Thursday, December 7, 2017

WHAT IS IN THE COUNTRY'S BEST INTERESTS?





The failure of the Anti-Gang legislation got me to wondering: why? Why did it fail? Was it in the best interests of the country that we should have some sort of anti-gang legislation in place? If so, then why exactly ... in one sentence ... did the Opposition not support it? (And for the record, I have found that if somebody cannot say what his point is in one sentence then he cannot say it at all; he may need a paragraph, a chapter, or even a whole book to explain the sentence, but he ought to be able to say clearly and succinctly what is his point.)


And I have the same question for the Government: if this legislation is so important then why ... in one sentence ... did you not even consider the Opposition's amendments? What exactly (in one sentence) was there in the proposed amendments that made them so objectionable? Why did you not feel that no compromise was better than giving way and therefore you allowed the Bill to fail? Is it really better to have nothing at all rather than an Act that included the amendments being proposed by the Opposition? Why?


Put another way, assuming that both sides agree that some sort of anti-gang legislation is both desirable as well as necessary, then why couldn't our elected representatives get together and agree on a way forward? 


Because, quite honestly, from where I sit it seems to me that both sides were more interested in scoring points than they were in doing what was best for the country. I tried to listen to the arguments from both sides, but quite frankly, they didn't make sense. I still don't understand why it is/was more important to blame the "other" side ("other" depending on where you sit) than in passing some sort of legislation. It didn't make sense during the debate and it doesn't make sense now.


Let me be clear: I believe that some sort of legislation is needed here. As to what sort, we can debate that. But everybody agrees that something needs to be done. So? Do it, damn it! Just do it!


Most people are not interested in schoolboy tit-for tat behavior. What most people want is a safe and secure country. So I say to both sides: do what we elected you for. We didn't elect you to say in Parliament 'I have bigger muscles than you'. Frankly, we couldn't care less who has the bigger muscles. We elected you (both sides) to do what is in the best interests of our country. so, do it!!





Thursday, November 30, 2017

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN



The amazing escape from jail by Vicki Boodram earlier this week is a graphic illustration of how bad things are in Trinidad & Tobago. For those who may have just tuned in, Ms. Boodram was in jail on charges that she had defrauded a lot of people out of several million dollars for tickets for  cruise and other travel tickets which her travel agency was paid for but never provided. Her bail had been set at something like TT$1 million and she had been sent to the Remand Yard pending her trial for fraud. This was all quite some time ago. (Yet another example of the incompetent justice system taking too long to try an accused person ... but that's another story!)


In any case, according to newspaper reports two police officers (a man and a woman) showed up at the Remand Yard on Tuesday evening with what appeared to be legitimate papers from the Tunapuna Magistrates' Court requiring her presence there for a night court hearing. The Prison officers looked at the seemingly legitimate papers and then released her into the custody of the two police officers who apparently took her home and left her there! The next day she is reported to have turned up at the Siparia Magistrates' Court and left a message for her attorney that she couldn't attend there because she had to be in another matter in Port of Spain. And then she disappeared. Nobody knows where she is!


Now, those are the reported facts. You don't have to be a Sherlock Holmes or a Hercule Poirot to see that the story doesn't add up and that there are a host of unanswered questions that give rise to a lot of very ugly suspicions. But those suspicions are not the point of this post. What needs to be pointed out  is that except for the names and a few other changes, this story, this terrible story (and it is terrible; on the face of it the case against Ms. Boodram certainly appears to be very strong and she certainly appears to have a lot of questions to answer; a lot of money is missing.) is identical to a lot of other stories that we are being fed with on what feels like an almost daily basis.


For example, let's take this Chinese visit story: we were told at the beginning of November that the Prime Minister was going to China in order to attend a conference of ten world leaders. This was for November 30th. When people started asking questions about this conference we (the general public) were told that (a) The Prime Minister's trip was postponed to late Spring next year and (b) by asking the questions that we had asked we were embarrassing the Chinese Government. To which all I can say is what?!? How in the name of heaven can it be wrong for the population of a democracy to question statements from its leaders? It is interesting to note that other than being told that the trip was postponed and essentially that we were all too "farse" to question the trip, we have had no answers at all to the original questions. Why?


Then let's take the 'fake oil' scandal as another example. Here is what is in the public domain: somewhere in the order of $100 million has been overpaid to a company called A & V Drilling. The owner of that company is reported to be a personal friend of the Prime Minister, His daughter (who is also the secretary of that company) was up until she resigned this week a Government backbench senator. Now, there are a whole host of questions that have been asked about this, none of which have been answered.  And nobody has been arrested or charged. It seems that the police are still investigating. As to how long they will "investigate' is, of course, another story.


Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  In other words, the average person sees what is perceived on the face of it to be wrong doing by persons at the top ... or most certainly, acts and statements that require explanations ... but no satisfactory explanations for what has happened are ever forthcoming.  And that's what is happening here. Nothing is ever properly answered and the curtain is drawn down and the country is told to move on. So, we move on. Next point!


