How to save the PNM

By Dr Selwyn Cudjoe
March 18, 2010

Part I

Prime Minister Patrick ManningOver 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.

-Concludes tomorrow

14 thoughts on “How to save the PNM”

  1. “Sometimes it seems as though the media is waging a more efficient campaign against the Government than either the UNC or the COP”. This I believe is true and represent most of the conversations with regards to the performance of our politics in T&T. We must at times extract information from government to find out exactly where we are on a given policy, before giving vent to our opinions. Most of the times we get opinions from opposing forces and bloggers before we know what a policy is and this drives a “cart before the horse” image of our media. Reading the media one sometimes get the impression that the government is dead and it is only a matter of time before the opposition takes over the reigns of governanmce and then we all will be happy. The way the media operates we will NEVER be a truly informed people. Oppose for the sake of opposing may not be in our best interest. There is nothing to suggest that when we change the “better” results. The last time we changed I got fed up of seeing a gentleman named Adjohda on TTT. He was on every show produced by the station giving the impression that there was no other personality capable of providing the same service. We therefore must know what we are getting into before accepting “change”.

  2. The modernization of T&T and the movement towards the Prime Minister’s 2020 Vision have also ironically created a more informed, investigative and aggressive media. T&T is experiencing a new breed of media personalities who are not restricted by former narrow conventions and fears of reprisals. It should also be pointed out that the media was just as critical in its dealings with the former UNC government. Were they justified then? Are they justified now? Definitely, YES. Manning is fortunate that he is not being hounded by a media organization which resembles the Fox network in the US.
    The PNM and T&T are fortunate to be blessed with the apparent never ending revenues from gas and oil. The state of the economy has very little to do with the brilliance of the management by the government. As a matter of fact, there are those finance critics who suggest that T&T could be a lot better of if the present government knew how to manage money.

  3. ” Unless there is a change, the party and the country will pay the ultimate price.”

    The Party will pay the ultimate price, but the country will be better off with a change of government.As you mentioned, fifty years of PNM rule and there are still serious infrastructure problems in every part of the country.

  4. “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.”

    Is this because most of these officials are appointed and not elected? The constitution permits the appointment of Cabinet ministers. Should it? Appointed officials seem to be accountable to the PM and not the people.

  5. what madness really going on in this blinking place, this man has a supporter of the PNM for decades, to now effectively say that the PNM has failed (my words) is downright hypocritical, we must not listen to these people who continue to mislead their tribe, by telling them to vote for a party that looks like them (my words). Like Sat Maharaj who does the same thing. Dr. Cujoe should not be talking about infrastructure or lack thereof, this did not happen yesterday, this is a result of decades of PNM policies, designed to stay in power, by throwing crumbs to the blind loyalists just in time for elections. He has been a part of this and continues to. He or anyone for that matter would change this policy, the people would have to stand up and demand change, I hope they do.

  6. PM Retreats: War talk and the construction sector
    Prime Minister Patrick Manning yesterday sought to soften and modify the hostile and confrontational language he adopted on Monday, in discussing Government’s relations with the local construction sector.

    …It’s not literal war says PM’s Office
    The Government is not in any literal war with any group or person in T&T, according to a statement yesterday from the Prime Minister’s office.

    Hold peaceful talks instead, Mr PM
    By waging “war” on the local construction sector, Prime Minister Patrick Manning is engaging in an all-too-transparent attempt to divert attention from the major issue of the day: his and his Government’s handling of the alleged involvement of Calder Hart and his wife in awarding an $820 million contract to a company in which the close relatives of Mrs Hart are said to be directors.

    Kamla hits ‘Summit of Distraction’

    ‘Manning wants to host another summit’
    Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has alleged that Prime Minister Patrick Manning has ‘officially requested the formal hosting of an unscheduled extra-ordinary Summit of Caricom Heads to be held in Trinidad and Tobago within the next few weeks… in a further desperate attempt to create a distraction from the controversial issues facing him and his administration’.

    Opposition wants leaders to blank Caricom Summit
    Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has advised Caricom leaders not to attend an “unscheduled extra-ordinary” Caricom Summit which she said Government wants to host in T&T within the next few weeks.

    I’m not backing down from Udecott
    OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has once again signalled her intention to raise the issue of alleged corruption at the Urban Development Corporation (Udecott) at tomorrow’s sitting of the House of Representatives.

