By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 06, 2018
Francis Bertrand has been a PNM member for 49 years. He joined the party in 1969 and became a member of its Youth League. His academic and sporting brilliance at Presentation College led to a scholarship to Long Island University in New York. After he returned home, he became the mayor of Point Fortin and served for two terms as president of the World Conference of Mayors.
Recently, Bertrand described what it meant to be an “old-time” PNM in the glory days of Eric Williams. Williams was visiting the Point Fortin constituency. The established members of the party came out in their flair and gear to greet their political leader, praising him for the marvelous things he was doing for the country.
They did not want the younger party members to address the meeting because they disagreed with their views. While Williams was on the stage, one of the Young Turks sneaked onto the stage and whispered into Williams’s ear–the one with the ear phone– and told him of their predicament.
Williams told the Young Turk he would be delighted to hear what the younger members had to say. Unfortunately, the Young Turk did not bring the statement with him. He was so certain he would not be allowed to address the gathering.
Williams would have none of it. He suspended the meeting and ordered his personal driver to take the Young Turk to his home where the latter retrieved the document. After he returned—about half an hour later—the meeting was reconvened. The Young Turk read the statement that was prepared by the group.
Williams liked what he heard. He reprimanded the elders publicly for their deafness, informing them that he was interested in what the young people had to say. While he appreciated the accolades of the older members, the perspectives of the young people were also important to his edification. “Only in this way,” he said, “the can party can grow stronger.”
PNM’s present leaders should ruminate the lesson of this incident. They have grown arrogant and profited from an institution Williams and the ole-time PNM built. They need to recognize the difference between the party, the foundation of the movement, and the government, the recipients of the party’s labor. Recognition of this distinction can only strengthen the party.
A week ago, the venerable Stuart Young, “Ad-minister of everything but master of nothing,” outlined the government’s crime policy. It was never discussed at PNM’s General Council where such policy initiatives used to be debated. Nor, for that matter, were the LGBT, the marijuana, or the buggery issues discussed there. PNM members learned about the government’s position on these matters via the media.
A party member complained: “Today, the General Council is a place where members go to listen to the leaders. It is not a place where the leaders come to listen to the views of its members. Previously, General Council provided a forum where members informed the leaders about what was taking place on the ground. Such feedback informed government’s strategy. Today, those who are bold enough to raise important issues at General Council are ostracized.”
Today, PNM leadership is insulated from the membership. Most ministers hold leadership positions in the party which prevents them from devoting much time to the party’s business.
Franklyn Khan, chairman of the party, has never called a meeting of the chairpersons of the forty-one constituencies to find out what they are doing or inform them of the initiatives he is undertaking to strengthen the party. The chairman of the party must work in tandem with the chairpersons of each constituency group if the party wishes to recoup its losses and its prestige.
The same holds true for Senator Daniel Dookie, general secretary of the party, who sees his function as being merely administrative. His office is the glue that holds the party together. Getting out in the field and working with members are essential to the party’s success.
PNM members are aggrieved. They complain: “How could you defend government’s policy when you have not discussed it or know what it is? There are PNM members on the General Council from Laventille, Morvant, Chaguanas, and Carenage, but they had no input into the making of the Government’s Crime Plan. How can that be?”
On July 25 the party postponed its internal elections again. The party also took the position that one did not have to be a financial member to vote in the internal election since the number of financial members has decreased. The results of the Barataria bye election proved this point
Members complained: “Why should I pay a fee to my party when I am getting nothing out of it? Why should I be a member of an institution in which my views are not taken into consideration and which, with each passing year, I am only seen as a vehicle to advance the interests of those who do not care about me.”
Party members are disenchanted with their leaders and their party. They are pleading with the party leadership to respect the party institutions, accept constructive feedback, and pursue the holistic development of party members. These might be fit subjects of discussion at the next party convention.