An accidental leader

By Raffique Shah
July 07, 2016

Raffique ShahThe end, when it came, brought relief from some five years of suffering, and pre-empted additional torture from treatment for cancer, which many have described as being worse than the disease itself.

Patrick Manning’s sister, Petronella, who is a medical doctor, said as much in her grief-stricken state. And his wife Hazel, who stood solidly at his side during the worst of times, both physically and politically, absorbed the shock of his death with aplomb.

He could not have asked for a more dignified departure from life. Death is an inevitability that shadows us from birth, but most of us only think about it as we grow older.

I know only too well, having chalked up seventy last March, six months ahead of Patrick’s due date. I have come to terms with my mortality to the extent that my family knows exactly how I want my remains to be disposed of, unceremoniously, I should add. But this is about Manning, not me.

He and I had a few things in common besides being born the same year. His father was a oil worker, mine a sugar worker. We will have sat the College Exhibition Examination the same year (1957), and proceeded to secondary level education together in January 1958, he at Presentation San Fernando, I at Presentation Chaguanas.

Our paths in life thereafter took different turns, but as fate would have it, we would meet as very young men, each trying to chart the destiny of the nation from different perspectives, he from the belly of the PNM whose foundations were rocked by the events of 1970, I as one architect of that earthquake that shook the country.

Ironically, it was 1970 that prompted Dr Eric Williams to pluck the 25 year-old Manning from the then Texaco oil refinery and plant him as the PNM’s candidate in San Fernando East. Gerard Montano, who had held that seat for the PNM since 1956, was a casualty of the mutiny since the military had fallen under his watch as Minister of Home Affairs.

Manning did not even face the polls in 1971: the boycott of the election by the main opposition parties saw no one being nominated to oppose him. I would first meet him in 1973, and thereafter, whenever we spoke, more so when I was an MP (1976-1981), our conversations were civil.

Manning’s real political life began in the PNM’s darkest days, the aftermath of the 1986 election which the NAR won 33-3. The PNM was annihilated, humiliated, so much so that almost all of the party’s senior officers went into hiding. Many of its supporters had jumped ship. Most people, especially those who supported the four-party, amalgamated NAR (ULF, ONR, DAC and Tapia), were convinced that the PNM could never again rise from the ashes.

Manning, who had retained his seat by a mere 61 votes, could have abandoned ship and cast the PNM’s fate to the wind. He didn’t. He decided he would break down the old order, recruit new blood, and try to resurrect what many saw as dead. In this herculean task, he was ably assisted by the egocentric leaders of the NAR, particularly Ray Robinson and Basdeo Panday, who were destined to lock horns, wrestle in the mud and bring the hastily-built NAR edifice to ruin.

The implosion came sooner than expected: within a year, Panday and most of his ULF members and supporters left the NAR, with Panday displacing Manning as Leader of the Opposition. That proved to be fortuitous for Manning: he could now focus fully on rebuilding the PNM.

Among his new initiatives was the quest to change the party’s image from being Afro-centric to all-inclusive, especially his pursuit and recruitment of Indians. In fact, he would thereafter never let up on this image-change, much to the chagrin of some of the old guard PNMites. The Manning I knew was not racial as many of his detractors insist.

Manning’s political career from winning government in 1991 to losing the election in 2010 was chequered. His achievements were many-expanding the downstream energy sector, making tertiary education more accessible to the poor, massive housing estates that the PP inherited, and more.

But he also presided over some wanton wastage of public funds (the rapid rail study and Brian Lara stadium come to mind), and maybe corruption (UDECOTT). There is no evidence that he was personally corrupt.

Worst of all, like so many others who held power, he was consumed by hubris in his final years. He lambasted those who sought to point out his errors. At times he came across as being irrational, so much so his political demise in 2010 was predictable-which was tragic, given what came afterwards.

His epitaph: he was an accidental leader who became the beneficiary of political insurance when other contributors fled the scene of the mishap.

4 thoughts on “An accidental leader”

  1. Mr. Manning picked up the pieces and carefully reconstructed the organisation. There could not be anything accidental about that. He was a natural born Leader.

  2. Mr. Manning was a great soul of the soil, he did good for the people he loved and served honorably. His work on the earth plane was worthy and he will continue serving in an even high office. Thanks goes out for his humanity and all his contributions. Leaders are in position for a reason. His was obvious and TnT is indeed fortunate to have had such a one that served with dignity. Prayers and love to the Manning family.

  3. He was simply Eric’s blue eyed boy and go for who allowed Amoco to rape our country of $600 Billion USD plus, wasted our resources, helped his fellow PNM brothers to filthy riches, ran down Petrotrin and the oil and gas industry to nought with the help of his long time buddy who now wants $2 million more from us and wanted to be the region`s dictator just as Saddam Hussein and Gaddaffi were. And he suffered for his sins against pauperising we just like them. I bear no sorrow for him. and he was a disgrace to most of the mixed Trinis like me.

  4. Let me see if I get dat Uncle Shah. After some 4 plus decades in politics ,the only noble achievements we can settle on for 69 year old Patrick Manning is as follows:-
    A. He brought more Indians into his so called African PNM party , than even founder Papa Deffy Eric, or it’s Caretaker /Smart man George Chambers,and we can throw in , present day ever maligned -Party honcho,in de Mason Hall Kid,Dr Keith Rowley.
    B. He expanded ,or rather , enhance tertiary education , by making such more accessible to the poor- even though in de final analysis , more kids of wealthy, greedy ,’dog with a bone ,’Trini elites ,benefited from such measures,at de expense of said poor folks,and am I right, or am I right Dr. Goopiesing/Dr.Boe Tewarie?
    C. He pushed massive housing estates , that the UNC dominant PP inherited , then lease some conveniently forgot, used as political bait,for gullible ,prospective voters, while taking all the credit for initiaL construction -even though they never historically favored , or had a record of Housing construction.
    Well, I take dat back Uncle Shah,… for you , and ‘me think ,’ Basdeo Neruh Panday ,were victorious ,in talking , about “Houses before Horses ,”during your then Opposition Party ,political reign.
    D. At the expense of proper diversification of our economy , he instead , expanded that opaque ,downstream energy sector -and as we can now see-to the point were our overburden , yet unproductive energy sector, is in such a decrepit state , dat we are forced to beg Venezuela , and maybe Ghana for gas , and oil, to satisfy our own needs.

    Oh yeah , and the people of Barbados, led by international lawyers, and fake fishermen , thank him also ,for giving the middle finger to idiot Tobagonians,re his T&T lose/ lose gestures,on fishing rights, and oil/ gas laden , continental shelf lands redistribution.

    If this is Patrick Manning,aka de delusional Sando Kid,glorious political legacy ,as laid out by you, some much smarter than us both , would perhaps rightly claim , that his political life,was a colossal failure.
    Since death is a time for one to be magnanimous,I’ll reserve judgement for the time being, on said subject.

    These are politically turbulent times , and as we like to say on de streets folks ,’Beware of greeks bearing gifts.’
    Long live the Republic of Tobag…. , ooops , lo siento , Trinidad and Tobago!

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