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An accidental leader: Raffique Shah considers the legacy of late ex-PM Patrick Manning

The 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.

Photo: Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning (left) and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II pose after the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on 27 November 27 2009.  Queen Elizabeth II, the titular head of the Commonwealth, officially opened the three-day summit.  (Copyright AFP 2016/Luis Acosta)
Photo: Trinidad & Tobago’s Prime Minister Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning (left) and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II pose after the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago on 27 November 27 2009. 
Queen Elizabeth II, the titular head of the Commonwealth, officially opened the three-day summit. 
(Copyright AFP 2016/Luis Acosta)

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 met 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.

Photo: Mourners march down Frederick Street on 9 April 1970 for the funeral of the slain Basil Davis. (Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)
Photo: Mourners march down Frederick Street on 9 April 1970 for the funeral of the slain Basil Davis.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

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 first met 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.

Photo: Late Prime Minister Arthur NR Robinson (right) is greeted by then Cabinet colleague and subsequent Prime Minister Basdeo Panday. (Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: Late Prime Minister Arthur NR Robinson (right) is greeted by then Cabinet colleague and subsequent Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
(Courtesy Trinidad Guardian)

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 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 possible corruption, such as UDECOTT. There is no evidence that he was personally corrupt though.

Photo: Late Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning (centre) waves during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on 27 November 2009.  (Copyright AFP 2016/Luis Acosta)
Photo: Late Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning (centre) waves during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on 27 November 2009.
(Copyright AFP 2016/Luis Acosta)

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 that 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.

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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39 comments

  1. Mr.Keston “suffice it to say” He will be missed in d east missed in d west missied in d north and most definetly ladies and gentlemen .. missed in d south

  2. Rowley send ah spirit blow

  3. He truly was an amazing leader he had time for the smallest of person may his soul test in peace He had accomplished what he came to do

  4. His hubris was the worst, and the cause of his political demise.

    • His prophetess, Juliana Pena…wastage of public funds in the construction of the eyesore now known as the Brian Lara stadium; his involvement in the suspension of two radio DJs who dared criticize his policies; his heavy-handed approach to protestors at the Summit of the Americas; his reluctance to hold a Commission of Enquiry regarding the 1990 coup attempt; his State of Emergency that targeted House Speaker Occah Seapaul in 1995…

  5. How does one become an accidental leader in a democratic country?????

  6. RIP señor Manning…man cannot judge man..

  7. Quite an interesting article i read it as if i were looking at a movie but “suffice it to say” ladies and gentlemen Mr.Patrick Maning was truly an examplar as a leader and as a normal man.Bless his soul.

  8. like d queen want to lean on d man

  9. we had a leader who was fit enough to be king

  10. I wish this article was longer…..very interesting read, though I felt it ended abruptly

  11. Normally lucid commentator but this piece is all over the place

  12. Earl Best

    “But he also presided over some wanton wastage of public funds—the rapid rail study and Brian Lara stadium come to mind—and possible corruption, such as UDECOTT. There is no evidence that he was personally corrupt though.”

    Raf, this paragraph makes you sound like so many of the lazy local writers who would like to be called journalists. Do you know why Calder Hart is still a free man despite the PP’s eagerness to bring him to justice? There is no more evidence that UdeCOTT was corrupt than there is that Manning is/was a corrupt organisation; the only two skeletons that once appeared to be in Mr Manning’s cupboard came in the form of a claim from a demented female that he had fathered a baby out of wedlock and another that state funds had been used to construct the church his priestess was building in the Heights of Guanapo. There are also those who think that it was “corrupt” for him to appoint Hazel as a minister.

    But if after 44 years of public life one can find no more than these wisps to throw at him, I think responsible commentators are duty-bound to conclude that he was NOT corrupt.

    Eric Williams presided over the disappearance of billions of dollars in oil money in less than a decade. Was he “corrupt”? The question is NOT rhetorical.

    Kamla had a mere five years at the helm of the government; the comparison of her record with Manning’s is, not to put too fine a point on it, unflattering.

