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Raffique Shah


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Manning Shoots a Rowdy Messenger

By Raffique Shah
April 27, 2008

Dr. Keith Rowley
Dr. Keith Rowley
If former Trade Minister Dr Keith Rowley is a hooligan who displays 'wajang' behaviour, when did these abominable character traits first manifest themselves? Prime Minister Patrick Manning, explaining why he summarily fired the senior minister, told the media that for all of five minutes during a Cabinet committee meeting, Rowley ranted and raved and misbehaved, much to the shock of his colleagues. Pressed by journalists on Rowley's darker side, Manning said: "It was not the first time. I've had to talk with him before."

I'm no authority on human behaviour, but common sense and sixty-two years on this here Earth have taught me that hooliganism is not like taste, which is acquired. Most people of that ilk are born that way and show their crassness early in life. All of us must know people who can be so classified. But we also would have noted that side of the individual from early contact with him or her. Did the PM not note or know that Rowley was a ruffian when the latter joined him in opposition back in 1986?

There are times when ordinary, docile people can explode when they feel aggrieved or offended or frustrated. I know because I fall in this category. Those who know me well would attest to me "bussing cuss" on whoever rubs me the wrong way at the wrong time. In my time I've roundly cussed my party leader at a private meeting after he'd behaved in a manner not just unbecoming, but used racist remarks and proceeded to deny all counts when confronted by his colleagues.

On that specific occasion I came perilously close to putting some blows to his backside had the burly George Weekes not grabbed me from behind, both of us falling on the floor, rather comically, I should add. Because I am by nature a polite and respectful person, I felt very badly about my display of temporary insanity, more so because the chairman of that meeting was the late Dr George Sammy, a man for whom I had tremendous respect.

I can cite several other occasions on which my tart tongue got the better of me when I felt deeply offended by the attitudes of senior military officers, a House Speaker, an acting President of the Republic, and sundry "big boys" who felt their money or power gave them the right to defecate on me.

Normally, though, I am a very polite, even charming person. The Rowley I know is not dissimilar to me. He is not only lucid during discussion, but he argues his point in a most convincing manner, not resorting to the imperious attitude some people in high office do.

So when the PM said that Rowley was fired for being a ruffian, I questioned myself: why would Keith descend into a cesspit at a Cabinet meeting? Rowley denied that his behaviour was unbecoming of a minister. But he did say he was disturbed by the seemingly unending free rope given to UDeCOTT, one of two agencies that are spending billions of taxpayers' dollars.

He is not the first to have expressed such concerns, although he is the first in Cabinet to have done so. And the questions he raised are valid. It matters not, as the PM argued, that UDeCOTT has delivered all its projects on time. The central question here is accountability, since the billions expended by this creature of Government, like its land development equivalent, the EMBDC, is taxpayers' money. For reasons best known to the PM, and presumably those close to him, he has reposed great faith in the men who head these corporations.

Interestingly, both Calder Hart and Uthara Rao are foreigners who seem to carry more weight in their adopted country than very qualified nationals do. In the wake of Rowley's dismissal from Cabinet, it seems they are more powerful than ministers who were elected to office, or who were appointed by the party that won the last elections. Without appearing to be xenophobic, let me say this situation is worrisome to nationalists and patriots.

When a minister can be fired for raising concerns about the free rein given to a foreigner, we are sliding down a slippery slope. The Canadian Government would hardly give any foreigner that kind of leverage over public funds. Let me pose another question.

Would the Indian Government allow a foreigner to settle a wrongful dismissal and sexual harassment allegation using public funds? But that happened here, and to date no one knows how and why it did. Under what heading did the company's accounts reflect that payment?

In this latest matter that erupted with the firing of Rowley, one can ask if it was because of "five minutes of temporary insanity" or the fact that he questioned UDeCOTT's authority to add or subtract multi-million-dollar projects as it saw fit. Mr Manning is intimately aware of the many ways in which the Piarco airport project was used as a feeding trough by a gang of greedy men. Has he not learned from that shameful scandal? Is Rowley the sacrificial rottweiler on the altar of free rein expediency?

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