duck MPs from start to finish
theres far more finesse, this time round, than firing
anyone by fax. That had happened in April, 1995, to Hong Kong-based
Trinidad and Tobago honorary consul, Alexander Lau, a man
of the world, as fluent in Mandarin as he was knowledgeable
about French wines.
He also had been a law school classmate of Basdeo Panday.
Life has gone on. Knowlson Gift, then permanent secretary,
twice later Foreign Affairs Minister, had signed the fax that
axed Mr Lau.
The axe fell on the luckless honorary consul, who had been
on vacation in Miami when a mission led by the T&T Prime
Minister arrived in Hong Kong.
Penal-born Mr Lau, whose business card emblazoned with the
T&T flag was printed in both English and Chinese lettering,
hadnt been slacking.
He simply hadnt been told the big man was coming.
Tough, fax you, was the response from Port-of-Spain.
Mr Gift has since himself moved on, again. The consumption
of human and other resources characterises the operation of
political apparatus driven by a leader on the road to somewhere.
Suddenly, last week, all eyes were fixed on this political
leader. His own profile has sharpened since 1995.
Minus the spectacles and the vaguely bookish look of the 1995
pre-election period, this is a man with many more pluses.
Patrick Manning, indeed, has so much more going for him, that
people who hadnt been paying attention as he grew from
policy nerd into all-powerful Napoleon, have taken to calling
In this space last week, I cited a leading T&T artist
who had proposed the name, Emperor Valley Mall,
for the cluster of structures making up the La Fantasie prime
Emperor Valley is the natural habitat not only of presidents
and prime ministers, but also of the botanical gardens and
the zoo that carries its name.
The valley, it turns out, even has its own brand of rare butterfly.
Writing then, I hadnt noticed that the Emperor
label for Mr Manning had gained wider usage beyond that as
a UNC/Alliance term of abuse.
After last week, Emperor, I guess, could even
turn up as a calypso or an ole mas brand.
If the budget last month had been the occasion for distributing
bread to the masses, last week was the time for staging circuses,
that other staple of popular sustenance.
And in the breathtaking spectacle being mounted, a lengthening
list of least-likely candidates was being fed to the lions.
By Friday, 14 of the 20 who, in September, 2002, had been
exalted as Vision 2020 Ambassadors for Progress
(they happened to be running for seats), were being publicly
purged in an exemplary exercise of, well, imperial, power.
Twenty PNM candidates won parliamentary seats on October 7,
Presenting the slate of 36 candidates, party campaign publicity
had used the line, Forward...Upward Together.
The last word, Together, appeared both italicised
and underlined in red.
Its probably the line the 14 will remember, likely with
gallows humour, when five years later, they see their heads
mounted against a yellow background in a newspaper display
headed, PNM MPs on the way out.
The display appeared on Thursday as the three Port-of-Spain
dailies scrambled to cover a secret constituency opinion poll
whose findings gave pass or failing grades to sitting MPs.
With an election due in the remaining months of 2007, Mr Manning
had seized upon the poll results as the basis for sudden-death
judgment over parliamentary careers.
Nearly 70 per cent of sitting PNM MPs are lately said to be
opting out of future parliamentary service.
As John Rahael, having scored high in the poll, was nevertheless
on the way out, Newsday queried Mr Mannings
culling of the ranks of his own parliamentary colleagues.
As a category, however, elected MPs never did decisively penetrate
the Manning-insider ranks.
For each of the 14 now reported in the departure lounge, the
Prime Minister had named a non-elected senator.
Mr Manning reserved for the non-elected the portfolios of
Attorney General, Finance, National Security, Foreign Affairs,
Tourism, Energy, Public Administration, Education, Labour,
Culture and Community Development, Local Government and Legal
It was made clear early that, for the business of government,
elected status didnt count as any special qualification
and, in some cases, mattered not at all.
In their best showing, only eight of the 14 now on the way
out ever gained seats in a Cabinet, where they were likely
to be overshadowed by senator-ministers exercising power without
ever having faced any poll.
Enjoying no principled preferment at the start of the term,
the elected MPs are by the end plainly expendable and for
the most part easily disposable.
Blood may be on the floor, but its not because the discards
are all going down fighting.
Caught in the net of the secret poll, Ken Valley is one big
fish still beating up. His position, as a minister with two
portfolios and as leader of government business in the Lower
House, is uniquely anomalous.
Defiantly, Mr Valley notes that in 2002 he had won more votes
in Diego Martin Central (10,909) than had Mr Manning in San
Fernando East (10,772).
That was then.
But this is nowfive years laterwhen everything
since has only aggrandised the clout and the prestige of the
political leader and prime minister, at the expense of everyone
Like Ken Valley, other MPs may have been doing their own self-assessments.
But most conclude, however sadly, that the greater political
good (and certainly the lesser risk) is incurred by deferring
to a system.
Under this PNM system, the leader grows steadily into a first
among unequals; the MPs reduce to the status of lame ducks.
Maybe they always were.
In any event, the fax, however used, remains a clunky piece
of old technology anyway.
Observe the other ways and means.