LISTENING to President Paula-Mae Weekes’s address on the reopening of the Red House, even the most sceptical among us could not help but be impressed, indeed be moved, by her departure on the role she was expected to play and the sentiments she was expected to express as head of officialdom, to be a spokesperson for the people on the ground pointing to their “hurt” and the inability of the leadership to address this hurt.
No focus on the grandeur of the building and the “national pride” it should generate, but simply the harsh reality of the suffering of the people whose voice she chose to become.
One may be tempted to indulge in the inevitable contrast between her present emphasis on the sorry plight of the people as against the call for “national pride” on the reopening of President’s House. But the call for national pride on that occasion was not misplaced or irrelevant, for as a people we should be proud of our national buildings and the institutions they represent.
The only problem, however, is that to have pride in our buildings and what they stand for presumes a collective sense of comfort, of satisfaction over the positive impact such institutions would have had on our lives, the extent to which according to the President, they would have enabled us “to live secure, productive, gratifying and peaceful lives”.
But can we have such pride in our buildings and the institutions they represent when as a people you feel that you are under siege with no relief in sight from those who should make a difference.
Our President sums it up well in her speech: “While Parliament and other leaders in the country are dabbling in semantics about whether we are a failed state or not or in a crime crisis, our citizens are being murdered at an alarming rate, they lack opportunities for employment or are losing their jobs, food prices are spiralling beyond the reach of many, and more and more of our children are falling into the at-risk category.”
The extent of the “hurt” which the people are feeling, in this instance about crime, is the uninhibited use of the “f” word in social media in reacting to crime, in the first instance, from a young woman over the violent abuse of a handicapped father, and in the second, from a young man who seemed to have been stalked and robbed.
But can the President’s voice calling on politicians to serve the people and not the self, as influential and inspiring as it is, be a “voice crying in the wilderness” as she hopes and prays it is not at the end of her speech?
The tradition in our politics has hinged, not on service for all the people, but rather on the leaders playing on their ethnic bases to secure power.
In such a framework the power of the people as a total body demanding leaders to account is often stymied by partisan interests for whom leaders can do wrong.
Against such a background where leaders are not obligated to account, can one expect politicians to put people before self as the President so movingly urges?
I leave that answer to your better judgment.
Dr Errol N Benjamin