Friday 19th March, 2003



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Playing a dangerous game

By Gillian Lucky, MP

[email protected]

The resignation of Larry Achong as Minister of Labour was not as surprising as the reaction of the Prime Minister, who adopted a comical route of escape rather than the forthright approach expected of a statesman.

If Mr Manning’s excuse for his puerile response was his shock at this drastic move by a Minister, then Mr Manning is incapable of reading the clearest writing on the wall.

It was reported some time ago that there was a rift in the Cabinet and when confronted with the allegation of dissension in the ranks, Mr Manning was the first to give the assurance that all was well within his Cabinet.

One of the least attractive features of a politician is arrogance because this leads to vaulting ambition that cannot be controlled and a lack of sensitivity to the sufferings of citizens. Mr Manning ought to heed the warning of the witches in Shakespeare’s tragic play Macbeth, that “Security is mortal’s chiefest enemy.”

Mr Manning has insulated himself to the extent that he resides in an ivory tower that enables him to lightly dismiss serious matters and ignore the plight of the citizenry. How else can one explain the contemptuous act of refusing to comment on the resignation of a Minister of Cabinet?

Mr Manning is playing a very dangerous game and is probably setting off alarm bells for his colleagues who recognise that labour affairs and matters involving trade disputes and industrial action ought not to be flippantly disregarded.

Jennifer Baptiste-Primus, president of the Public Services Association, while addressing striking Atlantic LNG workers at their Point Fortin camp, warned Mr Manning that he was doomed to lose the fight against the labour movement.

Even Mr Manning’s self-acclaimed integrity was challenged by Mrs Primus, who is reported as saying:

“There are people who had believed in Mr Manning and the level of his honesty. Now the perspective is that he is less than honest…”

Mr Manning has a responsibility to communicate to the population on this issue because his continued silence is costing irreparable harm and significant economic loss. It is rather unfortunate, however, that the voice of Mrs Primus was noticeably silent on important labour matters which involved people not necessarily the supporters of the Government.

Whatever her past inaction, Mrs Primus knows that she must use her power to send a strong message to Mr Manning that he has far surpassed the acceptable boundary of arrogance. She really therefore fills a void and maintains the link between the striking workers and a Prime Minister who has apparently lost control.

Her harsh words and wisdom on this matter are a blessing for Mr Manning who has now been given sufficient time to put his house in order and deal with the subject at hand.

Constitutional reform

Mr Achong faced a dilemma in which he had to choose between commitment to constituents and loyalty to Cabinet. When confronted with the choice, he opted for his constituents and is yet to decide whether he will remain a member of the PNM.

According to Achong, “I think if I fall out of grace with the party, I ought to resign and give them back their seat.”

One suggestion for constitutional reform is that members of Parliament ought not to be members of the Cabinet, making a distinction between those who belong to the Legislature and those who function in the Executive. Such a system would certainly promote independence and allow specific focus by respective members on the roles they perform in each arm of the State.

Arrogance of Ministers

The Prime Minister is not the only person guilty of unacceptable arrogance. On March 17 during the programme Platform on Radio 90.5FM, a caller indicated to Minister John Rahael that in the constituency of Point Fortin there had been no surgeon at the Point Fortin Health Centre for over one year.

Minister Rahael quickly defended himself, pointing out that it was the responsibility of the South West Regional Authority to address that matter. For a Minister who boasts about all the achievements in his Ministry, not only in the Parliament but by advertisements extensively published in the media, such ignorance is unacceptable.

Another caller on the same programme, obviously upset by the Minister’s approach to the problem, pointed out that for the Minister not to have known about the problem meant that the Member of Parliament for Point Fortin and the Minister had a breakdown in communication.

Whatever the Minister’s responsibility, at the very least he owed the constituents the assurance that he would deal with the issue rapidly, especially in light of his admission that existing poor healthcare results in numerous deaths.

Silence is golden

Silence on serious matters by politicians, who by virtue of their office must be transparent and accountable, is a last resort and should only be relied upon when crucial facts remain outstanding or public interest immunity can be raised. The resignation of a Member of Cabinet is a matter worthy of rapid explanation and not protected by either category of exemption.

Waiting for Thursday post-Cabinet briefing sessions to address outstanding matters is not objectionable unless, as in this instance, there has been a passage of almost one week and the labour dispute still looms.

Delegations from the PNM with the mandate to woo, censor, cajole or threaten is useless and only reminiscent of this Government’s approach to crisis when the horse has already bolted.

Mr Manning knows that his empire is crumbling and the power of the force is beyond his wildest imagination. For those who are committed to good governance and the destruction of the dark side, may the force be with you!




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