Public comment variously described Mr Manning as dictatorial, autocratic, having his own axe to grind. There were those who opined that Rowley’s dismissal was linked to the covered-up coldness between the two men dating back to 1997 when Rowley challenged Manning for leadership of the PNM.
Yet others suggested that the removal of Rowley was Manning’s final act in freeing himself of strong and popular colleagues such as Ken Valley, Camille Robinson- Regis, Eddie Hart, Fitzgerald Hinds, and Larry Achong. It was suggested that Colm Imbert has been virtually neutralised in the post of Leader of Government Business and the only remaining member of the old guard, Lenny Saith, is on record as stating that he is on a last lap so to speak occupying a holding position despite the fact that he acts as Prime Minister in the absence of Manning. This scenario, it was said leaves Manning with a group of neophytes, now cutting their political teeth, who are unlikely to stand up to him.
But one letter to this newspaper however, offered an entirely new reasoning for Manning’s Cabinet cleansing exercise. The writer called one name: Hazel Manning. He suggested that Manning was setting the scene to make his wife Prime Minister.
Hazel Manning, he argued has been positioned by her husband to take over in the event that his health fails or he becomes Executive President.
Fantasy? Far fetched? Perhaps.
Hazel Manning is now a very senior member of Cabinet. Her shifting from the Education hot seat to Local Government in a year when local elections are due is seen as a strategic move by the Prime Minister.
More to the point it is no secret that Hazel Manning has in the last year undergone a make-over. She is no longer the butt of jokes and being referred to as “Mrs Breakfasses” with which she was tormented for years after her school feeding gaffe. She now follows a stringent exercise and diet routine that in a period of two years have changed her from a plump looking matron, mother of two adult sons, into a slimmer, stylish woman whose fitness routine is serving her well.
At Manning’s swearing in at Woodford Square six months ago, she was described in Newsday as “cutting an eye-catching figure of elegance”. She wore a glossy chocolate-coloured knee length dress with matching embroidered jacket and open-toed pumps. Her skin was said to be “glowing”.
Her appearance led fashion guru, Peter Elias to remark: “I like her new look. She has obviously lost some weight and that’s good.” He said he had always admired her ladylike demeanour.
She has shed the staid look of the past so much that she now dons a carnival costume to play in a band. At the recent jazz festival in Tobago she was right at home with the hyped-up crowd.
But it’s not a case of all play and no work. Those who have worked with her speak of her dedication to her job whether it’s Minister of Education or Minister of Local Government.
They describe her as well organised and someone who is able to get things done, which is not surprising when one’s husband is the Prime Minister.
No one keeps her waiting when she summons a meeting or calls a colleague or underling for information.
So how close to the truth is the letter writer who seems to think Mrs Manning is one heartbeat away from becoming Prime Minister? For one thing Hazel Manning herself considers the time is ripe.
Speaking at a workshop three months ago to encourage more women to come forward in politics, she might have well been speaking of herself when she said: “It is time for both a woman Prime Minister and President.”
She went on to elaborate: “Generally regarded as being subordinate to males, females have been restricted to leadership roles within the home only and apart from inherited power, women as a rule have no say and indeed held no sway in governance.”
She highlighted the strides made by women in the last 50 years and pointed to the Caribbean’s two female prime ministers, Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica and Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica.
The difference of course is that both Simpson-Miller and Charles fought elections and led political parties, whereas Hazel Manning has been appointed by her husband and never faced the polls. She admits that women are making their way into prominent political positions, but asked how do women reduce the barriers that stand in the way of achieving equal representation in the decision making progress. One example would be by being brave enough to face the polls and not waiting on one’s husband to elevate you to the decision making Cabinet.
Facing the rough and tumble is not something that she cannot do as was evidenced when she gave up her usual quiet place on the platform and took the mike during the last general election in November. It is true it was in defence of her husband and allegations that he had become a dictator, but she did find her voice.
“The man is no dictator! And I should know!” she defiantly shouted to the large crowd. “A man who has walked with kings, but never let that go to his head. I have been married to him for over 36 years ... and we living together until death do us part! He is humble, fair, sincere, honest and dedicated to the development of Trinidad and Tobago,” were some of her ringing endorsements. The crowd loved it, but none more than Manning himself who beamed from ear to ear as he assured them his wife’s comments had been “unsolicited”. And he couldn’t resist his own comment.
“Gentlemen, forgive me if your wife doesn’t talk so about you. Don’t blame me!” adding with some mischief.
“If you want to know how to bring about that situation, just talk to me quietly after the meeting.”
The stage was well and properly set when he added with something of a double-entendre: “Women are to be given what they wish!”
Is it the wish of her husband to give Mrs Manning the post of Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago? Will he have his way?
Her success as Minister of Education is judged by many as being droll. But there are some who rate it highly, including the subjective view of her husband where he describes her as his best minister second apparently only to Martin Joseph, Minister of National Security whose record is unmistakably dismal.
However, the fact is that Hazel Manning is now the central figure with respect to the burning issue of local government reform, over which she is set to preside. Her ministry has put out a Green Paper which is out for public comment to be followed by public consultation. One proposal which is certainly set to be controversial is the proposal to reduce the member of existing local government bodies from 14 to 12.
Back in Cabinet after the November 7 victory, Hazel Manning has shown increasing confidence, none moreso than at a recent post Cabinet Press briefing on May 1, when the issue of Dr Rowley’s dismissal was again the media’s focus of attention.
Fed-up of attempts to avoid and evade questions as to the real reason for Rowley’s dismissal, a reporter asked rhetorically, will no one speak out?
Mrs Manning switched on her mike and said, “I will speak out.” She then added, “The Prime Minister has spoken!” She said it once and she said it twice, “The Prime Minister has spoken!”
Well he hasn’t spoken yet on his intentions with respect to the Prime Minister’s wife, but the rumour is gaining currency that he may be getting ready to give her the big prize of Prime Ministership even as he goes after the biggest: Executive Presidency.