Those of us old enough to remember will recall the headlines that were created after one Carnival when a Roman Catholic priest played mas'. The next year a popular calypso came out "If the Priest Could Play, Who is We?" And that's the point. If those at the top don't have to answer for anything, why should those in the middle and the bottom have to answer?


This society is heading for trouble. You can see it coming. You can smell it. You can taste it. Can it be avoided? Yes? I certainly hope so. Will it be avoided? I don't know, and that is what has me so worried.











Friday, November 17, 2017

THE CHINA SYNDROME (with apologies to Jack Lemmon)





Sometime in the late sixties/early seventies the famous movie actor Jack Lemmon starred in a movie called 'The China Syndrome'. Jack Lemmon was the manager of a nuclear plant in the United States where something goes wrong and a melt down in the central nuclear reactor starts with all the attendant drama. The movie got it's name from the theory that the melt down, if not stopped would put a hole through the earth all the way to China. High drama and all sorts of politics were in play in the movie with politicians and technocrats telling lies about why the plant was approved in the first place.


Although the current brouhaha taking place in Trinidad & Tobago over the delay of Prime Minister Rowley's trip has nothing in common with that (really good) movie, some how I couldn't help thinking about it when I heard about Minister Stuart Young's latest comments on the cancellation/delay/suspension of the Prime Minister's proposed trip at the end of this month.


Minister Young is quoted as criticizing persons such as Mariano Browne, Mr. Reggie Dumas, the former Head of the Public Service, and me for questioning the reports about the trip. He is quoted as saying that we ""should get our facts right". Fair enough. But what are the facts, Mr. Young? Here is what the public knows as reported in the nation's newspapers:


1) On Thursday 9th November, 2017 you announced that the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago
    was going to China on an invitation from the Chinese Government to attend a conference of ten
    (count them - ten) world leaders. The conference was to last from 30th November to 3rd
    December. Thereafter, Dr. Rowley was going to stay in China for a five day State visit.


2) Unfortunately, there was no report anywhere else in the world of such a high level conference
     taking place anywhere in China (nor anywhere else for that matter). Further, there were no details
     as to who the other nine world leaders were. Certainly, there were no reports of any world leaders
     going to China in that period for any reason, much less a conference.


3)  This week the Chinese Ambassador to T&T is reported as saying to the T&T Government that the
      visit scheduled for the end of this month has to be rescheduled for reasons that, quite frankly, do
      not appear at first blush to make a lot of sense, especially when the previous reports are taken into
     consideration. But whether or not the reported reasons make sense or not, those are the facts in the
     public domain.


So, Mr. Young? What other facts are there that we didn't get right? More specifically, what facts exactly did any of us get wrong? For the record, let me ask again the following questions, which, if you would be so kind as to answer clearly and without obfuscation, everybody would be able to say 'Aahh! Okay. Now we understand'. Because as it is right now the reports are such that because of a lack of clear and forthright statements from you (and I hate to say it, but you really are to blame here for being less than clear in the first place) people are going to wonder just what the heck is really going on? Some people are even suggesting that there was never a trip in the first place! Can you believe that? But the level of distrust in politicians has now reached such a height in the society that very ugly and most unnecessary suspicions are arising over this absolute confusion which you caused in the first place. So, here are the questions:


           -  Where did this idea of a conference come from?
           -  Who initiated it? The Chinese? If so, who sent out the invitation and when and by whom
               was it sent?
           -  Where and when did you personally find out about this conference? When was it brought to
               the Cabinet for approval?
           -  Who prepared and presented the appropriate note for Cabinet approval?
           -   As no State secrets are involved and in the interests of absolute transparency is there any
                good reason why we can't get a copy of the relevant Cabinet note?
           -   What was the conference going to be about?
           -   Who were the other nine world leaders going to be attending? (Because I can't believe that
                our Prime Minister would go to a conference not knowing in advance who would be there!)
           -   When was the invitation for the State visit made?
          
There are other questions ... obviously. But answers to those will go a long way to calming people's suspicions that something is amiss.  And you do realize, don't you Mr. Young, that frank and forthright answers would go a long way to putting to bed the very ugly rumors that are circulating in the country. (And, no, you really don't want me to repeat them here. Suffice to say that some of them are scandalous if not downright defamatory.) I mention them only because it is not in the country's best interests that these ugly rumors not be put to rest by putting ALL of the facts into the public domain. Not to do so, but to handle the matter by proverbially 'shooting' those who have dared to ask questions or to comment on the published facts is not happy and not democratic. That's not the way our little Republic is supposed to work. I agree, it would be a lot easier if people like Mariano Browne, Reggie Dumas and me would just shut up and let you and Dr. Rowley do whatever you want. Fortunately, it doesn't work like that ... at least, not yet.

