Wednesday 19th April, 2006

Clevon Raphael
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Change course of action

I am not an alarmist. If anything, I am a very optimistic person although, at times, I feel my optimism is somewhat misplaced.

Some people, on the other hand, might feel I am a weak person because, by nature, I am not a confrontational person. If I see trouble coming my way I cross the road.

I say this to put in some kind of context a very questionable decision taken last week by chief of the defense staff Brigadier Ancil Antoine.

The Brig, to my great pleasure, agreed to be the guest on the Gladiator’s talk show on Power 102 FM.

It was nice to know that the Brig was opening up himself to the nation. Let us hear what he, in particular, and his men and women were doing to give us a sense of security in spite of the crime situation.

I must confess that my optimism was buoyed by the excellent manner in which he handled himself, although some people said he had the tone of a “badjohn.”

But that is academic as we all have our own perceptions of people and I do hope that the Brig will continue to make himself available to the media for indepth interviews on the state of the country’s military.

My optimism, however, was dashed when he threatened to punish who he termed as “indisciplined” soldiers.

Let me explain.

As is customary, the host asked the Brig if he would take calls from his listeners and, particularly, members of the defense force.

The Gladiator asked him if he would allow his soldiers to talk freely. The Brig did not hesitate to answer in the affirmative.

During this part of the show I got the feeling that some of his men were a bit too—if I may say this— rude to their CDS.

I chuckled when questioned on salary he squealed on some soldiers when he said that they had extramarital affairs. He said soldiers would tell their wives they got a particular salary but, in fact, they were giving part of their pay to the outside woman.

They also misled their wives, the Brig added, by saying that they were confined to the barracks when, in fact, they were spending time with the other woman.

I would not say he was hitting his men a low blow but any other man ratting on his friends like that would be in line for a good cut-tail or worse.

The following day, on the same station, the Brig appeared as a guest on another show where lo and behold, he said that the soldiers who called the previous day were indisciplined and would be punished.

I do not understand the abrupt about-turn.

Why did the Brig give them permission to speak freely yet after the soldiers did he has threatened to punish them?

The army, he said, had the technology to trace these callers and the affected soldiers would be found out and disciplined.

Was he setting up his men for the fall? I doubt that. Was he pulled up by someone in the Ministry of National Security for allowing the solders to call and spill their guts to the listening public?

I have never met the Brig but his tone of voice on the radio suggested to me that he is a caring leader, a man prepared to listen to the woes of his soldiers even in the public domain.

With this unexpected turn of events I am afraid that if this situation is not handled skillfully, it could lead to unwanted consequences down the road.

If I were one of those soldiers I would be looking at my Brig with a different eye from now on. How could you invite me to talk and then punish me for doing so?

Granted, some of them were a bit uncouth in their comments but I don’t think that he should go down the road of punishing these soldiers.

In a democratic country people, even soldiers, should be allowed to speak freely. If they cannot, their grievances would be swept under the carpet and left to fester like a sore. Sooner or later these aggrieved people may do something to vent their pent-up frustrations.

I know that military life is not at all like civilian life and that soldiers have a higher standard of discipline to observe but they are, after all, humans like the rest of us.

They have to use the same taxis, the same grocery, the same market. In other words, they are part of the national community facing the same set of problems and issues facing the rest of the citizenry.

After listening to some of the callers/soldiers one got the impression that all is not well in the camp and, instead of trying to stifle freedom of expression, the Brig would do well to get to the root cause of his soldiers’ problems instead of reading them the riot act.

I am sure he has not forgotten the 1970 situation. Nobody wants a repeat.

I am pleading with the good Brig to please change that proposed course of action and let good sense prevail.



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