Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Targeted by Rowley’s f-words

Lennox Grant logo46

Mark Fraser

 Suddenly, last week, the reliably inoffensive words in this space struck a raw nerve. “What Keith Rowley have against you?” asked one caller in puzzled alarm over the cry of pain coming from the People’s National Movement (PNM) leader now rampant on the campaign trail.

After I had taken other concerned calls and read the reports from that campaign stop, I realised Dr Rowley had used his f-word against me. “Foolishness!” was how he cursed the suggestion in last week’s column that he had been left “time-warped by the Manning years”.

My boldly amateur proposition held that he had been left so traumatised by his experience as a cast-aside Patrick Manning minister, and former spear-carrier, as now to have “trouble getting the record straight, and his part in it”.

I cited the plan for the east Port of Spain gentrification into “Eastbridge” which, in 2006, had been championed by Housing Minister Rowley. “Eastbridge”, he said then, would silence the critics who charge the PNM with neglecting its base constituents in east Port of Spain. 

Alas, “Eastbridge”, with all its economic, social, and aesthetic promise, and political implications, never advanced beyond images in newspaper ads and promotional talk. What went wrong there? 

Dr Rowley has damned the opposition UNC (for opposing “Eastbridge”!). Now, he blasts the People’s Partnership administration for not running with a project that, without explanation or notice, had been dropped by the PNM before the 2007 general election. 

At the same campaign meeting, Dr Rowley had another memory malfunction. He ridiculed the project for a “tunnel from Tunapuna to Maracas” as the single transport innovation proposed by the present administration. 

He got that one wrong too. The September 2008 Budget of PNM Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira had proposed the Tunapuna-Maracas tunnel. Two years later, then Transport Minister Jack Warner promised a tunnel from Maracas Valley to Maracas Bay.

By when he got around to flinging another f-word at the absent target of columnist Lennox Grant, Dr Rowley had all but lost it. My fascination has been with the unfolding drama of the Rowley PNM, advertised as “under new management”, but still embracing the form, the content, and maybe, eventually, the style identified with a Manning era declared defunct. 

Under Manning, Vision 2020 qualified as both form and content. Declaring “updated policy prescriptions” into being, Dr Rowley last September played safe, and avoided straying too far from the received wisdom. He reconsecrated Vision 2020, but changed the delivery date to 2030.

The Vision 2020 package, before which the Manning PNM ritually saluted, did represent valued and undeniably valuable input from a wide range of knowledgeable citizens.  But the historical reality is that the Manning administration itself effectively turned its back on Vision 2020.

In a process eye witnessed in real time by Terrence Farrell, a key contributor, successive PNM budgets went their own way, ignoring Vision 2020, and ensuring its irrelevance. “Far from being an exercise in charting the long-term future of the country,” Dr Farrell wrote, “Vision 2020 ended as an exercise in futility.” 

The Partnership, arriving in government in 2010, formally administered the last rites. But Vision 2020 had long since been dead in the PNM water. 

From how he talks, Dr Rowley’s command of this slice of past life falls far short of the real story. But he is evidently prepared to trade on popular ignorance in a T&T where, borrowing from a foreign journalist,  “political discourse is too often muddled by conspiracy thinking, rumours and evidence-free arguments”.

Which is how Dr Rowley came last week to refer to me as “a politician who once ran against the PNM and lost his deposit”. He spoke with confidence that his unclued PNM people would unquestioningly accept such falsehoods as fact.

I never “ran against the PNM”. It is also easily verifiable that, in the Tapia House Movement, I held the position of editor of the TAPIA newspaper.  

Dr Rowley obviously needs help in getting his stories in order. Such help, he is unlikely to get from fellow platform performer Maxie Cuffie, who is also a media consultant and columnist. 

Mr Cuffie in his turn once falsely wrote that I had begun my journalistic career with TAPIA. He thereby pressed home the implication that, as Dr Rowley said, I have long been an anti-PNM politician, who pretends to be a journalist. 

Against this apparent article of PNM faith, the facts present an inconvenient truth. Which is that when I started as an Express sub-editor, neither Tapia the movement nor TAPIA the newspaper had yet come into being. 

In 1969, I was the sub-editor assigned to edit the “copy” of Lloyd Best, and to “lay out” the pages that carried a series of long articles he was then writing for the Express. I had cause to learn to read his handwriting, since the typescript typically arrived with multiple scribbled emendations. That was the setting of my first encounter with the man and his then powerfully influential ideas. 

The real Lennox Grant is standing; he did not have to be “outed” from the PNM-imagined closet of shame.