  13. Interesting read. Pretty much summarizes my thoughts on the fmr PM. I don’t necessarily agree with the phrase ‘accidental leader’- people are here for a purpose and i think it was more ‘destiny’ for Manning. He won by the smallest margin of the PNM MPs. The rumour is he only remained the MP because the NAR decided against a recount having already won 33 seats. (I don’t think Muriel or Morris Marshall could have put that Senate team together.)
    Also, I don’t think others ‘fled’. I believe Mr Manning had a ‘chip on his shoulder’ given that, after 10 yrs, he was still a jnr minister under Eric Williams cabinet. Some saw that as political retribution for Manning being part of the ‘Karl for Leader’ movement in 73. (Mr Shah could speak better than most on this as a contemporary then. ?)
    I know for a fact many party stalwarts wanted to help and they were shunned as ‘old guard’. (Many of them back Rowley in the leadership challenge in 96.)
    However, he was exactly what the party needed in ’86. The Party needed to reform, but he almost threw away the ‘baby with the bath water’. If he could have managed his ‘destiny’ better…

    • Interesting analysis Richard Zen O’Brien. I don’t know the ins and outs of the internal politics as well as others. But I’ve always heard that Manning only halfhearted acknowledged Eric Williams during his terms as PM.
      I don’t know for sure that is true. But, if so, what you say might partially explain that.

    • Wow..I never heard that. Makes even more sense now. Intriguing politics.

      • Earl Best

        RZOB, I don’t believe that for a second; Manning was just 35 years old when Williams died and had been in national politics – thanks, mind you, to EEW- for less than a decade. He was a political lightweight, not to say a nobody, and would have been deluding himself if he harboured serious designs on assuming the leadership of the party.

        That is, I think, the meaning of the “accidental” in the headline; had the 1986 debacle not happened, it is not unlikely that Manning’s fate would have been similar to that of people like Ken Valley and Colm Imbert in the PNM, there or thereabouts but never quite rising to the top.

        This is not to take anything away from Mr Manning. All I am saying is that the hour came and the man stepped forward without having PLANNED so to do.

        Also, let me add that had Williams not declared that he was standing down as political leader, there would have been no Karl “challenge” for the leadership of the party. So to suggest that there was a “Karl for Leader movement in 1973” is to give completely the wrong impression.

        And to suggest that Patrick Manning was what amounts to a Cassius or, worse, a Brutus, comes close, in my view, to a libel.

        Would that he were still around to hear you make that ludicrous claim!

    • How I remembered it as well Richard, but Trade and Industry and Energy Minister are quite senior positions. He was a newcomer and Dr Williams really never liked him.

    • How I heard it, Dr Williams boasted that he did the job of most of his ministers. And Patos was one of those that he used like, well, Nicole Olivierre.
      Whether true or not, it is a story I’ve heard from senior PNMites.

    • The Doc had his hands in everything. Remember ‘not a damn dog bark’? His ministers held office but he was the final decision maker.

    • How did the Doc use him Lasana?

    • Savitri, I understand the Doc called the shots and made the decisions. Like what you hinted I guess.
      So he had a post but necessarily the respect that would usually come with it. The Doc was a micro manager.

    • I know as an MP he would help people from outside his constituency as well. I know of him as the Energy Minister and also in the period leading up to the 2007 election.

    • I think both of you are pretty much in line with what’s been said about the Doc. However, Lasana, I don’t think that applied to ‘The Boys’ like Errol and Jamal or even Muriel. I doubt he could micromanage them ?.
      Savitri, i believe was Chambers who took Manning out of the doldrums and made him a full minister, after Eric Williams died. ‘The Doc’s didn’t release the stranglehold on anyone he had in his black book. He gave you pressure until you left.

    • Ok…I hear ya Richard, but you also mean Kamal right?

    • When was he Min of Energy Richard?

    • Oh yes, Kamal..(why on earth would they auto correct to Jamal?.lol)…I remember him being minister of energy under Chambers.. i remember the huge glasses from Social Studies class 😀

    • With all due respect, I think Mr Best’s comments demonstrates a total misreading of Eric Williams and and his politics. I suggest he go back and research ‘The Doc’ and hos he treated people who ran afoul of him, even those who be ‘brought in’. There are numerous stores.
      Also, he seems to not understand what did by ‘declaring’ he was stepping down. That was no accident, he didn’t just ‘decide’ to return because the convention asked for him to come back, it was all a plan to ‘draw out’ Karl and those aligned to him…it’s a FACT that Manning was aligned to Karl. If ‘The Doc’ was ever serious about leaving, how come Kamal did not throw his hat in the ring?
      It was all a plan, Manning got exposed and he ‘frozen out’ until Chambers elevated him in 1981.
      So unless we have a shared understanding of Eric Williams’s politics-NOT Patrick Mannings’- we’ll always see things differently.

    • I agree with much of the tributes. But I don’t think any of it suggests that the split with the PNM was wrong in retrospect. I still remember that cringeworthy interview when he suggested that PM, in a dodgy email, might have meant Project Manager…

    • Man, you dont want to get me started there. My fellow PNMites know how my blood boiled when talking about him and his politics. However, I still have to still pay tribute..not because he’s a PNM, but he did have a good vision for TnT. Vision 20/20, man…doesnt get better than that