Tuesday, September 11, 2018

NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL



Congratulations are in order to newly appointed Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith for the successful rescue of Natalie Pollonais. Mr. Griffith has been criticized (and in some cases rather severely) for talking too much. His critics have said that it is easy to talk but that he will fall flat on his face when he has to perform.


Well, guess what? He didn't! He performed and performed most credibly. The housewife was rescued (or 'extracted' as Mr. Griffith seems to prefer to say) and according to all reports was rescued safely. She is apparently unharmed.


Mr. Griffith came into office a few weeks ago and sent out a stern message to all: it wasn't going to be business as usual. He hit the ground running ... making some long overdue promotions and conducting security exercises that have resulted in several arrests. But this Natalie Pollonais kidnapping was his first real test ... and a most serious one at that!


To his great credit, Mr. Griffith kept his mouth shut and his head down until the victim had been rescued. Then he gave a brief press conference that outlined the bare facts. He refused to be drawn into disclosing confidential material as to how Mrs. Pollonais was found and praised the security services under his command and those that had cooperated with his people to the fullest. So much for "he talks too much!"


The country this morning can breathe a sigh of relief. We finally have someone at the head of the Police Service who seems to know what he is doing! And we should all join in clapping him on the back. Let's face it: at long last it is NOT business as usual.








P.S. You know what would have been nice? If the politicians (viz. Messrs. Young and Al Rawi) had resisted the urge to bask in the reflected glory of Mr. Griffith's success and simply stayed away from the press conference. Their presence did nothing and Mr. Young's attempt for the government to take some credit was as stupid as it was uncalled for.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

WANTED URGENTLY: LEADERSHIP





The T&T economy is on the verge of tanking. We have something like a US$850 billion debt becoming due (the Petrotrin debt) around May next year. Either we pay the debt or we default on it. If we pay the debt then expect more belt tightening all around bringing with it a lot of pain. If we don't pay it then our credit worthiness will take a hit and we will find ourselves on the wrong end of economic sanctions, which will mean more pain. Either way we are in trouble. And a re-negotiation of the debt if at all possible) will also bring pain. In other words, we are in deep 'ca-ca'!


In the meantime, neither the Prime Minister nor his erstwhile Minister of Finance has anything coherent to say about the impending disaster facing us or what policies they are looking to implement now to stave it off.Instead, we are regaled with stories about how ferries (that don't work) are going to fix the sea bridge and about how there is going to be a new Sandals hotel in Tobago ... a deal that raises more questions than answers and which have caused most unnecessary and very ugly suspicions to arise that are probably better left unexpressed for now. We continue to give the Maburro regime a free pass even though that regime's policies are creating a refugee crisis in the Region as well as here at home.


The Prime Minister turns more and more to his base using polarization and culture wars to keep the base energized and (hopefully) intact. His Minister of Everything has taken a leaf out of Trump's playbook calling every little criticism either fake news or labelling the critics as being "unpatriotic", ignoring, for example, the fact that when his Government failed to give clear and cogent answers to the many questions surrounding the deal with Austal to buy some coastal patrol vessels, that his critics felt that they had no choice but to ask the Australian Government to investigate the deal ... which admittedly, looks 'fishy'. Why asking a foreign Government to investigate a deal around which many questions swirl could be  'unpatriotic', has neither been asked nor explained.


The Government's leading spokesmen are becoming less and less coherent and increasingly have nothing of substance to say on any subject. A Minister decries as fake news allegations that his wife's company got certain Government contracts and then in the next breath says that he recused himself from any decision making  concerning their being awarded. To which the only comment can be "WHAT"?


The list goes on, but one cannot help but view with dismay the floundering and ineptitude that is on display. Let's understand something: it is in the interests of EVERYONE  that this Government succeeds. It is always in our collective interests that whatever Party is in power succeeds. Wishing that they fail would be unpatriotic. But, equally, I would argue that it is unpatriotic to continue to support a Government that is failing.


And right now, this Government is failing badly. No amount of obfuscation can hide that fact. What we need now is a clear policy statement showing us the plan to stave off the looming disaster. Either that or they should resign. I'll say it again: there is only one reason for politics ... only one reason for government: to make life better for the people!! There is no other reason!!


So, I say to Dr. Rowley et al: lead, follow, or get out of the way!

Friday, August 17, 2018

A MOST OFFENSIVE SKIT







If I do something that upsets or offends you, the proper thing for me to do is to apologize even if there was no intention on my part to offend. Beauty is not the only thing in the eye of the beholder and there is hardly a person on this planet who has not unintentionally caused offence to someone over some act or statement.




That is why when I first heard (and then saw on social media) the very offensive skit that portrayed a woman in a yellow sari being attacked by goons dressed in red costumes I thought that the Prime Minister would quickly apologize and move on. Instead, rather ominously, he and his Minister of Everything, Stuart Young, labeled those who were so bold as to criticize the skit and the PNM as being foolish and saying that the skit was simply harmless fun. To which the reasonable man in the maxi taxi can only raise his eyebrows and say "really?".




Let's be blunt: the skit was offensive to the Hindu religion. No amount of twisting and turning can get away from that! It was terribly offensive. Can you imagine if a group of Hindus put on a skit at a UNC Party Family Day that portrayed Jesus Christ in some sort of sexual embrace with a woman what sort of howl would come out of the Christian sections of this society (which, by the way, are in the main African)!? And if the UNC Leader at the time were to dismiss the most legitimate complaints of the offended Christians as "foolishness" what the entire society would say!?