Monday, November 13, 2017

ALL ROADS LEAD TO CHINA? (APPARENTLY)





On Thursday last, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Stuart Young, announced that Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has been invited to a meeting of world leaders in China from November 30th to December 3rd. According to reports Minister Young said at a post-cabinet media conference, that Trinidad and Tobago was selected by the leadership of China to attend the meeting. Mr. Young is quoted as saying that                                                                                     
"(United States) President (Donald) Trump is in China right now and coming out of that conference, the leadership of China looked around the world and decided they would like to meet with ten world leaders" .
"I am pleased to announce that Trinidad and Tobago was chosen as the one from this region and the Prime Minister Dr Rowley has accepted that invitation".


After the conference Dr. Rowley (according to reports) is going to stay in China until December 9th for a State visit.


Now, normally, as a Trinbagonian I would be very proud of the fact that our Prime Minister had been invited to what should be a very important conference, to represent the Region. After all, it would be recognition of Trinidad and Tobago as a leader in the Region (which must include by definition all of the countries that border the Caribbean Sea.


So? Obviously there is a problem. And the problem is that there has been no announcement of any conference of 'world leaders' to be held in China or anywhere else between November 30th and December 3rd. Further, Minister Young said that the conference would be attended by ten 'world leaders' of whom the esteemed Dr. Rowley would be one. But no other leader, much less a 'world leader' has announced that he/she is going to China for this alleged conference.


So? Why the lie? Because it seems that there is no conference and therefore what has been said is simply not true. Or, if you prefer, why the misspeak? It doesn't make sense. If Dr. Rowley is going to China for a State or any other kind of visit, that is one thing. But why pretend that he is going to attend a nonexistent conference of 'world leaders'?


The population has a right to trust the words of their leaders and to expect that they will be told the truth on big as well as little things. If a Prime Minister decides that the interests of his/her country are best served by making a particular trip then he/she has every right to say to the population 'I am going to X country because ..." and the country can then judge whether or not the expense of such a trip is justified and justifiable. But when the justification for that trip is patently false then ugly and unnecessary suspicions arise as to the real reasons for the trip and why they are being hidden from the population.


And that, Mr. Young, is why you should come clean with us. Did you make a mistake? If so, how did this mistake come about? Where did you get the information about this nonexistent conference from in the first place? If you didn't make a mistake then why is it that nobody seems to know anything about this conference? Who besides Dr. Rowley is going? Where is it being held? After all, China is a big place. Are those dates accurate? If not, why not?
What exactly does T&T hope to benefit from Dr. Rowley's attendance at this (nonexistent) conference? How much will this trip cost us? And as for the State visit, is a five day State visit really necessary? What exactly is on the agenda for that portion of the visit?  how much will that portion of the visit cost us? Is there anything on the agenda for that portion of the visit that couldn't be dealt with during the period of the conference? After all, we are talking about the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago being out of the country for a period of about two weeks if travel time is factored in. Is it in our best interests for our Prime Minister to be away from home for so long?


There are a host of other questions, but surely you get the point. For me, the biggest question is why the lie? It just doesn't make sense. Frankly, the whole trip doesn't make sense. That it could, is a given. But the lack of information and the obvious obfuscations are not. And that is what is so troubling.

Monday, October 23, 2017

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?



On the face of it , nothing! But Look at this picture again that is on the front page of today's Guardian. It shows Prime Minister Keith Rowley with Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon, and Minister of Rural Development Kazim Hosein being berated (according to the caption underneath the picture) yesterday (Sunday) by a resident of Mayaro.

But if you look at the picture again and read the caption again you will see some things that aren't being highlighted. First of all, the Rowley visit took place yesterday ... some five days or so after the flooding had started. Why? Why did it take so long for the Prime Minister to go 'on the ground' to see for himself exactly what had happened to thousands of people.

Next, where are the Members of Parliament for the areas in question? News reports say that the Prime Minister had deliberately not invited them! Why? His Minister of National Security said that politics should not come into dealing with this disaster ... a most admirable statement. So why didn't the Prime Minister invite the respective MPs for the areas? Instead he goes with the defeated candidate for Mayaro who is now his Minister of Agriculture. Ugly and unnecessary suspicions arise that the Prime Minister was indeed playing politics with this disaster for it is difficult to think of any reason why the MPs weren't invited along other than they come from the opposition UNC. Of course, there may be another good reason why they weren't invited, but, if so, what is it?

Thirdly, I heard with my own ears the Deputy Head of the ODPM say that this flooding was a 'small thing'. Really? I saw him in what looked like a three piece blue suit, nice and dry in his office saying that this flooding wasn't a big thing! And the Prime Minister doesn't fire him at once for his incompetence and insensitivity?

Fourthly, look at the face of the Prime Minister. Does he look sympathetic to the lady's problems? Or does he look as if he is just taking the criticism because it is politic to do so, but that he really doesn't care? I will readily admit that a snapshot is just that ... a snapshot ... and that the picture can be misleading. But is it? Is it really? Have the actions and words of the Prime Minister both during and after the flooding indicated that he really gets it? If you think that the answer is 'yes' then don't bother to argue the point. But know that perception is reality, and the perception of an awful lot of people is that the Prime Minister really doesn't get it and that he really couldn't care less. After all, goes the perception, all the flooding took place in opposition held constituencies so there is no real need to do anything for these people ... who, by the way, are mostly Indian. And yes, I am saying that the perception is that race has most unfortunately played a part in both the ODPM's and the Government's poor response.

