Friday, December 18, 2009

THE MULTI BILLION DOLLAR DRUG TRADE - or, we don’t have a money laundering problem in T&T)

A report in The Observer newspaper in England from last Sunday says that the head of the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr. Antonio Maria Costa, is claiming that he has seen evidence that “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks that were on the brink of collapse last year when the worldwide economic crisis began was drug money. He said that the result was that the majority of the $352bn of drug profits was absorbed into the system and was thus effectively laundered. He is quoted in the report as saying that “…the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital in the second half of 2008, liquidity was the main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor.” He goes on to say that there is evidence that inter bank loans were funded by money from the drugs trade and there are signs that this is how some banks were rescued.

The article is well worth reading. For one thing it certainly highlights how enormously powerful the drug cartels have now become. If most of the $352bn in drug profits are now effectively laundered and that money is now in the world’s legitimate financial system, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realise that this makes the men running these cartels even more powerful … and more dangerous. The line from the old song that said something about money making the world go around is very, very true!

Well, this article got me to thinking: what is happening down here in our own little neck of the woods concerning drug profits and money laundering? A few years ago somebody in Customs and Excise told me that the annual profits from the Trinidad drug trade were almost as big as this country’s annual budget! Is this true? I have no way of knowing or even of finding out without probably getting myself killed. But the question is a very serious one. And what is also extremely worrying is that nobody is talking about it! It is as if the problem simply does not exist!

Put another way, one wag recently pontificated to me that we have neither a serious drug problem (as concerns big drug money) nor do we have any money laundering in good old T&T! When I looked at him with incredulous surprise he laughed at me and said, “When last did you ever hear of a major drug lord being arrested and charged? When last did you hear of a banker being charged … let alone convicted … with money laundering? And the very definition of money laundering requires that it be done through a bank! I rest my case.”

He had a point. But I don’t believe that there is no money laundering in T&T. I don’t believe that enormous amounts of drug profits are not being accumulated. I don’t believe that we have no really big drug lords in this country. Do you? If you have the same beliefs as I do in this matter, then I have two last questions for you: why isn’t the media highlighting this? Don’t you think that this is an issue that ought to be on the media’s ‘front burner’?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


What if your name was Basdeo Panday? What if you had “struggled” for more than 40 years in the political trenches and now as you are approaching the end of your eighth decade on the planet you find the political hounds nipping at your heels and the cloud of possible jail time hanging over your head. What if you did not want to “ride out into the sunset” but you found yourself facing a serious political challenge in just over a month from now that could easily spell the ignominious end of your long and battle scarred career? What would you do?

As I have said before, if ever you want to understand a problem...any problem... go back to basics. So, I found myself asking this question. What if I was Panday? What are my options? Well, as I see it the options facing the legendary ‘Silver Fox’ are as follows (incidentally, these options are those that I can see; if you can think of other options please let everybody know):

Option 1: Roll over and die; admit that I am at the end of my rope and give up.
Analysis: It is most unlikely that I would do this (remember that ‘I’ am Basdeo Panday). This would go against everything that I have stood for and would be completely out of character for me. We can probably safely discard this option.

Option 2: Go up against Kamla and Ramesh in a fair fight and marshall my still considerable strength to beat them.
Analysis: Risky. Polls show that I am not as popular as I used to be. While I could probably beat Ramesh fairly easily (he is the least of my problems), he is likely to take critical votes away from me, and Kamla, who is quite popular, could slip through. Further, there is a risk that the opinion polls are correct, which will mean that Kamla will trounce me and will find myself with no cards at all in my hand left to play, not even a Jack (pun intended)!

Option 3: Cheat.
Analysis: But that is also very risky. I could be caught out, and if the support for Kamla is really strong then her supporters will cry foul, and heaven alone knows where that could end up. They are already saying that I will cheat! So, what do I do? I have to think out of the box. But there is a fourth option that could allow me to stay in power and keep everything together. And it’s one that my opponents will not be expecting:

Option 4: I do not run for Political Leader of the UNC. I leave that for Kamla and for her to lick up Ramesh (which she will do). Instead, I do as I did before and go up against Jack Warner for the chairmanship of the Party. That way I could lick up Ramesh (well, Kamla will do that for me) and I will probably be able to beat Jack as well. The RamjackG faction will be dead like the proverbial ducks and I will be clear. I won’t have to resign as Leader of the Opposition and I can work with Kamla. Yep! This is a good “out” for me!
Analysis: It could work. Nobody will be expecting it and I will have the advantage of surprise. Further, Jack Warner is not as sympathetic a character as Kamla. He will be easier to beat!

Well, what do you think? What if you were the old ‘Silver Fox’? What would you do?