And then, on another level the skit was offensive to women. It purported to make fun of a woman being undressed by men! How can that be fun?! At a family function!? I got the meaning of the PNM red and the UNC yellow! Who didn't? But to portray one's political inclinations in this manner was simply awful and unacceptable in any civilized society. And no amount of laughing it off as "fun" can change that. Freedom of speech does not mean that you have a licence to do or say anything. There are always limits.


No. There is something very wrong with the Prime Minister's and Mr. Young's responses. Had an immediate and sincere apology been forthcoming then  nobody could really complain. If it was not intended to cause offence, then as stupid as it was it could probably be forgiven. Just don't do it again.  But these responses simply made things worse. And to compound it all, the whole sordid episode was so unnecessary in the first place.


This country is racially polarized and becoming more so with each passing day. True leadership requires ... no, demands ... that our politicians do everything to promote racial harmony. Endorsing such crude, vulgar and tasteless behavior as was demonstrated in this awful skit only serves to embolden the racists that dwell amongst us. It's time to say STOP!

Friday, August 3, 2018

WHY IS THE MEDIA GIVING THE GOVERNMENT A FREE PASS ON THE FERRY ( AND EVERYTHING ELSE)?





The Galleons Passage continues to make news in that it still ain't working although it has been here for about three weeks. Let me give you an example: The Guardian today reported "The Galleons Passage is expected to begin servicing the seabridge soon ... Confirmation came from Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan as he gave an update into the progress schedule of the US$17.4 million vessel which docked on our shores on July 166 after a long journey from China."


So the ferry will start working "soon". All well and good.  ... except that's really not much news. But let's unpack some more. The Guardian report continues: "Sinanan  said a T&T flag was finally installed (emphasis mine) on the vessel last Friday. The vessel arrived with a flag of convenience from Vanuatu ... ." The newspaper quotes Sinanan as saying "That is one part of the process that has been completed. We are now finalizing the process with the Maritime Division and Lloyd's Register Broker and we are hoping that shortly we would have the vessel in place."


Now, what the heck does the Minister mean when he says that a T&T flag was "installed"? The correct terminology is that the vessel was reflagged! David Lee, the Chairman of the Opposition UNC had asked in a press conference on 28th July ( 6 days ago) if the vessel was going to be reflagged. Herbert George, the erstwhile Chairman of NIDCO had said on 20th July that in order for the ferry to be reflagged it needs to be certified by Lloyd's Registry and it was for that reason that the Maritime Division that had found some 150 deficiencies in the vessel had asked for a recertification.


So, it would appear that the Minister has rather cleverly obfuscated the issue by saying that a T&T flag was installed. Hey! Anybody can put a flag on a vessel. But to reflag a vessel is something completely different! And he (Sinanan) was trying to do a "cute" reply to David Lee without actually lying.


Now, I can't believe that the Guardian's editors are so dumb that they didn't see this. Of course they did! But they say nothing and just report the claptrap falling from Mr. Sinanan's mouth as if it is gospel. Why? The only explanation (other than stupidity) is bias. Can anybody give me another explanation? Why didn't anybody ask Sinanan what he meant by "installed"?




And then we have the fast patrol boats costing some US$74 million or more which are being bought without proper tendering procedures being followed but after the Prime Minister and his Minister of Everything visit the Austal shipyard in Australia. But again the Guardian says nothing. Why? I always thought that the newspapers fill a critical role in the democratic process.  I can accept if they are biased and don't want to report on matters that might be embarrassing to the Government. It is their democratic right to have a bias, but if they are biased they ought to be honest and say 'hey, we are biased.' But it is less than honest to pretend that they are neutral when they are not. And not following the tendering process raises a lot of red flags and very ugly and most unnecessary suspicions. Can you imagine what Dr. Rowley would be saying if it was Mrs. Persad Bissessar and Mr. Moonilal who had done that? Why is it acceptable for a PNM administration to do this but not a UNC one? But the press is not calling the Government out on this. Why?




There are other examples, but hopefully you get the point. Stories are being reported in a most uncritical manner in ways that are in fact misleading.  A clever ruse?




Of course, it could be just that the editors are stupid. Unfortunately being stupid and a newspaper editor is not a crime. Being biased and pretending that you are not, ought to be.



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

THE APPOINTMENT OF A COMMISSIONER OF POLICE





Okay. Full disclosure: Gary Griffith is a friend of mine. I also have acted as his lawyer in a few matters in the past (though not recently). One of those matters was the infamous 'emailgate' affair. I was satisfied then ... as I am satisfied now that the despicable allegations involving him in that sordid mess were all false. I am also satisfied that when it comes to matters of national security that he "knows his onions" probably better than anyone else in this country and that he is a man of high integrity.


But, here's the problem: the Prime Minister went on record in Parliament when his Government was rejecting the recommendation to appoint Assistant Commissioner of Police Dulalchan to the post of Commissioner of Police, and said that the Government could not support the recommendation because the process was "flawed" (his word). To which I thought, okay. I didn't think that it was a flawed process from all that I had read, and the erstwhile Prime Minister did not say exactly how the process was flawed, but if no less a person than the Prime Minister says that it was flawed, who am I to question that? Certainly, I didn't see any of the three daily newspapers seriously questioning how exactly the process was flawed and there has been no questioning of the Prime Minister by the media on this. Why? I don't know. Ask them.


