We arrive at opinions of politicians by various means. Several will agree that with few exceptions, they tend to mirror each other across the globe. Many will also attest that in the Caribbean, our politicians are remarkably the same.
Of course, there are exceptional politicians who remain outstanding even when they are on the side of a political fence not favoured at a specific juncture. Their positive actions and utterances guarantee them accolades and appreciation. Conversely, political misstep and descent into japery provide fuel for public derision. In many instances, politicians are like actors strutting their stuff on stage. But as renowned British actor Michael Caine once said, acting is basically doing nothing with tremendous skill.
We bear no malice towards Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite nor hold a brief by any measure. He has shown by his academic achievements that he is an intelligent man. And having offered himself for public service, this can be translated as having the interest of Barbados at heart. But often there can be a chasm between offering oneself for public office and appreciating the mandate one has sought and received. Late Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev once noted that a politician would promise to build a bridge even where there is no river and it is within this context that we frequently do not recognize the identity of the politician who sought our vote and the one who subsequently received it.
We recently had a case of a Grenadian family questioning the treatment they allegedly received at the hands of some members of the Royal Barbados Police Force. It was a serious report but one, which when closely examined, showed no administrative or procedural complication to prevent public explanation and resolution.
But questioned on the incident yesterday by Barbados TODAY, Mr Brathwaite had this to say. “Next time you see the Prime Minister, stop him and speak to him about that. I don’t know anything about it. I saw it on social media like you. That was a couple of days ago, not so? So I don’t know if it is true or otherwise.” The comment revealed much about our politicians and how they view their status as leaders in society.
By his own admission Mr Brathwaite heard about the incident via social media “a couple of days ago”. By his own admission Mr Brathwaite did not “know if it is true or otherwise”. The Attorney General then suggested that questions about the incident be directed to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. Notwithstanding that the complaint by the Grenadians was made against the local constabulary and Mr Brathwaite – not Mr Stuart – has responsibility for the police, one would have thought that the furore which the alleged incident generated would have at least pricked his interest. Instead, the Government’s leading legal spokesman satisfied himself with knowing nothing or seemingly not enquiring about a report that occasioned strong comments even from Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell.
The veracity of the report is not the issue with which we are concerned. We are moved to fret about the glib response of Mr Brathwaite to an accusation made against members of the Royal Barbados Police Force and his seeming indifference towards seeking elucidation from the agency within his portfolio about a matter of national interest.
We do not expect Mr Brathwaite to divulge information related to national security but invariably he demonstrates a level of discomfiture in speaking to matters when they are not part of a prepared speech at official occasions.
Last November on the occasion of the annual general meeting of the Prison Officers Association, a function that has traditionally been covered by the media, Mr Brathwaite took the unprecedented step of requesting journalists to leave. This, after president of the association Trevor Browne had aired several grievances that did not place Barbados’ national security at risk but simply begged comment from the Attorney General. But yet again, Mr Brathwaite failed to take the public he ostensibly serves into his confidence, and to provide answers to questions posed, in public glare. Unfortunately, this conduct has not been the exception but over the past few years has seemingly become the rule.
Our political leaders need to understand that they have an obligation to the people whose vote they have begged for. They have a duty to show an interest in matters that might fall within the scope of their responsibilities, even if they are not the persons who deal specifically with those situations. Too often our political leaders delude themselves into believing that they are the masters rather than the servants of the people. It is a delusion that needs to disappear.
Late French president George Pompidou once noted that a statesman is a politician who places himself at the service of the nation but the politician is a statesman who places the nation at his service. Several of our political leaders need to determine into which category they fall.