Wednesday 20th December 2006

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Lessons from St Lucia

In addition to consultation on serious national issues, the PNM leader and Prime Minister could seek to make government operations far more transparent.

Besides the over-confident smugness, even arrogance, of St Lucia’s incumbent Prime Minister Kenny Anthony as he approached the electorate last week, there is little similarity between the politics of that country and the race-based entrenched political culture of T&T.

But so marked is the self-assuredness between Kenny Anthony and Patrick Manning that it cannot be missed: the PNM political leader is not merely seeking a return to office but has mandated his party, according to John Donaldson, to achieve a clear constitutional majority, 32 seats, to be able to unilaterally change the Constitution.

Consider that this publicly-stated objective comes in an environment in which there has been widespread condemnation of the notion put forward by Prime Minister Manning of an executive president with untrammelled power to get a full appreciation of the self-assurance/arrogance, take your choice of description, of the Manning pitch for a special majority.

That attitude too is probably indicative of the contempt in which Manning holds the opposition parties. In this regard there is some legitimacy, given the self-inflicted paralysis and confusion in the UNC and COP, the former more so than the latter.

As an aside, the two parties would have to be held responsible if the PNM and Mr Manning were to receive the majority required to change the Constitution without concern for how the opposition party/parties were to vote in the Parliament.

But returning to the comparison of the upset victory of the 82-year-old John Compton and his United Workers Party over the incumbent Kenny Anthony and his St Lucia Labour Party and possible political outcomes here, the voting behaviour of the Trinidad electorate is so steeped in racial affiliation to the PNM-UNC and now COP outfits, that performance in and out of office is never really the major reason for throwing one party out and returning another to office.

But maybe there could be similarity in the manner in which Caribbean people may decide to deal with the phenomenon of arrogance of politicians who operate as if incumbency gives them the power and authority to do as they please without reference to the populations who have put them into office.

The Compton/UWP victory was not a marginal shift indicating some minor disaffection with the performance of Anthony’s party over two terms, but a dramatic swing-away that speaks of dissatisfaction with the handling of crime and the economy and the attitude to governance by the incumbent.

Back in 1995 when PM Manning called the election early, the economy was performing admirably, crime was starting to exert what has turned out to be its vice-like grip on the society and Manning had begun to display the tendency to being seen as the father of the nation who could do no wrong. He and his party were then punished for their ineffectiveness with crime and growing arrogance of attitude.

Once again the economy is buoyant beyond measure, but the twin-sins of crime and arrogance are even more all-pervasive than they were a decade ago.

And even though, as pointed out above, the electorate here is very differently structured and disposed to voting than it is in St Lucia and the opposition party there was far more focused, united and without the weight of sins of the immediate past, a few of the sentiments that caused Anthony to be shoved out of office could occur to the uncommitted as good enough reasons for change in an election to be held some time over the next eight to ten months.

Even from this distance and notwithstanding all the imponderables that might occur in the run-up to the next polls, a segment of marginal PNM supporters and those others who voted out Panday and the UNC may decide to stay at home on election day to cause the PNM some measure of grief on the morning after.

But it may not be too late for Mr Manning and the PNM to learn from the experience of Anthony and the SLP. A personal transformation may be difficult to effect at this stage of Manning’s political life from being smug and self-assured to a disposition more open to listening, especially to those who do not see the world through the same lenses—often having the easy compliance of those who believe in you as a political leader or feign it to receive material and other kinds of benefits is particularly useless.

In addition to consultation on serious national issues, the PNM leader and Prime Minister could seek to make government operations far more transparent, giving information and details to the electorate before a dog-fight breaks out.

The procurement process for the proposed rail system is an example of the greater transparency required.

Somehow, someone has to get it through the heads of the Prime Minister and his Government that quality governance is not about macho dominance.

He and his government have to understand that the resources they commit to projects do not belong to them or to the PNM and this generation of nationals, but to all living here and generations into the future.

Mr Manning also has to disabuse himself of the notion that he and his government have always been right. This column is going to devote some research time to pointing to the several instances in which they were wrong in their two stints in government and the cost of those errors to taxpayers.

In the instance of the opposition parties, maybe they can learn the lesson of Compton and the UWP. For instance, how focused they were, how united they were as a political force fighting against an incumbent riding high in the sky, how much attention the UWP paid to convincing the electorate that they had a plan to tackle the ills of the country, not merely spouting useless and tired rhetoric which no one believes.

Dookeran and the COP have an opportunity to begin to shape a serious national party instead of being a shadow of the UNC with its focus on tribal loyalties. Dookeran has a national image and respect; he should use those attributes to strike out on a different path.

Maybe the UNC has taken heart from the fact of Compton being a senior citizen to justify the formal return of Panday to the leadership of the party.

There are, however, differences that should be taken note of: Compton did not have a criminal conviction over his head, neither did he have a history of dividing to rule.

The parties may put out their stockings asking Santa to bring them these gifts.







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