By Dr Selwyn Cudjoe
March 18, 2010
Over the last two weeks the media have been merciless in their attacks against the PNM, the Prime Minister and the Government. When it was not about the Prime Minister’s ‘Prophetess’ it was about Calder Hart’s presumed deception and alleged financial indiscretions. When it was not about the vindication of Keith Rowley, it was about the wonders of a revivified Kamla and prediction of UNC’s inevitable victory in the 2012 election, without the faintest acknowledgment that in politics, a week is like a year, and a year is like a decade. In political terms, 2012 might be 20 years in the future.
I am sure there is much truth in all that has been said about the shortcomings of the PNM Government but one wonders if any thought has been given to its achievements versus those of the UNC; Kamla’s accomplishments in comparison to Mr. Manning’s accomplishments; Mr. Manning’s rectitude as opposed to the conduct of those who seek to strike the mortal blow against him and his party.
The record shows that over the 50 years of PNM’s governance our national income has increased almost 50-fold. In 1956, the average income of a Trinbagonian was US$380; today it is US$20,035. Our country’s GDP grew from about US$273.7 million in 1956 to US$163.3 billion in 2008. In 1963 the unemployment rate stood at 13.7 per cent; at the end of 2008 it had dropped to 4.6 per cent. Today it stands at 5.8 per cent, a more impressive performance than either the US or Europe. Such a remarkable performance is a result of the PNM’s excellent stewardship.
Not that there have not been setbacks. No Trinbagonian should be without water and the crime rate has risen too high. People’s well being is not given the attention it deserves and sometimes it looks as though the maniacal attempt to erect physical structures has taken precedence over the social and aesthetic development of our people. While it remains true that a certain level of physical construction is necessary to realise a people’s well being, enough attention has not been paid to the quality of our civic life.
It is natural then, that in scenting PNM blood, the enemy seeks its comeuppance, particularly in light of the presumed arrogance of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, forgetting the overall achievement of the Government. Although such a natural impulse seems to be legitimate in a democracy-and the PNM has kept the democracy vibrant and pulsating-the media should not bowdlerise the Government even as it keeps up its unrelenting attack against the Prime Minister and his errors of judgment. Sometimes it seems as though the media is waging a more efficient campaign against the Government than either the UNC or the COP.
All that being said, it must be acknowledged that the Government has gone off track and, as my mother would warn, no one seems capable of saying “tun’ back before it’s too late” although several of my friends are convinced that already it’s too late. I do not share that opinion. Although the Government and the party must acknowledge their downward momentum, I am not ready to conduct a political autopsy before the body is dead.
Before resuscitation can take place there needs to be recognition that there is a distinction between the party and the Government. Mr. Manning is the leader of the Government and the political leader of the party. However, while the party is in Government the officers of the movement have an obligation to run the party and advise the Government about the best course to follow no matter how stubborn the leader might be.
Neither Conrad Enill nor Martin Joseph, the chairman and general secretary of the party respectively, has been up to the task. As a result, the party and by extension the Government is paying dearly for their inattention. Neither seems to understand that he was elected to run the party rather than to serve Mr. Manning and therein lies the dilemma. Unless Mr. Enill and Mr. Joseph recognise their functions and act accordingly the party will continue to decline and the Government will continue to be the butt of ridicule.
The party must demand that the government become more accountable to the party and our citizens. The notion that the party does not wash its dirty linen in public is an anachronism. If one does not wash one’s dirty linen in public and it is not aired in private, it soon begins to smell, which is what is happening to the party and Government at present. Mr. Manning’s apparent unwillingness to listen respectfully to the pleas of those who see things differently (for example, on the building of the smelter plant) has hurt the Government even further. It conveys to the public a frame of mind that suggests “I will do what I want to do regardless of what the public thinks. I know what is best for the nation. When I speak I would prefer the faithful remain silent. I speak in thy name.”
Such a posture is not conducive to building confidence in the social contract that exists between those who govern and those who are governed. I am willing to bet that more than half of the population, even those who count themselves as faithful party members, believe that Mr. Manning does not listen to what they say or what they think. And, as it is with the style of the PNM, no one in any position in the party feels he or she has an obligation to inform the public why the Government takes a particular action on a matter. There is a bombast that resides in all of the officials, from the most junior minister to the most senior members of the party. No one feels he or she has an obligation to explain to the public why they do what they do. Unless there is a change, the party and the country will pay the ultimate price.
* Selwyn R Cudjoe is Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. He is also President of the National Association for the Empowerment of African People.