Thursday, February 22, 2018

Hell to pay after Ash Wednesday


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An Ash Wednesday mood survived well into what BC Pires has called "Ash Friday". I switched on too early to catch the Electoral College's acclamation of a new President of T&T. Switching back later, I found the deed had been done. I had failed to be among the live TV witnesses.

In between, however, I caught the Parliamentary channel's documentary, with former president Sir Ellis Clarke's relishing recollection of the 1962 Marlborough House, London, conference on Trinidad and Tobago's independence. Black and white newsreel film showed Sir Ellis, then the government's constitutional adviser, seated at the long table between Dr Eric Williams and Dr Rudranath Capildeo.

During the talks, Dr Capildeo, in full mind, no doubt, of the Queen's Hall constitution conference just before, that had been rigged by Dr Williams and Sir Ellis, said some unmentionable things. Sir Ellis suggested Dr Williams did not hear those things, since his hearing aid had been plugged into the opposite ear.

Nor did diplomatist Sir Ellis convey the content of the Opposition Leader's sentiments. Still, during a tea break called by wily Colonial Office headmen, differences were settled for the hour, and a deal made.

Over tea, or whatever, the two doctors — PhDs of history and of mathematics — had agreed: "Look, we are the two brightest people here. Why can't we just settle the matters between us and bring the rest along?"

And that is what happened: here is Sir Ellis, the latest-surviving of all those dead men, telling the only tale now available. The Williams-Capildeo tea-time settlement worked for the imminent Independence flag-raising.  But the matters swept under the constitutional carpet at Marlborough House have, to this day, kept the going rough for T&T.

That somehow fitted the Ash Wednesday-to-Ash Friday mood of expecting there must be hell to pay once the Carnival is over. So I expected no smooth passage to the uncontested presidential election of Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona.

Like most people, I know little of him and have even less against him. May he, then, prove a happier pick from the Bench, than is Herbert Volney.  So far, so sighfully good.

Promptly after Carnival 2012, the curtain had risen on the Keith Rowley no-confidence debate. The fall-out of political ash darkened whatever festive glowing had been left in the air.

Meanwhile, viewing the second Barack Obama term has also inspired constitutional prayers for some system of transparent Senate vetting of appointments. That way, Nicole Dyer-Griffith might face contentious screening, if not also filibustering, before confirmation as Inspector of Missions. For that position, one former diplomat sought to assure me over the Carnival weekend, she isn't qualified.

The assurances failed to close my mind about Ms Dyer-Griffith.

Patrick Manning had filled ambassador-plenipotentiary positions with Joan Yuille-Williams and Cuthbert Joseph, whose qualifications to fit such job descriptions never surfaced anywhere. PNM retainer John Donaldson, who had been the missions inspector, was never known to have produced anything readable about the performance of T&T embassies. Into which missions had been parachuted former Manning administration ministers in John Jeremie, Camille Robinson-Regis, Arnold Piggott, Glenda Morean, and even lower-level party help in Ashton Ford and Harvey Borris.

And then, of course, Hazel Manning.

Inside this political culture, that's how things are done; and no mould is broken by the single act of electing another party.

Still, it has become a fashionable, self-righteous spin to interpret the "Manning-must-go" vote of May 2010 as some sacred vow to end such patronage in principle and in practice. Suddenly, endorsement of the People's Partnership was elevated into a statement for revolution, against the familiar ways in politics, and for a high-minded something called good "governance".

Having missed some political science lectures in my own UWI time, I came out so unclued about the term "governance" as to need to look it up. "See 'pundit'," said William Safire's sometimes-sardonic political dictionary, in a reference that associated the word with self-regarding "political analysts". I leave it alone.

But good "governance" is something T&T was somehow entitled to achieve by the act of voting for the Partnership? It didn't happen, so "we" are disappointed, deceived; "we" feel had.

Count me out of that "we". My own coldly contrarian 2010 ink-fingering for Makandal Daaga entailed no pretence to be voting for "revolution" such as he had represented in 1970. I still think the "Chief Servant" a superior option to the PNM man who won the seat, but never imagined his Partnership to be capable of precipitating any "flood of change" such as we witting young adults in the early 1970s, earnestly expected to welcome.

Nearly half a century later, T&T political life goes on, with a soundtrack of only higher-decibel, ever uglier, noises. As just seen in Carnival organising, helpless but, happily, not fatal, bumbling and fumbling mark the national style.

Ms Dyer-Griffith might lack the academic background that commended Therese Baptiste-Cornelis for ministerial and diplomatic offices. But she had held a private-sector big job for reasons presumably other than political patronage.

Inspecting missions 14 years after her crowning, this Miss Trinidad and Tobago should have no fear of being dismissed as the dumb blonde she never was.