Saturday, May 15 2010
Had the National Library and Information Service refused the People’s Partnership request to use NALIS for the launch of the latter’s Political Manifesto, the matter would have passed relatively un-noticed. But that was not the case. NALIS accepted the booking for the Library’s facilities, accepted the payment for them, and met with the Party on site, all during the lead-in to the proposed manifesto launch. No questions were raised about the propriety of holding a manifesto launch there, beyond, we assume, the normal requirements regarding noise, decorum and a deposit against damage to property.
With all the conditions apparently met, and with NALIS having accepted payment for the facility, UNC Chairman Jack Warner, in responding to PNM taunts that the People’s Partnership had no manifesto, announced at a political meeting in Princes Town on Wednesday, that the manifesto would be launched at the NALIS Audio Visual Room on Friday morning. He took the opportunity to heckle the PNM for launching their manifesto at the Trinidad Hilton Grand Ballroom, referring to the expensive Scotch Manning and Calder Hart would have shared there! The People’s Partnership, Warner announced, would launch their manifesto in a “public institute of learning”.
Well, that was Wednesday evening. By Thursday evening, considerably less than 24 hours before the event, and at a time when initial preparations would have already been started, Warner announced that the permission, earlier granted, had been withdrawn—we cannot say denied, for it had been granted. There was no indication of a telephone call or other communication which might have given the Partnership a little more time to make alternate arrangements. A subsequent release by NALIS sent to the media, “posed” as a rejection of the application, when in fact it was a withdrawal of an agreed arrangement.
It stated: “We wish to inform you that your request to hold a media conference…cannot be accommodated at this time. The withdrawal of the use of the Audio Visual Room is in keeping with the established principle on use of government buildings during an election period…”. Two points arise: Does such a policy really exist? Former head of the Public Service Kenneth Lalla SC, said he was unaware of any such policy, and certainly no one has shown any evidence of this “policy”. Indeed, the Hilton Hotel is owned by the State, and the PNM launched their manifesto at that venue, so contradictions abound. Then, if such a policy does exist, we believe that it would have been written into the standard conditions of rental of NALIS facilities. We believe that NALIS was instructed to withdraw the permission granted, in an effort to sabotage the manifesto launch. But they obviously did not take into account how quickly the Partnership could have made effective alternate arrangements, and turn the whole childish episode to their own advantage.
We therefore reject completely the excuses given by NALIS with respect to the cancellation. In our view it reeks of political orders from someone on high and unfortunately has dragged NALIS into the dirty tricks of this political season. Over the years NALIS has gained much credit and appreciation as a seat of learning and it is a pity that it has now been so badly embarrassed by the Government.
According to its press release on Thursday cancelling the manifesto launch, NALIS clearly knew that the request for use of its facilities yesterday was to launch the People’s Partnership manifesto for the May 24 Election. NALIS agreed to make its facilities available and accepted payment for same.
On Thursday however, NALIS made an about turn with the excuse that there was an “established principle” of the use of government buildings during an election period. An official came up with the infamous “misstep” quote, another “misstep” like the $2million stadium flag?
NALIS also described the booking in the first place as an administrative “error” and that the use of government buildings to host political events is “not encouraged” during election period. Surely NALIS understands the difference between “established principle” and “not encouraged.”
We feel sorry for the management of NALIS which has had its excellent public image marred by the heavy hand of politics in what was clearly an attempt to deny use of a public facility to an opposition party whose members are also taxpayers.