I have compassion towards newly elected Member of Parliament Hon Jeremiah Norbert for his traumatic ordeal; his fortitude is admirable. Though I sympathize with the situation, I cannot treat him any differently than other politicians. In today’s blog, I will examine comments made by both the Prime Minister (PM) and Mr. Norbert, which left me wondering what is happening in Micoud North. While I understand the subject’s sensitive nature, I never have and will never shy away from a topic due to discomfort.
During the closing remarks by the PM at the swearing-in ceremony for the Cabinet of Ministers on August 5th, 2021, Mr. Pierre said the following.
“As we ease him (Mr. Norbert) into the political leadership of this country, as he continues to pursue his academic qualifications, and as he continues his physical healing. I have decided to, in the first instance, offer him the position of Deputy Specker. I will revisit with Honourable Norbert in the short term and once his progress is satisfactory, graduate him to the next level.”
These comments sparked outrage from some constituents of Micoud North. Manifesting in many angry social media posts, live streams, and comments criticizing the new government for what was perceived as disrespect.
The next day, first thing in the morning, Mr. Norbert either called into a popular morning show Zafe Nous to clear the air and possibly do some damage control, saying.
“I must say a big thank you to the Prime Minister. I knew that the decision-making for him was not an easy one. It was a very difficult time for him, and I would not want to be in his position right now because I knew he was under immense pressure having to configure his cabinet. But the Prime Minister was generous to me, and I want to say that openly that the Prime Minister was very generous to me as it relates to taking up a ministerial portfolio he gave me the option. However, with many things considered, I opted to assume the role of Deputy Speaker of the house of parliament, so it was not a decision that was imposed on me. I opted to assume the role of Deputy Speaker, and I hasten to say to the constituents of Micoud North there is no disappointment here. I assure them there is no disappointment here.”
Why was there a discrepancy between what the PM said at the swearing-in ceremony and what Mr. Norbert clarified?
If we take the PM at his word, then Mr. Norbert’s comments are damage control designed to quell dissatisfaction in his constituency and across the nation. However, if we take Mr. Norbert at his word, the PM’s remarks could be considered a lie of omission. The select exclusion of relevant information that misrepresented the truth. Which one it is, in reality, is not a call I am equipped to make, but whatever it is, something is rotten in the State of Saint Lucia.
While I did not follow every utterance made by the candidate for Micoud North on the campaign trail, I have no recollection, nor have I been able to find an instance where he expressed an explicit sentiment that he did on Zafe Nous. This leads me to believe that they are more of a convenient explanation than the transparent truth.
This subject tempts me to open a much bigger can of worms. That of the tradition that one becomes a candidate for Minister by contesting an election. It is a tradition that considers it disrespectful to the MP and the entire constituency if one wins a seat and is not given a ministry, which has confused the minds of the masses. To such an extent that they use the terms Member of Parliament and Minister interchangeable and say things like “My Minister” when a minister has national responsibilities rather than the more confined territory of a district.
If the PM could honour the people’s will in Castries Central and North, why not do the same in Micoud North? This is a seat held by a party member compared to independent candidates and a seat his party has never managed to secure. One would believe it would have been relatively easy for Mr. Norbert to be made a Jr Ministers within the portfolios associated with health. This would have been a brilliant time to introduce a portfolio of Disabled Affairs.
But if that were done, who would become Deputy Speaker? Would Kenny Anthony, as a past Prime Minister, be willing to accept a position so publicly belittled? Would one of the independent candidates take it or instead rather remain as an opposition member?
After all the attention given to the lack of a Deputy Speaker during the last administration, the current government could not have fulfilled the constitutionally mandated position to have all candidates become ministers.
This is a subject we will ultimately have to revisit when we get into constitutional reform. One of the recommendations was to make Members of Parliament ineligible to hold ministerial portfolios.
For now, I will end today’s blog with another comment made by the PM and Mr. Norbert.
In the PM’s description of the soon-to-be Deputy Speaker, he used the word “impressionable.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it means “easily influenced by other people, especially because you are young.” When I first heard the PM say this, I was surprised. It’s not a flattering way to describe someone responsible for representing thousands of people or accountable to the nation as a prospective cabinet member.
My concern grew when on Zafe Nous, Mr. Norbert said.
“I am fortunate to be surrounded by a group of experienced men who understand the importance of holding your hand, coaching you, and taking you through the process.”
While these comments make me question whether he is ready for the big stage, I will give him time to establish a political reputation before I get too engaged in a critical review of his character. I will say that historical win aside; I am not yet impressed.
While at face value, we can view his grit in the face of adversity as being admirable. It can also be interpreted as foolhardiness. The trama that he faced is nothing easy to deal with. Physical rehabilitation alone can take anywhere from 6 months under the ideal condition up to a year or more. Then consider the psychological challenges which often require extended counselling. In more developed democracies, candidates in similar situations would have stepped down from the race and prioritized their recovery. Doing it right the first time is vital because you cannot undo the damage caused in this critical stage.
I fully appreciate the need for him to take the time to focus on his health and studies and genuinely wish him well, but this will not be the last time we discuss this issue.
Stay safe, Be strong, and God bless Saint Lucia.