?Can the hierarchy of the People's National Movement, comprising the General Council, the Screening Committee, and the cabinet be considered completely free of the responsibility of allowing Manning to pursue his imperial designs?
As indicated last week, Manning's decline and his eventual falling on his sword were entirely of his own making, so drunk had he become with his success at dominating all around him, including the national community and polity. However, the legions of mice of men and women (to adjust Steinbeck) who surrounded Manning in the party, cabinet and government–those holding on because it was the best thing that ever happened to them, those who were prepared to tolerate anything once they were close enough to glow in the reflected glory of the emperor–fed Manning's great ego and gave him a leg-up to the platform he eventually ascended. But Manning did not fall out of the sky, a freak of nature; he is very much a creature of the party and political culture created by Dr Eric Williams. Williams determined that the PNM would not follow the liberal democracy model of the USA, open for contest within; but rather it would be a party more like the British parties in the Westminster system of tight controls on expression of disaffection and contention with leader and organs of the party.
For decades PNM members have extolled the virtues of the party being a lodge, a cult in which no one speaks out against decisions of the oligarchy, of being an organisation in which the word and actions of the leader are sacrosanct. It is the same thinking which fashioned the national constitution and the political culture, all predicated on a dominant "strongman" and a subject oligarchy in tow to rule the masses. Yesterday it was Manning, and frankly it could have been anyone, tomorrow it could be someone else. To avoid returning to the dictatorship, the population will have to force change. History has demonstrated that change will not be initiated by a strongman waiting in the wings or popular woman and populist movement now on stage: transformation and reformation must be deliberately forced into existence; it will not be ceded by those at the centre. When Manning started to undermine political figures inside the party, Mitchell, Seepaul, Maraj, Beckles, Eddie Hart, Hinds, Valley and Rowley, no one said a word. They were all quite willing to cede the unchallenged lead to the political leader as such a supine posture allowed them to remain in the spotlight.
When he used so obviously falsified rationale to eliminate senior MPs who could provide challenge, self-preservation was the goal of those who made it through the rain; they kept quiet. When he engaged in reckless, unproductive and grossly inefficient expenditure of billions of dollars to achieve his "over-vaulting ambitions," only Rowley dared raise an objection in public. Others preferred to buy into the "wajang behaviour" story. When Manning indefinitely postponed local elections, they all hid under the constitutional refrain that calling elections was the prerogative of the Prime Minister. Indeed, they said it with such reverence, wanting to please the emperor and to secure their own positions. When he forced-out Brigid Annisette-George on a concocted story about her having interests which could expose her, they kept silent. When the Prime Minister refused to replace a minister for so-obvious conflict-of-interest dealing, they all stood by and indeed went into battle against the national community for maligning the minister and government. They all stood like lambs bleating in the fields when Manning scuttled a parliamentary sitting to go to Woodford Square to instigate the masses against one of their own and the opposition in violation of the sanctity of Parliament.
When Manning paraded his constitutional reform agenda to make himself executive president beyond the reach of the Parliament, the law and the electorate, their voices were raised in united support for the proposals. When large segments of the population articulated concerns about alleged corrupt activities engaged in by Hart and Udecott, they all kept quiet when an upstart minister had the temerity to tell the national community how shame it should feel about raising its collective voice to protect the national patrimony. But beyond the individuals, there must be an examination of the party, its constitution, the national constitution and the political culture to discern how they all contributed to the emergence of yet another Caribbean dictator in the mould of Trujillo and Duvalier. After 54 years of existence, 43 of those years in government, the PNM amounts to no more than an electoral machine to put a leader and his oligarchy in government. Its institutions are paper thin and open to domination by a political leader who is given total power to do as he pleases; ignore the empty rhetoric about elaborate processes of what party groups do right up to the General Council and convention. The reality being that the processes are completely controlled by the political leader and his oligarchy. Where is the party newspaper started by CLR James? Where is the party school for education and enlightenment? What of a disposition to enterprise and economic development–a credit union, a co-operative perhaps? Where is the modern party headquarters and physical development on a substantial property held for decades?
Instead, the party exists on the basis of being in government to distribute state resources to members: those who depend on social welfare, and the social and economic class that gets contracts and government projects. On the eve of declaring an election, the party and government leadership go cap-in-hand to the Syrian-Lebanese business community for campaign financing, so ineffective it has been at sustaining itself; so disposed is it to allowing government to be captive to groups who are willing to purchase influence. For its 54 years of existence, the PNM has not been able to become a true national movement inclusive of the ethnic, religious and social class groups of this plural society. That is the kind of transformation away from centralised and dictatorial rule towards a modern and independent structure that has to become the responsibility of those who would take over the PNM.
There are many lessons here for the People's Partnership and its leadership.