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.

Friday, March 4, 2016

WHEN DO TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT?





Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has done what he does best: attack. He has criticized First Citizens Bank fiercely for their apparent breach of confidentiality involving the deposit of some $93,000 in cash by his Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis into her account. On the face of it, Dr. Rowley's criticisms seem justified. After all, there are few things more personal than one's financial affairs, and banks are supposed to keep the details of an individual's banking transactions confidential. Exposing Mrs. Robinson-Regis like this certainly appears to be a breach of confidentiality by somebody in First Citizens Bank.


So far so good! In other words, on the face of it Dr. Rowley appears to be right when he says that the bank had breached its confidentiality obligations to it's customer, Mrs. Robinson-Regis, when somebody (obviously in the bank) leaked details of a transaction in which some $93,000 of unexplained cash (not cheques) was deposited in her account. The Prime Minister is always at his best when he is in attack mode, and he was scathing in his criticisms of the bank's apparent breach.


But hold on a minute. Several questions arise. The first and most obvious one is that isn't this cash transaction of Mrs. Robinson-Regis suspicious of itself on the face of it? Frankly, for a politician ... any politician ... holding a Ministerial position to deposit the rather hefty sum of $93,000 in cash into her account gives rise to most unnecessary and very ugly suspicions that the money is "dirty". It may very well not be, but the explanation given by the erstwhile Minister that she had closed an account of her husband's at another bank, withdrawn the cash and then re-deposited it into her bank quite frankly defies the belief of all but the most gullible. Why didn't she withdraw the money in the form of a Manager's Cheque? It doesn't make sense. I have said it often, but it bears repeating: when somebody tells you something that doesn't make sense 99 percent of the time he doesn't want you to understand what he is saying. The remaining one percent of the time it is because he doesn't understand what he is saying. So, why hasn't the Prime Minister also dealt with this cash transaction? Is it that Mrs. Robinson-Regis, a perceived Keith Rowley loyalist, is untouchable?


No.  Mrs. Robinson-Regis is going to have to ... or put another way ... ought to explain  very, very clearly exactly where this money came from, and prove it!! Why? Because if she doesn't most right thinking members of society will continue to harbor those dark and ugly suspicions that I referred to above ... and it is simply not in the best interests of society to have these suspicions floating around. If there is substance to them (i.e., if they are true) then the miscreant ought to be dealt with. Obviously! If they are not true then leaving them to linger effectively destabilizes the society as some persons who believe them to be true will say that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander and will believe that it is acceptable to indulge in an illegal act. Either way, good governance demands that this matter be 'put to bed' conclusively.


Then, the next question that arises is why didn't the Prime Minister in the next breath after he attacked First Citizens Bank so fiercely not turn and demand a full and complete explanation from his Minister? Maybe he did, but if he did, why didn't he say so? It doesn't take much of an imagination to conjour up images of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley in and out of Parliament frothing at the mouth if instead of a PNM Minister who had been so grievously exposed it had been a UNC Minister who had given the exact same explanation. Just think about what he would have said in that case and you've got the picture clearly. A Prime Minister can't be a Prime Minister of only one section of the society. He is the Prime Minister of all of us. He must not only be even handed in his dealings especially when it comes to the integrity of his Ministers but ought to be seen as being even handed. And in this case, he regrettably falls short ... at least, so far.


Thirdly, the PNM made a lot of noise about whistleblower legislation, or rather the lack of it and how necessary it was ... and rightly so. Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Stuart Young says that this legislation is being drafted now. So, the question arises: is this affair something that will be covered by the whistleblower legislation when it eventually comes to pass? Because, make no mistake, it is very clear that somebody in the bank was sufficiently upset by this transaction to spill the beans. Okay. There is no legislation in place right now, so legally the bank appears on the face of it to be liable for this egregious breach of confidentiality. But if the coming legislation is going to be designed to cover such events as this, then something is wrong with the picture of two politicians (the P.M. and his Minister) complaining about something that they are planning to be allowed in the future. And it is not acceptable to say in effect 'well, that's not the law right now'. And if it is not going to be covered by the coming legislation then the obvious question is why not? This is exactly the sort of thing that the pending legislation ought to cover!


No. Two or even three wrongs can never make a right. As it stands, the bank certainly appears to be wrong. But, without a full and  proper explanation (and so far there hasn't been one), so does the Minister. The Prime Minister cannot and ought not to be allowed to blame one without looking carefully at the actions of the other, and if she is found wanting, dealing with her severely.

