The Prime Minister has come a long way since the time, not
much more than a decade ago, when he and his party based an
election campaign on not allowing asylum in this country to
a handful of Haitian refugees.
In the course of that journey, Mr Manning has found himself
leading from in front on the issue of Caricom and regional
integration. In fact, it seems hes left the rest of
his own party and the Opposition so far behind theyre
struggling to catch up.
Last week the House debated two bills on Caricom; one to give
effect to the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and hence the
Caribbean Single Market and Economy, and the other to lift
restrictions on Caricom citizens working, investing
and setting up companies in this country.
If the CSME does come to pass, it will make huge changes in
the relations between Caribbean countries. Unfortunately,
not many people in the House knew what those changes might
be, and the rest didnt seem very interested. Caricom
is one of those issues which are worthy but dull; it is dear
only to the heart of Mr Manning, who appears to want to leave
the achievement of Caribbean integration as his legacy.
The rest of the House sat meekly through debate on both bills.
Couva South MP Kelvin Ramnath arrived on Wednesday with a
complete set of the days newspapers, apparently planning
to read them in defiance of the Speakers ruling, but
then lost interest in his own high jinks and lent them to
his neighbour Kamla Persad-Bissessar; and on Friday he didnt
show up at all.
The same handful of members spoke on both bills, but left
the House none the wiser. Foreign Affairs Minister Knowlson
Gift, who piloted both bills, distinguished himself by failing
to shed any light whatsoever on what the advent of the CSME
would mean. MP for Diego Martin East Colm Imbert raised large
and possibly alarming questions about what the CSME might
mean for national sovereignty, then tried to allay the fears
he had roused by saying that he had personally studied the
treaty and was satisfied there were no looming dangers. Well,
once Mr Imbert says something is okay, the whole House is
It was UNC leader Basdeo Panday who signed the revised Treaty
of Chaguaramas in 2001 while he was Prime Minister, so in
principle the Opposition supported the bills. But they wouldnt
just come out and say so.
Oropouche MP Dr Roodal Moonilal accused the Prime Minister
of formulating foreign policy on his own, in the course of
trips to Jamaica or Grenada, or during the too-frequent visits
to this country of St Vincent Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
Dr Moonilal thought there ought to be a minister for development
co-operation, who would be accountable to Parliament.
But they dont want that, they want to wake up,
take a jet to somewhere in the Caribbean and say, $25
million for you, he charged.
This was, he claimed, foreign policy by vaps, but actually
Mr Mannings approach has been consistent; as Ms Persad-Bissessar
put it, he wants to be the fairy godmother of the Caribbean.
Ms Persad-Bissessar was tempted to appeal to the xenophobia
of the citizens of T&T, raising an alarm because the chief
immigration officer couldnt say how many Grenadian schoolchildren
had come to this country in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. The
Ministry of Education cant say how many have been pushed
into our schools, she warned.
But she didnt press the issue further than that, and
the bills were given a swift passage.
The Opposition may merely have been saving its ammunition,
however. Next on the order paper is a bill to implement the
agreement establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice, which
the UNC has made into a major bone of contention.
Mr Gift tactlessly announced on Wednesday that the CCJ would
be inaugurated in March next year.
Oh really? Ms Persad-Bissessar interjected in
The court, went on the oblivious Mr Gift, would have original
jurisdiction in matters relating to Caricom.
Ms Persad-Bissessar pretended to think that meant the PNM
had changed its position and wanted the CCJ to have only this
original jurisdiction. But Mr Manning got up to say no, it
would replace the Privy Council as a final court of appeal.
And that, if a weary Opposition can gird its loins for the
occasion, will be the subject of a full-scale fight.