R. Rose
September 18, 2015

Political hypocrisy

Recently, with all the coverage of the elections in Trinidad and Tobago, I got a glimpse of the swearing-in ceremony for the new Cabinet of Ministers in that country. It was not much different from those in our country or the rest of the Caribbean, but it caused me to think again along lines that I have raised before in public.{{more}}

In particular, I cannot help but bring to the public attention once more, the solemn commitments made by such persons when they are sworn into office. The office-holders are required to publicly swear to what is called an Oath of Allegiance. These oaths vary slightly from country to country with some countries requiring a pledge to serve the country and its people, while in our case, our office holders are sworn to bear “allegiance to Her Majesty, her heirs and successors, so help me God”.

This was an issue raised during the discussions for a new Constitution, in the 2003 – 2009 period, but our voters, prompted by the Parliamentary Opposition, chose to vote for the queen of England as our Head of State, thereby ensuring that the primary obligation of our Parliamentarians is towards Elizabeth Windsor and her sons, not the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. That’s how it is.

In the case of Cabinet members, it is interesting to note what they pledge on being sworn into office. They each swear “….to conscientiously, impartially and to the best of my ability discharge my duties and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will…”

Powerful words and deep commitment indeed! But how has it been in practice? Can we truly say, that in the exercise of their duties, office-holders, whether the current ones or those in the past, exercise their duties impartially? Even when they attempt to do so, their own supporters demand otherwise, for, we argue, why should somebody who didn’t vote for the government, be treated equally as those who did? So why do we require our Ministers to swear to do their duties “without fear or favour”?

This is why one former Minister of Government could publicly justify discrimination by claiming that “Parson say, christen he pickney first”, in other words your first allegiance is to those who supported you. He got a lot of criticism for it, but it is an idea strongly rooted in most of us and Ministers who take their oath seriously, run the risk of paying a political price for it. Hypocrisy is what it is, on an official scale.

That partisanship is helping to continue to divide us and tear us apart. It is bad enough at the level of the political leadership but we are getting it even in the public service as well. The colonial authorities had public service rules which forbade public officers from openly engaging in political activities. People like me railed against it and the ULP administration did change the rules. A collective agreement was signed with the Teachers Union permitting teachers to resign and contest elections with the right to reinstatement if so desired. We all are aware of the dispute between those parties over the “three teachers”.

Some time ago, the Opposition had raised objection to a Permanent Secretary being part of the governing party’s delegation to hold discussions with the Supervisor of Elections. The Prime Minister, away at the time, publicly frowned on this action. The said PS has since retired, but when such senior officials take such a partisan stand, publicly, what confidence can there be that duties will be carried out “without fear or favour”?

We need to think seriously about such developments, whether they are in the best interests of all or whether we are plunging headlong into the bottomless pit of political partisanship.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator