IT WAS foreshadowed even before he made the decision—the son of a towering political figure would eventually follow in his father’s footsteps.
And so it happened for Brian Manning, son of the late Patrick Manning.
It took some persuasion though.
“I didn’t want to get involved for a long time. I had always viewed myself as more of a technocrat than a politician. It was only recently, with the many economic challenges we face, that I decided it was time to get involved. I am here to serve where I can add the most value. It isn’t just about legacy to me; I wouldn’t want to be here if I didn’t think that I had something significant to offer,” he told the Express Business in an interview last week.
He choose to enter the political arena by contesting the seat of San Fernando East for the People’s National Movement (PNM), a seat his father held from 1971 to 2015, which made him the country’s longest-serving member of the House of Representatives.
“I am someone who cares. I love my country, and especially the constituency that raised me. I am someone with a passion for people, national development and moving T&T from developing to developed. Now is a critical time in our country’s history. I felt it was time to get involved and make a difference that would positively affect our people’s lives. My father and I had many discussions about national development and I believe that there are several strategies that can add significant improvement in the quality of life of all Trinbagonians,” he said.
On August 10, he was elected Member of Parliament for San Fernando East and on August 19, he was invited by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to be a Minister in the Ministry of Finance.
Life changed swiftly for Manning in a matter of months.
Following his father
Patrick Manning died in 2016, aged 69, having served as prime minister from 1991 to 1995 and again from 2001 to 2010.
“My father had been in public office for all of my life. We thought our lives were pretty normal and my mother went to great lengths for us to have as normal of a childhood as possible. My father always led by example and I am proud of the example he set and the legacy he left for all of us. He always preached service to others,” he said.
Both of Manning’s parents served in Government. His mother, Hazel, served as a Senator from December 24, 2001 to May 26, 2010 and also held the portfolios of Minister of Education and Minister of Local Government.
Questioned on how that affected his life and choices, he explained: “Well, of course, public office brings public scrutiny and that could sometimes be difficult but it also made you think more carefully about your personal choices. It’s a precarious balancing act deciding what you should do regardless of what people think and what you shouldn’t do because of what people will think. Perception is important in public life, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of your authenticity and who you are as a person. To thine own self be true,” he said.
Even when his father’s health deteriorated, he remained as an MP.
“It was a challenging time for my family but I was far more concerned about my father’s health than anything else. I couldn’t have cared less about politics at that time. It was about making sure that my father was receiving the proper care and praying that he would make a full recovery. He was our rock and our hero,” he said.
Manning delivered the eulogy at his father’s funeral.
During his tenure, the elder Manning had developed a road map, Vision 2020, which would take T&T to the status of a developed nation.
To get there, the younger Manning believes should be along the path his father had been navigating for the country.
“We need to take a closer look at our industrialisation policy; it should be based on our most robust competitive advantage of fuelling energy intensive industries. We have to improve our ease of doing business, become more export oriented and become more technologically savvy in a world that is going digital. These are challenging prospects but I believe we are capable of getting the job done.
“Studies involving the energy rich MENA (Middle East and North African) countries have proven that industrialisation is the most efficient means for moving from developing to developed,” he said.
Manning holds an MBA from the University of Miami and a BA in Economics from the University of Maryland.
With a background in economics, finance, international trade and business development, he told the Express Business that at the Ministry of Finance is where he feels he can make his biggest contribution.
“I have worked in investment banking, energy services and in the small and medium enterprise funding division of the Inter American Development Bank in Washington, DC,” he said.
Manning’s views on the economy were often articulated in his editorials, during his six-month tenure as editor of the Business Guardian.
In 2018, following the budget presentation, he shared this view: “The focus has to be on revenue generation and job creation; stringent cost cutting alone eventually leads to such an impairment of quality of life that no one is happy; some costs simply shouldn’t be cut. Revenue generation offers a comprehensive solution to many of the problems which plague our current economy—exchange rate pressures, forex shortages, lack of meaningful jobs, no growth, tax revenue deficits, etc. Heavy government expenditure on non-revenue generating projects do not make sense at this time and only leads to greater debt. How will these debts be repaid while creating opportunities throughout the economy?”
On being an editor he said: “It gave me the opportunity to better research various issues in our economy and business environment. I was also allowed to advance some of my own policy ideas which I believed were critical to the evolution of our economy. I received some amazing feedback from several informed sources that I respect and that, in some cases, even modified my views on certain topics. It was a tremendous learning experience and I especially enjoyed working with my colleagues on the business desk; I left with a newfound respect for media people and how difficult the job and work hours can be while serving a public that can be less than forgiving.”
In his first interview following his swearing in, he told the media his main focus will be on creating opportunities and jobs, growth and stimulating the economy.
“I’m extremely pleased. I think it’s where I can add the most value and I’m ready to get to work. I know there is a lot to be done. As I’ve said before on the campaign trail, the last government, their term in office was stabilising our economy. This term is going to be about growth, creating jobs and diversification. It has to be what we are about. We’re at a critical stage in our economy and our history as a country and the decisions we make right now are going to be critical to the wellbeing of all of our citizens,” he said.
Manning believes the economy is stable.
Apart from lending support to Finance Minister Colm Imbert, a man who worked alongside his father as his Minister of Works and Transport, Manning said his “job is to deliver policies and programmes as directed by government leadership and develop innovative, financial and economic initiatives to best improve the lives of the people of T&T.”
“What we are focused on now are policies for better tax collection, so that burden is not being carried by a few but made lighter for all by sharing the responsibility to many, and economic growth that will create jobs and generate foreign exchange. We have to become more export oriented and better diversify our revenue sources. We have to encourage innovation and technology transfer so we can better compete. We are in a good place to stimulate growth and jobs with the right initiatives,” he said.
As for revenue streams?
“Future revenues will come from diversification into areas where Trinidad & Tobago has competitive advantages and also outsourced services in finance, tech, pharma and health care. These are trillion dollar global industries. I also believe that there is untapped profitability that can come from the HSF; be reminded that it is an investment fund and not a savings account, those are two different things entirely. We can earn more bang for our buck from the Heritage and Stablisation Fund (HSF).
He observed that deficit budgets were inevitable in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, when economic activity slowed to a crawl, and the collapse of energy prices in 2014.
“ In the face of those stark economic circumstances, and now being blindsided by a global pandemic, I would say that we have done well in preventing our debt burden from becoming problematic. It does require informed management and government has been balancing the desire for lower debt while delivering the services that Trinbagonians demand,” he said.
At the same time, T&T needs to generate more foreign exchange.
“Yes, we have to generate more foreign exchange. But the population can also help by reducing our huge demand for foreign food. The Prime Minister has highlighted a focus on growing and consuming more local foods and one of the reasons is because annually we consume almost US$1 billion in imported food. Some of the largest consumers of foreign exchange in our economy are also some of our largest employers. If they cannot receive an adequate supply of forex then they will have to layoff staff. That too is not good for the economy. It’s a balancing act,” he said.
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