Monday, February 22, 2016

WHO PROFITS FROM NON-DIVERSIFICATION?



Somebody asked me a few weeks ago 'who profits from the non-diversification of the economy'? Thinking about it I realized that this was an excellent question which most people were more comfortable with ignoring rather than facing it frontally ... a typical West Indian trait! I never got a straight answer but did find that this was a question that certain persons as far afield from Trinidad as the Bahamas, are asking. Well, I am certainly not an economist and those economists that I did ask could not give me a straight answer but gave instead  lot of unintelligible "mumbo-jumbo".


So? Who benefits? Because in more than fifty years of independence somebody (or 'bodies') must have benefitted. After all, money, like water, will always obey gravity and will accumulate wherever it is easiest. Having looked at it with my admittedly inexpert economic eye I have come to the (not surprising) conclusion that the fault lies with that commercial class which Dr. Eric Williams once scathingly referred to as "commission agents", i.e., those so-called businessmen who add little or no value to imported products, but simply mark up the goods and re-sell them at a huge profit.


There has been so much oil money floating around that these guys have become quite adept at making money off of foreign goods and ideas. Take one of our more profitable public companies, Prestige Holdings. This company has the KFC and TGI Fridays franchises and makes millions from them. The service in these places is lousy, but who cares? Nobody. The company makes a fortune and every year pays huge sums in franchise fees to the American owners. Oh, I know: Prestige will argue that they employ lots and lots of people and pay lots and lots of taxes. But the company adds no intrinsic value to the economy. It doesn't make or produce anything. Another popular and profitable company is Pricemart. The list goes on and on, but you get the point. If you want to make a lot of money import something from abroad for pennies and sell it locally for dollars. If you follow this tried and proven formula you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.


Don't believe me? Go into any Massey store that used to be known as Hi-Lo and buy a DiGiorno pizza there. You will pay about TT$100 for it. Go into a supermarket in the States and the same pizza will cost you US$5.00. That's about TT$32.50 if you convert at US$1.00 = TT$6.50 (which is more than the official rate today). In other words, there is a lot of profit in this particular product built in for the importer who clearly will not be buying the product at the retail US$5.00 price but for much less!!


Put another way, we, the general public are being ripped off by the greedy and unscrupulous commission agent class and nobody has done anything about it for more than fifty years!! Dr. Williams (to give him credit) did try once when he, for example, prevented the importation of foreign assembled vehicles in order to try and start an assembly industry here. But that effort failed. The local businesses were unable to meet the demand and the quality of the locally assembled cars was worse than abysmal. Since then, nobody has seriously tried to force the commission agents to become more entrepreneurial. Oil money has flowed like water and calls to diversify are met with 'oh yes, that's a great idea', but nothing else.


I must blame also the University of the West Indies. Nowhere have I seen or heard any real or good workable ideas from the 'think tank' that the University ought to be as to how to achieve this purpose. UWI has failed this country and the region terribly. The professors and lecturers have been by and large completely incompetent and incapable of providing the kind of modern and progressive thinking that is so badly needed to get us out of the economic doldrums. They are very good at talking though! But then most West Indians can do that  fairly well even without a university degree.


No. The only test for leadership is leading and leading vigorously. Sadly, throughout the region there is a dearth of leadership which has resulted in our Third World thinking and the fact that because of this we will continue to allow the 'commission agents' to continue to rip us off. And our economies will continue not to be diversified.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"TO PROTECT AND SERVE" ... IS THERE ANYTHING THAT WE CAN DO TO FORCE THE POLICE TO DO THEIR JOB?



ASAMI NAGAKIYA was a talented and pretty young Japanese pannist (for the benefit of my foreign readers, that's somebody who plays the steel pan). She had come to Trinidad to play her instrument and to play Carnival and her body was found on Ash Wednesday morning. She had been strangled and one news report says that she also had been raped. Frankly, I believe the report of sexual assault, although the police seem bent on covering up this aspect of the crime. (Why they would want to do that is beyond me.)


But her horrible death ... and the fact that the police are doing nothing to stop or even slow the steadily growing assault by criminals on civil society has got me to thinking: can we really do nothing about it? Are we hopeless and helpless? In other words, are we perpetual victims of the criminal elements who seem to control all the important arms of the State so that they can literally thumb their noses at us and say in effect that they can do whatever they feel like doing? And we, poor fools that we are, can do nothing except bitch and complain?


Okay. The short answer to those questions is 'yes'.


