Patrick Manning: For T&T and as Caribbean man
Patrick Manning: His role in T&T’s economic advance and as a Caribbean Man
By Tony Fraser in Port of Spain
Patrick Manning rose to prominence in Trinidad and Tobago’s politics at a time when the Caribbean region had reached a crossroads.
The responsibility of its first generation of parliamentary leaders, such as Eric Williams, Norman Manley, Cheddi Jagan, Errol Barrow and others, had been to bring enlightenment to their populations and move them from colonial bondage to political independence.
But Manning and the generation that succeeded the founding fathers of Caribbean integration had to achieve a measure of economic viability through diversifying regional production, in order to replace the monocrop economies of sugar and bananas that were tied to the trade preferences of their former colonial and neo-colonial masters.
Fortunately, nature provided Trinidad and Tobago with modest quantities of crude oil and enough cubic feet of natural gas to move the economy forward with insight and initiative.
Mr Manning took the lead given by technocrats and the likes of his finance minister, Wendell Mottley, and senior minister Lenny Saith to develop the capacity to convert natural gas to liquefied natural gas (LNG), and so was able to export it in large quantities.
Figures show that daily production of natural gas increased from 1.3bn cu ft in 1999 to 4.3bn by 2010, when the Manning government was in power.
So successful was the initiative that T&T’s LNG industry turned into an international phenomenon and T&T became a leading producer of natural gas by-products, such as methanol and ammonia.
What that did was to alter Trinidad and Tobago’s economy from being a pure raw material producer, shifting it into value-added production and the development of an export petro-chemical industry.
This changed the game for the local manufacturing sector, which was stimulated by the availability of low-cost energy for industrial production. The steel industry, initiated by the 1970s administration of Prime Minister Eric Williams, was privatised and successfully used cheap energy to make a range of steel products.
As prime minister of the People’s National Movement (PNM) government from 1991 to 1995 and again from 2001 to 2010, Patrick Manning was central to those developments, taking advice to make bold steps in policy-making decisions for the industrialisation of T&T’s economy.
Manning was a geologist by training, but a politician by choice. He once said he had forgotten most of what he learnt as a geology student at Mona, Jamaica’s University of the West Indies campus. In fact, he devoted 44 years of his life to public service as a politician.
During that time, he also brought T&T’s economy into the modern financial services world by liberalising the financial system.
- Restrictions on foreign exchange purchases were removed;
- Nationals could open and hold foreign-currency accounts in local banks;
- Sizeable foreign reserves were built up to a level of more than US$12bn;
- And Mr Manning’s governments saved hundreds of millions of US dollars in a Heritage and Stabilisation for the rainy days and for the generations to come.
What didn’t work
All glowing achievements.
However, Prime Minister Manning failed to persuade the population of Trinidad & Tobago that the building of two smelter plants was a further step along the road of industrialisation. He had to abandon arrangements with an international steel producing company to build the plants.
In his time, he was also unable to take industrial production further along the value-adding line to produce plastics and hardboard. Likewise, he failed to achieve another of his ambitions: to construct a gas pipeline to feed natural gas to the Eastern Caribbean and as far north as Jamaica.
On the campaign trail, Patrick Manning was the essence of PNM rallying.
“We go beat them in the East, we go beat them in the West, we go to beat them in the North and we go to beat them in the South,” was a political war-cry that Manning adopted to close off his election campaign meetings.
The PNM’s very able support base of women, derisively known as “the fat-arse brigade”, were only too ready to take on all-comers when Manning issued his call; it was a sight to behold and to hear.
One input of his campaign managers was to commission the lyrics to a calypso beat: “Patrick…we stepping out with you….”
The whole chemistry worked and the masses followed him and his PNM to win three electoral victories between 1991 and 2007.
“Lethal political weapon”
“Manning was a lethal political warrior; you had to be able to withstand political blows when he got up, but he also took his blows in opposition,” said one of his political opponents, Ganga Singh of the opposition United National Congress, when parliament paid tribute to him as an MP who had won his seat in 10 consecutive elections.
“We were political opponents, but never enemies and we always enjoyed a cordial relationship,” said Basdeo Panday, the politician with whom Manning had a no-holds barred political war for more than 20 years and with whom he exchanged prime ministerships during that period.
Mr Panday – like many others, including the sage of PNM electoral campaigns, Ferdie Ferreira – saw Manning’s greatest political achievement as restoring the electoral viability of the PNM.
That was a tough task after the party had been all but obliterated in the 1986 general election, when it was left with three seats out of 36, having lost 23 seats to the short-lived National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR).
That defeat ended the PNM’s unbroken 30-year reign since independence and many had been predicting the party would take two decades to bounce back from the opposition benches.
But under Patrick Manning’s savvy political leadership, the PNM was back in office (with considerable assistance from the fracturing NAR government) within five years.
‘Government in waiting’
In his first major contribution to parliament as opposition leader after the 1987 budget presentation of the new government of the NAR, Manning announced he had done so as “leader of the government in waiting”.
