Trinidad prime minister defends his spiritual adviser, denies she benefits from taxpayer money

By Tony Fraser, AP
Friday, February 26, 2010

Trinidad PM: Spiritual adviser gets no gov’t help

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad — Trinidad’s prime minister delivered a fiery, hour-long speech on church-state relations Friday while flatly denying that his spiritual adviser travels with him at the expense of taxpayers.

This Caribbean island is a highly religious society of Roman Catholics, Hindus, Anglicans, Baptists and Muslims. Religion plays a prominent role in politics, and any government official seen with a religious adviser is highly regarded.

However, residents and local media have recently questioned whether Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s spiritual adviser has been receiving state money.

Manning, who has not identified his adviser or even confirmed that she travels with him, denied she is compensated with state money and told lawmakers he is being persecuted for his religious beliefs

“It is my right to have a spiritual adviser, and I shall not be deterred by the slings and arrows,” he said.

Manning, who was raised an Anglican and plans to become a minister when he retires from politics, also rejected criticism over funding for construction of a church on state-owned land that is led by a female pastor who is thought to be his adviser.

“That church is not being built with state funds, nor is it owned by the prime minister,” Manning thundered, setting off loud desk thumping by supportive colleagues in Parliament.

Manning said the government did award 3 acres (1.21 hectares) to the evangelical church a couple of years ago to strengthen relations with that church.

Defending that move, he listed dozens of examples in which Trinidad’s government has granted property to churches of various denominations over several decades.

will not be displayed