Thursday, November 15, 2018

LIES, HALF TRUTHS AND MORE LIES





It is getting very difficult ... if not impossible ... to believe anything that the present Government says ... which is very sad indeed. Trust is the number one requisite for any Government to hold and when that is gone then there is chaos.


There are (unfortunately) too many examples of Government Ministers lying outright or shading the truth in such a way as for their statements on the particular issue that they are talking about to be so wildly misleading that to call them anything other than lies would itself be a lie. Take, for example, the statement by the present Minister of Planning Camille Robinson Regis. She is reported to have said that it was the UNC who built the HDC development at Greenvale. Now, that is simply not true. The truth is that the Greenvale development was approved by the then PNM Government in which Dr. Rowley held the position of Housing Minister. And guess who was the Planning Minister? That's right! None other than the great lady herself: Camille Robinson Regis. And guess what? At the time that the HDC was given the go ahead to build Greenvale there were adverse reports that the area could flood and the appropriate planning and Town & Country approvals were NOT granted.


But Mrs. Robinson Regis was right about one thing: AFTER the development was complete at a cost of around $300 million the UNC Government handed out the houses.  So? Who is to blame? The people who spent the $300 million in the first place or the ones who after the money was spent handed out the houses? Both? Yeah! I guess you could say so, but frankly, I put more blame on Mrs. Robinson Regis and her cohorts than I do on the UNC in this instance.


There are too many other examples of lies and half truths to list them all here. But let's take a look at another one: Petrotrin. We heard in  or about the middle of this year that a  decision was taken then to close down Petrotrin with all the resulting consequences that flowed from that decision. Okay. So far so good. I'm not here debating whether or not the decision to close Petrotrin was correct or not.


So? What happens next? We have recently been told that a foreigner, one Mike Wylie, has been hired to run one of the successor companies  (I think that it is Heritage Petroleum) as its CEO. Again, so far so good. (And again, I am not debating here Mr. Wylie's salary or anything else as to whether or not he is being overpaid.)  But yesterday in Parliament, Minister of Amongst Other Things Communication, Stuart Young is reported to have said that Mr. Wylie was hired in August of this year ... to which piece of information I thought 'hold it sheriff, she's heading for the strawberry patch!' Why? Because something here is dreadfully wrong with the timing.


You see for such a high level hiring to take place it would need to have been advertised. But we know that it was never advertised locally. Because if it had been then we would all have started asking awkward questions as to what in the name of heaven was going on? Why was this job being advertised? And the answers would have been ... how shall we say? ... embarrassing to the Government as they would have been forced to admit their plans. They didn't want either the Union or the country to know what was going on.


Of course, one could ask why wasn't a search done for a national, but you would only end up with the same answer. (I can't help but remember Dr. Rowley's plea some time ago to nationals in London to come back and serve their country ... but that's another story, again.)


What is most significant here is the TIMELINE. The search for a new CEO had to have started at least five to six months BEFORE the hiring of Mr. Wylie (which you will remember was in August). This would allow 30 days for applications to have been submitted, another 30 days to vet  and short list the applications  and another 30 days for interviews before arriving at the final short list which we now know to have been three people ... a Japanese, an Iranian and Mr. Wylie. And then there would be the final interviews and then the negotiations with the preferred candidate. As I said, you're talking of at least 5 to 6 months BEFORE August 2018. Which means that at least by the end of February/early March of this year they knew that they were planning to shut down Petrotrin.


But a decision like this is not taken in the dark. There would have had to have been discussions and decisions  AFTER the decision to close  was made to plan on how to go about the closure, what they were going to do, plan the successor companies, plan their management requirements, determine the various skill sets required and so on. In other words, it is not unreasonable to presume that the decision to close Petrotrin was made about a year before it was announced. Anyone who has ever advertised for a senior executive post knows what I'm talking about. And when we are talking about Government?! Well, they take an even longer time ... unless, of course there is/was a cabal inside the Government who took it upon themselves to do all that was necessary to fast track this matter and just get it rubber stamped when everything had been decided and done. If that is the case, then this points to a secret government working for their own purposes and not necessarily for the good of the country. There are reasons why safeguards exist and flouting them (or appearing to flout them) creates very ugly and most unnecessary suspicions that are better left unexpressed at this time.


Now, there is an argument that commercial decisions need to be kept secret for as long as possible. The problem here is that Petrotrin is/was not a private company owned by private individuals, but a public company owned by the State, or, to put it another way, owned by the citizenry of Trinidad & Tobago. Different "strokes" apply to such a situation and you cannot apply normal commercial considerations to a State owned enterprise.


