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I should've warned Carlos

By Terry Joseph
June 26, 2002

In response to even the most ribald jokes, I never was given to vulgar belly-laughs, except perhaps for that one Saturday afternoon in 1981 when (the late) R Hayes Sampson paid a surprise visit to my home.

Although a man of singular humour, Hayes was not given to telling canned jokes. Good thing too, as he didn't execute very well, being far too meticulous with his choice of words, often sacrificing at the altar of grammatical correctness punch lines best rendered in the vernacular.

Mark you, he possessed an enviable vocabulary and took great care to articulate crisply even the most mundane story, his well-tempered delivery frequently evoking giggles as he unravelled in Byzantine fashion what was almost invariably an inherently meandering tale.

But Hayes was both brief and serious that Saturday. "You know, Terrence, a few of us have been looking at your work and the way you conduct yourself," he said, reaching for pantomime to separately emphasise each observation. "I am here," he continued, "to ask if you ever considered running for public office." Well folks, I laughed that unbridled laugh of fat men at comedy shows. It became necessary to hold the gatepost for stabilisation. As the guffaws grew in depth and volume, my sides began to hurt and there was a trickle running down my face as my free hand waved the negative in exaggerated semaphore; all this before a single "no"—the first of many—could escape my lips.

Hayes was, at the time, acting chairman of the Organisation for National Reconstruction (ONR). He was flabbergasted. "What is so funny about that?" he asked. "It seems to me a simple ‘yes' or ‘no' variety of question, although I might wish you to elaborate if you select the latter option." We revisited that scene many times in ensuing years, both laughing over the exchange at every revamp.

But "no" was my answer then and not even the tone of it has changed. That day, as he delivered the question, not for the first time, my life flashed before my eyes. Were I to become Minister of anything serious (taking this momentary fantasy to the extreme) and my performance waned during the stewardship, I could see my old schoolmates recalling early indications of such an outcome.

For openers, several high-school classmates had since become fiery politicians, most of them foundation members of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC). Anum Bankole, Ayegoro Ome, (the late) Lidj Yasu Omowale or Khafra Kambon may have noticed moments of recklessness during my formative years. Politicians find it difficult to resist putting such information to optimal use on the hustings.

Success at politics seldom depends entirely upon good intentions and is often torpedoed with a single strike by matters as trivial as boyhood pranks or otherwise pardonable youthful indiscretions. Cheque transactions in adult life are, of course, a very different matter.

My life has been far more colourful than that of most members of Parliament.

Up to this time, details remain with a privileged few. To risk the venom of ruthless spin-doctors, men driven by little else but destruction of those sitting on the other side of the political divide, simply isn't worth the asking price; particularly if resulting derision would rattle my family.

It is against that backdrop that I kicked myself last week for not having warned another long-standing friend, Carlos John, about possible consequences of overt political involvement. Over a vodka and orange juice, I could have told the ol' "CJ" nothing is sacred once you toss your hat into the snake-pit.

In the breach, having to now witness him crumbling under relentless pressure from political opponents is a doubly unpleasant experience. Saddled with the burden of proof, he must now convince us all that what he may have done quite innocently and with the noblest of purpose could not also have been triggered by other motives.

Carlos told us his father, 88, led a family petition asking him to leave the bright lights, since his involvement was causing them unbearable pain.

Atypical of one with his breadth of banking experience at senior levels, it seems he never properly assessed the risk involved and blindly jumped into a game way beyond his comprehension.

As he has evidently now discovered, the trappings of high office are not limited to posh perquisites and media glare. Carlos cannot now tell us he and his family did not enjoy the attention that came with the bright side of the job.

He was bold on the Savannah paving issue, biting in campaign speeches, frivolous in the presentation of a packet of Pampers in Parliament and fierce in dismissing detractors. Now that the dark side has descended, he must continue to demonstrate those qualities that made the people of St Joseph vote for him in the first place.

In addition, as deputy political leader of the United National Congress (UNC), he is simply not allowed to chuck the job when the going gets tough and worse, while the maximum leader is out of town. He must also know that, having shown this chink in his armour, things will get a helluva lot worse for both him and his family before they get better.

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