I was going to write a column about Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s extraordinary conduct in showing up at Radio 94.1FM on October 25. But now I am not so interested in what the Prime Minister did. Instead, I am wondering if and when I will hear the sound of sirens any moment now. Instead, I am wondering which one of my neighbours will turn up in the newspapers tomorrow, dead.
“Don’t look out of the window,” my father says. I look outside and see nothing but the dark outlines of houses, houses which were bright and jubilant only a few days ago when, for the first time in our generation, a leader of hope and vision took power.
Perhaps there is a relationship between the example set by the Prime Minister last month and the state of the country.
“It is a question of being disrespectful to institutions and authorities,” Manning said in his defence this week at the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplo-matic Centre.
For him there was nothing wrong with turning up at the premises of 94.1FM on a Saturday, with the appurtenant result that his private security detail momentarily locked-off the premises. The Prime Minister, sitting in a barbershop in south Trinidad, had heard two anchormen make oft- repeated criticisms of the Government’s hike in the cost of premium gas. Why these comments, coming from two young men, so provoked him remains unknown.
“If ever I am aggrieved by anything the media does in the future, I am going to the courts,” Manning said. But why didn’t he go to the courts in the first place? That was and is his right as a citizen of this country and he has exercised that right in the past. Why did the Prime Minister ignore the rule of law by his actions? Instead of driving for miles into Port-of-Spain, why did he not just pick up a phone and make a call to complain? Or write a letter? Or complain to the Media Complaints Council? Or call for the implementation of the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT)’s draft broadcast code. TATT, which is established by an act of Parliament, has included a clear and concise complaints provision in the draft. The Prime Minister is aware of all of these options.
You see, if you have a grievance, there is a procedure. That procedure ensures law and order. For this reason, no citizen of this country, no matter how aggrieved by anything the Prime Minister does, can drive up to La Fantasie, bang on the gates and demand to be heard.
The example Manning set was one of using the force of his authority to intimidate; to resolve conflict.
The real violation on October 25 was not a violation of the rule of law. It was something worse and far more dangerous: a breach of ethical responsibility.
With great power comes great responsibility. What the Prime Minister did was a gross abuse of power, aimed not just at a private company, but rather, at the free press.
An hour has passed as I write. No ambulance or police has come to my street. And now, all of my neighbours are afraid to go to sleep. Perhaps the gunshots were fired just to scare someone. Or perhaps there is a body lying out there, waiting to be found.