February 28, 2010 – newsday.co.tt
We wonder what impression the Caribbean Parliamentary visitors must have had on Friday of Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s display of religious fervour — some would even say religious rage at what he perceives as persecution of himself and of the Full Gospel churches in Trinidad and Tobago?
The Speaker used the word “extraordinary”. We can think of other terms to describe the spectacle of our leader ranting about his faith and moral upbringing as he took 53 minutes of Opposition parliamentary time to detail how much money the State has granted to churches, temples and mosques in the last ten years.
He reeled off a list of religious denominations who have benefitted from State aid under the “ecclesiastical” grant, which not surprisingly is under the PM’s portfolio in deference, no doubt to his superior spiritual values.
It left us with no doubt as to the extent of his religious practices which he now deems have attracted religious persecution.
We should be forgiven for seeing Mr Manning’s statement as an attempt to obfuscate and pull the wool over our eyes with respect to the construction of a multi-million dollar church deep in the Heights of Guanapo, out of sight, but about which Mr Manning clearly knows more than he is saying.
We know he has visited the site once and according to him in broad daylight with full security detail. We know that he knows that two reporters who were brave enough to venture on the holy premises had “a spiritual experience that scared the life out of them”. We know that he knows there was a split among the church members. We know that he knows that a “benefactor” paid what, in our view, amounts to a bribe to get a squatter off the land to facilitate construction of the church. The question however remains: Does Mr Manning know all this from media reports or does he know from first hand informers such as members of the Guanapo church? Is it usual for the Prime Minister to know so much about the goings on at a church construction site?
What the media has reportedly found out is that the church is being constructed by the Shanghai Construction Company using Chinese labour. Given the unsavory revelation about certain construction projects in this country, alarm bells have been ringing loudly.
Mr Manning’s reference to State-aid to the Hindu Temple in the Sea and the elevation of the tallest statue of a Hindu god is not on all fours with what is taking place at the Heights of Guanapo.
The Hindu Temple and statue are public knowledge, always have been. We know who the owners are and their purpose.
Let it be said that the Church of the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ should be similarly entitled to State-aid but shouldn’t we know the names of the people behind it since State land is involved?
Whether prophet or prophetess, he or she seems to have been abundantly blessed to have the service of the same Chinese contractor who, under the hand of Udecott, built the PM’s new stately house and the equally impressive National Academy of the Performing Arts. So why the righteous indignation of the PM? Does he really believe that he is being persecuted? Does he really believe that the members of the full gospel churches in this country are at risk of being put to the stake or thrown to the lions at the Emperor Valley Zoo? We do not believe that Mr Manning believe this at all. But, the Prime Minister can’t have it both ways. He is not a private citizen. He is a public figure, second only to the President even to the extent that the law was changed last week to enable him to have the Coat-of-Arms on his official car. His life is and must be an open book. He is most assuredly entitled to practise whatever religion he chooses or worship any god he believes in, or seek counsel from whom he chooses. But he cannot escape the fact that as Prime Minister he is always under the microscope of accountability no matter how many religious or moral values he espouses or how many hymns his mother played as he was growing up in San Fernando.
Instead of trying to distract public interest away from the Guanapo church by putting the spotlight on how much money the State has spent on other religious bodies, Mr Manning should have given the public another set of statistics, which judging by his statement on Friday he seems to have at his fingertips .
It would be enlightening to have the name of the owners of the church and the size of its membership that warrants such an edifice in such a remote place. The issue has nothing to do with persecution of him or the full gospel churches.
The same scrutiny would apply if the Catholics, Anglicans or Presbyterians took it upon themselves to construct a large cathedral in the Heights of Guanapo and were able to get the Chinese to build it.. Reports indicate that this is no small church building, that it is larger than the two existing cathedrals in Port-of-Spain. At the very least such construction would spark public notice and comment. The Lighthouse is equally entitled to any number of large buildings they want, but if it is going to be constructed on State lands, the people need to know about it.
So far the questions remain unanswered and although he blew his own trumpet about his spiritual and moral values on Friday, Mr Manning has only succeeded in arousing even more speculation about the whole issue.
In our view the Prime Minister doth protest too much.
For he hath sown the wind
When Leader of Opposition Business Jack Warner held up a picture of the mysterious church at Guanapo Heights, a week before, he sat down to let Mr Manning answer questions about it. Mr Manning chose not to, thus sowing the wind. The problem is not Mr Manning’s faith, but his attitude.
PM’s dust in our face
Why couldn’t the Prime Minister simply stand up in the House, say what he knew, confirming or denying allegations stated or implied, and refer the questioner to other likely sources? Avoiding direct answer, Mr Manning instead tried ridicule, characterising Mr Warner as a ‘monkey’.