Patrick Manning was a Caribbean man who rose to the challenge of leadership in 1986 when the PNM under George Chambers was defeated 33/3. The general opinion in the country at that time was that this was the end of the PNM and the end of ethnic politics. They obviously did not reckon with Patrick Manning who demonstrated and exercised very strong leadership in transforming a party that was very demoralised and disillusioned, returning the party to Government in 1991.
Of course, he was helped by the many unforced errors that NAR made whilst in Government, not to mention the tremendous disruptions of the 1990 attempted coup. It was during those years that we got to know each other. He was extremely honest and was very persuasive, many times using convincing rationality to get you to do what he wanted and most times unwilling to accept no for an answer.
His vision for the future was that T&T should become a developed country by the year 2020 and that vision was synchronised with a recommendation emanating from the private sector (mainly the international oil companies and the financial institutions) that T&T should return to medium and long term planning.
A small group of us approached Dr Keith Rowley, then Minister of Planning with our recommendations and he responded by stating that he thought it was a good idea and would discuss our suggestions with the prime minister. The prime minister then called and spoke about his vision for the country and persuaded me to lead a task force that would set about creating a strategic plan for the country with the objective of becoming a developed country by the year 2020. Obviously, this entailed medium and long-term planning and he advised that the task force would report to Dr Rowley as minister of planning.
At a subsequent meeting, I advised both Dr Rowley and Mr Manning that our team had decided that this strategic plan would be sector-driven and would be a "bottom up plan," rather than a "top down" plan, ie the plan would not be one that was formulated by economists in the public service and/or public servants (even though the public servants would supply all the relevant data requested by plan members) but by citizens of T&T who were practioneers working within the various sectors including practioneers who were either sympathetic to or members of political parties.
Mr Manning was resolute that the plan must not be a PNM plan and must be devoid of any political party bias. He confided in me that he wanted the best for T&T and he made the point, that what is best for T&T is not necessarily what is best for the party in Government and vice versa. To that end, it was decided that no government minister or members of the opposition, in other words, no parliamentarians–neither from the Upper or Lower House–would have any input into the plan thereby ensuring that there would be no political bias whatsoever.
I should mention that at no time did Mr Manning involve himself in any discussion with the plan, except to inquire as to the progress. More than 600 people from civil society participated in the plan over a three-year period without any compensation. This was a labour of love for country.
I then had a meeting with Mr Basdeo Panday and members of the opposition requesting their support so that the plan would be a national plan, which would be properly debated in Parliament. I was careful to let Mr Panday (together with six other opposition members) know that this was not a PNM plan, and he could ascertain that from many members of the various committees.
Mr Panday, whilst agreeing that it was a laudable effort and one that was badly needed, stated he could not politically support it. I then asked if he would attend the opening ceremony, and he said he could not. However, when asked if I could invite members of the Opposition to the opening launch, he said that it was up to them if they wanted to attend. Quite a number of Opposition members attended.
It was a great disappointment to Mr Manning and no doubt the 600 participants including myself, that the Vision 2020 Plan did not have the support of the Opposition and so could not be deemed to be a national plan. Mr Manning was left with no choice but to have the Government promote the plan and so by default, it became known as a PNM Plan even though there was no PNM or Government input whatsoever.
In 2005, Mr Manning was again able to persuade me to accept the responsibility for restructuring the national airline. He was resolute in trying to find solutions for the large loss-making and inefficient state institutions and having resolved the Caroni issue, which was the largest drain on the state coffers at the time, he now wanted to tackle the national airline which was a significant drain on the Treasury.
I told him that the national airline was jokingly called PNM Party Group 727 and asked him whether he was prepared to accept the objective recommendations that a Board led by me would make, even though it may be politically unpopular.
His answer to me was, "Arthur, I give you my word that I would convince my Cabinet to support sensible recommendations and not be guided by political or party considerations, let the chips fall where they may, we've got to fix this once and for all."
During the process of restructuring, many groups from the airline including the unions went to see him complaining about decisions taken by the Board and his response to them was that he would not interfere with the Boards decisions. He kept his word throughout the entire process.
Throughout the years of Vision 2020 and the BWIA restructuring, Mr Manning and I met on only a few occasions, even though he would call quite often call to inquire about the progress we were making.
He once told me, "Arthur, since Independence the PNM has governed this country for 80 per cent of the time, and so we have some horrible legacy issues existing within our State apparatus. We have to modernise and I am resolute and determined to fix these major institutions and utilities and to remove the corruption and inefficiency within these organisations. At some stage, I may pay a political price, but so be it."
Arthur Lok Jack