Wednesday 17th September ,2008

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Intolerance and deception on show

  • PM Manning seeking to place himself and wife above criticism.
  • PNM hatches disingenuous strategy to get use of Woodford Square.
  • Great deception leaves mayor and Police Commis-sioner in a soup.

One of the major concerns that has arisen out of last Friday's motion of no-confidence in Prime Minister Patrick Manning and his Government is his seeming intolerance to criticism directed against him and his wife.

Maybe he was engaging in typical robber talk of the political leader on a platform; or perhaps he got carried away by the support of the crowd at Woodford Square.

Or maybe he genuinely believes that he and his wife are above criticism. If it be the latter, it is dangerous for the country to have a Prime Minister, nay a royal family, that is above criticism.

The intolerance was also demonstrated by the very organisation by the PNM of the rally at Woodford Square and the Anancy-like denials which surrounded it. More so this was done when Prime Minister Manning and his Government faced no real threat of being displaced by the no-confidence motion, given their numerical superiority in the Parliament.

Moreover, the concern over the strident reaction from Prime Minister Manning to the personal challenge is strengthened when it is placed in the context of the not too subtle moves to engender constitutional change that would create a presidency, with a President who will be beyond reproach, beyond censure of the electorate.

These observations and comments over the incensed reaction of Prime Minister Manning are made in the reality that the parliamentary democracy operated here allows the opposition party to bring a motion of no-confidence against the Prime Minister.

That the motion and the substantiation of it have to be cogent and compelling is not a requirement. Prime Minister Manning and the PNM should know that. When they were in opposition they brought a motion of no-confidence against the then government of Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.

The value of that motion and the arguments in support of it could also have been questioned, as they certainly were. Mr Manning however would have been affronted if Mr Panday had sought to exempt himself (his wife was not in the cabinet) from challenge.

The national community inside and outside the ruling party has to take note of this emerging characteristic of Prime Minister Manning to want to place himself and now his wife above criticism.

With regard to Mrs Manning, her husband must accept the fact that his grant of a ministerial position automatically subjects her to the most intense scrutiny possible, equal to that of all his ministers. 

“Yuh cyah play mass and fraid powder” is the Carnival wisdom of the decades.

Another of the worrying aspects of Friday’s political rally of the PNM was the deception engaged in to get the use of Woodford Square on the day that the Parliament was sitting.

A most disingenuous strategy was hatched by the PNM to get use of the square for the political rally. First off, and contradictorily so, PNM officials claimed it was a spontaneous uprising by party members which had no direction from the centre.

At one and the same time, use of Woodford Square was achieved on the pretence of holding a cultural show, that being one of the reasons the square could be occupied on such a day. At the same time it was supposed to be a spontaneous response of party members being “incensed” by the effrontery of the UNC-A wanting to bring its troops to the square.

Morality in public affairs, a founding PNM principle, also means telling the truth in public in small and large matters of state.

Do ministers believe they could so seek to deceive the population one day and the next have the population believe them? The word of those who sought to deceive will forever be questioned when they seek to give information and answers surrounding their portfolios. 

The point here is that this kind of behaviour contributes significantly to further erosion of public trust in government and those who carry out the responsibility. Victory may be claimed, but at what cost?

The great deception not only involved ministers and party officials, but as head of the Law Association, Senior Counsel Martin Daly, has pointed out, it left the mayor of the city, Murchison Brown and Police Commissioner James Philbert in a soup.

How could the mayor deny use of the square for an activity which was so obviously directed from the centre?

Outside the Red House, Commissioner Philbert had no choice but to point out to reporters that the police had no say in the renting of the square.

How now will the mayor of the city deny future use of the square to other groups for a similar form of demonstration of political strength? Inevitably, the opposition parties, trade unions and other organisations will soon test the position taken by the mayor on this one.  

In fact, use of the square for what was clearly and without pretence a political rally, must seriously question the law: why should Parliament and its members not hear the legitimate political voice of the people who have put them there, bringing their concerns to them?

There was an era when the demonstrations around the Parliament were frequent. Surely the law enforcement agencies should ensure that law and order is observed. But why should the law makers and executive managers of the society and economy be shielded from public opinion in this form?

When the PNM was in opposition during the 1986-1991 era, it certainly believed the Government should hear the voice of dissenters as its MPs not only marched in front the Parliament building, but joined with others to do same.

Moreover, when the PNM brought the motion of no-confidence against the UNC 1995-2000, it assembled its troops to demonstrate its position. There were charges then by UNC MPs that they were jostled and insulted on their way to the Parliament.

The other concern is the weakness of the UNC-A inside the House in the debate and its feeble attempts outside at making a contest of the PNM's show of strength.

Whether it was strategy or conflict between Maharaj and Panday to one day call out the troops and the following day to meekly subside, the UNC demonstrated its political flabbiness.


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