But I did come away with the most unnecessary suspicion that the real reason for Mr. Dulalchan's rejection by the Government was not the allegedly "flawed" process but the fact that Mr. Dulalchan is of East Indian heritage. Do I have any evidence that this may be so? None whatsoever! It's just a nagging suspicion in the back of my brain that I can't get away from.


And then the Express reports in an exclusive headline on a Sunday that my friend Gary Griffith is tipped to be the next CoP!  Well, you won't be surprised to learn that I was as pleased as I ought to have been. I think he's a good choice and a good guy. But I've already confessed my bias.


So? What's my problem? In one sentence, my problem is that I don't for the life of me understand how the process that threw up Mr. Dulalchan as being the best candidate, can be flawed and therefore he (Dulalchan) should be rejected, but that we should not reject the third candidate (who would have been my first choice) using the same process.


Quite frankly, this whole thing has a most ugly smell to it. And Mr. Griffith's appointment (because from all newspaper reports it looks like it will happen next week) will be most unfairly tarnished by those who believe that race had everything to do with Mr. Dulalchan's rejection. And the truth is that at least half the country is going to believe that!  This is not at all happy; not for the country, not for the Government, not for any of the candidates, and certainly not for the citizens who are being taken for complete bobolees.


The democracy of our Republic is threatened ... seriously threatened ... when we allow our politicians to act as they please and not account to us properly. This issue ought to be addressed not on the basis of race or on who is whose friend, but on principle. Anything else is dangerous and divisive. And up to now it is not being addressed properly.





Saturday, July 21, 2018

FERRYGATE ... WHY CAN'T WE GET PROPER ANSWERS?





There are a couple of truisms that are so basic, they hardly need repeating. And yet, sometimes it is worthwhile to remind ourselves of them so that we don't forget them. The first truism that I thought of in this #@&*% ongoing scandal with the infamous Galleons Passage ferry is that there is only one reason for government; only one reason for politics: to make life better for the people! Full stop! There is no other reason!


The second truism is a little more nuanced: it is when a man is telling you something that you don't understand, ninety-eight percent of the time it is because he doesn't want you to understand. Two percent of the time it is because he doesn't understand what he is saying.


So, I approach this ferry business again and ask myself what exactly is it that the various Government Ministers (Imbert, Young, Sinanan etc.) don't want me to understand? I mean, their statements and those of their surrogates on the ferry just don't make sense. Take,  for example, the latest statement coming out of NIDCO (the Government entity that is supposed to be in control of the ferry and its operations. First of all, the newspapers reported that Minister Sinanan questioned the authenticity of a report from Lloyd's Register that identified around 100 defects some of them quite serious) in the ferry. The statements from the various Government Ministers  were to the effect that the allegations of Opposition Senators Mark and Hosein that Lloyd's had put out a damning report earlier this month (July) were based on a fictitious report ... a fake report.  Aided and abetted by the three daily newspapers (who collectively seem intent on not reporting on this matter fairly or accurately and certainly have not seriously questioned the Government spokesman about it) the government spokesmen at first denied the Lloyd's report completely. Then, seemingly out of the blue, The National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) then takes Lloyd's Register to task  saying that while the Lloyd's report identified 92 non-conforming issues on the ferry, the survey which was paid for and delivered on July 11 was done without a physical inspection of the vessel by Lloyd's.
To which I can only say "WHAT"?!?


What happened to the fake report? So there was a report after all? Why didn't the Ministers say that there was a report but they considered it inadequate because of whatever? Why attack the Opposition Senators and their credibility?


And then we were told that the ferry would be in operation within two or three weeks of its arrival. But NIDCO's chairman Herbert George is now being reported as saying that any delays  resulting from making the vessel compliant in order to work the seabridge is "...not a consideration. Safety is more important to us, as long as it takes to get it right." Which means what? Because the way I read that is that the ferry won't be in service within two or three weeks of its arrival down here!


I could go on, but hopefully you get the point. There are so many other issues that it boggles the mind. For example, we were told that the ferry was going to Cuba for ten days to have a canopy installed and some other very minor works done at a cost of a little more than US$300,000. No explanation was ever given (and no newspaper ever asked) why these minor works could not have been done in Trinidad. As it is, the ferry spent more than five weeks in Cuba and eventually left there reportedly with certain other works to be done down here! Again, WHAT?


We have been consistently lied to about this ferry and about everything connected with it so that nobody knows the truth. Why? What is it that the Government Ministers do not want us to know or understand? Because when we don't know or don't understand very ugly and most unnecessary suspicions arise that there may be some sort of corrupt activity lurking somewhere in the background. As to who might have "dipped his hand in the cookie jar", I haven't a clue. I can't even say that somebody did "dip his hand" in. But I can and do say that things are not at all clear ... or put another way, this story is as clear as mud. I can and do say that alarm bells are going off. Is it a false alarm? Maybe, but shouldn't we check it out? What if it isn't a false alarm? Why can't we get a straigt answer? Why is it that the newspapers are not asking the hard questions? Incompetence? Bias? What?


And to end up with the first truism with which I began this piece, a government can NOT make life better for the people if it won't tell the people the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Obfuscations and outright lies on anything simply destroys the democracy.

Monday, June 18, 2018

THE 'NOW-YOU-SEE-IT-NOW-YOU-DON'T' FERRY







It is impossible to get a clear picture of what is happening with the "now-you-see-it-now-you--don't" Galleons Passage ferry. The three newspapers in this country  (deliberately or incompetently ... you choose) have simply been reporting what NIDCO has been feeding them and if they have done any independent research they certainly haven't reported on it. Why they haven't is, of course, a rather serious question that deserves to be answered. That we will never get a proper answer from any of the newspapers as to why they haven't been reporting and asking questions  is a given. I have never seen any of them ever admit either to incompetence or bias. And I cannot think of any another as to why their collective reporting has been so shallow.


