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Raffique Shah


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Corridors of power living hell

By Raffique Shah
Oct 24, 2010

I have never been close to the corridors of power, except on occasions when those on high invited me to some meeting or social function. Regarding the latter, I should add that I have grown so asocial over the years, some people think I've become anti-social. I enjoy good company and great conversation. Having attended some of these social activities, I have found the same people there; they invariably get drunk the way "ignorant" Trinis do at rum shops, and they behave little different to boisterous bar flies.

I can do without that. I am past the stage where I "buss a cuss" on those who annoy me. So to maintain my equilibrium, not to add peace of mind, I politely decline invitations to social gatherings that are often excuses for the high-and-mighty in society to misbehave in private settings.

But back to the corridors of power. I do not envy people who offer themselves for public office. Once appointed to some position of note, like a ministerial portfolio, the individual loses his or her right to privacy. She becomes public property. Everyone thinks he owns her, having voted for her, or having supported the party that appointed her to some high office. The prevailing view among the public is they have the right to disturb office-holders at any time, even late at nights.

It is no accident, the co-relation between the decline in health and holding high office. People have no time for themselves, no privacy to enjoy liming with close friends or with their families. In order to satiate their sadistic appetite for harassing public officials, people do not consider the effects this round-the-clock routine have on their health.

It is no accident that our prime ministers have all suffered serious health problems. Eric Williams, for example, hardly slept. I know because in my capacity as duty officer in the Regiment, I had to visit the "prowlers" posted at the PM's residence at odd hours, usually between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Most times, the lights in his library were on. I used to wonder when this man got some rest.

After Williams died prematurely, the others fared little better. George Chambers died relatively young, albeit after he had demitted office. Ray Robinson is still around—but I do not envy the physical and mental trauma he must have experienced over the past 20 years. Basdeo Panday and Patrick Manning both suffer with heart conditions. And numerous ministers who served in different regimes live their mid-to-latter-years battling serious health challenges.

Many may argue that no one forced these people into public life. They chose to run for office or to accept appointments, and they ought to have known what they would face, once elected or appointed. That is true. In fact, it applies not only for this country, but also for much of the world.

Put yourself in Nicolas Sarkozy's shoes. Playboy "Sarko" is in deep trouble for trying to change the retirement age in France from 60 to 62. Big problem: how dare he? And we all know that 62 million Frenchmen cannot be wrong, as Sparrow sang many moons ago. Right now, the relatively young "Sarko" must have both a physician and a "shrink" stationed at his side. He'd much prefer a sexy blonde, but...

Take Barack Obama as another example. When he was on the campaign trail two years ago, Barack looked as fit as a basketball "pro". He would hop, skip and jump from platform to podium to studio. Today, Obama looks like a tired man, one who is about to give up. Everyone knows he did not put America's economy in the latrine-pit. But they all expect him to clean up Bush-made mess. Poor fella, he must be visiting his doctors more often that we know.

Here at home, I have no idea how PM Kamla is faring with her health. But when I look at the faces and features of senior Cabinet ministers, I see the strains of office showing tell-tale signs of stress, maybe worse. Jack Warner, the "Energiser Bunny" of the new Cabinet, will soon run out of charge.

For all his faults—I am not here defending his every action—he works like hell. So he goes to Debe to hold consultations on the 20-years-in-the-pipeline San Fernando to Point Fortin highway. Listening to the meeting, you would swear it's the first time people are hearing of this highway extension.

Hell, any new road must pass somewhere. We cannot put cars in the sky! There will be some dislocation. I agree that the designers should seek to minimise the numbers of people affected. I also agree that people ought to be given ample notice of dislocation, adequate compensation, and provided opportunities for relocation.

Now we are hearing that some people do not want the highway. From a personal standpoint, it's one of the few super-highways projects the PNM government initiated that I fully endorse. It would reduce travelling time to many towns and communities in the south significantly. It would also make the southern industrialised centres and that portion of the nation's food basket easily accessible.

At the 11th hour, some people want to stop the project and make Jack's life hell. Oh gorm, people, have a heart, nuh! If you want to kill Jack or PM Kamla, find ways other than frustrating them to death. Chut, man.

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