Eric Williams and Manning
ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, March 28 2010
WHO WAS worse?
When I was a little boy attending Belmont Boys RC, I was taught what most kids in primary school are taught. Eric Williams was our first Prime Minister and was the Father of the Nation. We heard of his struggles to guide Trinidad and Tobago to independence, marvelled at his cool-looking hearing aid, were in awe of his Oxford education.
But what they don’t teach you in primary school is one of the most important parts of the whole Eric Williams saga: his treatment of corruption under his regime. Until his death, Williams maintained a dogged silence over the John O’Halloran and Francis Prevatt affairs.
Businessman O’Halloran was Williams’ confidante so much so that he was named the executor of William’s will. Prevatt was once the PNM party chairman. Both men were implicated in a series of wheeler-dealing transactions and a bribery scandal involving the purchase of airplanes for the national airline BWIA. Yet, Williams never took any action to discipline them. He also never once spoke out in direct defence of them in relation to the scandal.
Williams is lucky that he will forever be remembered as the first Prime Minister. His academic works are powerful and influential to this day. But reading about his treatment of the O’Halloran scandal, one cannot help but feel that he tarnished his legacy.
Also, I for one will never forgive the people who approved of our current 1976 Republican Constitution. Let’s face it. It’s a mess. And Dr Eric Williams played a key role in its framing. At the time it was introduced the Constitution was acclaimed for how it established a link with the colonial past. Now, when the dust has settled, we can see too clearly its major flaw: it gives prime ministers too much power.
Williams was able to use his academic speak and the fact that he was one of the first black Oxford graduates to build an aura of invincibility. This, combined with his formidable rhetorical skills and the sheer brilliance of a great deal of his ideas, created a haze beyond which many were unable to see. For many, he could do no wrong, and this allowed him to do precisely that. No matter how corrupt his governance, he could rest assured that, like US President Barack Obama, no matter what he did, people would most remember him as the first premier.
But what has Prime Minister Patrick Manning done?
His most frequent boast is about once attaining zero unemployment levels. But this was achieved at a great price, via CEPEP. And it all came to a head on September 12, 2008, when CEPEP workers were threatened into going to Woodbrook Square to sing praises of Manning at a rally for which no approval had been granted by authorities while a motion of no-confidence was ongoing inside the Parliament. The workers complained that they were told if they did not go to the square, they would not be paid.
This, then, is the underbelly of the superficial claim of zero unemployment. It would have been an achievement. But it has been reduced to nothing more than bribery by all of these events.
And while Williams remained silent on the O’Halloran scandal while tacitly doing nothing about it, the same cannot be said about Manning in relation to the Calder Hart affair. He has praised Hart to the skies while doing nothing about it.