Friday, 08 March 2013 02:30
By Colin Sampson
Very soon after the general elections of 2004 a calypso became popular. Sung by the always insightful and ever topical “Edimelo”, the song won the unofficial title of People’s Choice for the most prophetic calypso ever to be performed in Antigua & Barbuda.
The name of the calypso is “The More Things Change”, and the signature line: “The more things change ... the more they remain the same” became the people’s motif for the years of wonder that followed the United Progressive Party’s accession to power in our confused twin-island state.
These were years when an agitated yet mesmerized electorate watched as the bright new government they had given a mandate to engineer positive change in their abused little country itself changed before their very eyes, becoming something else entirely. To the utter amazement of shell-shocked Antiguans and Barbudans, upon election the UPP “Rescue Mission” immediately revealed itself to be a virtual clone of the regime they had only just resoundingly expelled from office. As the scales were forcibly torn from their eyes, chagrined voters who had only just recently turned against the Antigua Labour Party began to roundly resent their “rescuers”.
The self-blinded UPP leaders have never allowed themselves to face up to the truth that whatever other factors may or may not have contributed to the near-defeat at the polls in 2009, the election result represented a very real rebuke of UPP governance in the party’s first 5 years. UPP leaders in fact opted to cover their embarrassment by attributing their slide partly to the natural tendency of affected voters to be discontented with government policies – and by assaulting perceived deficiencies in the electoral system itself.
And so Edimelo’s penetrating line has become the mantra and watchword for the entire 9 years thus far of UPP majority rule. Yes – says the Calypsonian, as he speaks to and for the people: things certainly have changed in Antigua & Barbuda; we have exercised our franchise; we have changed our government; we have mandated our new servants to lead a change process in our nation; yet we do not see change we can believe in; we see, rather, that Dr Jekyll has become Mr Hyde – and that our servants have stolen the change we sought. The more things change … the more they remain the same.
Several years later King De Bear would needle his audiences with the taunt: “They (the UPP bosses) got the bucks … we got the change.”
Long before that, however, the UPP leaders had fallen out of love with the whole idea of Calypso as the Voice of the People. They had found themselves, often and far too painfully, on the receiving end of the same kind of harsh criticism that Calypsonians had leveled at the ALP government in the past. Suddenly grown rather thin-skinned, UPP leaders became even more like the ALP government they had replaced – and retreated into a defensive posture characterized by an attitude best described as: “The Arrogance of Power”.
It is perhaps an instance of poetic justice that the catch-phrase: “Plus ca change … plus c’est la meme chose” was popularized in Antigua & Barbuda by that determined fighter for a more democratic Antigua & Barbuda, Leonard “Timoshenko” Hector. The erudite Tim Hector imported the phrase from writer and editor of Le Figaro, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808 -1890), who originated the remark. Hector many times deployed the epigram in the original French in his polemics against the real dictatorship he saw developing in his beloved islands. In time, thanks to Tim Hector’s endless repetition, the English version became firmly established in local culture. Score one for the power of the pen.
Tim Hector’s prophetic work has returned to haunt the United Progressive Party whose arrogance cast him into the political wilderness, to be rescued by the same Antigua Labour Party he had struggled against all his days. Plus ca change …
One of the most objectionable ways in which the UPP government has emulated the regime it replaced is in the administration’s defensive and secretive attitude when dealing with legitimate requests for what should be public information. In many cases government officials, both politicians and civil servants, feel free to behave towards individuals (even if they are only despised media workers) in a most rude, dismissive, arrogant and contemptuous manner.
By contrast, for years the ALP was able to mask many of its more egregious offences against public intelligence with clever use of state-controlled media to effectively sell its “spin” on public affairs. The advent of Observer Radio put an end to those glory days. The UPP has never enjoyed that sort of freedom, but has equally never been able to deploy any kind of effective public relations outreach.
Despite the party’s vaunted commitment to openness and transparency, pathological fear of the media has forced UPP officialdom to retreat into a form of remote hauteur. UPP officialdom now appear to act on the presumption that what they do is so beyond the level of mere mortals that no member of the public need display any interest in what goes on behind their cloistered walls. That this is patently a response prompted by having a whole lot to hide seems to escape these very intelligent and highly educated “public servants”.
A case in point is the absolute arrogance of power displayed by prime ministerial confidant Juno Samuel, who heads up the Antigua & Barbuda Electoral Commission. Under the regime established by this political “super-civil servant”, ABEC has become a closed society: an apparent “gag” culture having been imposed by a boss who brooks no intercourse with the media.
We call to witness the condescending attitude shown by Henderson Fields, acting executive director of the Antigua & Barbuda Investment Authority. Fields deployed his own version of the arrogance of power when he attempted to brush aside queries from Caribarena pertaining to the final disposition of ABIA’s employment relationship with 3 suspended executives. The arrogant Mr Fields opined that having been dealt with “internally”, these issues should be of no further concern to the public.
More alarmingly, a tight curtain of non-cooperation has been drawn down over a long-running “investigation” into the means by which weapons from the police armory were transferred from one gun club president to another. It helps to understand that Stefan Winter, one of the gun club presidents in question, is chair of the Police Service Commission, and that the internal “investigation” is controlled by Commissioner of Police Vere Browne. Police officers are reportedly disturbed by these developments. In yet another example of the arrogance of power, no information is forthcoming.
All of the foregoing – and more – bears witness to a culture of arrogance deployed by officialdom in defense of behavior which they are fully aware would not pass muster in any responsible environment. This culture of arrogance is borrowed directly from the ALP era: it was the automatic fig leaf trotted out by beleaguered civil servants eager to cover for their miscreant political bosses. It is a culture now nurtured and encouraged by miscreant UPP politicians, who have proven that the more things change the more they remain the same – and get worse.