Would that somebody would prove this perception wrong. Why aren't we moving in a direction where such perceptions can be easily debunked? They are divisive and do nothing to take us forward as a nation. So why do I highlight them? Because pretending that they are not there and sweeping them under the proverbial carpet simply hasn't worked. No. Its time that we faced our demons head on and by opposing end them (with apologies to William Shakespeare).

Saturday, October 21, 2017

THE CONTINUING PROBLEM OF VENEZUELA





The President of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro, and the men around him are crooks. Oh! They are running a dictatorship as well, but they are nasty, thieving crooks. Apart from holding very fraudulent elections last week (which in itself ought to be a crime) which were intended to consolidate Maduro's hold on power, the Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns) now runs one of the world's largest and most profitable drug cartels. In addition the trade in human flesh ... prostitution ... is booming as thousands of poor Venezuelan women are being forced into this terrible trade either by the very dire economic circumstances that they find themselves in or by outright kidnapping.


The  Cartel de los Soles is exporting arms and drugs through Honduras, Surinam, the Dominican Republic and ... wait for it ... you guessed it ... Trinidad and Tobago!! And people wonder why our crime rate is rising?!?


In the meantime, our government continues to do business with Maburro's government (and yes, the misspelling of his name is intentional ... he is a donkey!) I understand that country's don't have friends, but they have interests. But how can it be in our interests to be friendly with a dictatorial regime that is actively either involved in or turning a blind eye to the active export of arms and drugs to our shores?!? This can't be right!


And for the record, I challenge the Donkey to sue me for defamation in calling him a nasty, thieving crook. Because he will have to come to Trinidad and go into the witness box and face cross-examination from my lawyers. And everybody knows that (1) a perfect defence to defamation is the truth and (2) he is a coward. He ain't gonna come here and sue me! Not in a month of Sundays! Why? Because he knows that what I am saying is true.


And yes, I know that I can't go to Venezuela again. And isn't that something? I can curse the President of the United States  and then hop on a plane to Miami and come home. But I don't dare go to Caracas because they will lock me up and throw away the key. And people continue to pretend that the Donkey and his cohorts are democrats and our government continues to deal with them.


Sad!!





Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FIRST PEOPLE'S DAY





I read somewhere that this week marks 525 years since Columbus first set foot in the Americas. That this feat undoubtedly changed the course of world history is unquestionable. However, until very recently it was regarded as a great feat and something to be proud of, while completely ignoring the dark side of European conquest: the whole scale obliteration of the indigenous peoples of North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean by the Europeans through genocide, enslavement and disease.


When I was a boy, and throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Columbus was a hero; the 'discoverer' of the 'New World'. The Spanish conquistadores having destroyed the First Peoples' culture and religion turned the few survivors into servile labourers and obedient Catholics. That is why Pope Francis (the first Latin American Pope) in 2015 asked for their forgiveness for the sins that the Catholic Church had either visited upon them or aided and abetted in inflicting upon them.


But that is also why I believe that kudos should be given to the Government of Trinidad & Tobago for recognizing the First People of our twin island Republic in declaring Friday 13th October, 2017 'First Peoples' Day' and making it a public holiday. Indeed, if I had a criticism of the Government's move in this regard it would be a very minor one: that the holiday should not be a 'one-off' holiday but should be every year. We could easily replace it with almost any one of our many other public holidays (Corpus Christi springs to mind). But the recognition of the contribution of the First People to our history, for me at least, is a big thing. And although I have been harshly critical of some of the things that this present Government has done, I have always believed that when somebody does something that is right, that good deed ought to be acknowledged, and I do so now.


The declaration of a public holiday in honour of the First People is most fitting in remembering our past and honouring their place in it, as well as their place in our present and our future.


P.S. Full disclosure: my great grandmother on my father's side was one half Arawak. It has always been a source of great pride to me that this means that one-sixteenth of the blood running through my veins comes from ancestors who were here from the very beginning.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

OF FERRIES AND LETTERS OF CREDIT





In the ongoing drama over what has popularly become known as 'Ferrygate' a question has arisen over whether or not a letter of credit was irrevocable or not and whether or not the taxpayers of this country have had to pay out some US$3 million for the infamous ferry called the "Cabo Star".


Spokesmen for the Government and the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) have suggested in the newspapers that the letter of credit was revoked and therefore no money has been paid or will be paid to Bridgemans, the owners of the Cabo Star. But the various statements coming from these spokesmen have been obfuscatory at best or down right ignorant and dishonest at worst.


Let's start with the classic definition of a letter of credit: a letter of credit is a contract made between an issuing bank and a seller of goods or services being supplied to a buyer of those goods or services. A normal mercantile contract usually stipulates that the letter of credit is irrevocable, which means that the buyer cannot cancel it. You have only to look at it to understand why. The whole idea for a letter of credit is to ensure that the seller is paid no matter what. In other words, the buyer cannot come up with some later excuse and refuse to pay because he (the buyer) wants out of the deal that he has made with the seller.


