Friday, January 29, 2010


There are a lot of people (including me) who have been very critical of President Max Richards (or as he seems to prefer being called since he became President, President George Maxwell Richards) for the non-appointment of Integrity Commissioners. Everybody knows the story of the last debacle and so there is little point in going over it. But more or less one year has passed and nothing has happened to lead us to believe that a new board is anywhere near being appointed. Why?

Well, what I have to say may or may not be one of the reasons why a new board hasn’t been appointed, but it certainly bears thinking about. You see, in a judgement handed down on 15th October, 2007 Madam Justice Judith Jones, in High Court Action 1735 of 2005 between The Integrity Commission as Plaintiff and The Attorney General as Defendant (along with several interested parties), handed down a decision which has some rather far reaching implications. Before I go further, I should say that the judgement is under appeal, and that appeal is due to be heard in March of this year.

The matter involved the interpretation of two questions. The first was whether or not judges and magistrates are subject to the Integrity Act and have to file returns. Justice Jones answered this question in the negative. It is the second question which, in my opinion, has far greater and more far reaching consequences. It was

What is the meaning of the expression “Members of the Boards of all Statutory
Bodies and State Enterprises including those bodies in which the State has
a controlling interest” (emphasis mine) in paragraph 9 of the Integrity in Public
Life Act as amended?

Most of the judgement is taken up with dealing with whether or not Judges and Magistrates are subject to the provisions of the Integrity legislation. The Judge took 221 paragraphs to explain why she thought that Judges and Magistrates could not be subject to the Act. At paragraph 222 (of some 251 paragraphs in the rather well reasoned judgement) she turned to deal with the second question. And this is where the trouble starts. Perhaps it would be best if I simply quoted the relevant paragraphs of her judgement (for the purposes of this post) so that you will better be able to understand the point I wish to make:

248. In my opinion therefore the words “ Members of the Boards of all Statutory Bodies
and State Enterprises including those bodies in which the State has a controlling interest”
as found in the Act must be taken to mean:
‘the members of the management or decision making body (emphasis mine) of:
(i) all organisations established by Statute;
(ii) all businesses or companies controlled by or on behalf of the State (emphasis mine).

249. Further for the purpose of determining control by or on behalf of the State a business or
company shall be taken to be controlled by the State if the State exercises control
directly or indirectly over its affairs; if the State is entitled to appoint a majority
of the directors of the Board of Directors or holds at least fifty per cent of the capital
of that body (emphasis mine).

Now, pay attention: Last year the State took control of the insurance behemoth CLICO and the huge conglomerate CL Financial. I can’t remember which of the two (CL Financial or CLICO) owns the shares in Republic Bank and also One Caribbean Media, the company that owns the Express newspaper, TV 6 and other media outlets in the Caribbean, but whichever one does is irrelevant. What is relevant is that CLICO/CL Financial owns a controlling interest in both Republic Bank and One Caribbean Media, which means that the State indirectly controls both! What this means is that unless this part of her judgement is overturned, all the directors and senior managers of both companies are going to have to file returns with the Integrity Commission.

But, if no Commissioners are appointed then the Integrity Commission will not be able to enforce the Act. Which means in effect, that although the law is there and these persons will still be bound by it (unless it is changed) then they will effectively be able to evade compliance with the law of the land. Perhaps there is a hope that the law will be changed? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps also this is a reason why the President has not acted because he has been told to “hold his horses” while this imbroglio is sorted out? Maybe the ‘powers that be’ are hoping that the Court of Appeal will disagree with the Judge? Or maybe all or none of these/

Whatever the reason, this is something that ought to be noticed by all. Ah! Life in the Tropics! It’s never dull, is it?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Well, it’s all over and Kamla is now “Queen”, or is she? The latest coming out from the UNC camp is that she has only five M.P.’s (including herself) who are prepared to support her as Leader of the Opposition. The magic number is eight. The five M.P.’s are Kamla (of course), Jack Warner, Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters, Nizam Baksh and Harry Partap. All the rest are sitting in Panday’s camp. Or at least that is what they are saying. But I have it on good authority that three of the M.P.’s are playing some sort of game in that they are what you might describe as “floating”. By that I mean that each of these three are prepared to “cross over” to Kamla’s side, but each one wants to be the last (and therefore the most important or critical) one to do so. As a result, these three chickens (for what else can you call them?) are sitting on their hands. So we shall see what we shall see. My bet is that when this bit of information seeps into the public domain there is going to be a lot of anger at all the recalcitrant M.P.’s and especially towards what I am calling the three chickens (and, yes, I do know who they are, but it is probably better for me not to call their names at this time).