    No one to defend PM
    The Prime Minister does not have around him individuals who have the necessary political experience, political intellect and political capability to defend the Government on sensitive issues, political scientist, Derek Ramsamooj said yesterday.

    Diego West yet to file no- confidence motion
    PNM general secretary Martin Joseph says he has not received any communication from PNM’s Diego Martin West constituency regarding a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

    ‘Body needed to fight fraud’
    Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said yesterday that an independent body was needed to stamp out corruption embedded in State enterprises.

    Chamber: UDeCOTT board must account
    The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce is calling for the remaining members of the UDeCOTT board to come forward and explain the corporation’s position with respect to tenders, conflicts of interests and its use of public funds.

    TT Chamber: Come clean Udecott
    As a police probe into former Udecott executive chairman Calder Hart intensifies, the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TTCIC) yesterday called on Udecott give an account of its stewardship in light of the allegations of corruption under Hart.

  7. The views of the media are a reflection of occurrences in a democracy.Freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution of any democracy, it’s the duty of the media to present facts to the citizenry. Any intelligent Trinidadian would definetly not be impressed by the governance of the PNM, the evidence is pellucid. The PNM has failed to deliver in many areas including poverty alleviation, health care and national security.The professor’s economic statistics does not translate into a higher quality of life for citizens.The PNM has been marred by extensive corruption,lack of transparency and accountability and alleged ties to criminal elements. Afro-Trinidadians are now realizing that they were manipulated by a psychopath Mr. Manning, tribal politics is now being replaced by intelligent politics. The PNM is dying it’s too late for them they cannot be resusitated. Bye Bye PNM, you would not be missed, for the law of karma permeates the universe.

  8. “Afro-Trinidadians are now realizing that they were manipulated” Which planet are these folks emerging from suddenly, so as to make such condescending utterances , which in the process,is geared to demeaning the sensibilities of decent citizens? So why pitbull did you think they voted the way they actually did in 1986, 1995, and 2000/2001, and who was responsible for squandering the mandates , and confidence of the same -as you consider them -dumb , unintelligent , alleged lifelong PNMites people ,each time they extended same? Do you likewise believe that ULF/UNC/COP Indo Trinidadian tribal voters have seen the light , or do they enjoy their version of psychopathic Mr Panday? Do you think that since 1956, all the Indo Trini voters that supported the PNM at the polls ,did so solely because someone held a gun , or a cutlass ,to their respective heads, or it’s because as you and conniving pals would like to think, every resultant victory was due to electoral frauds?

    Listen my good fellow ,this in vogue , foolish corruption insinuation diversionary accusations, and blame game on Afro Trinadadians as represented by the PNM leadership, won’t be allowed to fly, as Africans in our country holds no more monopoly on that form of despicable behavior ,than any one else- be they of different creed , class or race.
    Your country has been a nest bed for corruption my friend both in the private sector, civil society , and government, of all races and classes. Therefore ,if as claimed ,you are serious about proper stewardship, responsible government , and transparency , start looking within, while doing less finger pointing.
    Don’t you wish at times that you were born in St Lucia , Guadeloupe, or Prague, so that no one can associate you with nut case comedians such as pitbull?

  9. How to save the PNM

    By Dr Selwyn Cudjoe
    March 19, 2010

    Part II

    In 1993, in “The Politics of Language,” I made the following observation about Dr Williams’s behaviour at the end of his career. I said: “There came a time when Dr Williams not only lost touch with his society’s discourse, he also seemed to become deaf to some of the things people were saying Once he ceased to listen, he merely uttered himself and, thereby, estranged himself from his people. Once he uttered himself, he was unable to hear what others were saying and thus destabilized the dialogic project and dislocated himself from the discursive [political] project.”

    One might be seeing a similar intransigence on the part of Mr. Manning. In a way, it may be a curious example of getting what he wanted by getting rid of anyone who seemed to have a contrary view but not anticipating the outcome of such actions. Yet all is not lost. If Mr. Manning and the other members of the PNM (People’s National Movement) government can initiate what I am calling respectful listening, then they can resuscitate a productive dialogue with the public. At this moment of crisis, there is no more urgent task than the practicing of respectful listening on the part of every member of the Government and even the members of the press.

    There is also an urgent need for members of the Cabinet to demonstrate an awareness of the tremendous heritage they carry in their briefcases. Few persons in government or the party command much respect from the public, and few seem to be aware of the PNM’s rich intellectual and political heritage. Most of the ministers are seen as neophytes, lacking in sound judgment, ignorant of the party’s history and bereft of any knowledge of political philosophy.

