Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Daniel Thwaites | Ruel’s ‘detail’ requires more details

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2020 | 12:26 AM

I can’t possibly be the only one missing Ruel Reid so much. Although I was never personally privileged to witness him in full-dress regalia, I imagine that he was a sight to behold. Certainly, The Gleaner has pictures of him dressed in all white with epaulettes and gold buttons. The photo was printed atop the story ‘Play-Play’ bodyguard – CMU student paid as close-protection officer for Ruel Reid.

I don’t think a newspaper story has been so hungrily consumed by the public in a long time. A long long time. Like not since last week when the details of that exercise programme, ‘Tufton Moves’, were published. And speaking of that, I don’t really care what the critics say, I still count Tufton as a good guy, and I would bemoan the demotion of a health minister into OPM right in the middle of this COVID-19 crisis. Especially when dat likkle ting which woulda bring him into problems is the same likkle ting that causes the downfall of so many great men.

Since time immemorial, mankind has been launching great enterprises because of dat same likkle ting. Remember that the very oldest piece of literature in the Western canon tells us that Helen of Sparta gave an ‘unsolicited bid’ to perform services for Paris, Prince of Troy, leading to a protracted and bloody war. At least in this latest iteration the result was that pretty much all of Jamaica was dancing off some serious pounds, running up and down like mountain goats, and generally getting fitter, better looking, and possibly more toned and in shape for their own unsolicited bids and sole-source contracts. That’s a fair deal as far as I’m concerned.

NOT MERELY HISTORICAL

This isn’t merely historical – look at President Clinton. He launched a military air assault against Iraq while the impeachment vote was happening in Congress to provide a distraction for the populace who were otherwise, glued to every detail of his liaison with Monica Lewinsky.

So I’m thanking God it’s Andrew, and not Tufton, who has charge of the military. Otherwise the Jamaica Defence Force might, right now, be planning an attack somewhere.

Back to Ruel though, the man of the hour. I say, “Don’t grudge a man for having style”. So beat dem wid it, Ruel, beat dem! Respect is due. No badmind ting ‘roun here.

But all the same, some illuminating information emerged from this week’s Public Accounts Committee in Parliament. We learned that Ruel wasn’t the kind of minister who liked to travel alone or fly beneath the radar. So among his retinue of professional caregivers was this gentleman posing as a close protection officer who was, in fact, ‘only’ a student from CMU. The Gleaner says ‘Play-play’.

Before the accusations start to fly, let me emphasise that the ‘only’ simply speaks to the fact that if shots were fired, this young man wasn’t going pull out a gun and provide cover for Ruel. His role was purely ceremonial, meaning for the public’s consumption, for show, the pappy-show. I’m not saying Ruel was an arriviste, but he certainly wanted to everyone to know he had arrived.

Here we run into a systemic limitation for getting information about these important matters. I genuinely wish the PAC would hurry up and call the student to give testimony. Because after all the back-and-forth, the sordid details about the mud-bedraggled, once-grand CMU, and the tawdriness of this whole operation, it’s Ruel’s detail that requires more detail.

This student’s duties apparently went far beyond what a close protection officer would normally provide for the honourable minister. The youth would dress in full white, open doors, sequester speeches and deliver them at the appropriate time, ostentatiously salute, genuflect, indicate to others the proper protocol, bring refreshments, and generally attend to the honourable minister’s needs.

Don’t for a moment think I’m in disagreement with any of this. There is a shocking informality and looseness in comportment and speech that has infected our whole social landscape that Ruel, perhaps with just a tipple of too much enthusiasm, was seeking to redress.

Even though I’m on Ruel’s side, I wonder who had that first conversation with the student? How did that conversation go? I’m guessing it was Ruel himself. And my gosh, I wish I was there for the first practice run.

Ruel: “Anytime mi come chroo de door and de people dem deh-deh ah watch, yuh haffi stan-up straight an’ look pon me good-good, den yuh aggo salute. Yuh get mi? Nuh likkle small salute ting enuh … de people dem haffi see it. Like … like ah official ting. Awright?”

Student: “Yes, Honourable Minister!”

Ruel: “Awright … soh show mi how yuh aggo dweet.”

Student: (Hesitantly Salutes)

Ruel: “Naaawww man! Yuh ah gwaan like yuh shy! Dis is ah OFFICIAL ting wi ah deal wid enuh! Mi ah de Honourable Minista! Like yuh nuh know weh ah gwaan.”

If I’m imagining it correctly, it would almost look like when, back in the old days, some other people who came naturally dressed in white had every need tended to. That shouldn’t surprise us at all.

DESCEND FROM WARLORDS

Look, ministerial roles descend from when the aristocratic warlords, designated by the king to cover and administer some portion of his domain, would run things and take a tribute from the peasantry, which nowadays we call taxes. Today the tsar is the PM, and the warlords and generals are the ministerial cohort. My theory is that being the education man, Ruel understood this history in a way that few others would have, so he rose to the occasion and settled into the saddle as a true general.

Posh aristocrats had more than just a maid (we are told Ruel had a very highly compensated maid), a cook, a chauffeur, and a butler. The running footman really topped things off and telegraphed to the world that you were the real deal, with someone to handle menial matters like opening doors of the ministerial carriage. There were even rules: the footman was to be young, strong, tall, good-looking, and impeccably dressed and coiffed.

In this Independence time, I’m thinking that we’ve taken our own rightful place under the sun, as the amazing job Minister Olivia Grange has accomplished with this year’s festival celebrations would have reminded anyone who cared to look and listen. But sometimes, like when the education ministry’s permanent secretary gave us the details about Ruel’s entourage and steward, you have to wonder what is going on in some of the leaders’ heads. Let’s say the Independence is a work in progress.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.