To many viewers, this was adding insult to injury. Afterwards, many citizens felt entirely dissatisfied with the interview, in which Manning really failed to clear the air over the Guanapo Church, but instead seemed to instead try to shield himself with evasiveness, ambiguity and generalisations. For example, Manning at one stage defensively told the interviewers, “He who alleges must prove”. We say, give us a break! You, Mr Manning, are Prime Minister of the country and you must account to us. We don’t have to prove a thing.
At the end of it all, viewers were none the wiser as to where the alleged $30 million has come from to pay for the Guanapo Church which is after all a privately-owned endeavour. The interviewers should have pointedly asked Mr Manning if he was satisfied that no-one knows the source of funding for the church.
All this evasiveness from Manning came the day after Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar revealed very convincing documents that named Udecott as the client for the Guanapo Church, casting doubts on Udecott’s previous and current denials of involvement. The documents also cast doubts on the “assurances” given by Minister of Finance Karen Nunez-Tesheira to Parliament on March 19 who had likewise denied Udecott’s involvement in building the church. And as for Mr Manning he was either “Prime Minister” or project manager.
Even common sense would suggest that if the Shanghai Construction Group (SCG) was intially brought to Trinidad by Udecott to build State mega projects like the Performing Arts Centre, but now SCG is seen working on the Guanapo Church, then it is most likely they were sent to this new and private job by none other than Udecott! Meanwhile, on Saturday the best the PNM party could do was to try to claim the documents presented by Persad-Bissessar — which carried much professional, technical detail — were supposedly ‘dirty tricks”. We don’t think so.
The documents cast doubt on Manning’s denial of Udecott involvement in the Guanapo Church made on February 27 in a speech of church-State relations in Parliament. Manning had said, “I want to point out from the very onset that the church is not being built with State funds, that the building constructed does not belong to the Prime Minister, that the church is owned by the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ, that neither the Prime Minister nor any member of the Government gave any instruction to Udecott regarding the construction of the church.” In Sunday’s “live” interview, Manning claimed that the then Udecott head, Calder Hart, had helped the Guanapo Church in his supposed “private capacity”. Again, we say, give us a break, Mr Manning. A man who headed Udecott, TTMF and NIB can hardly be said to have any private capacity, in our view.
Manning said the Guanapo Church is just one of any number of churches helped by the Prime Minister as Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs, as he recalled Cabinet recently giving a $2 million for the Roman Catholic Church to upgrade the Archbishop’s Residence. “The assistance of the State to religious organisations is nothing new and is nothing unusual,” he said. We say, well yes, but we ask why is he talking in such vague terms, when the country remains no wiser as to where the whopping $30 million for the Guanapo Church had come from? Two issues must be considered.
Firstly, one allegation being mooted is that the Government has paid out so many millions of dollars in cost-overruns on all the other projects involving Shanghai and Udecott, that these two companies could, in theory, now easily afford to work on the Guanapo Church for “free”.
Secondly, while Manning admits knowing Rev Juliana Pena who heads the Guanapo Church, when one sees such a constellation of forces coming together to help in this construction — Shanghai Construction Group, Calder Hart, Manning himself, plus some unknown financier — one cannot help but ask whether a breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act has occurred, in that someone may well have used his public office for someone else’s private gain. Next Monday on election day, voters may decide whether or not the Guanapo Church is an election issue.