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The Blame Syndrome! - October 4, 2004

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The Blame Syndrome!


Hello Again, St. Lucia!

Today, I want to share some thoughts with you on an issue that has bothered me for some time. It is this issue – the tendency in our society to reject personal responsibility for our actions or misfortunes and to find a reason to blame someone else. We always blame others, but never ourselves.

Curiously, my selection of this subject was encouraged by a humorous conversation with a young attorney, a charming lady, in the foyer of Parliament just before the funeral procession of the late Prime Minister, Winston Cenac.

The foyer was hot, humid and sweaty. The young lady turned to me and said: “Prime Minister, I am sweating. It is extremely hot in here. You are responsible for my discomfort and my plight.” Then she smiled, “After all, you get blamed for everything!” We both laughed as we knew she had touched a raw nerve, a national habit. The biggest recipient of national blame is always the Government and in this regard, the principal culprit, your humble servant, the Prime Minister.


Some of it is, amazingly, understandable. Getting blamed for any and every thing comes with being Prime Minister, especially in a society like ours where we believe that nothing moves or happens without the Prime Minister. You should not wish to be Prime Minister if you do not understand that martyrdom awaits you.

The fact is that in times of distress, hardship or disaster those affected look for the easiest explanation, the one that will resonate. Take some examples of the phenomenon.


A lady is unable to get water to her home on a regular basis because the national water system cannot yet meet the needs of the residents in her area, so she blames the Prime Minister. Yet unexplained factors cause land movements at Tapion, but the Government and its engineers somehow get the blame. Someone is the victim of a cruel and hideous rape, and the Government is responsible, not the perpetrator. Criminals shoot each other and some end up dead and the government gets blamed for not having a handle on crime. People breach the law and damage public property before our very eyes and instead of taking them to task, we somehow find an excuse and blame it on unemployment – and by extension, the government.

Contractors don’t do their work and the government gets blamed. STEP workers don’t get paid on time and they blame the Prime Minister.

But it doesn’t just stop there. This “blame game” is also played by people you would expect better from.

Policemen who get criticized for slow response (or lack of it) to complaints turn around and blame the government for not giving them vehicles or for the vehicles not having gas or drivers. Public Servants who can not satisfactorily answer public queries about their work turn around and blame the government. A union and a government ministry have an industrial problem and the Prime Minister is accused of not wanting to intervene. Prosecutors lose an important case in the courts on the basis of a technicality and the government is blamed for not training them enough. Persons sentenced to hang and who have appealed are awaiting the conclusion of their appeal process, but the government is blamed for not hanging them. Senior public servants, including Permanent Secretaries, personally decide to move on and out of government, but first they must blame the government – and the Prime Minister, of course.

From time immemorial, calypsonians have virtually accepted that they have a right to publicly denigrate public officials in song and on stage. They offer the familiar excuse, with a knowing smile, “is just kaiso…”

Some talk show hosts invite listeners and viewers to attack, abuse, disrespect and even lie on public functionaries. They refuse to correct them, even finding excuses for them. After the damage is done, they then call on the politicians or public servants to respond or clarify.

You would think that the responsibility of the journalist or talk show host would be to correct what’s wrong, to seek to get the accusers to verify their allegations or back them up with fact. But instead they encourage the allegations and put the onus on the accused to defend himself or herself.

Sometimes they goad their listeners. On one programme, I heard a caller suggesting that bullets were fired at me in my constituency. This never happened. But was it a subtle invitation to certain elements to do so to prove a point? I wonder. So too do many people.


I ask you: what has become of our sense of right and wrong? Why are we so unwilling to give right where it is due? Why are we so inclined to only see the wrong and the negative? Why is it that we complain when things are bad but do not acknowledge when it is good or when somebody or the government does something good? Why have we become so afraid to give praise and credit?

But look further afield. Take our attitude to public property. People damage public property before our eyes and instead of taking the person to task, we say it’s not our business. Or we simply blame the person’s action on some unknown factor. Not for once would we consider that the property being destroyed is ours too. We fail to remember that it is our taxes that paid for it and that it is also our taxes that will have to be spent to repair the damage. Sometimes, the person doing the damage, if accosted or questioned, would simply say that it was his or her tax dollars that paid for it, so he or she can do what they want to it. What logic!

Take again, our attitude to our own property. In our quest to have our own homes we do whatever we feel it will take to get a roof over our heads. Some people would build houses out of plywood and galvanize with no regard for toilets, electricity or water, then turn around and blame the government for not providing these utilities.

In other areas they would simply squat on government’s land and build houses and call on the government to provide services. Some would even build more than one house in such areas and rent them out, becoming landlords in the process and still calling on government to provide services -- this time, to their tenants.

In still other cases, some property owners would simply cut up and sell house lots and encourage families to build on them without roads, sewerage or drainage facilities. But as soon as they cannot get lights or water after building their homes in those private housing schemes, they blame the government – not the developer, who, in the first place, caused the problems.

It is said that the more we get the more we want. That too is an attitude that results in blaming others when we cannot get all that we want. I can remember a case in my own constituency. A constituent moved into an unplanned development and built a home. After she moved in, she wanted electricity and water. Both were provided. Then, weeks later she told me that she had bought a car and she now wanted to park it near her house. So she wanted me to arrange to build a ramp over the drain that separates her home from the road. She continues to blame me for not providing access to her home for her car. Mind you, the use of public money to fund what is a private need, does not bother her.

The list can go on and on…


But do not get me wrong. There are occasions when a Minister or the Government deserves blame and citizens have a right to complain or express their displeasure. After all, how else could a government be held accountable or in check? But we cannot allow our lives to be governed by frivolities, by a failure to apportion blame or responsibility where it truly lies. No country can truly face its problems, if its citizens are schooled into identifying scapegoats for every ill that afflicts them. So, let us reaffirm that there is right and there is wrong in everything that we say or do.

Until next week, May God Bless You and Keep You!


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