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Manning the lights,Trinidad PM guides discussions his way

International negotiations on climate change have encountered countless red lights on the road to Copenhagen,but Trinidad and Tobago...

Written by PranabDhalSamanta | New Delhi |
December 1, 2009 3:51:02 am

International negotiations on climate change have encountered countless red lights on the road to Copenhagen,but Trinidad and Tobago last week erected a whole traffic signal to direct discussions.

At a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Port of Spain,a contraption resembling a traffic signal is believed to have been planted in the centre of the room to ensure speakers did not go beyond their stipulated three-four minutes.

They were expected to begin winding up when the light turned amber,and stop altogether when it turned red.

A few who jumped the light were apparently interrupted by host Prime Minister Patrick Manning,an embarrassment that is understood to have led to several leaders choosing not to speak at all.

These unusual rules of engagement were themselves result of some unusual practices followed by Trinidad and Tobago earlier.

Port of Spain departed from the normal practice of keeping the draft communiqué ready at the foreign ministers’ meeting,to be passed on for endorsement by the heads of government. Trinidad and Tobago Foreign Minister Paula Gopee refused to part with the communiqué,pleading she had not received permission from Prime Minister Manning to disclose the contents.

So,the draft was tabled directly before the heads of government when they met. And inevitably,there were doubts,questions and objections. The heads of government meeting rapidly turned into a negotiating forum.

Manning then asked all leaders to make their interventions by turn. And to control how long they could speak,he employed the ‘traffic light’.

The speeches were done,but the consensus didn’t come. So Manning made the impromptu announcement that he was forming a contact group to redraft the communiqué,taking all views into account. And promptly nominated Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to head the group.

In the company of heads of government from several continents,chosen randomly by the chair,Rudd drew up,in record time,a draft pledging $10 billion from developed countries,with a large portion going to small island developing countries like Maldives,Trinidad and Tobago,Kiribati,etc.

But Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wanted her country too to be considered a ‘small island developing country’,at least within the Commonwealth,so that Dhaka got part of the aid. This was resisted by others in this category,who argued that in a proportional sharing,Bangladesh,because of its size and population,would end up hogging a bulk of the funds.

Manning then took his highly unorthodox methods — heads of government do not usually end up indulging in drafting exercises at international meetings — a step further. He called for a voice vote: those who agreed were to say ‘aye’ and those who didn’t,‘nay’.

Bangladesh is believed to have lost out in the voice vote. But then,Bangladesh is also not in the standard UN list of small island developing countries.

In all of this,the communiqué got delayed. However,in hindsight,many leaders agreed that the energetic Trinidad PM had succeeded in wearing them down,and eventually had a consensus communiqué that was very close to his draft. In the end,smaller countries got the best result,and Manning deserved credit,was the general opinion.

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