    At the very least, they should have read the writings of party stalwarts such as Dr Williams, CLR James, Winston Mahabir, JA Rogers and the fundamental documents of the party. It is only in this way they can begin to understand what it means to be a member of the PNM, one’s obligation to the party and their responsibility to the people who they are supposed to serve.

    Needless to say, there are consequences for this ignorance and unawareness of what is meant when one utters the phrase ‘Great is the PNM and it shall prevail’. Nor, for that matter, can there be a more sublime feeling of humility when one recognises one is ‘a servant of and to the people’. In fact, the present members of the Government act more as ‘masters over the people’, which is one reason why the political leader has insisted they visit their constituencies and humble themselves as the ordinary folks are inclined to remind them.

    I am not suggesting these correctives will fundamentally alter the relationship between the governed and those who govern them or that the press is likely to go any easier on Mr. Manning and the PNM. What I expect is a more conscious realisation among our elected members that they are there to serve us and a more self-conscious endeavour among the press to present the Government’s shortcomings against a background of their achievements. And while it is true the fourth estate has an obligation to expose the wrongdoings of the Government and its officials, such an exposé should never be seen as the working out of personal vendettas against elected officers whom the press do not particularly care for.

    Any casual observer of the current press reportage can see that Keith Rowley and Kamla are the clear favourites of the press. Not only are they presented in the best light, but they are pitted against Mr. Manning and his cohorts-including Calder Hart-who are depicted in the worst possible light. The most inane incident is presented as the key to unlock some malfeasance that has the capacity to defame the Government. I am sure the time will come when greater scrutiny would be given to Kamla, Rowley and the present press favourites. Journalistic ethics demand the media keep this balance in mind.

    It is not inevitable the present Government will fall or it will not recover and assume ascendance in national life. Nor is there much virtue on the part of the Government in staying silent and having the worst possible motive assigned to its actions. I only wish there was a credible spokesperson on the Government’s side who could speak with conviction and sincerity. This is one occasion when silence is not golden nor is it desirable to play dead to catch corbeaux alive. It is a time when the Government should level with the population, take them into their confidence and seek to open new paths of transparency and trustworthiness.

    Such a strategy calls for fence-mending within the party itself. Mr. Manning cannot carry the party alone nor is it desirable that he does so. No party can be reduced to an individual, no matter how perspicacious such an individual might be. It goes without saying that he needs the help of others. The present moment calls for open discourse, respectful listening and a genuine desire to do what is in the best interest of the citizens. Under the circumstances, the party should welcome back into its fold anyone who has a contribution to make to the great and uplifting work of the nation. However, the leadership of the party must display a genuine sense of contrition, thereby, demonstrating to the party faithful that they are regretful of their shortcomings or lack of sensitivity to their needs.

    Long ago, the old people used to say that “it’s when the wind is blowing that folks can see the skin of a fowl” which, for the unacquainted, means: “True character is revealed under adverse circumstances.” Although adverse winds may be blowing in the PNM’s direction, the skin of the party faithful is taut and unbruised. They are willing to forgive and to forget, but they are not willing to be taken for granted and be disrespected. Common sense demands the necessary acts of contrition.

    The media need to keep on informing the public of any perceived malfeasance and contradiction in the behaviours of our leaders. All one demands is balance and fairness and a realisation they have a sacred responsibility to reflect the nation as it is not as they would like it to be. Theirs is not the responsibility to make the news but to be judicious in their presentation of the news and, thereby, offer a balanced picture of the events that are taking place in our society. No one should demand more than this.

    – Selwyn Cudjoe is Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA, president of the National Association for the Empowerment of African People and, also, a director of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.

  10. The Prime Minister and other members of this government are at best, ignorant and insensitive and at worst, extremely arrogant and dictatorial. But this is what happens when people are selected based on some perceived class status and their ‘loyalty’ to the political leader – same as the other political parties. Hopefully, others would learn from the public’s reaction to Manning and his government.

    Added to this is nepotism, where family and close friends are appointed to key positions and they are loyal to blood relations or close friendships in power instead of the wider public who they are supposed to serve. We see this problem with the Panday’s in Opposition and Prime Minister Patrick Manning and his wife Hazel Manning who was once the Minister of Education and is currently the Minister of Local Government (Hazel is yet to apologise for her insensitivity when she dealt with the people of Arima).

