take dis damn English grammar text and shove it up yuh brain!"
These politicians, with their lust for money, have taken the joy out of campaigning. Instead, they are creating their own theatre, and many have become accomplished comedians. Take the case of Manning in Point Fortin last week: "Larry and I have been friends for many years," he told a pro-Achong crowd-even as Larry was busy campaigning for the COP and Marlene. And: "I have a diplomatic assignment for Camille!" What is there for Ken Valley? I guess he will be condemned to purgatory in the Valley of debt...or somewhere else uncomfortably hot, once Manning has the final say.
But taking the cake, icing et al, is the UNC's Kamla Persad-Bissessar. I have heard about the wrath of a woman scorned. I have seen the venom and prowess of a woman horned. Never before, though, have I witnessed a woman shafted by two men at the same time, in front of 40,000 people (their figures, not mine), and take it with a smile! The woman never moaned or groaned or cussed or scratched their eyes out. Amazing, I tell you. She swallowed pride, prejudice and womanhood, all in a few gulps.
She did say, though, that she was a "team player". If she were more athletic, I'd recommend her highly for selection on the West Indies cricket team. She may not be adept with the bat, but that woman is a wizard with balls. She can swing them any which way, even throw down a few bouncers-as she did when she complained about her trials in a den dominated by men-but she'd qualify. After all, the West Indies has made it a habit of losing, as has the UNC. So she'd be on familiar turf.
For her courage in the face of enemies-disguised-as-friends, Kamla gets this week's DSO. I should apologise to Garvin Nicholas: the British military award that is close to the VC is the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). Of course, Garvs, the local order has a completely different connotation. Right up your alley...and Kamla's.