The Manning strategic initiative Editorial
Stabroek News
April 25, 2007

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When he first became prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago in 1991-95, Mr Patrick Manning tried to float a political and economic union among Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. Dubbed the 'Manning Initiative,' the effort sank into oblivion, the victim of benign but unenthusiastic interest.

Returning to office in 2001, and again in 2002, after a sobering spell in opposition, Mr Manning was less sanguine about unity. But his ambition to assert his country's primacy among the region's micro-economies was undiminished.

Addressing the Caricom Heads of Govern-ment in Port-of-Spain in 2004, Mr Manning immodestly lauded Trinidad's largesse and recited its record of financial generosity - the contribution to Caricom's budget; financing the Regional Task Force on Crime; providing relief to Caribbean states damaged by Hurricane Ivan; making loans to countries; supporting the Caricom Trade Support Programme; and launching the Caricom petroleum facility. Trinidad had given much and expected much in return.

Mr Manning is now Caricom's lead head on security and has burnished his country's credentials as the region's most capable centre for this function by backing his already impressive economic initiative with a new strategic initiative. The Trinidad economy bore the expense for hosting several security agencies, including the Implementing Agency on Crime and security, during the cricket world cup competition.

Since returning to office, he has transformed Trinidad's security structure into the largest and best among Caricom states. Minister of National Security Martin Joseph revealed plans to strengthen the tri-partite structure of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force by augmenting the Coast Guard's inventory, refashioning the Air Guard into a fully autonomous arm and making the Regiment into an army.

The Coast Guard is in the process of procuring three offshore patrol vessels for the tidy sum of £155 M (about TT$1.9 billion or G$58.6 billion) from VT Group (formerly Vosper Thornycroft), in addition to its acquisition of six fast patrol vessels, supported by a full range of naval assets for the integrated command and control of operations. The Coast Guard also embarked on the construction of new facilities at Staubles Bay.

The Air Guard, which saw a "huge expansion" when it was augmented by the donation of several aircraft by the USA in the late 1990s, is now employed mainly in counter-narcotics and maritime patrol roles in important sea lanes alongside US forces in the Caribbean.

The Regiment has been enhanced organizationally and physically. It acquired over 1,120 acres of land belonging to the former Caroni sugar estate for the construction of a military hospital, a military academy, and facilities for the Second Battalion and the Support and Service Battalion. The Regiment has also increased its assistance to other regional defence forces including the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force and the Jamaica Defence Force by providing instructors, advisers and training. During the Grenada hurricane disaster in 2004, the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force deployed the largest number of troops conducting peacekeeping and humanitarian duties in the fastest time - within 48 hours - before any other Caricom defence detachment arrived on the scene.

Clearly seeing the bigger picture and peering into the near future, the newly-appointed Chief of Staff Brigadier Edmund Dillon confidently asserted the Defence Force's ability to contribute to ensuring a safe and secure environment "for the peoples of the region." Brigadier Dillon expressed the hope vaguely that there would be "a distinct alignment of regional security initiatives."

There has already been a perceptible shift of the centre of security regional cooperation away from the Barbados-based Regional Security System to the richer, better equipped and more capable Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force.

Mr Manning has defined his goal of achieving "developed country status" for Trinidad by the year 2020. He sees the defence force not as a liability, but as an asset in protecting the country's resources and ensuring a safe and secure environment to enable a stable social and economic growth. In so doing, the Manning strategic initiative has also already started to define the shape of the new security system for the entire region.