But what if we the people decided to change that paradigm with some out of the box thinking? What if we came up with a solution that would force the 'powers that be' to perform or pay when they don't perform?


Let me explain: currently all the legal authorities and precedents suggest that there is no civil liability on the part of the police or even the State if a person were to become a victim of a crime. In the leading American case of Warren v. District of Columbia (1981) it was decided that there is "no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen." I haven't had the time to check the Commonwealth authorities but I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that they will fall along the same lines. In other words, the State has no legal obligation to protect you that can be enforced in a Court of Law with financial penalties if it doesn't.


But in good old T&T it is against the law for a law abiding citizen to even carry a pepper spray, and it is very, very difficult to get a firearms licence. Put another way, the State ensures by it's laws that it's law abiding citizenry is at a great disadvantage when it comes to confronting armed and dangerous criminals. And the police service (whose rather laughable motto is "to protect and serve") is so woefully incompetent and/or corrupt that the conviction rate for murder hovers somewhere around three percent! In other words, you can bet your bottom dollar that you are strictly on your own when it comes to defending yourself against the criminals. Neither the State nor the arm of the State meant to protect you (i.e., the police) are going to help you or defend you. You are going to be deliberately left unarmed and defenceless and with no legal recourse.


But aren't we a nation of laws? And aren't laws supposed to exist for the benefit of the greater society? And don't we elect politicians to make these laws for our benefit and protection? So? Why don't we tell our law makers to do their work? Lead, follow or get out of the way!!


Let me give you an (admittedly outrageous) idea: what do you think would happen if we were to change the law and make the State liable in the civil law if a person is a crime victim? If all of a sudden a Prime Minister and his/her Minister of Finance (and I'm referring here to any Prime Minister and Finance Minister ... not just Messrs. Rowley and Imbert) found themselves having to pay out millions of dollars from the State's coffers to victims of crime, how long do you think that they would tolerate those losses? How long would they stay in power if their administration had to pay out millions in damages to crime victims?


Look, somebody has to pay. We have to stop the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. My experience has been that nothing gets done if nobody has to pay for 'it' (whatever 'it' might happen to be).  Of course, we can just sit back and watch while we get picked off like rabbits in a shooting range and complain about how unfair and incompetent our leaders are.


But you should know that we, the ordinary people, really do have the power to change things ... if we really want to!! And you don't have to like or agree with my idea. Just come up with another that will fix the problem.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

WE ARE IN TROUBLE ... DEEP TROUBLE



Unfortunately, nobody seems to have zeroed in on the real problem that Trinidad & Tobago is facing with its finances. Oh! There is a lot of talk, but nobody is explaining to the ordinary person just how deep we are in the mess. Last night I had a conversation with a leading economist who put the problem in perspective for me. He said that he had reviewed the budget over the Christmas holidays ... not the speech, that's not the budget, but the real budget ... the figures. He said that when he looked at the projected income figures from the energy sector for 2014 they showed an income of approximately $16 billion. The figures projected by the Government for the 2016 budget (he said) show a projected income of $3.5 billion based on oil at $45 per barrel. he expected that with oil prices continuing their downward trend, the real income will be something closer to $2 billion!


Got that? Well it gets worse. In 2014 (he said) VAT earnings were approximately $5.7 billion. He went on to say that for most of the previous years before 2014 VAT earnings were more or less at this figure. But for 2016 the figure jumps to something like $12.1 billion. How? Where is this extra projected VAT income going to come from? The short answer is that it ain't comin' any time soon!


So? What is the Government likely to do? Well, my expert continued, if you look at Canada and Australia, which are both resource based economies like ours, they have had to devalue their currencies by approximately 25 percent. In other words, we can expect the same ... which will take us to around $8.00/$8.50 to the US dollar. The Government can then make up part of its shortfall this way.


Also, he said, the Government will probably stop paying VAT refunds. This way the debt (the refunds) will be an effective loan that won't show up in the books as a loan! It will soak up the excess liquidity in the system and private businesses and persons who were counting on that money suddenly won't have it any more.


To add more misery there is the issue of Petrotrin. If you thought that Caroni Limited was a drain oon the exchequer Petrotrin makes it look like a walk in the park. Petrotrin currently employs some 5,000 workers. The average monthly salary at Petrotrin is $23,000. In other words, Petrotrin's average monthly wage bill is $11,500,000.00!!!


You don't have to be a genius to figure that one out! So question: if shutting down Caroni was the right thing to do would it be also the right thing to do to shut down or scale back Petrotrin significantly? If not, why not? If so, when will this be done?


