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Raffique Shah


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Let the chips fall where they may

Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ Church under construction at the Heights of Guanapo - Inset: Ex-PM Patrick Manning
Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ Church under construction
at the Heights of Guanapo - Inset: Ex-PM Patrick Manning

By Raffique Shah
June 16, 2010

Revelations about the controversial cathedral-of-a-church being constructed at Guanapo suggest that ex-prime minister Patrick Manning may have been more involved in the project than he suggested when the issue was first made public. The new People's Partnership Government has commissioned investigations into the project. Should our worst fears come to pass, though, it would be ironical that religious fervour, seen by many as the road to salvation, would instead turn into the seed of destruction for Mr Manning.

The creeping theocracy that threatened the secular state embodied in our Constitution was one factor that led to the collapse of the PNM Government, and the near-destruction of the party. Minister after minister used their positions in Parliament as pulpits, one boldly proclaiming she was 'a Christian with a bid 'C''. Intelligent people sensed that the nation's highest forum was descending into an Inquisition-like abyss. Bear in mind in this land of 1.4 million people, we have scores, maybe hundreds, of differing religions, faiths, beliefs-call them what you will.

Manning stood in Parliament as Prime Minister and boldly defended his right to have a 'spiritual advisor'. No one can question that. But we citizens also have rights. We need to know if State funds were in some way diverted to construct the Guanapo Cathedral. We ask who committed the estimated $30 million the structures (it is said there are several) are estimated to cost. Maybe 'prophetess' Juliana Pena can tell us how she prayed to the Lord and the money fell in her lap like manna from heaven (see? I know my Bible!)

Since most Chinese are atheists, it is hardly likely that Shanghai Construction would engage in a project of that size without first being guaranteed payment. They are not like architect Mendes, who said the only time he met with Pena was when she asked him to do the drawings for free.

Which leads to another question: if she could not pay for the designs, how can she pay for construction? Why did Cabinet fast-track State lands for the church when other people and organisations have made similar applications, and remain waiting for a response for decades?

There are too many unanswered questions hanging over that project. The new Government is obligated to investigate it, to determine if State funds were siphoned to benefit one 'prophetess' and her only acolyte (that we know of), who just happened to be Prime Minister. Look, the Patrick Manning I knew a decade ago was a polite, decent man. So I am not gunning for him. If anything, I have been accused of being partial towards him.

But no man-or woman-is bigger than my country. I have always put my country and my people first, risking my short neck in the process. If, therefore, Manning is found culpable in any way, he must be made to face the martial music much the way I did 40 years ago. And if 'prophetess' Pena and 'arranger' Calder Hart are also steeped in sin, then they, too, must be made to pay. As good Christians, they must know that 'the wages of sin...' (Romans 6:23).

The new Government also faces another intriguing challenge: the extradition to the US of Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson. Last Thursday the duo exhausted their last legal hurdle when the Privy Council rejected their appeal against being extradited. These are two well-known financiers of the UNC, pouring in huge sums into the party's coffers for the 1995 general elections when Basdeo Panday and his party first wrested power from the PNM.

I shall never forget when, in the euphoria of victory, Panday made his first speech as PM-elect. He did not thank the 'foot soldiers' who had worked hard to deliver 17 seats to allow him to cut a deal with the NAR's Ray Robinson. He did not thank his elected colleagues, among them the present PM, Kamla Persad-Bissessar. He paid no gratitude to the sugar workers who first propelled him onto the national political stage. He thanked 'Brian, Ish and Steve'. I don't know how others reacted, but I was stunned.

Here were men who belonged to only one party, the PIP-Party-in-Power. They were jéfés in the PNM, Brian Kuei Tung leaving his corporate sanctuary to join Manning's Cabinet. Galbaransingh, through Northern Construction, had earlier landed a plum contract to construct a bridge across the Caroni River as the PNM tried to get the Caroni Racing Complex off the ground. Only I, and a few friends and activists, stood firmly against that disaster-in-the-making. Others joined in much later.

'Houses before horses!' we screamed. The then PM, Dr Eric Williams, all but farted in our faces. His death put paid to the billion-dollar project, but 'Ish' survived. Now, the decision to extradite them lies in the hands of the PM Kamla and AG Anand Ramlogan. The nation is monitoring this one closely. It's not that I have anything personal against the culpable duo or Brian: the latter is a perfect gentleman.

But not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. PM Kamla has an opportunity here to raise the bar in dispensing justice. She must grasp it with both hands.

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