Let's start from the beginning:
a) When the new PNM Government came into power at the end of 2015 one of it's earliest decisions was to scrap the old ferry arrangement that the previous PP Government had in place. There were various reasons given which can be summed up by the allegations that the whole process in giving the contract for that ferry reeked of corruption and that in any case the ferry was not working well.
b) The next thing was that in January of this year with the 'sea bridge' collapsing the Minister of Finance announced in Parliament that a brand new ferry had  been purchased for US$17.5 million and it would be here by the end of March.
c) We were then told that this brand new ferry was coming from China and would have to go to Cuba to get some extra toilets and a canopy installed on the sundeck for US$350,000. Nobody bothered to ask (the newspapers again) why the extra work was being done in Cuba and why it couldn't be done in Trinidad. I guess that is too complicated a question to ask.
d) Then we find out that this ferry had been ordered by a Venezuelan businessman to operate on a river but that he couldn't pay for it so we got it. Questions: did this Venezuelan businessman pay any money down? Did he lose his deposit and did we get the benefit of that deposit? If not, why not? If we did, what was the amount that we saved?
e) Then the ferry's sailing date is postponed and then when it finally leaves Shanghai it sails south to Hong Kong before sailing north again passing Shanghai on its way to Hawaii. Why? This didn't make sense but I guess there was a good reason. But don't you think that we should know? Or is this a State secret?
f) Then it trundles across the Pacific at the slow speed of 11 knots ... which is about 13 miles an hour. Now, pay attention because then we are told that the ferry will be here by mid April. But if you did the maths you would have seen that there was no way that the ferry could have been here before end April/early May.
g) Then we are told that the brand new ferry suffered a mechanical problem in its journey across the Pacific and needed a new part when it arrived in Acapulco and so it had to wait for the part to arrive. But, hello! The last time I looked there was a rather magical device called a radio. You are going to tell me that the crew didn't know that the part had failed and didn't radio ahead for the part so that it would be waiting for them on arrival in Acapulco? Again, the newspapers (all three) don't ask these questions. Why?
h) Then the boat finally gets to Cuba where we are told that here will have to be some extensive refitting and two more engines have to be installed. To which I say 'what'?! When did they know this? And why, if they knew it from before couldn't all the parts have been ordered and waiting in Cuba for the ferry to arrive? Again, the three newspapers are like the famous three little monkeys who hear nothing, see nothing and say nothing.
i) Then we are told that these extra works will now cause the boat to be here in mid July. To which I can only say 'Really'?


Other questions also come up that haven't been asked by our mainstream media. For example, the distance in sea miles between Port of Spain and Scarborough is approximately 90 miles. Do the maths. This ferry is reported to cruise at 11 knots (approximately 13 miles an hour). There is no way that it can do that journey in 3 to 3 1/2 hours at that speed. So? How fast is it? And is that speed fully laden or empty? Because an empty boat is faster than a fully laden one. Again, the press hasn't asked this question! Why?


I'm not going to go on. But you get the point. At the end of the day the most important question is will the @#$%^&* ferry do the job that it is supposed to do? I sincerely hope so, for the livelihoods of a lot of people are depending on it. But after that question is answered then, at the very least all the other questions (including those that I haven't asked) need to be answered ... by everybody!


Finally, to the three newspapers, I honestly don't mind if you are biased and do not want to ask questions that are embarrassing to the political party that you support. But, if that is the case, then be honest and confess to your bias. If you haven't asked the questions that need to be answered because of incompetence then, again, confess to your incompetence. And if there is another reason why you didn't want to ask these questions then tell us what that reason is. Because, quite frankly, your silence on this leaves the ordinary thinking person with most unfortunate and unnecessary suspicions that are not good for confidence in the democratic process.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

FIXING OUR THINKING ... AND THUS FIXING OUR PROBLEMS





Is poverty the result of laziness, immorality and irresponsibility? If people made better choices, worked harder, stayed in school, got married, didn't have children they couldn't afford, spent wisely and saved more, would they escape poverty?


This is essentially the story that we tell ourselves about why people are poor. Looking at the history of our country from the very beginning, but especially from 1956 to date, I reject this conclusion.. Low wages, lack of good jobs, the poor quality of too many schools, a banking system that rips off the "non-rich" (if I can coin a word), the lack of marriageable males in poor, black communities like Laventille, the ongoing discrimination against mainly poor, black males coming from communities like Laventille and Beetham, the lack of effective governmental support for institutions like the Family Planning Association (and please note that the key word here is "effective") all contribute to the tsunami of poverty engulfing us.


It used to be that there was a belief that if you worked hard and got a good education that you would benefit from upward income mobility. Certainly, that is what Eric Williams and his PNM preached in the 1950's and 1960's. And to a large extent he was right. He lifted the educational standards of the country and made education available to a wide swath of the citizenry who had never had the opportunity to go to school before. The country lurched forward by leaps and bounds.


But the problems of the fifties were very different from the problems of the eighties. By the end of the eighties trickle down economics as promoted by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the order of the day. A.N.R. Robinson's NAR came to power preaching this gospel and changed the economic system in ways that essentially ignored the poor, arguing strongly that allowing a few people to make money would allow them to create jobs ... classic "trickle down" theory.


