Once upon a time there was an emperor who loved clothes more than anything else. In fact he loved clothing so much that he changed his clothes almost every hour and spent much time admiring himself. Truthfully speaking, he spent most of his people's money on clothing for himself.
One day two swindlers posing as tailors came to the court and tricked the emperor into ordering a suit made of cloth with colors and patterns of extraordinary beauty, but they insisted that the clothes made from this cloth had the remarkable quality of being invisible to anyone who was a fool or unfit for the office he or she held.
They told the king to send only his most trusted ministers to view the clothing. Upon seeing the two swindlers sewing furiously, but seeing no clothes being sewed, the ministers thought that because they saw nothing they were fools and unfit for office. So they pretended to see the clothes anyway and made great gestures at how beautiful they were.
Even the emperor failed to see any garments but was afraid that he too might be considered a fool or unfit to be an emperor if he spoke the truth. So he pretended to see the clothes as had his ministers before him.
One day a great procession was held. The emperor undressed and put on his new clothes and marched proudly before all the townspeople. Though they saw only a naked emperor, the townspeople also pretended to see how extraordinarily beautiful were the emperor's colors and patterns. Everyone was afraid of being considered a fool or unfit for his position if they told what they truly saw. And that would be dreadful.
At last a child peered through the crowd and cried out loudly: “But the emperor has no clothes on!” The mother tried to hush the child, but then she looked again. “Oh, no!” she said. “Can it be true?”
Everyone began to whisper what the child had said. Then they all began to cry out together, “But the emperor has no clothes on!” The emperor heard them and his ears burned bright red. He realized they were right, but there was nothing he could do. And so the emperor lifted his head higher still and kept walking.
Even if he had no clothes on, he would still carry himself as an emperor should. His ministers followed him, looking even more dignified than before, carrying in their hands a flowing robe that did not exist.
Since I was a child, this has always been one of my favorite fairy tales by Hans Christian Anderson. However as an adult I see a different truth and meaning in it. Like the child in the story who saw what everyone else in the village refused to see, I feel compelled to tell “it” as I see it.
The most obvious interpretation of this story is that people who point out the emptiness of powerful people and institutions are often compared to the child who says that the emperor has no clothes on. In other words, the title is often used to describe a situation in which people are afraid to criticize something because everyone else thinks it is good or important. We don't want to go against the mainstream whether we feel it is correct or not. After all, who wants to be considered a fool?
Let's look at some of today's problems that face us. The Retirement Fund is on its last breath, CUC cannot seem to improve itself, suddenly money has been found to restore an 80-hour two-week payroll (from where?), CHC is in a coma and losing doctors and nurses almost daily, more and more people are getting on welfare, etc. Yet we remain deadlocked in political arguments. And as soon as suggested solutions are made, why do they immediately degenerate into contentious political issues? Where is the child among us? Why do we allow the emperor to insist that his clothes are what they are?
Let me venture forth several solutions for improving our government. They are intended to start us thinking that we can improve and change what we are doing if only we, like the small child, will speak out and tell it as we see the situations. For example:
1. Reduce the salary and allowances of all elected officials and discourage them from making a career of politics. Study what legislators in other states are receiving, for example Hawaii. The Hawaiian legislative session is 60 days long. The Senate president and the Speaker of the House each get $37,000 per year. All other legislators get $32,000 per year. There is more about their expenses. Look it up. Yet Hawaii has over a million population and over several million tourists per year. How do they do it and we cannot with a much smaller population and number of tourists?
2. Reduce the number of legislators and impose term limits. Do we need so many? Guam has only 15.
3. Have each candidate explain what he has done to help our community before running for office. How many of our leaders have an impressive background before running for an elected office?
5. Reduce the number of government employees if we are to live within our means. Stop making government employment the dream job of our citizens. Has the government been run less efficiently while on a 32-hour work week? Will it be that more efficient once we return to a 40-hour week? Do we truly believe this?
6. Train more local people for jobs to replace nonresident workers. Insist that many of the over 12,000 food stamp recipients get a job or get training for jobs. Restore pride in them.
7. And the most difficult of all-learn to live within our means. Do we have the courage?
There are more suggestions, but we can start with these. Of course, these changes will never happen. Who will take the lead in implementing them? But I thought I would state them anyway. We can just keep believing that the emperor has clothes on even though we know better. After all, do we want to be considered stupid or unfit for our government jobs?
We continue having some of our government agencies on an emergency status. What this is supposed to do in solving our problems I don't know. But after all didn't the emperor believe in his wonderful invisible clothing? Please help find the little child that sees that the emperor has no clothes. Until we become him and speak out strongly, we will continue in the state we are.
In closing, what more can be said about our situation that we don't know? We need unification of our citizens and working together in making improvements. But most important of all, it is not who gets the credits but what the results are! I do not know the answers alone, but together coupled with a firm determination and open frankness, we will improve and become prosperous and happy again before it becomes too late. Please find the child within ourselves who will tell the truth!
My father told me when I was young to remember this: “There is never guaranteed success in anything you try to do, but there is guaranteed failure in not trying.”
Have a great week and at least let's smile at one another. Smiling is the universal language!
Pellegrino is a longtime businessman in the CNMI and is the former president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce.