Former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Patrick Manning has rejected the country's highest award, accusing the current prime minister of breaking the proper award procedure and blasting her for “vicious attacks” against him in past election campaigns.
In addition to Manning, current Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar also offered the Order of Trinidad and Tobago to another former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, who founded the United National Congress – the political party which Persad-Bissessar now heads.
Both former prime ministers had troubled tenures. Manning's People's National Movement government was accused of corruption via the construction of high-rise buildings that eventually cost billions of Trinidad and Tobago dollars (6.4 TTD = 1 USD), while the Panday administration's most enduring legacy has been the Piarco airport corruption scandal, for which two of the perpetrators are still fighting a legal battle to avoid extradition to the United States on fraud and money laundering charges. Interestingly, Kamla Persad-Bissessar's government is still feeling the backlash over legislation that it tried to slip by the country two years ago, which would have provided a loophole for the accused in the airport project to go free.
In a statement published on his Facebook page, Manning, the incumbent minister of parliament for San Fernando East, a politically important constituency in the south of the island, announced that he would not accept the award for several reasons. Firstly, he did not believe in accepting awards while in public office, but he also chastised the prime minister for not adhering to proper protocol in offering or announcing the award, especially given his claim that the current government had vilified him in the run up to the 2010 elections:
The Hon Kamla Persad Bissessar was able to win government on May 24th 2010 through a series of sustained and vicious attacks on my character that was led personally by her. These attacks continue. Through this nomination announcement is the Hon Prime Minister retracting those venomous accusations and charges against me?
Additionally, I was made aware of this nomination through persons who saw it reported on the social media, Facebook. [...] I was neither consulted, nor advised prior to this announcement. I consider this approach a gross discourtesy. Under PNM administrations, a committee considers these distinguished national awards, with the Chief Justice as Chairman and subject to the imprimatur of the Prime Minister. Due process for these awards includes informing the potential recipients through the Office of the Prime Minister in a confidential manner. Only recipients who have agreed to accept an award are then announced publicly, and with dignity. Had I been consulted beforehand, I would have been able to privately decline.
Manning's “public distancing” from the award has naturally caused the prime minister a great deal of embarrassment. The Internet memes began straight away:
Criticism became more rife when, after Manning declined the award, the prime minister retorted by claiming magnanimity and saying Manning should not have brought politics into it. Facebook user Rhoda Bharath quipped:
Kamla behave like them fellas who, after they suit a girl, she blank them with a steups; and then the same girl they was suiting, they start to cuss she and call she names and tell she they didn't want she anyway.
Yep….our PM THAT classy!
Manning's Facebook page was filled with messages of support. Natalie Austin said:
Hats off to you Mr Manning, how can your character be assassinated in one breath and praised in same? this is just another distraction from everything that's plaguing them right now [...]
Others thought the offer was nothing more than an election tactic:
Kamla don't have a clue about how things are done, this is another way of disrespecting Mr. Manning. Election around the corner. Stand firm Mr. Manning.
Netizens were commenting on Twitter as well:
Former PM Patrick Manning deserves an award for rejecting PM Kamla's award.
— Chica Emery (@ChicaEmery) August 22, 2014
Why didn't PM Kamla address what Manning said about not being contacted and informed he was nominated for the award?
— Brandon (@BrandoHD) August 23, 2014
The decision by former PM Patrick Manning not to accept the ORTT is commendable in the face what we see coming out from our present leaders.
— Richard Logan (@richlog) August 23, 2014
Basdeo Panday still has not indicated whether or not he will accept the award.