Andy-Johnson-Columnist-use

Farley Augustine remarks on the fact that he is from what he calls rural Tobago. He says the likelihood of someone hailing from such a community becoming the country’s Person of the Year is a thrilling one. He said he just feels “very ­honoured and privileged”.

Such was his response to the news that he had been deemed the Express Individual of the Year 2021. It came about, indisputably, on the back of the fact that he is now the Chief Secretary in the Tobago House of Assembly. This followed the results of the re-run on ­December 6 of the election which saw a dead heat at those polls last January.

Mr Augustine, it is to be noted, is one of the deputy political leaders of the party which won those polls, the Progressive Democratic Patriots. From this position, he had been the Minority Leader in the Assembly in the parlia­mentary term at the THA, over the period since 2016. The political leader of this party is the whimsical, unpredictable and ultra-unorthodox Mr Watson Duke. The idea that the deputy has had the opportunity to appear to “run things” in this politico-administrative setting is itself highly intriguing. Mr Duke, for reasons best known only to himself, chose to remain as the president of the Public Services Association, at least over the four years since his party took commanding space at the THA. He obviously thought he could combat his way in remaining in that position, while still now serving in the Executive at the THA. He has, for the moment, settled for being the Deputy Chief Sec, a position without substantive portfolio, after he was pressured into giving up the PSA leadership.

It is to Mr Augustine’s referencing the “privileged” position into which he has been thrust, and from whence he says he has come, we are asked to focus on. He sees a distinction between Scarborough and its more prosperous neighbourhoods such as Signal Hill on one side and Bacolet Gardens and environs on the other. He is from Speyside. That’s another world, he encourages us to accept. He took no comfort in the fact that a boy from Castara was once a Minister of Finance, then an Opposition Leader, Prime Minister and then President, of this Republic. Alternatively, that in later years one from Mason Hall moved from Opposition Senator to senior cabinet Minister, to Opposition Leader and now Prime Minister. The country’s first local Central Bank Governor after Independence was a boy from Tobago. There have been other Tobago men and women who have climbed the ladder of success, in various fields of endeavour, during the course of our history as a nation, and before.

Between then and now, however, the nature of “privilege” has been altered, significantly enough to make it appear as a cross now to be borne. It has become a bad word, and Mr Augustine is advised to tread that much more carefully as he seeks to savour it. In the setting of today’s social discourses, someone or something being “privileged” over another is a rebuke. A year ago, a few weeks from now, a young woman who was kidnapped and then murdered, was seen to have been “privi­leged” over others who had met with similar fate, but didn’t get commensurate outpourings of grief.

Entire movements have sprung up to track the “privileges” of persons born into certain families, who have had the good fortune, or the misfortune of being born and raised in some communities as opposed to others. We have heard most recently of the “Bishop’s” Tea Party grouping. Many of us have taken position on the “prestige school” conundrum. Moreover, even within there, Holy Name is seen to be set apart from, say, St Joseph’s Convent, Port of Spain, with St Joseph and San Fernando locked in permanent battles for their own distinction. SAGHS and Naps Girls’ would not be silenced in these theatres of warfare. Similar sentiments obtain in the boys’ schools.

Tremendous resentment exists among members of the population over the presumed “realities” flowing from these social constructs, and the society is seen to be governed more by the unwritten rules attaching to them, than anything material otherwise.

One Cabinet minister’s son had the good fortune of having in his possession the numbers of two of her senior colleagues, and is alleged to have used them for leverage in the ongoing ­brouhaha over the prevailing “party boat/restaurant” affair.

Several of the persons hand-picked by the excessively combative former police commissioner now find themselves in trouble, acting on the premises of their presumed “privileged” positions.

The late Barbados prime minister, Errol Walton Barrow, teamed up with his friend, Trinidadian doctor the late Kendal Lee, and produced a cookbook they called Privilege. It was published in 1988. It is a collection of inviting Caribbean recipes, spiced with insight into a great friendship.

In the world as we now know it, the word has gotten a decidedly bad name. Given the near-monstrous unpredictability of the one Watson Duke, it is not far-fetched conjecture that Mr Augustine’s position of privilege could become endangered.

—Andy Johnson is

a veteran journalist

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