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Pruning protocol

By Terry Joseph
September 05, 2003

Pretty soon, some featured speaker will be caught at a podium with no time left for delivering the actual address, having squandered that space acknowledging by name and title, every Tom, Dick and Susie on our ever-extending protocol list.

Given some of the speeches I recently suffered through, that may be a good thing, but the wearisome ritual also invokes dangerous potential. On several occasions during opening-prayer sequences, I caught myself mumbling private petitions, wishing a few invited dignitaries fail to turn up; hoping Our Saviour lives up to biblical promise at short notice.

After all, any competent chairperson welcoming VIPs tends to detail their achievements, a format that extinguishes need for fresh individual recognition by each succeeding speaker, except the audience's attention span is suspect, high-profile guests are known to be masters of disguise, or the specially-invited group is given to playing musical chairs.

In order to properly appreciate the absurdity, imagine a function attended by The President, Prime Minister, a couple of Cabinet colleagues, diplomats, national security seniors and leaders of Carnival's interest groups; an event whose agenda lists a prayer, chairman's remarks, formal opening, speeches and responses.

Each speaker goes through the full routine: "His Excellency the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Professor George Maxwell Richards and his wife, Dr Jean Richards, The Honourable Prime Minister, Mr Patrick Manning and Mrs Hazel Manning-Honourable Minister of Education, The Honourable Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ms Pennelope Beckles, The Honourable Minister of Community Development and Gender Affairs, Mrs Joan Yuille-Williams, Minister of State in the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Mr Edward Hart, Parliamentary Secretary in The Ministry, Mr Satish Ramroop, Permanent Secretary Mr Lester Efebo Wilkinson, Director of Culture Mr Eugene Joseph."

And that only covers the left side of the front row.

Now, there is "the President of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Reverend Cyril Paul, Acting Police Commissioner, Mr Everald Snaggs, The Fire Chief, Mr Lennox Alfred, chairman of the National Carnival Commission, Mr Kenny de Silva, Pan Trinbago President, Mr Patrick Arnold, chairman of the National Carnival Bands Association, Mr Richard Afong, chairman of the National Carnival Development Foundation, Mr Donald Little, President of the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation, Mr Michael Legerton."

Then, "members of the diplomatic corps, specially invited guests, our host, general manager of Hilton Trinidad Hotel and Conference Centre, Mr Ali Khan, members of the Carnival fraternity, members of the media, distinguished ladies and gentlemen."

Among life's great mysteries must be how speakers rekindle the intended passion of delivery; given the prelude's dampening.

Now, compare the local litany with an approach frequently used in the US, where speakers risk no impertinence by saying: "My fellow Americans," covering President Bush, Kobe Bryant, Senators, Martha Stewart, Congressmen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Tom Cruise, The Surgeon General, Drew Barrymore, Secretary of State, Bill Gates and inmates at hospitals and correctional facilities nationwide.

Here, where we already appoint extraordinarily long titles to office-holders as "a mark of respect", acknowledging their presence has become doubly tedious. A secretary of any widely-peopled organisation is upgraded to general-secretary (or secretary-general) and those who once were Junior Ministers have been elongated to Ministers of State in the Ministry.

Our institutions have also been similarly burdened. FEEL, already quite suitable as a highly emotive name for a caring organisation, is really an acronym for the Foundation for the Enrichment and Enhancement of Life.


Political parties aren't content with single ringers like Labour, Conservative, Republican, Democrat, Tory or Whig. In the local example, each grouping apparently must have at least three words to its name; the National Alliance for Reconstruction topping the ludicrous list.

It might merely be another facet of native penchant for hyperbole, from a people who drink a "cokes", mash an "ants" and describe the most trifling setback as "endless horrors". We are asked to stand for "The national anthem of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago" as though, before every function, DJs routinely play a wide selection of such songs from obscure countries, rendering it necessary to clearly identify the one for which we should rise.

As frequently evidenced at major entertainment events, we simply like to make things longer. Small wonder our President must be referred to by all three parts of his name (not unlike attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj), whereas in the country from which we derive these quaint protocols, its ruler Queen Elizabeth is cool with "Your Majesty" and her Prime Minister goes by the user-friendly "Tony" Blair, the home-name style adopted by high-profile American lawyer Johnny Cochrane.

Perhaps it is a question of who will take the first bold step at pruning outmoded protocols, but someone must save us from these boring validations which, in recent time, have been further extended by political and tribal correctness and good ol'-fashioned kissing-up, sometimes to thoroughly forgettable bureaucrats.

Apart from punishing a captive audience with pure pomp, as this article demonstrates, if the speaker plans to make a brief but critical point, he must not find that by merely trotting out the full protocol list, his allotted time or-in this example, space-has already expired.

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