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Manning nah leaving

By Winford James

I am one of those persons who thought Patrick Augustus Manning, our previous prime minister, should have resigned as the representative for San Fernando East when the PNM lost the 2010 elections.

Why shouldn’t he? He had called the elections in the middle of his government’s five-year term and lost to an energised People’s Partnership. His party had lost badly – 29-12. He had lost confidence in, and the confidence of, ministers in his government and other high-ranking persons in his party.

He had badly disrupted or ruined the lives of many of his government’s officials who had, not unreasonably, organised their affairs in respect of a five-year term. He had failed to win a fresh mandate from the people to legitimise his megalomaniacal agenda. and he had lost the political leadership of the PNM to his bitterest internal rival – bitterest before, during, and after the elections – Keith Rowley. In a word, he had knocked the PNM out.

Aren’t these good reasons why he should have resigned from the House of Representatives? I certainly thought so, but I am not so sure now.

Since he lost the government, Mr Manning has suffered at least two more major misfortunes – a stroke that for a considerable period of time hospitalised him and cost him his speech, and that has left him with a badly weakened right side, and a “seizure” that returned him to the hospital.

The last time I saw him he was walking manfully and smilingly through the crowd at this year’s Calypso Fiesta. He was clearly favouring his right side, in the way that people damaged by strokes do, but he was not relying on a walking stick. I had mixed emotions – admiration that he was up and about and fighting, but mild disgust that he could be politicking when he was clearly far from well.

When I enquired from people more familiar with his movements why he was behaving in that way, I learnt that he had also been going to his constituency office to serve his constituents. He would suffer the seizure during one of those constituency outings.

Now, Mr Manning has served San Fernando East for over 40 years – most of them in government – so you would think that, given his parlous health, he would throw in the towel and make way for somebody younger and stronger, more vibrant, and more likely to be serviceable to the PNM when 2015 arrives or the People’s Partnership prematurely self-destructs, whichever is sooner.

But there is no chance of that. He seems determined to carry on to the end of the parliamentary term or as long as his parliamentary colleagues let him, which, quite clearly, is the same thing. We should let him.

He clearly loves to serve his constituency, even to the point of putting his health in jeopardy. His constituency clearly adores him, with many continuing to sing his praises and not a single one of them publicly challenging his ability to continue serving effectively. They say his record is strong in education, housing, sport, health, and social services and, that being the case, they don’t want to be ungrateful.

It is also perhaps true that Mr Manning remains the best person to continue marshalling resources for San Fernando East, even with his fallen stocks. after all, he is a former prime minister, he has important connections with influential businesspeople, he still has desire and some energy, and he may still fancy his chances of retaking the leadership of the PNM from Dr Rowley and redeem himself with electoral victory over a clueless and irredeemable People’s Partnership.

He holds San Fernando East legally. Section 49(2) of the constitution says as follows: “a member of the House of Representatives shall also vacate his seat in the House where: (a) he resigns it by writing under his hand addressed to the Speaker or, where the office of Speaker is vacant or the Speaker is absent from Trinidad and Tobago, to the Deputy Speaker; (b) he is absent from the sittings of the House for such period and in such circumstances as may be prescribed in the rules of procedure of the House; (c) he ceases to be a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago; (d) subject to the provisions of subsection (3), any circumstances arise that, if he were not a member of the House of Representatives, would cause him to be disqualified for election thereto by virtue of subsection (1) of Section 48 or any law enacted in pursuance of subsection (2) of that section; (e) having been a candidate of a party and elected to the House, he resigns from or is expelled by that party.”

Mr Manning has not informed the Speaker in writing that he has resigned his seat. He is absent from the House of Representatives with the approval of his parliamentary colleagues in accordance with their rules of procedure. He is still a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. The circumstances envisaged in (d) have not yet materialised. and he is still a member of the PNM.

So legally, he is good. But, and this is probably the most important consideration, he is also good where service in the House is concerned. His lack of service to the country in the House has not been making any difference to the governance of the country; parliament has been going along quite happily without him, not missing a step, and it should be noted, en passant, that he is well enough to serve his constituency but not the country.

If your constituency wants to hold on to you, and if your absence from the House is inconsequential, why resign?

—Dr Winford James is a University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer and political analyst.

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