It is trite law that the contract between the issuing bank and the seller (which contract is the letter of credit) is a separate contract and is independent of the original contract between the buyer and the seller. In other words, the bank is bound vis-a-vis the seller to pay upon presentation of the letter of credit and its accompanying documents once everything is in accordance with the terms and conditions under which the letter of credit was issued. The bank is bound to pay even where there may have been a breach by the seller under the original contract which would have enabled the buyer to reject the goods.


The only exception to this rule is where there has been a fraudulent presentation of documents to the bank which contain material misrepresentations of fact relating to the letter of credit which the seller knows to be inaccurate. But these fraudulent statements must relate to the contract between the bank and the seller. The contract between the buyer and the seller is a completely different matter.


Of course, apart from fraud, if any documents relating to the letter of credit are forged, that forgery could also void the letter of credit.


So, you can understand that the terms "irrevocable letter of credit" and "letter of credit" really are one and the same thing. All of which could help to explain why the "Cabo Star" turned up in Trinidad last week. It has been reported that the letter of credit becomes due on Thursday 28th September, 2017. It might have been a condition of the letter of credit that the vessel had to be in Trinidad waters by that date or the letter of credit would be null and void. If that was the case, then it looks like the letter of credit will have to be paid ... if it hasn't been already!


But it doesn't explain exactly what has happened in this whole "Ferrygate" fiasco or why we don't have all of the facts. Certainly, getting to the bottom of this has been more difficult than pulling the teeth out of a chicken ... and, yes, I am aware that chickens don't have teeth!

Monday, September 18, 2017

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE LAW ASSOCIATION





Dear Mr. President,
I don't know if you are aware of it (but you ought to be), but a lot of practicing attorneys were prevented from attending the speech by the Chief Justice in the Convocation Hall today. A young attorney reported to me that he attended the Church service and wanted to go to listen to the Chief Justice's speech. He said that he was aware of the call for a boycott but as this was his first year as an attorney he wanted to take part in every aspect of the ceremonial opening of the Courts.


Imagine his surprise when he turned up for the speech and saw with his own eyes that the Convocation Hall was about ninety percent empty but was told by an usher that he couldn't get in because "seats allocated for attorneys had already been filled."


Now you've only got to look at it to see that this is absolute nonsense and very wrong. Frankly, I am astonished to hear that in a matter such as this that practicing attorneys rank behind lay persons. One would have thought that the ceremonial opening of the Courts are more for us than for anybody else.


In these circumstances I request and require a definitive statement from the Law Association on this. Does the Law Association agree that practicing attorneys should rank behind "invitees and other dignitaries" in matters such as this? In other words, we, the members of the Law Association are not as important to the Courts of this country as foreigners and other so-called "dignitaries"?And our Association accepts this?


If the Council of the Law Association believes that this is acceptable kindly tell the membership and please explain why. I know that members would be most interested.


For the record, I personally think that this exclusion of attorneys was unacceptable because we are officers of the Court and should therefore rank before anybody else in all ceremonies relating to the Court.


It is probably better that I leave unexpressed my opinion as to the real reason why there was this exclusion of attorneys other than to note that this opening of the new Law Term was not without controversy.


Yours faithfully,


Robin Montano
Attorney-at-Law

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I'M BACK!!





I have deliberately not written anything on this blog for the longest while (actually since March of this year)! The truth is that I felt that I wasn't making a difference and that there was no point in continuing with what felt like battering my head against a brick wall. But a lot of people have been asking me 'to come back', as it were, and a friend just wrote to me adding his voice to those who have been telling me that I should. Actually, he kind of pushed me over the edge.


So! I'm back. There is a lot to talk about and a lot that is going on in Trinidad and Tobago that needs to be talked and commented about. So, in no particular order, here goes:


1. The Speaker of the House of Representatives
If ever there was a Presiding Officer of a parliamentary Chamber who ought to be removed it is this one. Clearly, Mrs. Annisette-George simply doesn't understand how vitally important the role and function of an impartial speaker is. Last Friday (8th September) was the last straw. (Okay, that's not vey good English but you understand what I'm trying to say.) Last Friday she saved the Government's proverbial bacon by using her casting vote not once, not twice, but three times!! Now the Speaker's casting vote is supposed to be used to maintain the status quo.  She didn't do that. For example, on a motion to adjourn the House there was a tie. Unbelievably, she voted with the Government to adjourn! The House was in session. How could she do this?
No. It was very wrong. Frankly, if I was advising the Leader of the Opposition (and I am not) I would tell her to file a motion of no confidence in the Speaker, recite exactly what took place on Friday and then sit down after a very short five minute speech. I would challenge the Government to say why they think that behavior was acceptable and not reply at all. Let the country be the judge. You would know that the Government will use its majority (wrongly in this case) to have it's way, but that wouldn't be important. What would be important was to see who in the Parliament was prepared to put country before Party.


