Mr Manning

 

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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 19 Jan 04

 

A Daily Express editorial commented last week on Prime Minister Patrick Manning's admission that he accepted free flights and travel arrangements - (a euphemism surely - one imagines a luxury jet replete with champagne and foie gras) from British Gas and Repsol on his recent European trip.

 

It has been claimed by some that this sort of behaviour comes across as unethical since luxury gifts may be seen to compromise the interests of the country.

 

But nobody, not even the Opposition, seriously believes that Mr Patrick Manning is the sort of man who would dig holes in our Treasury in exchange for a personal bribe. Call it a woman's instinct but a man who uses leaden anachronisms such as "in the year of our Lord two thousand and two" instead of "2002" does not have it in him to be menacingly corrupt. 

 

Actually it appears that what Patrick Manning really wants (more than a jet ride) is to go down in history as a statesman, a visionary, far surpassing the legacy of the late Eric Williams. Mr Manning aspires to become a legend. Or as one businessman says "he wants to be the CEO of Trinidad Inc." The intimations of grandeur are there, easily gleaned from his self-appointed post of "Father of the Nation" to his more recent reference to his second political coming.

 

He is now recognised as a "maximum leader" and in order for a maximum leader to survive in our democratic political system he needs four things.

 

One- Discipline within his party. In the PNM discipline is tighter than at any time since Eric Williams's days. The shrinking violet reticence of formally independent thinking Cabinet members suggests that Mr. Manning is not a man who takes easily to advice, makes his own decisions, and likes to steer his ship single-handedly.

 

Two- The direct support of his people. Mr Manning has bypassed his ministers and spin doctors and gone directly to his people, pumping at least $300 million into CEPEP, URP and other make-work projects. That's what these walkabouts are for.

 

Three- A weak opposition. This he has, abundantly. When the UNC lost the election each parliamentary member of that party lifted a veil that revealed their true selves. And what we saw was not pretty. As a group without their accoutrements of cars, drivers, access to the Treasury, government departments, they "boiled down like bhaji". They were stunned into inaction.

 

But the average citizen of this country, including the illiterate (only one in two can read newspapers, remember?), poor (more than 300,000 people live on less than US$2 a day), vulnerable (who hasn't thought, looking at the image of yet another dead body, that that murder could have happened in their family?) and ill, yes ill-because so many people are victims of an absent health care system, was dumped. Even the veneer of caring for a population was dumped because they were no longer in fancy offices. That hurt a lot of people. It hurt the cane workers who expected effective representation. It hurt the victims of kidnapping who really wanted certain legislation pushed through Parliament. It hurt citizens who know one vital role of an opposition is that it puts checks and balances into governance. So the opposition lost much of its support.

 

The upshot is that Patrick Manning now just has to deal with hot air and a deflated opposition that is almost fatally punctured because it has also lost its moral authority. That's the opposition dealt with.

 

Four- Freedom from dependence on the party's financiers. When people or companies contribute to a political party they want something in return - at least a say in running the country - from large scale FTAA agreements to land zoning and action on crime.

 

So how does he become independent of his party's financiers? As a master in the art of being deliberately obtuse perhaps he already is. All policies are thickly protected under a seemingly impenetrable patina of bureaucracy. He simply has to look blankly at them and say he is following procedure and that should stump them (because although people like to ask for favours they don't actually like it to look like they are.)

 

Still there are tics and fleas about that Patrick Manning has to demolish, daily irritants, questions in the House, in the hush of his cabinet, a placard-bearing crowd - that sort of thing.

 

But what happens once Prime Minister Patrick Manning is able to free himself of these encumbrances?

 

We get a Maximum Leader. A man who remains Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago for the next 20 years (and perhaps President after that) a man who single-handedly takes Trinidad and Tobago into Vision 2020.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur