Nenny Olga & Patrick Manning
By Bukka Rennie
Posted: June 14, 2010
When an updated history of the PNM is done, it would reveal that Manning was, to put it simply, the major news carrier for Eric Williams. It was the women of the PNM who unearthed this way back then when they set up the then young, amateurish Patos with a rather interesting use of guile and wit. Manning claims today that Williams prepared him for leadership by having him rove from Ministry to Ministry so that he could experience the inner workings of all of them first hand. Who knows? This hopping from pillar to post could merely have been the best utilization of Williams' most efficient and pliable news gathering and news carrying instrument. But that in itself is quite another story. In time however, the history will record that there could be no much ado about this chap, Manning, he being in reality quite "ordinary"; there being absolutely nothing noteworthy nor any special quality about him save and except his abject, acute political and psychological insecurity that in turn only underscores his "ordinariness".
If, perchance, there is any measure of absolution for Manning, it may very well reside in the notion that he is today what has become quite COMMON; that he is quite a product of his time; a "time" that can be termed a new period or epoch of the DARK AGES in the sense that true intellectual pursuits and engagement have become a phenomenon of the past. The advent of a UNI-POLAR world brought with it the prevailing ideology that "Ideology" itself is dead and that the only path to national and social development is crass American-type commercialization and the only value is all that is dictated by the market demands of capital accumulation. It is all about the YUPPIE Culture wherein the only ideal is the Almighty Dollar and the only good is tenured patronage that fuels upward mobility supported by a mysticism that is disguised as spirituality; for in the final analysis everything must, of course, be rooted in the supposed Godliness of the Chosen. Likewise we should not be surprised at the shallowness of the present debate in the US in regard to Health Care; the Tea Party circles are merely about projecting the Jethro-type Hillybilly backward conservatism, a flipside and an older version of the YUPPIE culture, based on a distorted Christianity that sanctions the right to "shoot" whatever you do not comprehend or that which appears to be bigger than you. At the end of the day, the "rewards" derived from all this is the shallowness of glitter, the SPECTACLE, the Bling, all devoid of defined infrastructure for real, authentic, communal and national development. For glitter, spectacle and bling, one can read in T&T today "Summits", "Waterfront Buildings" and "NAPA" (which really should be, Nah Pa!). Is there any salient difference therefore between Manning and the empty, shallow-headed grassroots' Ghetto-Brothers with their bling; heavy gold chains and thousand-dollar sneakers, who celebrate the birthdays of their short-lived, reckless lives drinking Johnny Walker Blue on the blocks? There is no difference; both reflect a recklessness that is useless for sustainable development. Manning et al have even fallen prey to a very simplistic and degenerative North-American concept of how a CITY should look without regard for systematic, all-inclusive, integrated, sustainable national growth. Having been fortunate to have had audiences with Canadian Town Planners some years ago, I certainly recognize the source of this influence e.g. "The City is the cultural centre of the Nation and must look it". Manning's approach to development therefore is quite COMMON in these here DARK AGES.
In the throes of our nationalist, anti-colonial struggle for self-determination, we were critical of the then old political and social leaderships, yet nevertheless, in retrospect and in comparison they stand head and shoulders above the leadership that exists today. At all levels, the old leaders of the political parties and trade unions, the then elite managers of the colonial civil service, the school masters and mistresses, the leaders of civic society organizations, and moreso, the Community Leaders, projected themselves and engaged the people with programmes that reflected a particular view of the world and required in-depth intellectual pursuit, the debating of Ideas and personal integrity. The winds of change were then blowing across the world and particularly in these parts the Bandung solidarity meant non-alignment in context of a Bi-Polar World and sovereignty was a prerequisite for self-determination, liberation and nationhood. Today all that is no more. Some say we threw out the "baby with the bath-water" in our haste to destroy colonialism, but more than that it is that every new stage of capitalist accumulation and development completely co-opts and devalues the previous existing progressive leaderships and that is precisely what happened after World War 2. Since then modern international capitalist development has mesmerized the peoples of the world with the fetish of material possessions and the glitter of "things" without which lives suddenly seemed to become quite meaningless and brutish. Now the quest of individuals to accumulate "things" supersedes the sense and value of community. We can understand therefore why, for present leaders on both sides of the so-called political divide in T&T, sovereignty has come to be considered a demand of the past; it is why there was such a rush to sign the Shiprider Agreement, and why some people, a percentage of whom operate out of ethnic fears, are even saying that we should forget our historic quest since the turn of the Century for a Caribbean Nation and opt instead to accept status as a State of the USA. But all of that are just symptoms of the real problem outlined above, just as all the fuss today about Calder Hart and the declaration of War by the Executive on local contractors are symptoms of the deeper issue i.e. the objective necessity of the State in context of International Capitalist Development to squash any real development of a economically-independent, progressive middle-class, a strata of intellect, the very social milieu from which a new leadership impetus can come and hopefully will coming despite the philosophical nihilism that now pervades not only this region but the entire world.
