By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 18, 2008
T&T’s Press is so intent on demonizing Patrick Manning that sometimes it seems incapable of carrying a balanced story about any event that concerns him. Anyone who did not attend PNM’s 42nd Convention could not have hoped to get a balanced account of what transpired there last weekend if they only read accounts of same in the press. But as one poet suggested, none is so blind as he who would not to see.
In the first place, notions of blind loyalty in the party were smashed by the election of Donna Cox as Lady Vice Chairman; Pennelope Beckles as Youth Officer Female; and Dane Wilson as Youth Office Male. None of these candidates was on the Prime Minister’s slate and each won.
Secondly, the retention of the Deputy Political Leaders with the exception of Ken Valley suggests that Mr. Manning realized that he had moved too swiftly and the party did not support him fully on the summary dismissal of former elected members who possessed much experience and expertise. That he listened to his advisers or read the tea leaves suggests that he is not as oblivious of what is happening on the ground as many would have us believe.
Mr. Manning’s address alerted us to four significant challenges that face the party and, by extension, the nation: a recognition that Caribbean integration remains central to the party’s mission; that the region’s security is of central importance; that constitutional changes are necessary to carry forward the decolonization process; and restructuring local government is central to that effort.
Mr. Manning is correct when he says that these Caribbean islands must be integrated economically if we are to move forward. Where possible, we should also seek various forms of political integration. In his address to the recent Caricom meeting Professor Norman Girvan noted: “Forces of globalization, the fact that our small size, the fact of our military weakness, all of these things make it virtually impossible for our small island states to have real sovereignty.”
He recognized that to achieve economic integration, as is obtained in the European Union, each of these islands must give up bits of their sovereignty. That Mr. Manning contemplates such a move–in fact, is ready to spearhead such a move–suggests that he is not as power hungry as so many in the press will have us believe.
Mr. Manning argued that our recent involvement in the security of the Cricket World Cup prepared us to deal better with regional and, by extension, local security. He erred in not demonstrating how such co-operation impacts on crime in our society.
Mr. Manning believes that the country has to re-organize its constitutional arrangements to move forward. I believe the present arrangements have served us well. We simply have to deepen our democracy and demand that each branch of government carries out its responsibilities in more conscientious ways to achieve developed nation status, a central plank of PNM’s vision.
Our “so-called” constitutional problems do not lay so much with the election of the President or the various roles of the President, Prime Minister, or the Chief Justice. They lay in the inability of each branch of government to carry out its function conscientiously. A small society such as ours must find ways to balance the power of its various players and institutions, each seeking to move beyond the narrow confines of his or her political interest.
We cannot simply throw away fifty years of constitutional experience. When crises of any magnitude arise most of us are willing to respect the judgment of the President as was the case when Sir Ellis Clarke selected George Chambers to become president of the union and President Robinson, in his own deliberative manner, talked about the need to uphold spiritual and moral values.
In his address, President Robinson observed that there are areas in which the constitution will always be silent. In those instances, it redounds to the wisdom of the President or the officers who face these challenges to let commonsense and wisdom guide them. We cannot write everything into a constitution. It is a failure of national self-confidence to presume that those who are called upon to interpret constitutional matters will always act in partisan ways.
As we make much ado about Mr. Manning’s foray into constitutional issues it is wise to heed Sir Ellis’s warning that it is “premature” to worry about a proposed constitution that is “Nobody’s baby.” “Any proposal for constitutional reform would involve public consultation.”
In terms of local government reform Mr. Manning’s instincts are in the right place except that people in their villages and towns must determine their destinies. It is a non-starter to insist that the power of decision making stay with the central government and communities implement decisions taken by that body. Local government bodies must be initiators rather than be implementers of other people’s action. Therein lay the path to developed country status.
Many notable things happened at PNM’s convention. It matters how we deconstruct the obvious and interpret the silences in Mr. Manning’s message to party faithful and, by extension, the nation.