TOBAGO-BORN Dr Keith Christopher Rowley served as an Opposition People’s National Movement (PNM) senator from 1987 to 1990 and functioned as the parliamentary representative for Diego Martin West from 1991 to the present. From 1987 to 1995 he was one of the deputy political leaders of the PNM. He is a geologist with a doctorate who is married to attorney Sharon Rowley and he is the father of two daughters.
He has held major Cabinet ministerial posts, as follows: (a) Agriculture, Land, and Marine Affairs; (b) Planning and Development; (c) Housing; and (d) Trade and Industry.
Dr Rowley’s political troubles crystallised when in October 1996 he challenged the then political leader of the People’s National Movement, Patrick Manning, for leadership post of political leader in the party’s internal elections. While he lost the internal elections to Mr Manning, Dr Rowley’s support was significant enough to prompt action by Mr Manning against him and his principal supporters. Thus, Dr Rowley was not nominated subsequently by the party leader to be one of the deputy political leaders of the PNM.
Years later Dr Rowley’s political fortunes hit another bump when he highlighted the need for greater cabinet oversight of the operations of UDeCOTT whose then executive chairman was Calder Hart. UDeCOTT was carrying out significant projects for the government of Trinidad and Tobago, including the high-rise waterfront buildings. He was fired.
The antagonism between Mr Manning and Dr Rowley was played out in Parliament and the wider public arena. Of course, because Mr Manning was the prime minister at the time, Dr Rowley could not indisputably win the bitter internal battle. However, it is ironic that when in 2010 Mr Manning called and lost the general election before the constitutionally due date, Dr Rowley became his successor.
On May 24 2010, the People’s National Movement lost the general elections to the People’s Partnership under the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar who became Prime Minister.
Both Mr Manning and Dr Rowley won their respective seats of San Fernando East and Diego Martin West as PNM candidates, but the PNM did not get sufficient seats to form the government. In the wake of that defeat Mr Manning resigned as leader of the PNM.
In Dr Rowley’s 26 years of parliamentary service, he displayed consistent values of dedicated service to the people, loyalty, unswerving commitment, trustworthiness as he pursued goal-oriented projects.
He is articulate, presents logical arguments and communicates well. He has the courage of his convictions and is confident while not being too arrogant. He understands the needs of his constituents and caters to them within the limits of his authority and resources.
Dr Rowley is the PNM’s fourth leader in 57 years. The leader of a political party is its lengthened shadow. The history and achievements of the party are subliminally transferred to him. He stands on the shoulders of Dr Eric Williams, George Chambers and Patrick Manning.
Fortunately for him, he and Mr Manning were not close in the latter days of Mr Manning’s regime, and so even though he was part of the PNM government’s structure he escaped the many negatives of that regime.
Dr Rowley was instrumental in arresting the decline of the PNM. He introduced the one-man one-vote system for the post of political leader, a reform that is very popular with the party’s membership. Rebuilding of the PNM can be gauged, among other things, from the number of young persons selected to contest the local government elections that were held on Monday and which the party won handsomely, regaining many of the corporations it had lost in 2010.
Dr Rowley has a reputation of being so aggressive that he was referred to at one time in the party as its Rottweiler—a breed of dog noted for its aggressiveness. He is not an overly charismatic leader. It must nonetheless be acknowledged that since becoming leader of the PNM, Dr Rowley has been diligently and successfully enhancing his leadership skills.
Is Dr Rowley a credible option to be prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago? When the prospective leaders of other political parties are assessed, the inescapable conclusion must be that he is a viable candidate for the job. He has the experience, the balance, intellectual capacity, and a history of 26 years of solid political service and public representation of the people.
Of course, the puzzle of the future is that no one has, in advance, all its pieces. You can only make an intelligent guess as to what will happen. Keith Rowley is likely to figure prominently in events as they unfold over the next couple of years.
• Philip G Rochford, HBM, is a
personal empowerment specialist
and author of Enlightened Corporate Leadership