It was a boast that attracted rollicking laughter from the vast majority on the government benches, as well as journalists in parliament and many in the national community, for whom it came across as sheer impertinence.
After all, before the severe licking inflicted on the PNM in 1986, when all the frontline ministers including then Prime Minister George Chambers lost their seats, Patrick Manning was very much a junior member of the PNM.
Only once, from 1981 to 1986, had he ever been given a full ministerial portfolio.
Patrick Manning and the PNM were returned to office in 1991.
To achieve that end, he introduced a new generation of PNM front-liners: Wendell Mottley, Keith Rowley (the current prime minister), Ken Valley, Gordon Draper, Ralph Maraj and a number of others.
In doing so, he turned his back on the “old brigade” rejected by the electorate. As he was to demonstrate over the next 20 years, Manning showed himself determined, even inflexible, and deaf to voices critical of his policies and programmes.
Especially in his last administration, Prime Minister Manning invested billions of dollars earned from the gas industry in many questionable, often described as “extravagant”, expenditure programmes.
He also expended large sums on the construction of ego-boosting “tall buildings”. He hosted two international summits in one year, 2009 (the Commonwealth Heads of Government and the Summit of the Americas), with little or no visible returns other than his high-profile appearances with world leaders.
When hubris set in
Noted political observers such as Prof Selwyn Ryan concluded that Patrick Manning had succumbed to the political disease of “hubris” - excessive pride and self-importance often cultivated over time by political leaders.
History will also have to address the issue that while his personal integrity has stood the test, he did nothing about the failings of several people whom he placed in executive positions in the state enterprise system, many of whom have questions to answer about large expenditures not satisfactorily accounted for.
Manning was notably readier to respond to public demand in providing a wide range of multi-billion dollar social programmes to purchase free medical supplies for people with chronic diseases.
He granted social welfare benefits to those at the lower end of the economy and also developed and implemented a range of apprenticeship-type programmes to train young people for the workplace.
However, succeeding Manning administrations also spent billions on “make-work” programmes (political welfare) to bolster electoral support in traditional PNM constituencies; he was no political saint.
In race relations, engendering a measure of harmony between Afro and Indo-Trinis, Manning was no more successful than those who went before and those who came after him.
At the same time, he presided over a country immersed in criminal gang activity fed by the trade in drugs and guns and made little positive impression on criminality. His supporters argue that his plans were sabotaged when Manning’s political successors scrapped his purchase of offshore patrol vessels to stem illegal arms and drug smuggling.
There remained unaccomplished objectives in Manning’s attempt to fully diversify the economy and to develop self-sustaining economic programmes with the revenue from gas and oil. The dramatic crash in oil and gas prices over the last 12 to 18 months has left the economy vulnerable and in serious need of alternative economic industries.
In the arena of Caricom integration and development, Manning’s commitment to regional integration cannot be questioned.
“It is really no fault of his [Manning] that despite his best efforts that we accepted only some of the recommendations of the West Indian Commission for closer integration, including a Caricom Parliament and an executive commission, such as that of the European Union,” the present statesman of Caricom politics, former Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson, told Caribbean Intelligence© about his late colleague’s effort at closer integration.
“He was not able to persuade us, his Caricom fellow leaders, to go a step further in seeking to build the kind of machinery within the Caricom Secretariat that would enable decisions once taken by the heads to be followed up and enforced,” Mr Patterson said.
The former Jamaican prime minister also recognised the hand and support of Patrick Manning in the creation of the Association of Caribbean States, a grouping of all Caribbean countries and many in Central America; the acceptance of Haiti to full Caricom membership; and the creation of Cariforum – basically Caricom plus the Dominican Republic – to negotiate the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.
“Mr Manning was one of the leading integrationists, a man of outstanding integrity,” Sir Edwin Carrington, who served as Secretary General of Caricom during much of the time when Prime Minister Manning chaired Heads of Government conferences, told Caribbean Intelligence©.
“He chaired many Caricom meetings with distinction,” he added.
The former Caricom Secretary General believes that holding the two international summits in Trinidad was an attempt by Manning to place his country and the region on the world stage.
Mr Manning’s establishment of the Caricom Energy Fund, to make grants to Caricom member states finding it difficult to cope with high energy prices and large debt payments, was another of his acts in Caricom.
Manning’s last significant attempt to bring Caricom closer together was his establishment of a committee of Dr Vaughn Lewis (former prime minister of St. Lucia) and Dr Cuthbert Joseph, a minister in the PNM Williams cabinet (1970s and 1980s) to shape a political platform for Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and St Vincent to unite in a political unit.
The intention was that other Caricom states would be able to join when they were ready. That the plan never materialised was, again, not Manning’s fault.
History and the passage of time will have to weigh in the balance the contribution of Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning to Trinidad and Tobago and his service to Caricom.
Present Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who was at one time fired by Manning, said he believed that “history will absolve Mr Manning”.
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