    I doubt that this crop of politicians can grasp the concept of service. Most of these people in parliament, starting with the Prime Minister, have demonstrated their love of the colonial concept of ruling over subjects. Once the Prime Minister realized that he had a sufficient majority in parliament and was not threatened by the likes of Basdeo Panday, he stopped listening to the public and started carrying on as messiah who need not listen to the masses. Only he knows what is best for the masses and if people object they are in league with the Opposition and should be summarily dismissed.

    If the government now decides to put on a show of listening to the public, after Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar became leader of the Opposition, everyone would know they are only doing so because the Prime Minister feels politically threatened — we have already seen how he conducts himself when he feels that he is not.

    I disagree with Cudjoe in what he thinks is balance in media reporting. The media has never been balanced. I also doubt that people can agree on what constitutes balanced reporting anyway. The media in this country have always been racist and elitist and they are hardly criticised for this. Notwithstanding the need to address these and other problems with the media, I do not believe that the media has to highlight the wrongdoings of the government while pointing out some perceived good the government is doing in order to appear balanced. The government propaganda is already done via the Government Information Service with programs that must be aired on all electronic media. The government also regularly engages in PR campaigns at taxpayers’ expense. Even if the government was not doing this, it is not for any media to attempt to make them look good.

    The government is, at best, tardy in responding to calls for accountability and they are solely responsible for the speculations about their motives. They cannot refuse to answer pertinent questions about how our revenue is being utilised then fault the public and media for putting forward their own ideas about their motives.

  11. A very fair an objective analysis Heru, that goes to the heart of the problems we are confronted with here. It is sad but true ,that the ugly specter of nepotism, and cronyism ,has plagued these two parties led by respective elitist neo colonials.
    What simply gets me worked up is when a few deceptive ardent followers are prepared to put on the rose color glasses ,as they choose to look to others to place the blame on for our subpar living, and underachievement as a nation.
    I for one would be extremely happy the day I can wake up and hear that these two men are completely settled into permanent retirement away from the political scene , and the party structure , along with the backward neglectful culture they’ve created, and help to foster, is also destroyed.
    The challenge then is to see what would be the replacement , as it would be equally repulsive to see a tamer , more diplomatic version of these two uncaring benevolent dictators at the helm. If your ultimate objective is to kill me so as to get a bigger piece of the pice , it matters not what’s the medium – a slow poisoning with the deadly Gramazone liquid, or opening my mouth and pulling the trigger of a loaded gun.

  12. It cannot be denied that Dr. Cudjoe’s agenda is to restore the prominence of the PNM, simply because he desires the continuance of an Afro-centric party in power in T&T. It should also be pointed out that the doctor keeps incorrectly referring to Mr. Manning’s cabinet as “elected officials” when most of the cabinet were appointed by the prime minister. It is no accident that many of the elected members of the former cabinet (Rowley, Valley etc.) were “fired” by Mr. Manning because they responded to the needs of their constituents and challenged the prime minister on many issues.
    Dr. Cudjoe is correct in his analysis of the existing “rookie” cabinet. Their haughty arrogance and apparent conceit (Tesheira, Marlene Macdonald) are common characteristics which pervade the natures of so many in supervisory positions in T&T, be it government or private enterprise. They are taking their cues from the prime minister himself. The former leader of the Opposition fits the same mold. Leaders in T&T require a complete transformation to a full understanding of the word “service”.

  13. Is Govt destabilising itself?

    Friday, March 19 2010

    Given its current 26 to 15 majority in Parliament, and even with Dr Keith Rowley’s criticisms of its performance, the PNM should be sitting relatively comfortably in power. Notwithstanding his criticisms of and his ostracism by Prime Minister Manning, Rowley remains a loyal PNM member, unlikely to vote against the Government on issues which may cause the Government to fall.

    Why then does the party, and particularly Manning, feel so desperately vulnerable at this time? Clearly it is because of Government’s own bungling on so many issues recently. And the desperation is showing in Prime Minister Manning’s erratic behaviour, various contradictions between ministries and ministers, and a general sense of loss of direction by Cabinet.

    This destabilisation is manifesting itself in Manning’s on-again, off-again Declaration of War against the local construction industry, by the confusion between Public Utilities Minister Mustapha Hamid and Agricultural Minister Arnold Piggott over river water for farmers, and by Culture Minister Marlene MacDonald’s counter-attack on the Arts Community.
    Full Article :

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