 Which brings us back to the original point of this post: we are being lied to with lies, half truths and more lies. And, for the record, a half truth is a statement that contains some element(s) of truth but which leaves the listener/reader with a very different impression from what has really happened and leaves out crucial and important details. There is a reason why when a witness is sworn in in the Courts he is asked to tell the WHOLE truth. And that is exactly what we are not getting!


What do you think?






B

Friday, November 9, 2018

WHITHER GOETH THE COUNTRY?



Just about everybody in the country is crying these days about the dire straits in which Trinidad  Tobago finds itself. Depending on whom you talk to the fault lies with the "other side", meaning the side to which that person does not belong or identify with. The complainers wax warm when it comes to discussing the leadership shortcomings of the other side. But the truth is that personal leadership shortcomings are not the main problem ... although, admittedly they have contributed to the problem. There has been a fundamental shift in the politics of the country in which both of the major parties have become more homogenous and the mix of actual concerns has turned more and more to issues of identity ...or to put it bluntly: Race!


PNM voters are overwhelmingly Black, Christian and generally come from the poorer sections of the society.


UNC voters are overwhelmingly Hindu and Indian with a large section of the Moslem and Christian Indians supporting that Party.


Very generally speaking, the UNC supporters are financially better off than their PNM counterparts and tend to rely less on Government jobs and largesse. The children of UNC supporters generally tend to do better in school than those of the PNM.


UNC funding tends to come from wealthy Indians (mostly Hindus) while the PNM tends to get most of its money from the Syrian community and a few wealthy businessmen who happily play both sides in the not unreasonable expectation that they will benefit from lucrative Government contracts when either side wins the next election.


The mainstream media is dominated by the African elements in the society as well (as in the case of the Guardian) by the Syrians. Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media is overwhelmingly biased in favour of the PNM although they all pretend that they are not. (As I have said before, it is their constitutional right to be biased. It is dishonest for them to pretend that they are not when they are.)


Social media choices reflect and reinforce these identity lines. It is fairly easy to guess at the ethnicity of an anonymous writer/contributor on social media just from reading his/her comments on any particular issue.


The attitude on both sides of the political divide is not just that the other side is misguided, but that the other side is evil. In these circumstances, any form of compromise  becomes impossible and any chance of the country moving forward is as great as a snowball will have of surviving in Hell.


Both Parties are hurling themselves and the country off of a cliff and resist genuinely reaching out to the other side.  Probably, the biggest problem is the complete lack of trust that exists on both sides in the bona fides of the other side. Excuses and/or deflections are the order of the day ... on both sides! It's always "their" fault and "we" are always not guilty. "We" have never done any wrong and will never do any wrong! To which statement an unbiased and reasonable observer on the ferry to Tobago will raise his eyebrows in slight surprise and say "really"?

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

TRUTHS, HALF TRUTHS AND FAKE NEWS





"The newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of a monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free but facts are sacred."
Manchester Guardian, 6th May, 1926
C.P. Scott 1846 - 1932


I have put the above quote at the beginning of this post because I am fed up with all three of our daily newspapers who like to pretend that they are unbiased and present the facts fairly. They are all biased and they do NOT present the facts on almost any political issue fairly. Read the above quote again.  Probably the worst offender is the country's oldest newspaper, the Trinidad Guardian. There are a whole host of reports that can be high lighted ranging from the sea bridge to Petrotrin, but for the sake of brevity this post will concentrate on only one by way of example.
 The "venerable" newspaper that is the Guardian had two articles on the Grenville housing project this morning. In the first article headed "CAMILLE: PNM DIDN'T BUILD  GRENVILLE" it reports that the Planning Minister in response to criticisms about the flooding at that Government housing site has sought to put the blame on the Opposition UNC for building the project. But the article reports no fact checking that the Minister's statements are inaccurate to say the least. The fact is that the PNM when the present Prime Minister was Housing Minister approved and built the project DESPITE warnings from the experts that it could flood. The UNC Government under then Prime Minister Persad Bissessar completed the project and distributed the houses. Now, THAT IS the truth. But I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that the Guardian will defend the article on the ground that it was reporting accurately what the Minister said! To which the answer is in the above quote "...nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong." But the "unclouded face of truth" in the Guardian article does suffer wrong precisely because it does not report the WHOLE truth. And it is a truism that a half truth is often more dangerous than a lie.


But  it isn't as if the Guardian doesn't know the truth, for in an editorial this morning headlined "KEEP POLITICS OUT OF GRENVILLE" this bastion of the "free press" (and, yes, those words are deliberately put in quotation marks ... I am being sarcastic) says "... As we understand it, there were warnings about proceeding with the development in the first place since the area had the risk of flooding."