In the debate on the NARs first budget in 1987 I conceded in the Senate that the NAR's solutions would right the country's perilous economic situation, but I argued that it would be at the expense of the poor who would get poorer and benefit the rich who would get richer. I take no joy in time proving me to be right.


Unfortunately, Patrick Manning continued Robinson's economic policies as has every government since 1991. I argued then that the banks needed to be brought under control, that they were ripping off poor people. Unfortunately, nobody (except the people being ripped off ... but they had no power anyway) bothered to listen.


And so, today here we are: in a mess of our own making and pretending to be surprised. Without saying it out loud, we perpetuate the myth that poverty is a result of personal immaturity and irresponsibility and that all would be right in our world if only poor people  would know their place and work hard.


We continue to tinker with a broken education system that is simply not preparing our children for the challenges of the 21st century. Ask yourself this question and answer it honestly: if we were to blow up the education system this afternoon so that there was absolutely nothing left and we had to start again from scratch would you put back the exact same system tomorrow morning, or would you put back something different? Only one person has ever told me that he would put back the exact same system! So? Why do we simply tinker with the system? Why don't we start to think out of the box" and come up with new ideas?


This essay started out as a "crie de couer" for the poor people of this country. But in writing this I realized ... hey! Wait a minute! Who are the poorest people in this country? And the answer is the children. They own nothing and have no vote or control over their future.


We owe it to them to fix the system and come up with the same type of radical thinking that Williams did in the 1950's. It is a truism that problems cannot be solved with the same kind of awareness that created them in the first place.


There are solutions. That is the good news. But all the decision makers in our society are bound and gagged by traditional thinking and self-interest. And that is the bad news.



Monday, May 14, 2018

WHAT HAS THIS PNM ADMINISTRATION ACTUALLY CHANGED?



Listening to Finance Minister Colm Imbert's mid year review last week and then to his extraordinary attack the day after on several economists who had dared to say that they disagreed with him, got me to thinking. What exactly has changed in the two and a half years that Mr. Imbert and his Party have been in power? And are these changes for the better? Are we all better off now than we were in September 2015?


Well, I suppose that some people are better off now. I mean, Dr. Rowley, Stuart Young, Colm Imbert et al clearly are. They hold the reins of power, travel all over the world as far away as China and Australia, have the police clear the traffic out of the way so that they don't have to put up with the long delays that we ordinary 'plebs' have to face on a daily basis, are able to take their children to army shooting ranges and allow them to handle high powered weapons in breach of the laws of this land without penalty, can fraternize with known gangsters ... I'm sorry, I meant 'community leaders' ... without anybody really raising an eyebrow, can buy boats with taxpayers' money and not have to give the general public any real information as to the true cost of same or why they are doing things that don't make sense. (For example, can anybody explain why the Galleons Passage is going to Cuba for extra toilets and a canopy to be installed at a cost of some US$300,000  and why that work could not have been done in Trinidad?) The list goes on, but you get the point: some people are better off.


But are the rest of us better off? Have things changed for the better or for the worse for the rest of us? Certainly, most people that I talk to say that the crime situation bothers them enormously. Everybody that I talk to says that they either know somebody or are related to somebody who has been the victim of a crime. The murder rate is up ... by a lot! People have no faith in the police at all (but then , to be fair, I don't think that this last comment reflects a change ... just that things seem to have gotten worse).


Financially, most people seem to be worse off. The guy I buy my doubles from in St. James on a Saturday morning tells me that his business is down from a few years ago while his costs have gone up. A lot of people seem to have lost their jobs. Except for those lawyers lucky enough to get government work every lawyer that I talk to says that his business is down. (Okay, I know that a lot of people won't cry about that one!) Doctors also complain that they are seeing less people in their waiting rooms as people are increasingly reluctant to seek medical attention in the hope that two asprins and bed rest will cure whatever ails them. Getting foreign exchange to pay legitimate bills has become a nightmare. One person I know tells me that she can't get enough legitimate money to send for her son in university in Canada so she has to buy foreign exchange on the black market at TT$8 to US$1. This has made it much more expensive for her family and they have been forced to cut back on other things in order to keep their child in food and lodging in Canada. She wonders how all these companies like Starbucks, KFC etc. seem to have no problems in paying their royalties (which both she and I believe must run into millions) when she can't get Canadian $1,000 a month to send for her son. I tend to agree with her. It doesn't seem right. So I suppose that those big companies are better off?! Certainly, they don't seem to have foreign exchange problems. My friend, though, certainly is not.


So? Despite all the rhetoric, can anybody tell me what exactly has changed in the last two and a half years? Because from my perspective the only changes that I can see are for the worse. And if Mr. Imbert can really see clearly now that the rain has finally gone, can he tell us exactly where he thinks that we will be this time next year? What are his bench marks for a better life? By what standards does he say that we should judge him? Because at some stage he and his gang have to take responsibility. And it is only fair that he should tell us by what standards we should judge him. After all, surely that is a reasonable request?


I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is only one reason for politics ... one reason for government. To make life better for the people! Full Stop! There is no other reason!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

THAT PESKY NO CONFIDENCE MOTION





A lot of people will say that it is about time that the Opposition filed a Motion of no confidence in Rohan Sinanan, the erstwhile and seemingly hapless Minister of Works over his bungling of the ferry issue. That matter alone should have resulted in his dismissal from the Cabinet a long time ago ... although to be fair to him, I heard him on the television this morning seeming to cast some blame for the present imbroglio on his predecessor, the equally hapless Fitzgerald Hinds (which may or my not be true).


