By Dr. Selwyn Cudjoe
April 25, 2007
It came as a thunderbolt out of the political sky. A stunned country listened when it learned that Keith Rowley was fired from his position as a minister in Government. The Guardian headlines read: “Fired.” In a note sent to the Guardian after he was seen sitting in the backbench of the Lower House, Rowley wrote: “I have not resigned. I have been fired.”
The Express front page read, “Manning fires Rowley: I saw it coming,” whereas Newsday offered: “Manning fires Rowley: Udecott doing as it wants.”
At a rally in his constituency on Wednesday evening, Rowley reported: “I raised with the Prime Minister the need for Cabinet oversight of Udecott activities when billions of dollars are being spent on projects…the way things are going it is time for the PNM to take cognizance of the way the country is begin governed.”
At first glance, the battle centred on Rowley and Udecott; that is, between a member of PNM for 27 years as opposed to a total stranger in our midst: a Canadian who attained Trinidad citizenship and has become one of the most powerful men in the country.
At another level, the controversy revolved around a Prime Minister and his power that seems to be unconstrained and uncontainable, which raises the question: is the Prime Minister accountable to anyone for his actions and the exercise of his powers?
As fate would have it, on Tuesday night I attended the election of officers of PNM’s Party Group 12 in Tacarigua and was elected as the education officer. The most interesting thing about these 30 ordinary people was that they have devoted their lives to the building of the PNM and remain faithful to its ideals. They are the true foot soldiers who stand by its party and its leader. Few of them had anything tangible to show from their support of the party in previous elections.
These are the people who keep the party together. In fact, they are the party. They possess a fierce loyalty to the party and its leader, although at times they are treated as so many expendable bits of hardware whose only function is to ensure the election of candidates every five years.
If there is a reciprocal relationship between the party leader and his members it is important to clarify the obligations of the leader to his members? It cannot be a one-way street.
Party members need to know why Mr Manning fired Mr Rowley in such an arbitrary and undignified manner. They also want to know how Calder Hart has come to assume so much power in the Government.
They also want to know why it is “disrespectful” to question Hart and the activities of Udecott and why questioning the activities of Udecott, no matter how vociferous the questioner is, should be considered as behaviour unbecoming of a member of the Cabinet?
Serious charges have been levelled against Udecott. Mr Rowley has charged that persons in Udecott sought “to conspire with others in the Integrity Commission to have me charged with criminal misconduct.” He argued: “I acted to prevent corruption.”
Most startling of all is his contention that “it is time for the PNM to take cognisance of the way the country is being governed.” Such a contention comes against a backdrop of an earlier warning by Kenneth Valley about the Prime Minister having dictatorial tendencies.
Undoubtedly, some of these charges should be seen against a background of sour grapes and the suspicions that these charges came only when these individuals severed their connections with the Government. They still remain in the party. Yet there is a feeling among many people that Hart wields too much power, especially when no one elected him and few people know who he is?
PNM began its national mission on June 21, 1955, when Dr Eric Williams offered his “Declaration of Independence” at Woodford Square in a speech entitled “My Relations with the Caribbean Commission, 1943-1955.” In that inaugural lecture he outlined the central content of our party’s mission. The first words out of his mouth were very clear:
“I stand before you tonight, and therefore, before the people of the British West Indies, the representative of a principle, a cause, and a defeat. The principle is the principle of intellectual freedom. The cause is the cause of the West Indian people. The defeat is the defeat of the policy of appointing local men to high office.”
It would be a cruel irony of our history if one of the most eminent men in the PNM were fired from the Cabinet because the Prime Minister preferred the advice and services of a former Canadian citizen over one of our ablest citizens.
It would be equally as sad if a Cabinet member was fired because he expressed his opinions vociferously in a party that was founded on the principle of intellectual freedom.
The Prime Minister owes his party an explanation. He must tell us why Mr Rowley’s behaviour encumbered the ideals of a party which we have given him the honour to lead and a party that is committed to honouring the talents of local men and respecting intellectual freedom.