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Raffique Shah


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Saving Patrick from Manningitis

By Raffique Shah
Nov 28, 2010

Politicians! As practitioners of one of the two oldest "professions" known to man, they often derail the plans of members of the third oldest, journalism. All three callings find common ground in lust—be it for money, power or influence. I gripe today about politicians because they scuttled my plan to take readers deeper into the murky world of spying (the fourth oldest practice!), which I promised to do last week.

However, I feel compelled to address the sorry state of political affairs in the country. My focus is the self-destruction of one man, Patrick Manning. But I cannot isolate "Patos" from what is happening, or not happening, in the House of Representatives. As law-abiding citizens remain dazed by the deluge of crime, as people wait for the economy to gain some traction, and as other serious problems confront the country, all we get from our elected MPs is drivel.

Week after week in Parliament, our MPs have been absorbed in the "blame game". The new government unearths what it claims is malfeasance by officials of the previous regime, but we are yet to see one ex-minister arrested and charged with wrongdoing. For its part, the opposition PNM finds fault in everything the People's Partnership Government does, but fails to say why it did not do better when it held the reins of power.

Really, is this what governance is about? When the electorate gave the People's Partnership a resounding mandate last May, my interpretation is that the people voted decisively against the arrogance of those who held office, the wild spending spree Manning and his Cabinet engaged in, and a perception of rampant corruption they wanted to put an end to.

The electorate also expected the new government to get down to business, firstly, by reducing crime to acceptable levels. Six months later, crime has resurged to frightening levels. They expected the new dispensation to engender confidence in the economy, which, in turn, should stimulate commercial activity. That is not happening. Unemployment is rising and there is no sign of a reversal of this debilitating trend. The business sector is begging for some things to happen. Labour has resorted to "pounding the pavement".

In the midst of this political paralysis, what does the ex-PM offer? He presents to the nation a picture of a mansion said to belong to the incumbent and her husband. He makes a wild claim that the value of the property is $150 million. And he questions whether approvals were given by the relevant agencies.

PM Kamla has since refuted all of Manning's allegations, producing documents to support the legality of the construction her family has undertaken. Even if she didn't do that, a blind person could see Manning was grasping at proverbial straw.

If that mansion cost $150 million, then Kamla and her husband are victims of aggravated robbery. Moreover, what is Manning's contention, even if the property costs what he claimed it does? Is the PM not entitled to spend her money as she desires?

As a born-Trini, Manning must know that Indo-Trinidadians and members of the Syrian/Lebanese community are inclined to build huge mansions. In fact, this is a global trend. Mukesh Ambani, one of India's (and the world's) richest tycoons, is about to move into his 26-storey, US-billion-dollar "Godzilla palace", as the Times of India describes it. Lakshmi Mittal owns three mansions in the UK, valued at an estimated TT$1 billion (cheapskate!)

So if Kamla's choice is a sprawling mansion, what's the big deal? Had Manning brought before evidence that the PM funded the "palace" with illicit funds, then his concerns would have merit. In fact, it would be reason for the police to intervene. Instead, less than a week after making his outlandish allegations, Manning looked like a bitter man who cannot come to terms with the end of his political career.

And therein lies the rub. Manning was the sole architect of his demise. Like Basdeo Panday, who, ironically, is the only person who lent some credence to Manning's wild charges, Manning cannot accept that he now belongs to the Ex-Prime Ministers' Club. He chose the highway to early political death by calling snap elections. No one else in the PNM knew of his Jim Jones-style, mass suicide plan.

It was not the first time he made that cardinal political error. In 1995, he all but handed power to Panday on a platter. Why he did not resign in the wake of the elections' results defies logic. The "two strikes and you are out" rule should apply here. Instead, he sits in Parliament pouting, remaining studiously silent. When he opens his mouth, it's to the embarrassment of his colleagues in the House, and to those who remain faithful to the PNM.

For me, it's a sad spectacle, watching the painfully slow death of someone of my generation who had such a wonderful opportunity to take this country to heights we had never before experienced. I maintain that when I knew him before he tasted the wine of power, Manning was a charming man. But like others who sipped from that cussed chalice, he soon descended into the abyss of arrogance.

He will never see the corridors of power again. However, he can still earn a place in history by quietly retreating into retirement the way George Chambers did in 1986. There is no disgrace in living one's final years in obscurity. Tranquillity dwells therein. What more can one ask for in one's twilight years?

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