2. The Abuse by the Police and the Army with their sirens
It is getting impossible to go anywhere where there is traffic without some police or army vehicle turning on its siren and barreling down the wrong side of the road pushing all and sundry out of the way. Take two personal examples: about a month ago I was going down to Chagaramus. It was about 4pm and the traffic coming out of 'Chag' was bumper to bumper and at a standstill. All of a sudden an army car with heavily tinted windows and a flag (obviously an army big wig) came barreling down on my side of the road with its siren blaring. I refused to pull over. The driver rolled down his window and waved his arm signaling me to get out of the way. I waved back signaling him to go jump in the nearest lake. To the best of my knowledge, Venezuela hadn't declared war on Trinidad and there was no emergency other than the big wig not wanting to sit in traffic with the rest of the plebians. In any case, to the best of my knowledge the army has no legal right (except in times of war or states of emergency) to use its sirens. I was kind of hoping that the soldier might try to arrest me, but he didn't! That case would have been a great one to defend!
The second example occurred about ten days ago. My office is at the bottom of Abercromby Street. To get to it one has to drive east along Independence Square and turn left at the Republic Bank corner. My wife was driving me at the time. When we arrived at the corner an unmarked police vehicle turned on its siren and blue lights and dashed in front of us. Now, there is such a thing as radio and it is always possible that there is a genuine police emergency and the police (unlike the army) do have special powers, so my wife quite properly gave way. But (and here's the thing) the policeman stopped his car obliquely opposite my office and went into a snackette to get his breakfast. I know. I followed him because I wanted to see what was the emergency. I said nothing, but honestly? It was very annoying. And very wrong.


3. The Ferry and Petrotrin Debacles
There is so much that has been said about these two scandals that I'd probably be simply repeating what others are saying. At this time therefore all I will say is that what do you think that Keith Rowley would be saying about these scandals if all the facts that are in the public domain now were in the public domain in the hypothetical situation where he was the Leader of the Opposition instead of being the Prime Minister and Kamla Persad Bissessar was the Prime Minister instead of being the Leader of the Opposition. When you have figured that out you will understand everything.


There is a lot more and I promise to write again soon. But tht's it for now!
Cheers

Monday, March 13, 2017

POVERTY AND THE STATUS QUOS





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 are often told about why people are poor. Speaking for myself, I reject categorically this conclusion. Low wages, a lack of good jobs, the poor quality of education in too many of our schools, a banking system that rips off the "non-rich" (if I can coin a word), the lack of marriageable males in poor, mainly black communities like Laventille, the ongoing discrimination against mainly poor black persons coming from communities like Laventille, the lack of effective government support for institutions like the Family Planning Association (and the key word here is "effective"), all contribute to the tsunami of poverty that is engulfing us.


It used to be that there was a belief that if you got a good education and worked hard that you would benefit from  upward income mobility. Certainly, that is what Eric Williams and his PNM preached (and delivered on) in the late fifties and the sixties. Williams lifted the educational standards of the country and thereby raised the standard of living of hundreds of thousands of our citizenry (at a time when the population was just a little over half a million) ... citizens who had never had the opportunity of being able to go to school before. The country lurched forward by leaps and bounds.


But somewhere along the way we lost our focus. New and different problems arose and there was no Williams to deal with them. By the mid to late eighties the economic "flavour" was Reaganism and Thatcherism ... 'trickle down' economics. ANR Robinson came to power in the late December 1986 and decided that the best way to run the country was to run it like a business; cut salaries and throw people out of work and fix the balance sheet by adopting sound business principles.


In the budget debate in the Senate in 1987 I argued then that while I could see that the proposed solutions of the NAR would balance the country's books ... and they did ... that these proposals would cause massive hardship to the poor and economically weak ... and they did. I argued then that you simply cannot run a country like a business without causing great hardship to the poor and that the net result of these policies would be that the rich would get richer and the poor would get poorer.


It gives me no satisfaction whatsoever 30 years later to have been proven to be right!


Patrick Manning's regime continued with the NAR's economic policies ... as has every government since then. The argument that the banks needed to be brought under control was ignored. And so today you have a powerful banking sector that is ripping off the poor in ways that are completely immoral and unfair, but you don't hear a cat complaining! Today you have a situation where people whose parents had worked hard to lift themselves out of the morass of poverty now see those very same parents slipping inexorably back into the dark abyss of despair.


We are in a mess. It is a mess of our own making. We pretend that God is a Trini and all is right with our world. We pretend that energy prices will rise to save us again and that the creeping poverty is really the result of personal immaturity and/or irresponsibility and that all would be right if only poor people would know their place, work hard and shut up.


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: if the education system was blown up this afternoon so that absolutely nothing of it remained, would you put back the exact same system or would you put in something different? Only one person has ever told me that he would put the same system back. Everybody else has said that he would put in something different. So, the question remains: why are we tinkering? Where is the 'out-of-the-box' thinking that we need to solve our problems?


This essay is really a "crie de couer" for the poor of our country... especially the poorest members of our society. And who are they? Answer: the children! They own nothing and are helpless to do anything that might improve their lives.


