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Flattering to Deceive

Diego Martin West PNM candidate Dr Keith Rowley
Diego Martin West PNM candidate Dr Keith Rowley

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 13, 2010

From all accounts Keith Rowley came out as a hero when he announced that he preferred to stay aboard a sinking ship (or certainly a troubled ship) rather than abandon it. He declared, "I am a sailor on the PNM ship and I know what my duty is. And it does not matter what shape the ship is in, don't give up the ship." Although he sounded convincing, the question was not whether he was abandoning or staying on ship but what could he propose to return the ship to an even keel and bring it safely back to shore.

Keith did not do justice to those who came out to support him or those who were concerned about how the government conducts its affairs; whether our party is living up to its members' expectation; whether democracy exists in our party; and whether the leadership of the party is sufficiently accountable to its members?

When Keith announced that he is "a PNM sailor in a PNM ship and I represent the PNM, the party of Eric Williams, Learie Constantine and Kamaluddin Mohammed" he harked back to a legacy that was bequeathed to its members. Fifty four years after its formation any serious party member must ask whether the party is more democratic today; more responsive to the needs of its members; and whether its leaders (and the state) have become just as alien, predatory and dictatorial as the Governor and the colonial state it replaced.

In the 1948 Patrick Solomon, a leading member of the Legislative Council and the first Deputy Leader of the PNM, objected to the unrepresentative nature of the proposed Constitution of 1950 and argued for an elective legislature and an elected Executive Committee. In fact, the continuation of this objective led to the formation of the PNM. On June 5, 1955, Dr. Williams sent a long letter to the Governor to be transmitted to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. It read as follows:

"The PNM states categorically that it is neither communist, Fascist, Poujadist nor Messianic or Jaganist. It is a national Party, deriving its inspiration from the best in democratic theory, seeking to imitate the best in democratic practice, applying to Trinidad and Tobago the intelligence, the democratic party discipline and public morality which in the opinion of the PNM are lacking from the political life of the country."

We can apply three of these principles to the present PNM and see how well it is faring. First. Recently our Prime Minister defended himself in the Parliament when he was accused of supporting or contributing to a church structure at Guanapo. Our Prime Minster averred, and rightly so, that he has a right to practice his religion as he sees fit and. Dr. Williams was careful to distance the party from any form of messianic leanings although it is true that the party gained tremendous support from the Spiritual Baptists. PNM must remain a non-messianic party.

Second. Dr. Williams acknowledged that our party derives its inspiration from the best in democratic theory and seeks to imitate the best in democratic practice. Can one describe the selection of candidates for political office over the past two years or what transpires at the PNM General Council as being in keeping with best democratic practices? In the early days, democracy flourished in the party and nothing of national interest was too sacred to be discussed.

Third, is it acceptable for the chief executive officer of a State company to award contracts worth 868 million dollars to a company owned by his in-laws yet we do not hold our political leader accountable for such malfeasance on the grounds that this is no time to "throw the captain overboard." Although the party may have breached its standards with John O'Halloran we sought forgiveness and correctly drew attention to the Airport scandal. On this basis we should have been more vigilant when alleged discrepancies occurred in UDICOTT? Therefore, Keith is right to insist that we recognize this shortcoming and take steps to insure that it does not happen again.

Fourth. Mr Manning erred in his preference of foreigners in so many areas: WASA; the Police service and particularly in the construction sector. When Dr. Williams returned from the Caribbean Commission he made it clear that qualified local men should be preferred always over foreigners. Isn't it alarming that so many non-nationals hold so many important offices in our land? Keith should have addressed this concern without appearing to be self-serving?

If the PNM wins the next election there will not be any court marshaling for Mr. Manning or anyone else except if the PNM wins by a margin of one or two seats. Once Mr. Manning controls state power and its resources there is no way that Dr. Rowley can court marshal him or get him out of office. The UNC only disposed of Basdeo Panday because he did not control state power as Gordon Brown resigned only when he lost the recent election. Even then he was reluctant to go.

The unfortunate reality is that Dr. Rowley's ability to control the party can be achieved only if PNM looses the election. The If Manning wins, then Keith's ability to transform the party is diminished severely. He could be the best backbencher in the world but it would be difficult to change the party and make it more responsive to its members.

I was heartened by Keith's subsequent remark that we should not deify leaders and that one breaks this tendency by "advancing people of quality and letting those people represent the strength of the party as against representing a messianic devotional outpouring." This is a good beginning.

Although Keith spoke about the shortcomings of his leader his only salvation lies in his party losing the election or coming close to doing so. Unable to utter this truth for fear of being called a traitor and jeopardizing the party's chances on May 24, he was left in a delicate position: He could be blamed if the party failed to win the election.

Keith danced around the question this time. Very soon, he will have to offer a more forthright answer to the dilemma that faces the party.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is

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