To which the logical questions are : really? And when were those warnings given? By whom and to whom were they given? Who was the Housing Minister at the time? Who made the decision to go ahead? When was that decision to go ahead made? And why have you not put this in the report on Camille's rather disingenuous statements?


I'm sure you get the point. Look: I genuinely don't mind if the Guardian (or any of the other newspapers for that matter) has a bias in favour of the present Government. Heck! That is their constitutional right! What I am against is the PRETENSE that they are not biased when all of the evidence suggests that they are. This pretense is as dangerous as it is dishonest. It is dangerous because many unsuspecting persons will be persuaded that something is right when it is so obviously wrong. It is dangerous because this is how a dictatorship begins ... slowly creeping and controlling the media so that only reports favourable to those in power (whoever "they" might be) are published.


I have deliberately not discussed the other two newspapers in this post ... it would make it too long. But a casual examination of their reporting will show up similar problems and discrepancies in the reporting of the news and the lack of transparency. And the sooner that we call out these newspapers the better!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

THE DAILY BIAS IN TRINIDAD'S NEWSPAPERS





It is practically impossible to see anything that is bipartisan or in the best interests of the country in any of the daily newspapers in Trinidad & Tobago. Over the weekend and in the face of devastating floods in the country affecting thousands of people the Guardian had a lead story on its front page about a family who believed that evil spirits had entered their home and had caused a member of the family to commit suicide. Honestly! You can't make this up! That was the lead story in this country's old newspaper with the flooding taking second place to this "news". Why the editors thought that this was real news has not been explained. One might be forgiven for thinking that the editors did not want to highlight any news which might (however remotely) make the Government look bad. And nobody could blame the Government for evil spirits!


Then, not to be outdone, the Express in an editorial this morning has criticized the Opposition for walking out of the Senate on Monday. What apparently happened was that the Opposition had suggested that the debate on the country's budget be postponed so that the Senators could go out and assist those persons affected by the devastating floods. It seems that Minister Franklin Khan  the Leader of Government Business in the Senate initially agreed ((according to news reports) and then for no reported reason changed his mind and said that the debate had to go on. The Opposition Senators took umbrage at this and said that the people were more important than the debate and then walked out.


The Express editorial accuses the Opposition Senators of grandstanding and says " ... to stage a walk-out in the Senate, where none of its members has direct responsibility to persons in any specific constituency was simply an exercise in despoliation. Nothing could have been gained from it. There was no point to be made in this fashion, except to further entrench in the minds of more citizens the emptiness behind many a political maneuver by those elected or selected to represent the people's interest."


To which, I say "what?" Read that quote again. What exactly is the editorial saying? In plain language I understand it to mean that politicians do not need to go out to physically help people in distress and in any event, especially where they do not represent a specific area of the country. There are persons whose jobs are to do just that. The politicians serve better by staying in Parliament or their air conditioned and comfortable offices and "direct" relief efforts.


A friend reminded me of the old story of the old man and his grandson walking along a beach. The old man picked up a starfish that had been washed ashore by the waves, and threw it back into the sea. The young boy asked him why he did that saying that it wouldn't make a difference to anything. 'That's true,' the old man replied, 'but it makes a big difference to the starfish!'


Maybe the politicians who have donned tall boots, gone into boats and helped to collect and distribute food, blankets and other much needed supplies haven't made a big difference in the overall scheme of things. But I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that they made a huge difference to those people that they did help.


No, Mr. Khan and no, Mr. anonymous Express editor who is very happy to write this drivel and not own up to it preferring the comfortable anonymity of the editorial, there is such a thing called 'empathy'. Even if assuming though not accepting that there was grandstanding by the Opposition Senators, my question is: were they right to ask for an adjournment so that everybody (Government as well as Opposition) could go out and help the stricken? And if they were right to ask, what is the problem? Why not go out to help people? Unless, of course, there was an underlying fear that acceding to such a request might have made the Opposition look good. In other words, the Government's interests come before the people's. By no means should the Opposition ever be acknowledged to be right on anything!

Friday, October 19, 2018

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?





What's wrong with this picture? UWI students, concerned for their safety and security mounted a protest demonstration late yesterday (Thursday) afternoon on the St. Augustine campus. They were clamouring for greater security. So somebody (probably the very university administration responsible for the students' safety and security) called the police who obligingly came and broke up the demonstration!


Now, if you think that there is nothing wrong with this picture then I really have nothing to say to you, for I think that it is so obviously wrong that it ought not to take a lot of words to prove it; and the old saying, 'a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still' would apply to you. You see nothing wrong with calling police to break up a demonstration where the students are demanding that the university authorities provide them with greater security?!? If that's what you think then I can only shake my head in deep sadness and say that now I understand what is really wrong with this country of ours.