Put another way: we are in trouble ... deep trouble!!



Sunday, January 3, 2016

WE AREN'T SERIOUS ABOUT TOURISM (and probably never will be)

How would you like to go to what was represented to you as a first class hotel and find that it's beach was as filthy as is shown in the above picture? You wouldn't? What a surprise! But take a look at the next picture of the same beach:





Yep! It's really dirty isn't it. But you are paying at least US$250 per night (or more for the privilege of staying in the hotel. (And yes, those deck chairs that you saw in the above picture are for the hotel's guests to sit and savour the wonderful view of the filthy beach).


And where is this 'nirvana'? Take a look at the last photograph below. Recognize the place? That's right! It's none other than the Magdalena Grand ... one of Tobago's premier hotels proudly owned and operated by the Government of Trinidad & Tobago!
 
All three pictures were taken on New Year's Day this year by a foreign visitor to Tobago.  She was a guest at the hotel and was distressed at the filth that was on the beach. She told me that the cost of her holiday was certainly not cheap. She said that complaints to the manager of the Magdalena as well as to the staff of the hotel were met with shrugs and the statement that they could do nothing about it. Really? The manager could not even complain to Chief Secretary Orville London? Maybe he had tried before and Mr. London had told him to shove it. Maybe he hadn't complained at all. But how could Messrs. London & Co. (otherwise known as the Tobago House of Assembly or THA) not know about  the filthy state of this beach outside of one of Tobago's top hotels. Do they care?

Just the other day the new Tourism Minister made a visit to Tobago and was reported to have gone to the Magdalena Grand. This beach didn't get dirty overnight. Didn't he see it? If so, what did he do about it?

I asked my friend if she would come back to Tobago again. She smiled and shook her head. "I don't think so," she smiled.  And that said it all! Either we wake up and smell the coffee or we don't. But don't tell me that we are serious about developing tourism as a possible source of foreign exchange when we so clearly don't give a damn about the tourists or providing them with a clean and safe environment.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

THE PARIS ATTACKS, ISIS & T&T







It is time now that we focus on possible external threats to our peace and security at home. I am referring to the terrorist group that calls itself ISIS.  (And I don't know, by the way, if anybody has ever noticed the oxymoron in that terrorist group calling itself ISIS: ISIS apparently stands for Islamic State in Syria. The word "Islam" comes from the Arabic "Salam" which means "peace". ISIS definitely cannot be defined as a 'peaceful' organization!) In any case, our newspapers have reported that there are some 89 Trinidadians over in Syria right now fighting with or for ISIS. The problem here is that every single citizen of Trinidad & Tobago has a constitutional right to re-enter the country at any time.


So? Under our laws any or all of these "fighters" can come home at any time that they choose. Of course, you don't have to have a degree in rocket science to see that allowing any or all of them back into this little twin island state carries the very real possibility that they might use the training that they have received in the battleground of Syria to wreak havoc in our society.


But either we are a nation of laws or we are just as bad as those who would seek to overturn our society by violent means. We can't simply ban them from coming home, and yet we simply can't allow them in. There would be a huge and obvious risk to our society if we were to do this.


Perhaps, therefore, one possible solution to this conundrum would be to make it a crime for any citizen to engage in any act of terrorism anywhere in the world and subject to a long term incarceration if he/she does. The obvious problem then would be on agreeing what exactly amounts to an act of terrorism? If I go to a foreign land to fight for freedom can I be classified as a terrorist? One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. You see the problem?


Another possible solution might be to say that ALL citizens who have gone to Syria to fight for ISIS cannot re-enter Trinidad & Tobago for, say, at least five years after the war has ended. Again, there are rather obvious objections to this.


But we need to discuss the problem now and come up with a solution now, rather than have a 'knee jerk' reaction to it when it does finally arrive on our doorstep. and trust me: it will sooner or later. That is why I thought that the Minster of National Security's remarks about ISIS not posing an immediate threat to T&T while being quite possibly true, were only telling half the story. There is a potential threat to us and it is home grown. Even if only, say 15 of the 89 return home that will be 15 battle hardened and well trained soldiers whose ideology is highly likely to pose a serious threat to our collective peace and security.


I don't have a solution. I can see the objections to the two possible solutions set out above so please don't bother hauling me over the coals for them. I simply made them for you to see and consider and come up with your own ideas. My point is that we need to start thinking about the problem now and deciding now how we are going to deal with it. Because we will have to deal with it; sooner or later!!