However, an equal number of people will simply sneer and rock back in their seats and say in effect that it won't matter a hoot because the Government has a built in majority and therefore the Motion will most certainly be defeated.  But those persons will be missing the point of a no confidence Motion. The point of using such a device (a Motion of no confidence) is to place on the record all of the things that an Opposition is complaining about pertaining to a particular issue and also to place on the public record the Government's response to the charges. That can make things very sticky for a Government around election time, especially if the replies are patently weak. Its hard to go against something that you have said on the record without looking like a liar or a fool ... or both!


Of course, the Government can drag out the debate ... which is most likely what will happen in this case. You see, such a motion can only be heard on the last Friday of every month, which is always designated as 'Private Members' Day', which means the day that ordinary Members of Parliament can bring a matter to be debated. The Government of the day can effectively stifle debate by causing the House to be adjourned early thus preventing further discussion of the issue at hand, at least until the Government has an answer to the particular issue being debated. It would obviously be in the Government's best interests to delay having this debate until such time as the Galleons Passage ferry finally arrives from its seemingly never ending journey from China and it (the Government) has something concrete to show besides Mr. Imbert's promises, which, sadly, are taken with more than a pinch of salt by most people.


What is most likely to happen is that the Government will probably allow the mover of the Motion (in this case, the Opposition Leader) to make her presentation and then either shut down the debate right after she has finished, or have one Government speaker reply and then adjourn the House. Then do not have the debate resume until that Chinese built ferry finally arrives ... which looks like sometime around the end of May/early June  ... if we're lucky!!


The Government would take a few blows, but at least once the Galleons Passage was here it would have something to show the voting public and it's PR machine could go to work with some semblance of truthfulness. Expect some shenanigans on Friday. Exactly what those shenanigans will be, is anybody's guess, but do not expect a conclusion of this debate. Its not in the Government's interests to have that debate right now ... and (as Camille Robinson-Regis reminds us) they're in charge!



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

UNEASY LIES THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN







I can't now remember who first wrote the story "Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears The Crown" but I do remember having to read it in the original Latin. Basically, the story was about a poor man who was hauled before the king for some minor infraction. Before the king sentenced him the poor man said to the king that he couldn't possibly understand the stress that a poor man had to suffer. The king answered him by asking if he (the poor man) didn't think that kings suffered even greater stress than poor people. The poor man scoffed at this and said how he would love to be king, even if only for a day.


The king then said okay, but the deal was that the poor man would have to sit on the throne for the whole day and not get off. The poor man happily agreed to this and they exchanged places. The poor man looked at the king down below and asked how he could possibly regard this job as stressful, to which the king quietly replied 'look above you'.


Hanging by a horse's hair was a razor sharp, huge scimitar (sword). If the hair broke there was no way that the occupant of the throne could escape. And the slightest breath of air could cause the hair to break. The poor man understood then what stress the king had as at any moment his life could be ended while all the poor man had to worry about was putting food on his table.


All of the recent goings on inside the Government reminded me of this story, for it is common knowledge that Dr. Rowley wanted the job of Prime Minister and did all that he could to dethrone and defame his predecessor, Patrick Manning. Now that he has got the job he is becoming painfully aware of the various scimitars hanging by horses' hairs over his head.


I'm not going to bother commenting about the Daryl Smith imbroglio. That story in itself speaks volumes for itself. But there are other "swords". Take, for example, the Maxie Cuffie matter. The unfortunate Mr. Cuffie suffered a serious and debilitating stroke that has left him incapacitated for the last six months. No right thinking person can do anything but wish Mr. Cuffie a full and speedy recovery. But the business of the country is not about feeling empathy for an individual. The business of the country needs to be carried on a daily basis and will not wait indefinitely for an individual (no matter how deserving) to get better. Six months ... half a year ... is too long to wait and it doesn't matter how good a person Mr. Cuffie is. What matters is the answer to the simple question: can he do his job as a Parliamentary Secretary and as a Member of Parliament? If not, then the interests of the country require that he be replaced in both positions as soon as possible. And the next question: is he coming back now? If not, when?


And by the way, section 84 of the Constitution reads "A Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary shall not enter (emphasis mine) upon the duties of his office unless he has taken and subscribed the oath of allegiance for the due execution of his office (emphasis mine). In other words, in order to take up his new position the unfortunate Mr. Cuffie will have to be sworn in. Simple question: when is this going to happen?


And the list of problems goes on. There is bringing Ms. Marlene McDonald back into the Cabinet for the third time in the short life of this Government. People in the know say that this was done to shore up Dr. Rowley in the upcoming internal PNM elections. There are unconfirmed rumors that certain elements inside the PNM are planning a "palace coup"  and Ms. McDonald's appointment is to strengthen the Prime Minister's hand in the internal elections. Is this true? I honestly don't know. But the story sounds plausible. There are certain persons who are nothing if not ambitious and some of them have major backing from very wealthy financiers. Certainly, a Prime Minister who wants to keep his job will pay attention to such rumors and take steps to counteract any possible actions that might be being planned to remove him.


Then there is the infamous Galleons Passage or "Ferrygate" affair. Minister Imbert took great umbrage the other day when it was suggested that the boat wouldn't be here until May. Speaking personally, I don't see how it can possibly be here before June ... but that's not my point. My point is that it is clear that there are massive problems with the sea bridge and as Prime Minister that particular buck has to stop with Dr. Rowley.