We owe it to them to fix the system and come up with the same type of radical thinking that Dr. Williams came up with in the fifties. Problems cannot be fixed with the same level of awareness that created them.


There are solutions. That is the good news. But all of the decision makers in our society today appear to be bound and gagged by traditional thinking and self-interest. There are too many 'status quos', and we all know that the slightest suggestion for change always means death to some status quo. And that is the bad news!





Tuesday, December 6, 2016

THOSE (PESKY) LOCAL GOVERNMENT RESULTS

Assuming (though definitely not accepting) that the leadership of both major political parties in Trinidad & Tobago do really care about their country and put the needs of the citizenry before their own personal wants and ambitions, it is difficult to understand how either side could be pleased with the results of the recently held local government elections.


Let's look first of all at the results: the Trinidad Guardian reported right after the elections had been declared that the turnout was a very low 17 percent. Now where did the Guardian get that figure from? Reporters from the newspaper have told me that those figures came out from the EBC (Elections and Boundaries Commission) itself. Other news organizations reported a low poll of around 20 percent. Then, the Prime Minister comes out and says that the PNM's figures showed a turn out of 34 percent. Then, the EBC comes out after the Prime Minister and says that the actual turn out was 34.34 percent. To which I say really? What's wrong with this picture? Look, if the turnout was in fact 34.34 percent, why didn't the EBC say this immediately? Where did the 17 percent/20 percent/low turnout figures come from in the first place? Something is wrong. What? I don't honestly know, but I can say that this whole thing has given rise to very ugly and most unnecessary suspicions that are better left unexpressed. And I say this especially in the light of the EBC's illegal and high handed action of keeping the polls open in Trinidad for an extra hour in Trinidad in the general elections last year without a Presidential proclamation. Something is wrong here. Something is definitely not right. It just doesn't make sense.


And that's the problem. I was taught that when a man tells you something that doesn't make sense 99 percent of the time it is because he does not want you to understand. One percent of the time it is because he doesn't understand. So, what is it that the EBC doesn't want us to understand?


And the turn out was abysmally low. I don't care what the 'official' figures are. I have talked with dozens of people from around the country. Everybody tells me that in their areas there was either nobody at the polling stations or hardly anybody there. Most people didn't vote ... and the reasons were pretty uniform: they were all fed up with both sides! I honestly do not believe the 34 percent figure ... and everybody that I have talked to is of the same view. Now, IF that figure is really true, then what is the EBC going to do to satisfy us that they are really telling us the truth? Because it is critically important that we trust the EBC. And right now a lot of people simply don't. And that is not a good thing! The EBC has a duty to come to us with 'palms up' and account to us in clear and concise terms that explains everything and leaves no question unanswered. They have to regain our trust. It is most important that they do. This goes to the heart of our democracy.


People are saying that they feel that neither political party or their leaderships really care about anything other than feathering their own nests. Now, whether that perception is true or not, isn't it a terrible thing for people to believe? And the sad truth is that is how most people feel. In politics perception is reality, and most unfortunately the reality in 21st century Trinidad & Tobago is that neither side appears that they really care for we the people or making our lives better.


It is also a well worn truism that politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. What is happening now is that there is a perception that the Rowley administration is bereft of ideas and is failing badly. More than one person has expressed the view that the country is running on auto pilot. The problem here is that the Kamla Persad Bissessar UNC is not regarded by a majority of the citizenry as a credible alternative. In the power vacuum that is growing by the day the doors are opening for a third force to barge in ... and that third force will not necessarily come in through the democratic door!!  And that is why I say that the local government election results ought to be regarded by the leadership of both parties as a most serious wake up call. To the UNC I say, for crying out loud, get your act together ... now! Show yourself to be a credible alternative to which a besieged citizenry can turn to for help. To the PNM I say you are in power; you asked to be in power; you asked for this job and you told us that you could fix things.  Fix it and fix it now; in other words, show us the light at the end of the tunnel; show us how you propose to fix things. Put another way, lead, follow or get out of the way.













Friday, November 25, 2016

PRIORITIES

Today:
Two men were found in Marabella this morning tied together, eyebrows shaved off and their faces painted. The bodies were discovered lying near the roadway outside Las Vegas Recreation Club, Tarouba Road at daybreak.Police said they were discovered by a resident on his way to work along a roadway which links the San Fernando Bypass Road.


Two days ago:
A woman was raped and killed in Farnum Village, Guaraca in a street opposite the Masjid mosque.


Five days ago:
The decomposing body of Eulan Blackman was found on the corner of Queen and Nelson Streets in Port of Spain. He was reportedly last seen alive on the previous Sunday afternoon.


Yesterday:
The national football coach was fired after losing the last international game against Costa Rica. But 410 murders later (for this year) both the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of National security still have their jobs. Tells you a lot about our priorities,, doesn't it?!?



Thursday, June 2, 2016

BILLION DOLLAR COMPANIES AND 'PEEWAT' STATES

In my last post I warned about the looming crisis in Venezuela when nobody else was writing about it. Sadly, since then a lot of folks have woken up and smelt the coffee. The crisis in Venezuela has not yet quite reached bursting, but it is clear for all to see that this very ugly boil will pop very soon.