Friday, December 11, 2009

THE UNC INTERNAL ELECTIONS – More Important Than You May Think!

The UNC internal elections are attracting an understandable amount of attention. The UNC is after all the official opposition Party and, some might argue, the only realistic alternative to the ruling PNM. I use the word “realistic” deliberately and in the political sense in that I honestly don’t believe that given its present configuration that the Congress of the People can attract enough voters to win a single seat. Of course, a week in politics (to quote former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson) is a long time and I suppose that the boys and girls in the COP are hoping that something might happen to change their political fortunes, but frankly, I wouldn’t hold my breath. The COP has been unable to attract any new voters to its cause, and looks as if it has in fact lost quite a few who voted for it in the last elections.

In any case, I don’t think that a lot of people realise that despite the COP’s intervention in the last election the UNC came remarkably close to winning it outright! Something like 9,000 votes separated the UNC from a victory at the polls in the last election. Surprised? Take a look at the difference between the UNC votes and the PNM votes in six marginal constituencies (St. Joseph, Tunapuna, San Fernando West, Chaguanas East, Barataria/San Juan and Pointe-a-Pierre) and add them up. The total difference between the 2 parties comes to about 9,000 votes. Now, if you take, say, half the COP votes in each constituency and “give” them to the UNC you will begin to understand the dynamics and electoral strategies of the various UNC players from Panday to Ramesh and back through Kamla. If you had added half of the COP votes in these constituencies to the UNC’s votes in the last elections we would have had a UNC government with 21 seats to the PNM’s 20! That is one of the reasons that Panday is so bitter towards Dookeran. Panday’s argument that Dookeran’s intervention cost the UNC the election is not without some justification.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what the Corridor thinks of Panday or whether the people in the “PNM till ah dead” strongholds believe that he is the worst thing in the world. The truth is that the UNC can reasonably count on 15 seats in every election; the PNM on 20. The real battle is in the six marginals. They represent the difference between ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’; government or opposition.

That is why Mr. Panday defies his critics who all say that he is past it, too tainted to continue, and not acceptable to the country. He knows that they are wrong. He knows that all he has to do is hold his base and win back some of the voters who deserted him for Dookeran in the last election. Of course, the key is in the phrase “he has to hold his base…”. But there is a very real chance that he will be able to do so (i.e. hold the base together) in the next elections if he wins in January. And if he can hold his base together his chances of being able to grab the “missing” 9,000 odd votes is pretty good, or put it this way, quite possible (as opposed to probable). So, don’t write off the old man yet!

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Ramesh is mounting what he hopes will be a strong challenge. Ramesh incidentally also understands the electoral maths and therefore is not as concerned as one might expect as to his general country wide acceptance or lack of it. And, of course, there is Kamla. She is due to give a press conference tomorrow in which it is widely expected that she will declare her candidacy for leadership of the Party. What has been interesting to see is the number of callers on the call-in radio shows in the last few days who have been suggesting that they “know” that she is not going to run after all. She appears to have a lot of support and if the “jungle drums” are any indication she might even beat out Mr. Panday. Well, we’ll see soon enough, won’t we!

And finally, there is the ubiquitous Jack Warner. Although both he and Ramesh are denying that there is a split their respective words and actions certainly seem to contradict this. What happened between them? Nobody seems to know, but clearly they aren’t as close as they were before. Now, I do have a question: what does Jack want? Does he want to be “kingmaker” or does he want to be “king”. His words suggest that he wants only to be the “kingmaker” but his actions seem to suggest that what he really wants is to be “king”.

As you will appreciate, all of this is important. The United National Congress is the only (at this time) credible political Party that has a chance of resting the government from Manning’s grasp. The truth is that if the Party were able to get its act together that chance could easily become a real chance. But, as I said earlier, a week in politics is a long time and the truth is that there are many, many numbers still to play in the game before the next general elections. The message today is simply, pay attention. The UNC is more relevant than you might think!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


A reader named "Marlon" made a valuable contribution on the message boards and asked some relevant questions. I want to get into the habit of answering some of these contributions on occasion to foster a constructive public debate on The Rag. Without further ado, here is the unedited version of what "Marlon" wrote:

I am trying to follow you and I see your point somewhat, I makes no sense but I see your point. May I then ask sir, as a lawyer, are you saying then that you cannot, or anyone for that matter, be impartial to issues. You have made a point of apparent bias on the part of TI's Victor Hart. You have made out a case of case of apparent bias on the part of Prf. John Uff and another commissioner in the CoE, but I am finding great difficulty in following your argument. I must say, if I am to make the assumtions that you have, that you too may be seen as being biased against those opposite to Udecott, considering that you have represented the Harts. I am just following logic and making the very assumptions that you have.

