Cultivating the handout mentality

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We recently carried a picture of Prime Minister Gaston Browne being hugged by some adorable children at the Five Islands Primary School. The guest of honour at the school’s Antigua History Week event, the prime minister, during his address to the students in grades three and six, encouraged them to approach their education seriously.
Great picture, we thought. However, we would have preferred to see the photo without the prime minister wearing dark shades, but that is a minor point. The major point (and what we did not see the from the photograph provided by the Office of the Prime Minister) was that the “adoration” was more likely the glee from the children who had been plied with gifts – some of which were cold, hard United States greenbacks, because, somehow, that is the currency that the PM or his entourage walks with these days. Eastern Caribbean dollars, apparently, no longer seems en vogue, or maybe not good enough.
The reason for the “gifts” remains a mystery but they has incurred harsh criticism from a wide cross section of the society, including former principal of the Golden Grove Primary School and former President of the Senate, Hazlyn Francis, who charged that Prime Minister Browne’s action “has a meaning”.
She said, “Some of the children would understand the message it sends. Then, they would keep looking to every adult who comes by to give them something.”
The PM’s retort to all those who have publicly voiced their disapproval is: “Get a life!” He referred to his action as a “non-issue” and brushed aside any criticism that he had displayed bad judgment.
The prime minister is free to access his actions in any way he pleases but there can be little debate that the decision to hand out cash to primary school students was a massive faux pas. And just because there are people out there who want to debate the issue does not make it a “non-issue”. In our world, this is not the example that the leader of the country should portray to impressionable children.
Let us examine the facts; not the “alternative facts”, just the facts. The PM was invited in his official capacity to address the students at the Five Islands Primary School. He was not there as ‘Citizen X’ with a $30 million net-worth to teach the children about the value of money, or how easy it can be obtained. Not that we think that that makes any difference. Our point is that he was there on official business as the prime minister. So, on that point alone, who amongst us considers it appropriate for the PM to walk around and handing out money like a “don” to those who push out a hand?
Further, if you, for some reason, shrugged your shoulders at that first test, then ask yourself if it’s in order to develop this type of “handout” mentality in our young, impressionable children, especially our young girls? Shouldn’t the message have been that they needed to study hard in order to earn their own money?
If, for some reason, you still view this as a non-issue, then ask yourself: Where does it stop?  US $50? US $100? Maybe US $500 … or more? This is a slippery slope. Exposing children or getting them hooked on handouts at such an early age cannot be considered good.
Wasn’t the PM’s presence and address to the children a good enough gift? After all, all the schools in Antigua & Barbuda were not privileged to enjoy a visit from the PM during History Week.
And speaking of walking around like a ‘don’, the conspiracy theorists are having a field day with this. They have labelled the incident as an example of “Trumpism” and equated the gifts and cash to Donald Trump’s hiring people to make up his crowd at his campaign announcement at Trump Tower. They claim that there was no other way that PM Browne could have gotten the children to pose like that for the photo. As usual, we chuckled at their theory, but they wagged their fingers and warned us that we should not be so quick to brush aside their analysis.
They reminded us that there are other examples of “Trumpism” that we should be “well aware” of, to include the many labels that have been foisted upon OBSERVER media and the actions taken against us and the free press.
Putting the conspiracy theories aside, what has become apparent is that politicians have discovered and employed a new remedy for any type or size of scandal. Just reach into your inner “Shaggy” and say, “It wasn’t me!” Or say it did not happen or it is no big deal and then walk away. People then begin to debate what was said rather than what was done. It is an effective way of leveraging political divisions. One side defends what was said accompanied by insults and the other side tries, in vain, to point out the inaccuracies. The questionable action that led to the debate falls into the darkness.
In this case, the PM’s supporters will repeat the “non-issue” defence and scold anyone with an opposing view to “get a life”, while other people will try to argue that is an issue. All the while, the issue – giving cash to kids – is sidelined and never gets discussed, as it should.
The conspiracy theorists have suggested that “Trumpism” is alive and well in Antigua & Barbuda and will continue to flourish if not checked by the media and other right thinking persons.
That’s just crazy talk. Right?

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