Tumultuous desk-thumping from Government and Opposition Members, led off by the welcome extended by House Speaker Wade Mark, greeted former prime minister Patrick Manning on his return to the Parliament yesterday after a two-year absence.
“Honourable Members, may I on your behalf, warmly welcome back to his honourable House the honourable member for San Fernando East,” Mark stated. As MPs vigorously pounded their tables, a smiling Manning rose, bowed to the Speaker and saluted his colleagues.
Just before this, Manning had made a dramatic entrance in the chamber. Manning, who arrived about five minutes before the sitting began, waited outside in the Sir Ellis Clarke hallway and did not enter the chamber until after the Speaker came in, called the House to order and said the prayers. It was after that, that the side door was opened and a relatively weak and slimmer Manning hobbled unaided to his seat at the end of the front row in the inner chamber, his right hand pinned to his leg.
The hammering of desks by MPs corresponded to the time it took for the San Fernando East MP to get to his seat. Manning, who has had to learn to write with his left hand, jotted notes during the sitting as several ministers gave oral answers to questions.
Before tabling several reports, Leader of Government Business Roodal Moonilal also welcomed “my own Member of Parliament” and MP for San Fernando East back to the deliberations of the Parliament. “I think we would all agree, ‘it’s showtime’,” Moonilal stated.
However the generous tone changed quickly as the first speaker in the debate on the Bail Amendment bill, Sport Minister Anil Roberts got into the meat of his contribution. Roberts who had first welcomed Manning back, nevertheless criticised his policies and also chastised him for being away from Parliament.
Roberts said his mother taught him that in the list of precedence, he must always put God first, then country, then family, school and club. He said however, not all those put in positions of leadership understood this.
“As I welcome back a former prime minister, I must say he made me question my mother’s opinion.” Criticising Manning’s long absence, Roberts said: “It is clear that they (the PNM) operate under God, family, shopping in Port of Spain, local government election, PNM election, country and then Parliament.
“And those on the other side could steups as much as they want because this Parliament is a serious place of business. This Parliament must take precedence above everything. Once you are fit enough to shop you should have been in the Parliament. Once you are fit enough to wave on a truck and take part in elections you should have been in the Parliament. Once you are fit enough to walk, and talk and smile, you should have been in the Parliament,” he said.
PNM MPs protested, saying he was not being relevant but the Speaker allowed Roberts to continue.
Roberts then went on to say the current high murder rate was the result of the policies of the PNM under Manning, which only took care of friends, family and allowed persons like Calder Hart, Uthura Rao and Ken Julien free sway to the detriment of the country. He said under Manning, inequitable distribution of wealth, nepotism and corruption flourished, creating a society ripe for crime.
Earlier Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said he was very glad Manning was back but he thought he (Manning) would have been back before this. “I am talking from a doctor’s prospective. We saw him walking around the place and he looked pretty strong to me for quite a while now. I thought he would have been here before. But his doctors thought otherwise and he needed more rest so we are very glad to have him back,” Khan stated. He said his return was long overdue.
Asked whether Manning’s return would bring a challenge to the Government in terms of debate, Khan quipped: “He may bring a challenge to Dr Rowley.”
Diego Martin Central Amery Browne said he did not expect Manning to return so soon and therefore his presence yesterday was a signal of his resilience and determination.
“The fact of the matter is some persons seemed to have given up on Mr Manning. But I think we can all draw hope and inspiration from him, especially since we are in dark times as a nation, the fact that this gentleman has been through so much physically and medically and has recovered to the point where he is able to come back to the Parliament and resume participation,” he said.
Browne said he was happy about Manning’s return. Asked whether he believed his return would create waves within the party, Browne said: “I don’t think so. Politics being what it is there would be all sorts of excitement. But at the end Mr Manning has made his own position abundantly clear, many, many times over (that he is retiring from politics after serving out this term in Parliament). Folks should focus more on what he does and says as opposed to all the ripples and echoes which are inevitable,” Browne said.
Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner said he hoped that the level of debate in the Parliament would be lifted as a consequence of Manning’s return. “I welcome him back. I wish he were sitting next to me,” Warner said.
Warner, who had previously stated that Manning ought to have resigned and make way for a by-election to be held, said yesterday that he had second thoughts on this. “I think he did the correct thing by staying there,” Warner said. “Once he is fit, well and lucid he would make a contribution in the Parliament. Because you have to admit that the level of debate in the Parliament is not what it used to be and his departure left a void so to speak,” Warner said.