There is a most unfortunate attitude that is often on display by persons in authority in this country. I call it a neo-colonialist attitude. In the "good old days" before 1956 there were two rules:
Rule 1 was that Massa was always right.
Rule 2 was that when Massa was wrong refer back to Rule 1.
Now that Massa has gone our present rulers slavishly ape all the things that he used to do and they insist on making sure that Rules 1 and 2 still apply. All that has changed is the colour of Massa's skin. They are in charge and therefore no damned dog has a right to bark! And guess who is the dog? That's right: us!! (Please remember Rule 2)


No. Even if the students went a little overboard yesterday (and I don't know whether they did or did not) the police action was extreme and uncalled for and should be condemned. We should also criticize the university authorities. It is not good enough for them to wash their hands like Pontius Pilate and say 'well, there's crime all over the country'. No. This is their balliwick ... their turf ... their students ... and they should do more to protect them. They should take responsibility.

Friday, October 12, 2018

WHY?





It is very difficult ... if not impossible ... to understand why things keep going wrong in Trinidad & Tobago. It is difficult to understand, of course, if you are looking for logical answers which do not point to some sort of corrupt practice of one kind or another.


Take for example, the free school holiday today for all public school children. The reason given in the newspapers is because the Trinidad & Tobago Union of Teachers (TTUTA) is having an all day conference today and it is important that all their members attend. Okay. But what is more important? A TTUTA inspired teachers' conference or the education of the children? And if both are equally important why couldn't this conference be held on a Saturday? Why should the children not be taught when it is time to teach? Is this a good reason to cancel school? If you think that it is, then why do you think that the conference should not heave been held on a Saturday when the children have no school.


Let's turn to the political theatre that is unfolding now between Dr. Rowley and Dr. Moonilal. Dr. Rowley held a press conference yesterday (Thursday) in which he slammed Dr. Moonilal's allegations as false and political mischief. His lawyer, who was by his side, is reported as saying that everything that Dr. Moonilal said or alleged was false.


The problem here is that everything is not false ... or at least, does not appear to be false. The facts (as reported) are:
              (1) the email is real;
              (2) the email was sent to the Prime Minister's cousin;
              (3) the email begins with the words "Good morning Honourable Prime Minister ..."


Now, there are some who say that if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and quacks like a duck that there is a fair  degree of certainty that it is a duck. So? Where are we with this? If Dr. Rowley was innocent of the charges then one would expect that he would protest his innocence all around the mulberry bush. But what if he was guilty? He wouldn't say "all yuh ketch me" and go quietly. He would more than likely also protest that he was innocent. The point here is that his protestations are natural and unfortunately take us nowhere nearer to the truth.


So, we now turn to the investigation by the relevant authorities that has been (quite properly) called for. The problem here is that when the emailgate saga exploded the same authorities launched an investigation which eventually ended some two years later with a whimper that seemed to suggest that the emails that (the same) Dr. Rowley had brandished in Parliament were faked. But nobody has been punished or called out for this. Why?


And now the very same authorities are being called on to investigate this A&V payment scandal. What confidence can the public have that these authorities will do their job fairly and impartially? And if you believe that they will, then why do you believe that? Do you believe that they did their job fairly in emailgate? If you do, then why do you believe that?


There are a few truisms here that hold firm when answering these questions: the first is that if you need more than one sentence to make your point then you cannot make it at all; you may need a paragraph, a chapter or even a whole book to explain your point, but you must be able to make your point in one sentence. The second thing to note is that when somebody is telling you something that you don't understand, ninety-nine 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 what he is saying.


There are a whole host of other things that don't make sense; the issues with the Galleons Passage for example. There are too many questions surrounding the whole Petrotrin saga that haven't been properly answered ... and the list goes on.


So? What is it that they don't want us to understand? And, more importantly, WHY don't they want us to understand?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL



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


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


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


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


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








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

Thursday, August 23, 2018

WANTED URGENTLY: LEADERSHIP





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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Friday, August 17, 2018

A MOST OFFENSIVE SKIT







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




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




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




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


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


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

Friday, August 3, 2018

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





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


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


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


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


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




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




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




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



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

THE APPOINTMENT OF A COMMISSIONER OF POLICE





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


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


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


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


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


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


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





Saturday, July 21, 2018

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





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, June 18, 2018

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







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


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


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


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


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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

FIXING OUR THINKING ... AND THUS FIXING OUR PROBLEMS





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



Monday, May 14, 2018

WHAT HAS THIS PNM ADMINISTRATION ACTUALLY CHANGED?



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


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


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


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


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


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