Verna St Rose-Greaves wasn’t the biggest loser in Friday’s Cabinet reshuffle; we were. Fired from the post of Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development, Verna’s only sin was that she was too committed to serving this country according to her conscience, by seeking to protect our women and children. Instead of being lauded for this, Verna was thrown under the bus by the PP government. Given the choice between the Christian/conservative vote and the smooth introduction of the Gender Policy Verna championed, the PP government chose the votes, going against what its leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar had seemed to stand for before she became Prime Minister.
I say without apology that this makes Verna a political martyr to the cowardice of the PP government and its failure to stand for what it seemed to believe in before it formed the government. There are those who feel Verna was fired because of the Cheryl Miller episode. In March Millar was taken from her desk in Verna’s ministry and committed to the mental hospital against Miller’s will. It’s possible this is what led to Verna’s firing. However, it’s more likely that the government saw too many protests against the Gender Policy, and the imaginary LGBT marriage lobby. (Surely it’s imaginary, since most LGBT organisations in the country haven’t said a peep about gay marriage, and have only asked for equal human rights for LGBT folk.) Verna, being Verna, stood up for what she believed in and presented a Gender Policy that wouldn’t embarrass her as a longstanding women’s activist. Would that the PP government had the same courage.
I am not Verna St Rose-Greaves’ friend, but I have interviewed her many times in my capacity as a reporter. She was always a straightforward, blunt advocate for the people she served as a social worker; and she was passionate and well informed about women’s and children’s rights and the wrongs done to them. In fact, Verna was the go-to interview on any such topic, because she was one of a very few public servants who would risk defying the public servant ban on talking to the media. She might have looked mad to play “warner woman”, complete with bell, during the Summit of the Americas in 2009 in Port-of-Spain, but I agreed with her choice to protest the then-government’s holding of an expensive international summit and spending millions of dollars to spruce up the parts of the country the delegates would see while our women and children were being murdered and suffering egregious poverty. Jada Loutoo reported in the Newsday at the time, “After leaving her post on Wrightson Road, St Rose-Greaves […] walked down to the fountain at the Summit Village on the Port-of-Spain Waterfront promenade, where she was accosted by security officers who took away her bell […] and called for backup.”
Now it’s 2012 and once again Verna’s bell has been taken away. She has been whisked out of government back into the shadows where her cries for justice and equality will be easier to ignore. She told the Guardian in an interview published Sunday, “I was offered an ambassadorial position in Costa Rica, which I chose not to take because I didn’t come into government to go to Costa Rica… The one thing that I am sure of, my voice will not be silenced. Death will have to silence me.”
As Ataklan sang, “I’d rather be a shadow in the dark than a big fool in spotlight.”
Years ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was once a politician. I told him I felt politicians were the lowest of the low, opportunists who had only entered the field for what power and wealth they could gain. I cited the infamous declaration by Desmond Cartey—“All ah we thief”—as proof that in this country people enter politics to line their pockets and the pockets of their friends and families. My friend corrected me: far from being the slimiest occupation, politics was among the highest callings an individual could follow. Being a politician was an opportunity for service to one’s country and one’s fellow man, he said. What could be nobler than that?
But the take-away lesson of Verna’s firing is that conscience and integrity have no place in T&T politics. When you enter the government, leave your conscience at home. Verna’s firing is a loss for the country because it spells out in bold, clear letters to service-minded individuals, “Don’t go into politics.”
This column appears in today’s Trinidad Guardian.