If "not now" for a prime ministerial debate, before the electorate chooses the person and his/her party best suited and equipped to govern, can incumbent Prime Minister Patrick Manning tell the country when would be the most appropriate time for such a debate. The Prime Minister compounded the illogic of his statement about now not being the most appropriate time by telling reporters "after, after" the election. This newspaper must confess that the logic of a debate after the election, after the electorate has made a determination of the government it wants in office, escapes us. Mr Manning was however correct to say in the interview on Tuesday evening that a prime ministerial debate will not only allow the watching community to make judgments based on logic and the factuality of answers:
"It has nothing to do with the answers you give or any such thing, you know, it has nothing to do with that." Yes Prime Minister, a televised national debate will allow the electorate to make judgments on the character of the individual, truthfulness, sincerity of purpose, commitment and a range of other matters which are all important insights into the character of the individual that is seeking to lead the country. As to his other position exemplified in the short interaction with the group of reporters, it is clear that Mr Manning was focused on self-preservation and not the welfare of the country when he asked the rhetorical question: "What do I have to gain from a debate with Mrs Persad-Bissessar? Nothing to gain, nothing to gain by that." Prime Minister, you may be right here again.
The relevant question however is: what does the country have to gain from such a debate? Among other things, the national population will be able to get first-hand responses from Prime Minister Manning on several pertinent issues: his stewardship of the economy, his management, or failure to manage, the billion-dollar state construction programme, whether or not he made a campaign pact with Abu Bakr to grant the Muslim leader land at Mucurapo in exchange for his campaign support, the obvious failures of his successive governments to make the slightest impact on the growth of the criminal culture, his Government's management of the energy portfolio, including the inability so far to put a tax regime in place to encourage new investment, the real reasons behind the denial by the Minister of National Security to the American political strategist to enter the country, the benefits, real and proposed, for the expenditure of over $1 billion to host two international summits last year, and on and on.
Added to these issues, there is the inability of the Government to meet the social needs of the population with adequate supplies of water and a sound health system. Certainly, the structure and the individuals put forward by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce for the debates, including having the internationally respected Sir Shridath Ramphal and the honourable retired judge Ulric Cross as moderators, cannot be faulted. Those who may think that the refusal by a sitting prime minister of an election debate is a practice only of Prime Minister Manning, we remind them that when he was prime minister, Basdeo Panday also refused to debate with the then Leader of the Opposition, one Patrick Manning, who was most ready to then debate. Denial by Prime Minister Manning of the opportunity to the country to mature into a political culture which makes vital decisions based on rigorous arguments leaves the culture open to being swayed by emotion, historical loyalties, dependence on primal pulls such as race and the continued fostering of the culture of handouts from the Treasury in an election season.