And again the list goes on. The economy. Crime. Education. Health care. You name it. But the point here is that I am certain that Dr. Rowley had simply no idea how difficult it was/is to run a country. Certainly, one is entitled to ask whether or not he understands that even now. There are multiple reports of his playing golf during the week at times when one would reasonably expect him to be at his desk.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

THE TOP TEN PROBLEMS FACING TRINIDAD & TOBAGO







I have been thinking about our (T&T's) problems. And because I am firmly of the view that if you can't say something in one sentence you can't say it at all, I am going to set out what in one sentence each what I think are the ten biggest problems that we have. You will realize that it will probably take a paragraph, a chapter or even a whole book to discuss each one properly. I don't propose to do that. I simply propose to list the "top ten" problems in the order that I see them as being important.  If you disagree with my order or even feel that some other problem/s is/are bigger and either should be higher up my scale or that something on my scale shouldn't be there, then feel free to say so. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and the first step in our journey ought to be articulating clearly each and every problem that we are facing. Incidentally, my list is not intended to be political or critical of anybody ... it is simply intended to be a discussion point and to try and come to a consensus as to the way forward. And, yes, I personally do have some ideas but as Chairman Mao once said, "if you want to lead the people, lead from behind". The point here is to promote a national discussion without rancor or finger pointing. It matters little at this point who is to blame for the sinking ship. The damned ship has hit an iceberg and is sinking. Rather than quarrel about whose fault it was that the ship hit the iceberg, I think that we should talk about how to save the lives of everyone on board.


So here is my list of the top ten problems that we are facing:
1) Lack of economic opportunity and employment;
2) Safety, security, wellbeing;
3) Lack of education;
4) Health security;
5) Food and water security;
6) Government accountability and transparency/corruption;
7) Racial conflict;
8) Poverty;
9) Inequality (income, discrimination);
10) Climate change.


Okay. That's my list. What's yours?

Friday, March 2, 2018

THE BAFFLING APPOINTMENT OF MARLENE McDONALD





Let's understand something: on the face of it Marlene McDonalds appointment on the face of it makes no sense. First of all, she was fired from the Cabinet when an issue arose concerning her husband having a job in her office and also getting certain favours. Indeed, that matter (which goes on back to 2016 is reportedly still under "investigation". (One can't help but wonder how long this "investigation" is going to go on and whether it would have been concluded by now if she was a different person ... but that's another story!) Then she was reappointed to the Cabinet but fired when a person who is reputed to be a gang leader attended her swearing in. And now she is reappointed for the third time because the Prime Minister says that everybody deserves a second chance. (I suppose he also means a third and possibly even a fourth and a fifth chance. But, again, that's another story.)




No. Her appointment as a Minister in the Ministry of Public Communications makes no sense and is completely baffling, unless ... wait a minute! Isn't Maxie Cuffie the substantive Minister? And didn't he suffer a massive stroke some five months or so ago? And haven't there been rumours going around that he is not getting better but is still severely incapacitated or even dead? And wouldn't the Prime Minister know whether or not the stricken Mr. Cuffie will in fact be well enough to resume his duties by Easter? (I know that they said that he was coming home at Easter but the innuendo from that statement was that he was going to be well enough to resume his duties then.)




Now, a few questions: what if the unfortunate Mr. Cuffie is in fact dead?  Well sooner or later that will have to come out. But from the Government's point of view the later it comes out the better because they would not want  by-election in Mr. Cuffie's constituency right now. They would probably lose and they would have to hold one if he was dead.




So, what if he isn't dead, but is so seriously disabled from his stroke that he can't function as a Minister but he can still hang on to his seat in Parliament? Now this makes a little more sense. The question of a by-election can be deflected by saying that he will be able to resume "limited" duties to look after his constituents and in any case the stress of running the Ministry is being handled by Ms. McDonald. Neat, eh?


What do I think? Well, I have absolutely no evidence one way or the other, but on the balance of probabilities I think that Mr. Cuffie is still alive but that he is severely incapacitated. I think that it is even quite possible that he will return at Easter, but that when he does we will see that he really will not be able to function properly.  I think that the Prime Minister knowing this is "taking in front" by appointing Ms. McDonald.




Of course, all this may be complete hogwash and Mr. Cuffie is well and fine (to which we will all sing 'Glory Hallelujah') and there is absolutely no hidden motive or agenda here. But this Government has told so many conflicting things on so many different issues ranging from the Tobago ferry to the A&P 'oilgate' scandal that it is hard to discern when we are being told the truth and when we are having the wool pulled over our eyes. In this regard, Dr. Rowley and his Ministers have only themselves to blame if they complain that people don't trust them.


Of course, one has only to look at Dr. Rowley's speeches on what he thought was misbehavior on the part of the UNC government to think about what he would be saying now if they had done this! I don't understand how right thinking people cannot see the hypocrisy at play here. Unless of course, the rule is that there is one law for the PNM and another for everybody else.




One final point, can anybody explain why the mainstream media has not tried to telephone and speak with Mr. Cuffie personally? Because I have seen no report that any reporter from any newspaper has so tried. I would have thought that in a matter such as this that such an action would have been done not once, but many times. Instead, the mainstream media simply reports in parrot fashion the medical bulletins coming out from the Government. This lack of action on the media's part raises certain ugly suspicions that are probably better left unexpressed at this time. But they(the media) should know that thinking people are taking note of their behavior.







