Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Commentary: Did Manning usurp President's role?

The fuss that people are making about protocol breaches during the recent visit of President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China sent me checking the archives.

It's because I recall that it was Patrick Manning who did serious damage to the established protocol on more than one occasion and that didn't seemed to bother anyone. 

Xi's visit has become a major media talking point but the records would show that Prime Minister Manning pushed President Max Richards aside and usurped his role down to driving around with the coat of arms on his official vehicle's registration plate from 2005 until he left office.

And Richards seemed content to accept a subordinate role because while Manning was gallerying as the head of state Max stayed at home.

When the president of Ghana made a three-day state visit to Trinidad and Tobago for Emancipation Day celebrations in 2008 Manning and his wife, Hazel, welcomed President John A. Kufuor, not President Richards. This was not a case of the president lagging behind because of rain; the president was not there.
I had to check on whether it was a state visit because the Government Information Services Limited (GISL) had a contradictory report. This is from the GISL website:


PORT OF SPAIN: 23 July, 2008

"His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor, President of the Republic of Ghana, will pay a State Visit to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago from 29th July to 2nd August, 2008 on the occasion of the commemoration of Emancipation Day 2008."

We checked with a highly reliable source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who confirmed to JYOTI that it was indeed a state visit.

So what is the protocol? The President of the receiving state - in this case Trinidad and Tobago - welcomes the visiting President. But that didn't happen. What happened was a blatant breach of protocol. 

This is how the Trinidad Guardian reported the event:

"Overcast clouds threatening, Kufuor was greeted by Manning, his wife Local Government Minister Hazel Manning and Chief of Protocol Sandra Honore..."

Even WIKILEAKS noted the event:

¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: President of Ghana John Agyekum Kufuor visited Port of Spain July 31-August 1 to participate in Trinidad and Tobago's Emancipation Day events. The GOTT laid out the red carpet, with Prime Minister Manning, Foreign Affairs Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon and the bulk of the rest of the cabinet greeting the Ghanaian leader upon arrival.
A letter to the editors of the local media published in Newsday on August 19, 2008 raised the issue of Manning's protocol breach, noting that it also happened when the President of Uganda visited T&T. The letter was from a former President of the Senate, Michael J. Williams.

"THE EDITOR: Trinidad recently hosted the visit of President John Kufuor, Ghana’s Head of State. According to our established protocol our Head of State President Richards, should have received President Kufuor at Piarco; but as with the visit of Uganda’s President Musoveni, Mr Manning again assumed the Head of State role, and demoted President Richards in the order of protocol..."

Former diplomat and head of the civil service Reginald Dumas noticed that something was wrong and wrote about it in 2011. But it was a whisper compared to the shouting over what happened with Xi's visit.

Here is what Dumas wrote to the media:

"It is several years since I have had anything to do with matters of protocol, and standards may have changed in the interim."I was however, struck by the fact that the King of Spain, a Head of State, and his wife, were greeted on arrival in our country not by our Head of State, President Richards (who I assume invited them formally), and his wife but by our Head of Government, Prime Minister Manning and his wife.

"This is the third time I've noticed this unusual phenomenon, the first two being the visits of President Museveni of Uganda and President Kufuor of Ghana.

"From my lengthy experience in the Foreign Service, I know the offence, and the damage to countries' reputations, that can be caused by breaches of protocol. I therefore hope I can be assured by those responsible that the correct procedures were followed on these three occasions. 

"Could the Government's protocol people please enlighten me?
Reginald Dumas"

Manning was acting as if he were the president of the country but today when everybody is talking about protocol breaches nobody is remembering what happened under the Manning regime.

Remember Manning so craved the presidency he wanted to change the constitution and make himself president without being elected by the people. He wanted a presidential system of government in which ministers would be advisers to the President with permanent secretaries recruited from outside the public service.

Read the story:
Manning unveils constitutional reform plan

And he went so far as placing the coat of arms on his car in 2005 instead of a standard registration plate as required by law.

The People's Partnership administration has been trying to repair the tattered protocol under Manning. Do we remember the embarrassing breach in 2009 when the Foreign Minister grabbed President Obama for a hug? That was just one of many at the two international summits in 2009. But we didn't seem to notice.
Paula Gopee-Scoon hugs President Obama at the Summit of the Americas 2009
One of the big issues that people are fussing about is that no one rushed into President Xi's plane with an umbrella to shelter him and his wife. 
The Chinese ambassador explained that President Xi refused because he wanted to follow a cultural tradition of sheltering his wife and holding his own umbrella. So what Xi wanted was of no significance?

Protocol includes accommodating a guest. So if the Chinese leader wanted to hold his umbrella, why should we deny him that? 

It's the same cultural ignorance that caused people to criticise the Prime Minister when she bowed to the President of India as a gesture of respect.

Just last weekend, President Xi and President Obama held a summit in California and walked about in their short sleeves. Traditionalists would also call that a breach of protocol. They didn't even have notes. That too might be a breach.

The reality is that there were certain lapses in the protocol arrangements. But Kamla and her government have been trying hard to fix what was wrong. 

A state visit is considered the highest form of diplomatic contact between two nations, and is marked by ceremonial pomp and diplomatic protocol. And there must be room for changes and adjustments.

The history of state visits goes back several hundred years, to the reign of King Henry VIII of England and King Francis I of France when the two Monarchs wishing to improve relations and bring about an alliance against other foreign powers met at Balinghem in Northern France.

It would be silly to hold on to every historical protocol detail in the 21st century when everything is changing. I trust that diplomatic purists would consider this in passing judgment. 

We in Trinidad & Tobago are so accustomed to double standards that we fail to see and comment on the worst protocol breaches by a Prime Minister while clutching to an umbrella to score points over a government that is trying really hard to correct all the things that were wrong.

If we are going to criticise the PP administration for what seems like some minor breaches let us also acknowledge what happened under the PNM and Patrick Manning. 

Let us also remember that President Xi himself commented positively about his experience in T&T. And he acknowledged the country's leadership in the global community.

“In recent years, under the leadership of the national government and Madame Prime Minister, Trinidad and Tobago has vigorously responded to the international financial crisis, ensured political stability and achieved quick economic recovery.

At the same time, it has taken an active part in international and regional affairs and enjoyed a notable rise in international standing and influence.”

Jai Parasram

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai