SMALL STATES like ours in the English-speaking Caribbean region cannot afford the luxury of constant confrontational politics.
Our politicians and parties simply have to adjust to the politics of flexibility and compromise in their own as well as the national interest.
Too rare are the occasions in this and other Caribbean Community states, when we experience bi-partisan approaches to national problems or structured, meaningful consultations between the head of government and leader of the parliamentary opposition.
For Trinidadians and Tobagonians---a distinction with which I have difficulty since I am talking of citizens of the same independent state---who laughingly dismiss uncooperative or confrontational politics here as "our usual bacchanal", they should know that such "bacchanal" is also to be experienced elsewhere in the Caribbean Community.
I have said all of the above to note how encouraging it was to have learnt through the "Express" on Monday that Opposition Leader and former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday has welcomed Prime Minister Patrick Manning's decision to meet with him to discuss Trinidad and Tobago's involvement with the emerging Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)
Such a meeting is most desirable and urgent; and it is to be hoped that Mr. Manning quite well understands the problem his administration faces in not moving imaginatively and astutely to secure the support of the parliamentary opposition led by Mr. Panday. This could be a momentous handshake for a history-making regional institution.
Failure to secure such support could result in the embarrassing situation of Trinidad and Tobago being the operational headquarter base of the CCJ while having to continue its dependence on the Privy Council in London as its final appellate court, although the regional court will have original jurisdiction on matters pertaining to the country's participation in the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).
Panday, as Prime Minister, had demonstrated vision and regional commitment when his United National Congress administration consistently pledged support for the CCJ and successfully lobbied for Port-of-Spain as the court's headquarters.
He had done so while Manning, as then Opposition Leader, was vacillating, even at a critical period leading up to the location of the CCJ, before eventually committing his party's support at a meeting with the Community's Secretary General, Edwin Carrington.
I do not know why Carrington has not done with Panday the initiative he had exercised when he sought, on CARICOM's behalf, a commitment of support for the CCJ from Manning.
Nor am I aware if there was any private meeting between Panday and the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia, Kenny Anthony, when the latter traveled to Port-of-Spain last week to address the Trinidad and Tobago Law Society on the CCJ.
However, whether or not the opportunity was missed for Anthony's meeting with Panday, one thing is abundantly clear:
It is that when we speak of "support" for the CCJ, either while Panday was Prime Minister, or now with Manning as head of government, what is generally understood within CARICOM, is that the regional court will be the appellate institution of last resort for Trinidad and Tobago.
Not, any longer, the Privy Council. Hence, the need for bi-partisan parliamentary support to approve enabling legislation to make this a reality, hopefully in time for the proposed ceremonial inauguration of the CCJ in Port-of-Spain on November 15.
Let us admit it, however unpleasant it may be for some to recall: While he was Prime Minister, Panday often found himself caught between the difficulties experienced from then President ANR Robinson, as much as the constant jamming from then Opposition Leader Manning.
But two wrongs do not make a right. Tit for tat politics is hardly the way to promote social cohesion and nation building in a multi-ethnic state whose fortunes depend so heavily on its prized energy sector in a volatile international economic order.
I do not expect Manning to go the route of seeking to woo individual UNC parliamentarians to support the enabling legislation for the CCJ..
At the risk of being proven wrong, I seriously doubt that he could secure the votes he requires from enough opposition MP to give him the required two thirds vote.
Manning is too seasoned a political hand to take such a gamble. Not even with MP Gerald Yetming, a politician known not to be afraid to publicly express his views--even on his party's leadership.
He does not strike me as one who will vote against his party on an issue which the UNC has linked to a legitimate demand for overall constitutional reform.
Yetming may, at worse, abstain, but not vote against. Even so, Prime Minister Manning would understand that such a gamble would only foster the confrontational mood and should be avoided. It would be pouring salt in an open wound. The preference, clearly, must be for conciliatory politics to strike a practical compromise with Panday.
On, for instance, a time frame to begin the process of constitutional review which, in any case, is long overdue and being done in a number of CARICOM states. Manning's capacity for reconciliation and compromise should not be underestimated. Nor should Panday's!
The UNC leader has the sole distinction of breaking the old traditional, communal politics to rise to the leadership of government without a coalition - which has been the norm for the PNM.
It is now time for both leaders to forgive and move on. To transfer the bitterness of the past, especially at the time of the 18-18 parliamentary deadlock, is to institutionalize confrontational, negative, divisive politics, when the prescription calls for national healing.
The hawks and communal elements embedded in the hierarchical structure of the UNC and PNM - a few with leadership ambitions of their own - will certainly not be able to motivate the support Panday and Manning are capable of doing in favour of bi-partisan politics in the national interest.
How Panday wishes to be remembered by posterity could depend on the leadership quality he provides until he gives up the UNC leadership - including on national issues such as support for the CCJ, while negotiating on constitutional reform.
Having won the general election and more recently the local government poll, Manning should understand the dividends that could result from the politics of compromise. Constitutional reform, like battling the criminal rampage, needs government and opposition support.
Such an approach, in any case, would be in accordance with the spirit and letter of what Prime Minister Patterson has outlined, as current CARICOM chairman, for engaging the parliamentary opposition in "new directions" in Community governance.