When Eric Williams was faced with the socially explosive 70's, he did not opt to attack the potential of the local middle-class; he chose instead to develop a State Capitalist Sector as an objective basis for further local economic development and sought partnerships for middle-class leading lights by way of Government to Government arrangements and other forms of bilateral consortiums. And he laid the basis for the eventual Divestment of the State Sector sometime in the future by establishing a local Stock Exchange and a Unit Trust as the required instruments through which, when developed to their fullest, could facilitate the citizenry sharing equitably in the wealth created. The then middle-class expanded under Williams, particularly the Indian sections of our middle-class since they objectively were the best placed to seize the available opportunities that opened up in all the sectors of the local economy after Independence. Nevertheless, when Sanders & Foster opted to leave T&T in 1968, Williams backed to the hilt the takeover by Bob Yorke, a local Chartered Structural Engineer, who today heads Yorke Structures Ltd and is unmatched in the Caribbean. Under Williams' governance, people like Tommy Phillip, Chin Lee etc built houses and schools and so on and Seereram Bros and Coosal etc built roads, and the graduates from City & Guilds led by people like Laurie Lewis returned to spearhead the core- work of the Ministry of Works in regard to the development of needed infrastructure. Williams also opted to produced steel, aluminum, urea etc adamant that T&T had to lead the underdeveloped world in breaking the back of the international division of labour which regulated us to being only the producers of primary products sold cheaply to the developed world and beholden to import the value-added refined finished products at great cost. When the Americans tried to get Williams to confine T&T to producing "sponge-iron" as feed-stock for the US Steel Mills, Williams responded angrily: "What do they want us to do, sit down here and pitch marbles." And most of all this strategy of Williams served to open new opportunities for the local middle-class in the service sectors relative to the petroleum and petro-chemical industries. So the reality is that much was built up in the 70"s, 80's and 90's in respect to the professional middle-class strata as a result of the overall development strategies implemented by the Williams' Regime.
Interestingly there was much existing here even before Williams. What in fact does the History tell us? Edward Bell in his book "Slaves in the Family" tell us that the slave masters in the Southern States of America had come to know where in Africa to seek slaves with particular skills; they knew where to get builders, where to get agriculturalists who knew about irrigation and how to plant rice; even where to get those who could quickly become proficient in operating all kinds of machinery. CLR James says likewise that on the sugar plantations in the Caribbean there were slave-chemists who tested the process through all the stages from cane juice to the wet brown muscovado product, and that there had to be wheelwrights, machinists, blacksmiths etc. to make those plantations work. Just recently the story was told about the African-Americans ("Merikins") who were settled here in the Company Villages in exchange for their support of the British in the American War for Independence and the point was made that they came with great artisanal skills and contributed a lot in modernizing our infrastructure. Also, it must be noted that Trinidad & Tobago was settled much later than the rest of the Caribbean and people came here from up the islands, Barbados, Granada, St. Vincent, Carriacou etc. and it is a known fact that in the mix came builders and masons, carpenters and so on. The story of Big Boy Romain from Carriacou and Point Fortin who in T&T fathered three (3) generations of builders, civil engineers, designers, environmentalists, etc. before he died of a heart attack while working on Tatil Building in Maraval, must be told and how under Manning's Regime the Romains, though consistent supporters of the PNM in ever meaningful way from 2000-2007, were virtually destroyed. Nevertheless, the point has to be taken that by the turn of the Century, T&T, fuelled further by the oil drilling process, was spearheading the development of a modern working-class in the Caribbean and that from then to now this country has been widening step by step our industrial technical strata to the extent that in today's world our wielders, drillers, machinists etc. are held in high regard.
So why this present debacle, why this geat effort to make our local professional strata seem grossly impotent and what is its underlying logic? The story of how all the recent governments here have dealt with "consultants and contractors" says it all. From 1995-2002, during the reign of the UNC, we were suddenly being told that "ah engineer is any Indian with a back-hoe", that subsistent gardeners were over-night turning up with contracts to build schools, that Ministers were handing out contracts to contractors in their offices without any tendering procedures; that a "short-pants local Indian" in New York come in to T&T with foreign partners and get big contracts i.e. Inncogen Plant and a local MIT-type Institute hidden in the cane etc., etc. But unrecognized in all that supposed madness had to be a certain level of faith and confidence in locals to perform and to amicably partner foreigners to perform. So in fact the UNC continued the trend set by the Williams' Regime in terms of enhancing the socio-economic standing of the middle-class, though many may say that what they did enhanced only the Indo-sections of our middle-class, and however much that may be true subjectively, they , the Indos, since land-holdings are deemed the best form of collateral, were, as indicated above, objectively the best placed grouping after Independence to seize the economic opportunities, whereas the Afros held advantage only in the State Machinery but as salary -earners. However, in the years of UNC governance, there was no evidence of any major conflict between local or foreign contractors and line-Ministers with oversight. And truth to say outside of one or two minor hitches and the Biche High-School there were no major construction disasters. On the other hand, with Manning's PNM from 1991-1995 and from 2001-2010, the following is clearly discernible: foreign consultants and contractors get a free run under this Regime; for them there is no questioning, no oversight, while their local counterparts, particularly the Afros, are placed under constant duress. Foreign contractors can willy-nilly allow cost overruns and change of delivery dates but in the case of locals such variables are considered criminal and corrupt. In the same vein, foreign consultants come in, collect the research of locals, review it, repackage it, submit these so-called findings, collect their US Dollars and fly out without any hindrance. It has been so bad for locals, that there is an accepted view, again mainly among the Afros, that government contracts must never consist of more than one-third of one's business portfolio since difficulty to access payment for work done results in your business running only on overdraft facilities until it becomes insolvent. That has been the bane of local businesses without the depth of pocket to survive the two and three years wait for payment from the State for work done. It is a most unnecessary and wicked act that has been perpetrated by the Manning Regime from its very inception. Oh, CEPEP and URP people would get their payments but not the local professional middle-class people who are the drivers of small and medium businesses. Check and see who were the consultants and contractors that were immediately destroyed when Sultan Khan and Andre Henry went into WASA with their corruption broad-brush? In fact WASA is a classic example. Recall when the local professional team was sent in by Morris Marshall to transform WASA on the promise that the required funding would be available; then when they went in and began to work, Mottley, the Finance Minister, indicated that Cabinet could not find the funds and the locals only ended up "spinning top in mud". The Morris Marshall/Manning split emanated from this and deteriorated when Manning wrote Morris giving him 24 hours to explain to the Executive (Cabinet) why water was not available to certain parts of the country; Morris fell ill in the midst of all this and did not survive, yet Severn Trent was brought in afterwards and immediately got a carte-blanche cheque to operate, never once having to answer any such question despite doing nothing different to what Emmanuel Romain et al had already accomplished at WASA years before. So the beat goes on and Manning has the gall today to declare "war to the finish" against the local contractors who collectively are owed some 450 million by his Regime. All this is in the interest of Manning defending his chosen path to development and protecting the white-man that symbolizes it. It reminds me of my aunt, Nenny Olga, a most beautiful personality with a richness of striking jet-black skin, who went to England on vacation in 2004 and as she said "cried long tears" when she saw "big white-men" cleaning the streets and picking up garbage. She had yet to inculcate the critical consciousness essential to surmount the slavish syndrome of the international division of labour and instill an objective paradigm shift. Do we really understand how deep this shit is and how common and how ordinary Manning really is.