Keeping up appearances

Published: Friday | November 30, 2012 Comments 0

By Peter Espeut

It was said of the late President Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania (called Mwalimu, or 'teacher') by his people, that "he set a high moral standard whereby the mark of presidential leadership and honour was measured not in the amount of accumulated wealth but in selfless and distinguished public service to the people".

Nyerere refused to reside in the impressive presidential palace on the Indian Ocean, but lived in a modest house, and he drove around in a battered jeep. He was a humble man, refusing to be called Mheshimiwa (Honourable), or Mtukufu (His Excellency). "His modest lifestyle added to his moral authority," said another commentator. A process is under way for his canonisation as a Roman Catholic saint.

Jamaican politicians are in no danger of suffering a similar fate. Selflessness and humility are not part of the vocabulary of Jamaican public servants. Basking in colonial titles such as 'Honourable' and 'Most Honourable', Jamaican politicians feel a sense of entitlement to expensive high-end vehicles at public expense and first-class air travel, despite Jamaica's first-class economic crisis.

SENSIBLE FRENCH GOVERNMENT

The New York Times of July 12, 2012, under the headline 'Austerity Reaches the Hollande Government in France', reported: "Mr Hollande, a socialist, and his prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, have ordered downgrades in official luxury. ... Hollande has given up the presidential CitroŽn C6 for a smaller CitroŽn DS5 diesel hybrid and reduced the ranks of his official drivers. ... Hollande has actually taken the train to Brussels, without a state jet following him, and his ministers have been ordered to hit the rails when possible ... .

"When they fly, they are encouraged to travel in coach class on commercial airlines. ... Mr Ayrault gave up his C6 for a cheaper Peugeot 508. Cabinet ministers have also traded down, and the housing minister, Cťcile Duflot, ... has ordered four official bicycles. Champagne at receptions has largely been replaced by Muscadet, a considerably cheaper white wine.

"... Even security has been put to the knife, at least a little. Junior ministers no longer get bodyguards, and the number of security workers attached to the presidency has been reduced by a third. ... Hollande has cut ministerial salaries by 30 per cent (including his own ...). Even more startling is the Government's intention to limit the remuneration of the bosses of major state-owned companies, to about 20 times that of the lowest-paid employee ... Henri Proglio, the chief executive of ťlectricitť de France, reportedly earns US$1.9 million a year - 64 times that of the company's lowest-paid employee - and he could be paid about a third of what he gets now if the law goes through."

What kind of behaviour is this? France is behaving like a country under an IMF austerity programme. Doesn't it know that politicians have to keep up appearances, and that there are standards below which they must not fall?

During a public forum in Mount Salem, St James, last week, Prime Minister Simpson Miller asked members of the public whether "they would want to see their children, who were members of Cabinet, travelling on an economy-class flight". How infra dig!

A 'ROYAL' DOWNGRADE

What must Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, be saying about the behaviour of her grandchildren? After a weeklong ski trip in the French Alps last April, Prince William and Kate Middleton returned to England on an easyJet flight from Geneva sitting in the main cabin - not first class. The couple was travelling with police protection officers, but otherwise behaved like any other passengers; they went through the usual security checks before boarding, and received no special treatment in the air.

This was nothing new; returning from their cousin's wedding at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh in August 2011, Prince William and his wife, Kate, along with their mandatory bodyguards, took the Sunday evening flight to Manchester on the discount airline FlyBe; Prince Harry took easyJet for his flight back to London; neither aircraft has a first-class section. While steps are contemplated to cut Jamaica's connection with the British monarchy, our Jamaican monarchs insist on flying first-class.

While returning to Washington, DC, after a visit to Jamaica a few years ago, a member of the Cabinet of the rich and powerful United States of America took his seat in economy class on a US carrier, took out his laptop, and began to work.

If Jamaican politicians are going to ask the Jamaican people to make sacrifices so that our beloved nation can move towards economic recovery and growth, they have to demonstrate a willingness to make sacrifices "in selfless and distinguished public service to the people". There are no saints in Gordon House - on either side.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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