Marlon, your points are all valid, but I would say the this:

Apparent bias is not the same as actual bias. However, in law the effect is the same, i.e., that where there is apparent bias or actual bias the judicial officer must step down or the findings of the court/tribunal will be thrown out. The case that you might say is “the grand daddy” in all this is the Pinochet case. You will recall that in the case General Augosto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator was arrested in London on an extradition warrant from Spain. He appealed the Order of the High Court that he be sent to Spain to stand trial. The Court of Appeal turned him down. He then appealed to the House of Lords (the Privy Council). The House of Lords held that because one of the three judges had a connection with Transparency International (the judge’s wife had been a director of TI) that there was the possibility of apparent bias and that as a result Pinochet could go free! (You will remember that TI had been extremely critical of Pinochet’s regime). The apparent bias of one judge was enough to “contaminate the entire panel.
The House of Lords said that they were absolutely satisfied that the judge in question was a most honourable person and that they believed that he was not biased. But they readily admitted that there could be an argument of apparent bias! And that is my point!
And, yes, you are right. If I had been asked to be a Commissioner in this Enquiry I would have had to turn it down as I once upon a time acted for Calder Hart (though I am not his attorney today). Further I was a lawyer in the Scarborough General Hospital Commission of Enquiry and played no small part in that Enquiry where it was directed that the police should investigate NH International Caribbean with a view to seeing whether or not NHIC should be prosecuted for larceny. (Incidentally, this police investigation has yet to take place!) My comments in that Enquiry would also probably preclude me from sitting as a Commissioner in this one because it could be argued that they show an apparent bias against NHIC. And it would be irrelevant to my protesting that I consider myself to be a fair minded person who would deal with the facts as presented. That may very well be true…….But there could easily be an argument that I had an apparent bias even if (assuming but not accepting) it could not be shown that I had an actual bias.
Having said that, I am not sitting in judgment of any of the parties in this Commission. Further, what I have been trying to do is to alert thinking people like your good self of what I perceive from my knowledge and experience to be the very real dangers of the Uff Commission becoming a monumental waste in every meaning of the word! I have studiously avoided, or tried to avoid, defending either UDeCOTT or Calder Hart. In fact, if you re-read my blog you will see that I have said several times that I believe that there are serious questions that need answering.

Either way, this is the kind of debate that is worth encouraging and I appreciate anyone who takes the time to contribute in a constructive manner.


RADIO INTERVIEW - December 10, 2009

Dear Readers,

I will on the radio tomorrow, sharing my views on the latest developments regarding the Uff Commission of Enquiry.

What: Morning Panchayat
Who: with Dr. Suruj Rambachan, Ken Ali and Shamoon Mohammed
Where: Sangeet FM106.1
When: 6AM-9AM

I expect to be on between 6am and 7am.

I hope you will tune in.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

JUSTICE WILD WEST STYLE (or Things aren’t always what they seem)

In order to understand a problem, a wise old Queen’s Counsel once told me when I was a brand new lawyer, always go back to basics. I mention this because, no doubt like everybody else, I was more than a little surprised to see the headlines in all three daily newspapers this morning saying that the evidence of Carl Khan, the former husband of Mrs. Sherrine Hart, was being admitted without any kind of challenge from UDeCOTT or Calder Hart. All three newspapers presented this as if it were an admission by UDeCOTT, Hart, etc. that what Carl Khan was saying was in fact true.

But then I read all three reports again and noted that nowhere in any of the reports had any reporter bothered to find out why this rather (on the face of it) extraordinary decision had been taken by the UDeCOTT etc. team. Put another way, if any reporter had indeed tried to find out, such efforts did not form part of the story. And again, I had to ask why? One of them had bothered to contact Dr. Rowley, who unsurprisingly was only too happy to put in his own two cents worth, which was (of course) anything but flattering of Team UDeCOTT. But nowhere had anybody apparently tried to find out why the decision been made not to challenge the evidence?

Let me state very quickly that I do not know. I have no hotline into Team UDeCOTT and not being an accredited journalist I don’t really feel that I can call up and ask anybody questions. (Maybe I can, but I think/hope that you understand my point). But having regard to all that has gone before and having regard to the fact that the Uff CoE is being challenged very seriously in the High Court by way of Judicial Review (JR) it would be surprising to say the least if Team UDeCOTT was just going to roll over and die and allow this kind of knock to go unchallenged.

Carl Khan’s evidence could easily be challenged (even if, assuming though not accepting, any or all of it was true) and from his statement published in the papers it would not be difficult for a skilled cross examiner to attack his credibility. So, I for one, refuse to accept that Team UDeCOTT is just rolling over and dying. You remember the saying: ‘It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings’… and she ain’t singin’ yet!