Today, though, I would like to leave that sad topic alone and concentrate on another storm that is appearing on our economic horizon. I am talking about Liberty Global, Cable and Wireless,  Columbus Communications (Flow) and Massey Communications.


Let me explain: some six months or so ago Cable and Wireless (C&W) bought over Columbus Communications (Trinidad) Limited, the ubiquitous television cable provider in T&T. The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad & Tobago (TATT) approved the deal but ordered that C&W do sell it's 49 percent shareholding in TSTT, the telephone company in which the State owns 51 percent.


In the meantime, 'back at the ranch', a huge American telecommunications giant Liberty Global (Liberty)  bought over C&W making it, if not the largest, then certainly one of the largest telecommunications providers in the world. Liberty is big. Really big! And they have shown themselves not afraid to use their power in disputes with small states. Recently in a dispute with the Bahamas Government Liberty virtually brought that government to its knees ... but that's another story.


In any case, as you can imagine, there are few if any buyers who will want to or are capable of buying out C&W's 49 percent share in TSTT. One of the obviously big problems for any buyer is taking a minority share in a state enterprise. That buyer is going to have a lot of money tied up in a business which it cannot control. That's not exactly a recipe for a profitable investment.


Enter now from stage left Massey Communications Limited, a subsidiary company of the large billion dollar T&T conglomerate. Massey Communications is presently carrying on simultaneous talks with Liberty/C&W on the one hand and the T&T Government on the other to buy out all of the shares in TSTT. That's right: all!! And the Government is seriously considering this offer.


Well, you could argue that the taking over of TSTT by private enterprise wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. But what if after the Government sells its shares to Massey and Massey buys C&W's shares then Liberty Global decides to make Massey an offer that it can't refuse for 100 percent of TSTT? Or even just decides to buy out Massey Communications Limited? There are a number of obvious permutations and combinations in this scenario.


Pay attention. It just could happen. And the open ended question is would this be a good thing for us?



Monday, April 25, 2016

IS TRINIDAD & TOBAGO PREPARING FOR THE LOOMING FALLOUT FROM VENEZUELA"S CRISIS?



Just about anybody who reads the newspapers is (or ought to be) aware that Trinidad's closest neighbor has completely collapsed economically. Venezuela is now officially a complete and utter economic basket case with its currency being unofficially devalued on a daily basis on the black market (the official rate of exchange is such a joke that nobody even bothers to quote it any more). Last week the black market rate was in the region of US$1 being able to buy more than Bolivars 1,150!! Inflation is running at around 700 percent and basic things like toilet paper and women's feminine products are scarce. Manufacturing has collapsed ... last week Polar, the country's largest beer manufacturer said that it would stop making beer! Eggs and milk are in short supply. And I mean short supply!!


The electricity supply is now so bad that Government offices are now closing on Fridays in order to conserve the supply. And this is in addition to power cuts averaging 4 hours a day in the capital city Caracas. Many private offices are also closing on Fridays as well. In other words, productivity in this most unfortunate South American country has gone to hell in a basket.


Shopping for groceries can only be done on alternative days and your fingerprints have to be taken before you are let in the store. Crime is completely out of control. Its so bad over there that Venezuelans who come over here are surprised at how much we complain about our own crime rate. 'Yours is nothing', they say with something approaching scorn. 'You should see ours!' And in comparative terms they are right! Most people do not even wear their wedding rings any more when they walk out of the house. Gangs on motor cycles terrorize motorists holding them up and robbing them in traffic jams.


Of course, if you listen to Venezuela's President Maduro (who on a play on words Venezuelans call 'Ma burro' ... 'burro' in Spanish is 'donkey') you will readily understand that the economic woes of his oil rich country have absolutely nothing to do with his and his predecessor's (the erstwhile Hugo Chavez) economic policies but are all the fault of that 'Great Satan', the United States!! (To which you will undoubtedly yawn and say 'what a surprise!') Of course, the total and complete incompetence of the regime not to mention the corruption that pervades the Chavista movement from top to bottom has nothing to do with a country that has been blessed with a plethora of riches from oil to gold and everything in between, being on its economic back!


But this post is not about the idiocies of Chavez and Ma burro (sorry, I mean Maduro). It is about the old Trinidadian adage 'when your neighbor's house is on fire wet your own'. T&T is doing nothing to prepare for the serious possibility of refugees from Venezuela that will occur when the proverbial mud hits the proverbial fan. The situation in Venezuela can't last much longer. Their "sell by" date for serious social unrest has long since passed and the regime can only stay in power by more and more brutal and undemocratic means. How long it will take before the lighted fuse finally hits the dynamite is anybody's guess. But that an explosion is inevitable is beyond question.


So? What are we doing to prepare for the coming explosion? What should we be doing now?  And don't say 'nothing'. We should pay attention and prepare for the coming tsunami. Because, come it will.


P.S. Full disclosure: my wife is Venezuelan.