Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thoughtless hiring, forced firing

Martin Daly logo45

Mark Fraser

 What I have seen at the start of the coming election-laden season looks like stale food. There are no new ideas among the existing participants on either side, at least not ones directed at stemming the decline of our social infrastructure.

We urgently need some ideas because, measured by any yardstick of value other than the energy sector revenue stream and the rampant freeness it politically purveys, our society is in trouble.

But for the redeeming social value of our literary and artistic sector and our persistent cadres of citizens labouring in voluntary groups, I might join my fellow columnist Raffique Shah in his belief that we are “hurtling to self-destruction”.

The appearance on national television of an obscenity-laced fight among school girls in uniform outside their school has produced an accelerated slew of hapless utterances about school violence in Trinidad and Tobago. 

The news item perhaps also opened a few of the eyes that would prefer to remain undisturbed in gated bliss. Many of us who are in touch with the real world know of the challenged state of so many of our children and of violent tendencies in our girls.

There is a growing awareness that many of our young females are acting up in reaction to seeing men beating women in and near their dwellings, to their own physical and sexual abuse and to the humiliation of the proposal of a horizontal or otherwise very intimate interview if they are to get or keep a job or a ten days or basic shelter.

I had intended to discuss steps towards softening the lack of affection and the lack of self-esteem from which our youth suffer. However the dismissal of Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh, Minister of the People and Social Development, intervened. 

There is a history attached to the use of tiredness as an excuse for anti social behaviour. George Brown was a very well known rambunctious British politician. He became a foreign secretary and deputy prime minister in the Labour Government in the mid-sixties.  He gave a television interview in the course of which his sobriety came into question. The excuse that Brown was “tired and emotional” went as viral as things could go in the pre-digital world.

The following is an edited summary of the outcome of that event: The phrase “tired and emotional” became a notorious British euphemism. It was popularised by the British satirical magazine Private Eye in 1967 after being used in a spoof diplomatic memo to describe the state of George Brown.  It is now used as a stock phrase.

The restraints of parliamentary language often give rise to welcome euphemisms such as “not quite himself” and “overwrought”.  The phrase “tired and emotional” is described as one of those that are part of every British journalist’s vocabulary, having  its origin in a press release by George Brown’s agent, who made excuses for him after he behaved badly in public by saying he was “tired and emotional”.

On the serious side, the Prime Minister has been praised for dismissing Ramadharsingh but there are some issues arising out of his altercation with a flight attendant over a bag from which we cannot readily move on.

Ramadharsingh moved reasonably promptly to apologise but shortly afterward gave an extremely ill-advised interview, which effectively qualified his apology out of existence. Equally horrible was what the interview revealed about the vanity syndrome and how far out of step our leaders are with progressive trends in socialisation.

In the interview the aggrieved flight attendant was outed as a citizen of our neighbour, St Vincent and the Grenadines. This was a totally irrelevant and possibly offensive reference to origin, in the nature of profiling. It was used to assert that because the flight attendant was “not from here” she would not know that the passenger she was approaching was one of the many and growing dreaded class of big man entitled to have rules and circumstances bent to suit not only his whim and fancy but also to that of his entourage if he was toting one.

The Prime Minister made a statement of commendably high principles to accompany the dismissal of Ramadharsingh. “Each of us has to uphold public trust in all we do every single day of our lives. It is not a responsibility we can choose to have one day and lose the next.”

She is being praised for having the fortitude to fire or force out ministers, but twelve casualties in nearly four years screams the questions: From where did she get these people and what kind of process was employed to identify those who might quickly lose the public trust?

Are known propensities not consistent with holding high office suppressed from view or deleted from security intelligence for the expedient of propping pliant pardners in position?  In such circumstances there is no virtue in thoughtless hiring and forced firing.