Readers of this blog will be aware that I have been at pains to point out mistakes that Uff & Company have been making in this CoE. I have been warning all who would listen that the whole enquiry could go down the drain and become a total waste of taxpayers’ money if attention is not paid now to correcting these mistakes. I have also warned about the question of bias or apparent bias and how there is a lot of evidence to support Team UDeCOTT’s allegations in this regard.

So, why has there been no response and why is Team UDeCOTT nowhere around right now? The answer could lie in the JR proceedings coming up early in the New Year. Depending on a number of factors a good lawyer might advise his client in these type of circumstances that it would weaken his case for the JR proceedings if he were to continue to take part in the enquiry. So, the advice would be don’t take any further part. Leave Carl Khan alone. There is no profit in dealing with him, and in fact dealing with him could hurt the (JR) case. Conversely, Uff & Company might be well advised (for reasons which hopefully are obvious) to halt what they are doing and wait on the High Court before proceeding further. Of course, waiting might not suit some people even though it would ensure that justice was in fact done! Of course, it could be argued that “justice” Wild West style is still justice… but I don’t think that many fair minded people would buy into that argument!

Friday, December 4, 2009

CALLING TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL: State Capture is Not Only a Danger for Jamaica

The Trinidad Guardian carried an interesting article today (December 4th) coming out of Jamaica concerning a warning from Transparency International (Jamaica, unlike Trinidad and Tobago does not have a local chapter) that Jamaica is in danger of succumbing to what TI calls “State capture”. The report says that the term “is used to describe a situation where powerful individuals, institutions, companies or groups within a country use corruption to influence policies, the legal environment and economy to benefit their own private interests”. The report goes on to highlight the lack of transparency and accountability in the funding of political parties.

Now, everybody who has been reading this blog knows that I have had serious concerns with the Uff Commission of Enquiry into the Construction Sector. And those who have tried to keep a fair and open mind will also recall that I have had serious concerns with Commissioner Sirju’s connections with the Construction Industry and in particular with NH International Caribbean (NHIC), the very large, profitable and powerful construction company.

You see, Professor Uff and his fellow commissioners have appeared to be concentrating only on UDeCOTT and appear to be ignoring completely the very real concerns that reasonable citizens had or ought to have had with the behaviour of the construction industry, which some would say was taking a cartelized character.

Before UDeCOTT came on the scene with its design/build philosophy I cannot think of a single major project carried out by any of the big ‘players’ in the construction industry that came in on time and within budget using the much criticised design/tender process. UDeCOTT does have at least to its credit the waterfront project as coming in on time and within budget. That there are questions (and serious ones at that) to be answered, for example, the Tarouba stadium, by UDeCOTT does not take away from this fundamental point. That being said, the Tarouba stadium was managed as, ...yes, you guessed right a design/tender project.

[You should really read the hyperlinked Wikipedia entries on the two processes, they are very helpful in understanding the pitfalls of design/tender and how a developer can, in the worst case, fall hostage to the construction contractors].

Further, there is the as yet unexplored question by the Uff Commission (at least, if they are exploring it this has not been widely publicised) concerning funding of political parties and politicians. Wasn’t it Emile Elias who admitted that he had “contributed” to Dr. Rowley’s campaign? Or was it Dr. Rowley who made that revelation? Either way, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have had a public admission that Mr. Elias has made political contributions to a politician with whom he has had a close personal relationship and with whose wife (I am referring to the “Landdate affair”) Mr. Elias through his company has had a business relationship.

Now, I would be the first to agree that any person or entity has the right to make any political contributions to anybody they like and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with political giving, whether the recipient is a personal friend or not. But, life is never that simple. The obvious question that arises is how much did he give? A dollar? A hundred dollars? Thousands of dollars? More?

Why does this matter you ask? Because while there is nothing illegal or intrinsically wrong with X making a political contribution to Y’s campaign, nobody would really be concerned where the contribution was small, say, a thousand dollars, whilst serious questions ought to arise if, say, the amount was a million dollars.

In other words, large contributions from wealthy and powerful persons who are in a business that involves bidding for government/public contracts need to be able to withstand the kind of scrutiny that they demand of those who hand out the contracts. What is sauce for the goose!

Let me be clear: there is no innuendo of possible wrong doing by Mr. Elias or NHIC in this post and none is intended. As of today there is absolutely no evidence of this at all. But that does not mean that we cannot ask questions or pay attention. Whether we will ever get answers is, of course, another story.

And we have to be vigilant on this and related issues to ensure that the spectre of ‘state capture’ does not become a Trinbagonian haunt.