Manning under pressure
Slips, goofs and gaffes dog PNM leadership
By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo
Port-of-Spain - Prime Minister Patrick Manning is under severe pressure of late fending off accusations of impropriety over accepting a trip via private jet owned by the energy giant Repsol, not disclosing that he met with British Gas officials while in London, and denying a claim of a close relationship with the radical Muslim organization, the Jamaat al
Regarding the Spanish energy giant Repsol, Manning had initially said that British Gas paid for his trip from London to the Spanish capital while Repsol took up the tab for his return flight.
Repsol and British Gas are involved in the local energy sector and are in discussions with the government on sensitive issues.
On January 15, Pedro Vaticon, managing director of Repsol, said Manning never chartered a private plane to fly from Spain to London - that he flew from Madrid to London on a commercial flight.
That same day, Manning said: "The statement they made from Repsol in Trinidad emanated in error and the statement that I have made was correct."
It was reported on December 25 that the government on December 24 gave conditional approval to British Gas to sell its share of LNG from Trains 2 and 3 of its wholly owned subsidiary BG LNG Services.
A week later he said it slipped his mind to disclose the fact that he had met with officials of British Gas while in London, that there was no intention to mislead the population.
"The government of Trinidad and Tobago has not given approval to British Gas to transfer the assets of the company under question to the British Gas subsidiary," Manning said on January 2.
Last week Manning defended his government against accusations of a rift in the Cabinet over the People's National Movement's (PNM) relationship with the Jamaat, which staged a bloody coup attempt against the government in 1990.
Speaking at the post-Cabinet press conference on January 15 at Whitehall, Manning, who had cancelled his trip to Mexico for the Special Summit of the Americas in favour of touring the crime-ridden Laventille constituency, said of the coup: "The mere fact that it was done before means that it can be done again and on that basis, we want to be safe rather than sorry."
Continuing, Manning said: "There are things that we can say and things we can't say. There's always the case of strategy in how a government keeps a country on an even keel. We have all of these things."
Responding to questions that he chose to tour an area in which the Muslimeen is suspected to have
a strong presence, Manning said: "That is not the basis on which we selected areas on which to tour. It's depressed areas of the country that we have identified."
It was reported that Manning cancelled his trip and chose to tour Laventille, which has always been a PNM stronghold, because military forces had planned to demolish an illegally constructed mosque on State land in Canada, Laventille. His presence in Laventille was intended to avert that plan, it was reported.
There were 228 murders for 2003 in Trinidad and Tobago to which gang warfare in Laventille contributing significantly.
Manning has also faced a lot of public criticism over comments he made abroad about reports of kidnappings in Trinidad.
During his December travels to London and Washington DC, Manning told an audience at Howard University during a question and answer session that some kidnappings were "bogus."
He came under extreme fire for the remark after it was reported in the newspapers in Trinidad.
During his formal address at Howard University, Manning said, "…What we are finding out is that a significant number of what has been reported as kidnappings, initially, and which has led to heightened tensions among the people of Trinidad and Tobago, aren't kidnappings at all."
The father of one kidnapped victim lashed out.
In a newspaper article on December 20, restaurant owner Sewsaran Sawh said Manning's remarks were "insensitive, callous and a gross insult to my son, my wife and all those innocent victims and myself."
Sawh's 20-year-old son Shawn was kidnapped on December 4 from his family home at East Boundary Street, California, and (Can) $250,000 ransom demanded. An undisclosed sum of money was paid and Shawn was released in a sand pit in Claxton Bay on December 17.
In a letter to the Express, Sawh said that for Manning to use the solitary incident of one kidnap victim being found liming in Tobago constituted a minority and was "not only tasteless, but in fact soothes, massages and encourages the criminal at the expense of the innocent and suffering victims."
Manning was also criticised by Kenneth Lalla, chairman of the Service Commission, over his handling of the appointment of Commissioner of Police Everald Snaggs on January 8.
Manning personally handed over the instruments of appointment to Snaggs before the media.
A statement from the Commission stated that the established procedure to inform the Commissioner of Police of his promotion has been from the Director of Personal Administration to sign the letter of promotion on behalf of the Commission and forward it to the permanent secretary, Ministry of National Security for delivery to the Commissioner of Police.
Responding to Lalla's comments, Manning said the matter was a non-issue as Snaggs was appointed "on the written authority of the Director of Personal Administration."
Political victimisation has been said to be the root of the controversy of the CEO of the San Fernando City Corporation to the Point Fortin Borough Corporation effective January 14.
During Coudray's tenure at the San Fernando City Corporation, she has introduced many innovations and the corporation is said to be the only one in the country operating without a government overdraft.
Marlene Coudray has legally challenged this move leading to newspaper articles suggesting a rift between Achong and Manning.
Speaking on January 9, Manning said there was no rift between himself and any other minister in his Cabinet and that he did not wish to go into the matter as it was now sub judice.
Home Affairs Minister
fingered in ‘phantom gang’ fiasco
Georgetown — Guyana is being rocked by a raging controversy as to whether “a senior government official,” to wit, the Minister of Home Affairs, has ties to a “phantom gang” that has been linked to several assasinations and mysterious killings over the recent past.
Information leading to this controversy has come to light through a self alleged informant of the gang, George Bacchus by name. Bacchus claimed he supplied information to the gang to help put an end to the crime spree that enveloped the country in the wake of the escape from custody of five prisoners in February 2002.
Bacchus, whose brother Shafeek was killed in a hail of bullets while sitting outside his home in Princess Street on January 5, claims that he was the intended target of the gunmen and that the shooting was a case of mistaken identity. He pointed out to police three men whom he claimed shot his brother. Those men have since been charged with murder.
Bacchus dropped the bombshell on January 8 when he walked into the American Embassy with his lawyer and made a statement to Embassy officials naming members of the squad, their financiers and the links to the government Minister.
The alleged informant told the press that he was horrified by the crime spree and so he helped to find and point out the criminals involved whom the squad would later dispense with.
Bacchus claimed he became disenchanted with the gang because even after the squad had gotten rid of the criminals, it continued to kill. He said that the men, some of whom were ex-policemen, became a death squad for hire. He stated, "if somebody jam yuh car and yuh wan kill that person all yuh had to do was pay the squad."
Bacchus said he relayed his concern to Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj whom he claimed to have been fully aware of the activities of the gang.
Meanwhile, one media outfit has claimed that it has obtained telephone records showing that an alleged gang member, Axel Williams had called the Minister several times. Williams was executed in Bel Air by a lone gunman in a well organized hit.
Political parties and other groups are up in arms calling on the government for a full inquiry. The PNC has organized demonstrations and has demanded that the minister steps down.
Meanwhile, the minister has said that Bacchus' claims of making him an offer to establish a killing squad is a mere allegation. “These things are of national security import,” said the Minister adding, ‘there is suspicion and on the basis of suspicion, there is speculation. The matter must be investigated. I will not disclose if you or someone else called me, especially if it is related to matters of national security, what the call was about or why it was made".