Inside, confidential and off the record
Thank you, Sir
The man with a 20-20 vision plan to develop TT
Like Keith Rowley, my life too would have turned out differently had I not met Patrick Manning. In 1988, he afforded me the privilege of being on a team working closely with him to return the PNM to government. That team included Lenny Saith, Dr Rowley, Ken Valley, Augustus Ramrekersingh, Colm Imbert and later, John Eckstein. It was a thrilling time, adrenalin charged. Manning inspired us all. When we won in 1991, he appointed me minister of foreign affairs.
There was also high drama. In 1995, I learnt via television he had removed me as foreign minister and appointed me minister in the Office of the Prime Minister. I refused to take up the appointment, causing turbulence in the government and I was subsequently appointed minister of public utilities. When speaker of the house, Occah Seapaul, was placed under house arrest, I resigned from the cabinet. Shortly after, I switched allegiance to the United National Congress and then resigned from the Parliament. On my last day, I told the House of Representatives, recorded in Hansard, that my resignation as member for San Fernando West was “the inevitable consequence of my decision to resign from the People's National Movement, the party on whose behalf I had fought and won the seat. I am leaving the House because I am leaving the party. Having decided to leave the party I am honour bound to leave the Parliament and I do so out of respect for the people of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Manning and I parted company for six years but became allies again in 2001 when Ramesh Maharaj, Trevor Sudama and I left the second Panday administration protesting against corruption, precipitating a general election which returned the PNM to power. Thereafter, I was a major speech writer for PM Manning for ten years. In the end, I ended up serving with him for almost 17 of his 25 years as a pivotal figure in our country. I am extremely grateful for that tremendous experience.
Trinidad and Tobago should also be grateful to Patrick Manning. Thus far, he has been our most outstanding prime minister after Eric Williams. In 1991, he met dire conditions. We had a dying economy, the highest level of unemployment ever, over 35 per cent of the people in poverty, IMF conditionalities presiding, and the country's psyche damaged by the attempted coup of 1990. The nation was stuck and stalled.
Having prepared in opposition, Manning moved resolutely towards the modernisation of the economy, dismantling barriers to trade and investment, rationalising state enterprises and floating the currency. He initiated the LNG industry which has fuelled national development ever since. Confidence and foreign investment returned, and after ten years, our economy grew in 1994 and became increasingly strong for over 15 years after that. Between 2001 and 2007, under Manning, economic growth averaged 8.3 per cent. By 2010, the economy had tripled in size from $55 billion to over $165 billion and attracted more than US$12 billion in foreign investment. Reserves increased to US$11 billion and the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund grew to $19 billion, 13 times more than in 2001.
The prosperity percolated throughout. We achieved historic levels of employment, a 100 per cent increase in per capita income, lower taxation, tax exemption for 300,000 low income earners and increased wages and pensions. Poverty levels dropped by half to 16.7 per cent by 2010.
Patrick Manning established the UTT and GATE, made tertiary education free and increased university enrolment from 9,000 in 2001 to over 50,000 in 2010. Also, over 150,000 individuals acquired technical skills, over 20,000 housing units were built for lower income families; and over 600,000 persons benefited from free medicines for common ailments. Manning built the NAPA, SAPA, Hyatt Hotel, international financial centre, government campus buildings, the Chancery Lane facility, the Churchill Roosevelt/Uriah Butler overpass and the Prime Minister's Residence and Diplomatic Centre among others. He established the water taxi service, the waterfront project, the Brian Lara Promenade and much more. He left office with much in the pipeline including the rapid rail, an aluminium smelter and off-shore patrol vessels to fight the drug trade. Diversification was underway with plants for Melamine and Urea ammonium nitrate, growth in the information industries and new targeted areas: film, entertainment, printing and packaging and merchant marine. And, most importantly, under Patrick Manning, for the first time in our history, former government officials, including a prime minister and cabinet ministers, were charged for massive corruption.
Manning can depart the political stage assured history will salute him. The entire nation should say, “thank you, Sir.”
Maharaj / Sunday Express / Published on Feb. 15, 2015
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