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Raffique Shah


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Paranoid Prime Minister

By Raffique Shah
August 02, 2009

I often wonder what grave sins we Trinidadians and Tobagonians have committed to warrant the kinds of politicians we have been saddled with for generations. It's not that they are the worst in the world, although some people may swear they are. Look at it this way: we could have had really brutal dictators like the monsters who have wreaked untold suffering on billions of people across the planet. Mercifully for us, we have been spared that kind of horror.

Surely, though, a country blessed with the kind of resources we have, especially the caring, loving people we are, deserve better. I know many would question my "caring, loving" description of a people who seem to have morphed from that mode of yesteryear into a lawless breed that extends beyond the criminals who stalk the land. Still, I ask, in how many other countries, even those that are proclaimed developed, do you find communities of diverse ethnicities in which the hungry can get a meal for the asking or the infirm help without asking?

We do have our faults, of course, sometimes too many to count. But as a people, even amidst a degeneration of societal values, we can still hold ourselves out to be among the friendliest anywhere in the world. So I return to the question: why have we tolerated politicians who, while they may be nice persons as individuals, collectively urinate and defecate on us? Is it that we are a friendly-but-foolish people? Must we forever be subjected to the kind of mediocrity-or less-that passes for great leadership?

Last week, on the eve of Emancipation Day, Prime Minister Patrick Manning told his party faithful about a plot to assassinate him, which, in turn, led to an unsavoury incident and cost a policeman his job.

The natives applauded him wildly. I couldn't determine whether they were happy that someone, or a "group", as he explained, wanted to out his light, or if they endorsed the unseemly incident that followed.

No one had the fortitude to demand of the PM an explanation as to why he had failed to have the purported threat to his life reported to the appropriate agency. Knowing a thing or two about matters of this kind, I am surprised that it was an informant who went to Mrs. Manning to report the threat. Shouldn't the Special Branch be on top of any such threat, collaring the purported would-be assassins before word even reached the PM? I'd hate to think the Prime Minister feels he cannot trust the police or other security agencies. If that's his mindset, then we are in deeper trouble than I thought we were.

Assuming the Branch mucked up, why did the PM wait one year before he made the matter public? Why did he not report it to the police, as was his duty given the office he holds, immediately he was apprised of the threat? Imagine the Prime Minister of the country under threat of assassination, but security chiefs learn of it a year later. Where else in the world would something like that happen?

Manning must really take us for fools. Then he adds for bad measure that the media are against him, his party and his government. In one unjustified outburst, he blankets all journalists as being enemies of the PNM. I imagine I, too, am seen in this light, and he would hold this column as proof of his accusation.

But the plot thickened. The PM, having met with the Media Association to discuss this tripe, unleashes a barrage of perceived sins of the media houses, according to Marlan Hopkinson, president of MATT. To compound the dotishness, his Information Minister, Neil Parsanlal, later said that MATT had agreed to some independent body being set up to regulate the conduct of journalists. MATT immediately denied any such agreement. In other words, the journalists who attended the meeting now say the PM and Parsanlal lied about what actually transpired at their meeting.

Really, why is Manning going out of his way to justify calls from some of his opponents for him to undergo psychiatric evaluation?

On the subject of standards in the media, I would be up front in saying that quality reporting has declined over the years.

Ed Fung, a reputable radio announcer of yesteryear, made the point at a recent gathering of fellow-professionals of his era, some of the best in the business-ever. With some 30 stations in operation, with few exceptions, radio today stinks.

The press, too, has allowed a degeneration of standards. Clearly, media houses need to train their staff properly, something that is more the exception than the rule. Some columnists have political affiliations, but that is not unusual in the media anywhere in the world. Still, that is no justification for the PM's blanket condemnation of the media. More and more, Mr Manning comes across as being paranoid. Maybe it's a case of "uneasy lies the head "

We don't need a prime minister who is paranoid. Surely, the nation deserves better. Sadly, we see no such hope on the horizon.

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