Tuesday, February 20, 2018

THE FIRES IN PORT OF SPAIN



Like most people, I have been absolutely dismayed at the unrest that has been seething in East Port of Spain. There were quite a few people that I spoke to who were/are very against the rioters/demonstrators (or whatever you want to call them). The general feeling was that the police should just go in and "clean them up", by which I understood to mean that all the demonstrators should be killed and thrown in the Gulf of Paria. What these people saw was a threat to their very existence ... their comfortable way of life.


What I saw was something different. I saw a beaten, downtrodden people who had literally reached the end of their rope. I saw a people who were still somehow hoping that somebody somewhere would somehow miraculously make things right for them and allow them to have a little place in the sun but losing faith that the prayed for miracle will ever come. God, they feel, has really abandoned them.


What I am seeing is that it is not going to take a lot to push these people over the edge. If a man feels that he is in a corner and that there is no way out for him, then he won't care if he takes the whole damned society down with him.  And people are reaching that stage now ... if they haven't reached it already!


No. Now more than ever we need to sit down as a society and come up with solutions that will get us out of this terrible morass. We need to sit down and discuss a complete revamping of the education system which has failed us terribly ... even our so-called prestige schools are little better than dumps ... and don't even talk about our health care system which is worse than awful. Our security system also needs a radical overhauling.


Look: the truth is that there is little difference (if any) between the policies of either the PNM or the UNC. There are arguments about 'who t'ief more' that can and will never be settled. There are also arguments about who are better administrators of the economy ... but there are never any serious policy discussions and I defy anybody to lay out for me the policy differences between the two parties. Because I certainly can't see them!


And let's agree that we should stop blaming the Prime Minister and his government for everything. The problems that they are facing weren't created overnight. But while not blaming them for everything let's also tell them in no uncertain terms to lead, follow or get out of the way. If you don't have a clue how to fix the problems then say so. There is only one reason for politics; there is only one reason for government: to make life better for the people!! There is NO other reason! Period!! So fix it or go. But stop all the 'shillyshallying'. Fix it!!


That solutions do exist is a given. There are always solutions to every problem. Some may not be either acceptable or palatable, but there are solutions. If we really want to turn this place around we need to start a national dialogue now that is policy and solution oriented. We need to start discussing ideas without disparaging those whom we perceive to be against us.


I have a thousand ideas on how to make this little republic a better place. I have put forward some of them and will do so again in the future. Unfortunately, my efforts to discuss issues like education, health care, national security, etc., have all fallen so far on stony ground.  That's all right. I don't pretend to be the Oracle of Delphi with all the answers  and will happily accept other ideas that can unite us and take us forward. But right now, can we not see that people ... real people ... citizens of our country are really hurting. Can't we stop being fearful of them and figure out how to help turn them into valuable and productive citizens? Because if we don't, the fire in East Port of Spain will spread and engulf all of us ... and probably sooner rather than later.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

THE S***HOLE PRESIDENT





As a Caribbean man I take strong exception to the President of the United States calling the Region in which I was born and by extension the country where I was born a s***hole. Look, nobody can deny that there is a lot in both the Region as well as Trinidad & Tobago that needs fixing. Nobody can deny that Haiti which has real problems and without a massive amount of real aid (and not aid with strings attached) is unlikely to emerge into the sunlight any time soon. (And by the way, I am aware that he didn't specifically name T&T but it is clear that we are lumped into his definition of "s**hole countries".)


But that fascist who sits at the head of what is today the most powerful country on the planet ought to remember a few home truths:


First of all, Haiti didn't get where it is today without a great deal of "help" from France. And yes, the word "help" is deliberately put in quotation marks. After the (successful) war of independence in Haiti France agreed to give that country it's independence provided that Haiti pay to France a crippling amount of "reparations". The payments continued throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th. These payments were to compensate France for the loss of it's colony and it's properties. (By the way, amongst the "properties" lost were the slaves!!)


Now, the jackdonkey that is the President of the United States today seems to have conveniently forgotten that one of the root causes of the rise of Hitler and the Second World War was the penalties that the victorious allies imposed on defeated Germany and the reparations that Germany was forced to pay to them. The result of these reparation payments by Germany caused massive hardship in that country and gave rise to the demagogue that was Hitler who blamed the Jews for Germany losing the war. If it wasn't for the treacherous Jews Germany would never have lost the war!! At least, that was Hitler's argument which resonated with the German people in much the same way that Trump's racist words and incitements do with ignorant white Americans today.


The point here is that except for the names and a few other changes, Haiti's story is not dissimilar to Germany's after the First World War. The difference was that Germany had the wherewithal to rise again from the ashes of defeat and rebuild when Hitler (having come to power) stopped the reparation payments. If Haiti had stopped the reparation payments to France, the latter would simply have invaded Haiti and enslaved that country all over again. In other words, the Haitians had no choice!


But the racist jackdonkey that is the president of the United States today doesn't see that! Anybody who isn't pure white (e.g. Nordic) just isn't welcome in a country that was in fact built on genocide (but that is another story again)!


No. I am personally offended. And I am just as offended by the seeming craven cowardice of my Government which has to date failed to stand up to the bullying jackdonkey and telling him where to get off. The jackdonkey should be told bluntly that his brand of racism is offensive to all right thinking peoples around the world.


And to those who say that we should just keep quiet because the United States can do us great harm, I reply that I prefer to die a man than to live the life of a coward. And to the racist jackdonkey I say, just because we speak with an accent do not make the mistake of believing that we think with one.