Even staunch supporters of Basdeo Panday must be dismayed at this latest turn of events. All that this behaviour is going to achieve is that the Party and its supporters will have to face the continuing lack of trust from the general public who definitely do not want to vote a Party into government that does not appear to be behaving in a civilised manner or that does not respect the wishes of the overwhelming majority of its memembers. Panday and his chicken M.P.’s are condemning the UNC to permanent opposition … at least while Panday is alive. To try and argue that the M.P.’s are not bound to follow the vote of the membership is the most ridiculous and most dishonest argument that I have ever heard made in the history of politics in this country.

In the meantime, Patrick Manning and his PNM must be breathing a huge sigh of relief. After all, if there had been a smooth transition of the leadership to Kamla, especially after Sunday’s tsunami, she could well represent herself as the change that Trinidad & Tobago is urgently crying out for. And then Mr. Manning would have to make some difficult decisions including whether or not to go for an early general election. As it is, with the continuing strife in the UNC camp thanks in large part to a selfish old man who is no longer a force even in his own backyard (he was beaten by Kamla by somewhere in the ratio of 13 to 1), and the cowardice of certain M.P.’s who are clearly not thinking of anybody but themselves, the confusion continues. And you think that these jokers really should or could be trusted with government? If they don’t get their act together quickly then expect that the UNC will lose the next elections big time despite the heroic effort of Kamla Persad-Bissessar. The country deserves a real contest between two opposing political parties each of which ought to be capable of forming a government. But how can we trust these cowards to do the right thing for us then if they won’t do the right thing now? There will be no choice …. Again!!

Monday, January 25, 2010


Well, in a very short time it will all be over … the UNC elections, I mean. It has certainly been a most interesting few weeks. Things began to get interesting when there were serious hints that Kamla Persad-Bissessar was thinking of throwing her hat into the leadership race. Then we had reports from persons who “definitely knew” that she was not going to contest the leadership, only to be proven wrong by the lady’s rather graceful announcement of her candidacy. And then, of course, there was the ubiquitous Ramesh who has tried valiantly to live down his past and the trust issue. Finally, we had the old lion king returning from his Christmas holiday in London only to find that he had a real fight on his hands.

My information is that up to about the end of last week (more or less) Bas was actually in front and would (legitimately) win this coming Sunday’s internal UNC election. However, about four or five days ago there appears to have been what can only be described as a “seismic shift” on the ground in favour of Kamla. What exactly has caused this shift I have been unable to pinpoint, but there are certain “straws” that a seasoned political observer can look at that indicate that Panday is facing a serious tsunami on Sunday. One of these is the late defection of Harry Partap, the Member of Parliament for Nariva. Partap declared for Kamla on public radio on Thursday morning. I had heard earlier that Partap was one of five UNC MP’s that had quietly said that they would support Kamla for Leader of the Opposition if she won. (Jack Warner and Winston “Gypsy” Peters are amongst the five. I know who the other two are, but as I was given those names in confidence you will forgive me for not sharing them with you.) There is obvious speculation as to why Partap would defect at this time. My own personal view is that he is “on the ground” and is reading the signs very well. Putting it shortly, he wants to survive the Kamla tsunami … and you can’t blame him for that!

Another sign is that Panday was virtually run out of Barrackpore last night (Thursday). He tried to play it down on the radio this morning, but my information from people who were there is that the very small crowd (less than a hundred) did not want to hear him and almost stoned him! Extraordinary, indeed! Incidentally, I know Panday very well. I thought that he sounded listless and depressed this morning … more going through the motions than anything else. Certainly, he got a hard time from the presenters … Ken Ali in particular, whose questions were very fair, but tough. (The interview was more along what you tend to get in the First World than we are accustomed to in the Third World. Hopefully, this heralds a new era in journalism in this country where journalists are more prepared to ask the hard questions of our leaders and would-be leaders.)

History has a way of repeating itself. The last big Indian leader to go down in flames was Bhadase Maharaj. The difference is that although it became clear that Capildeo was going to defeat him, nobody was telling Bhadase that they were not going to vote for him. This time Panday is being shown scant respect.

By the way, if I haven’t mentioned Ramesh it is because he is really nowhere to be found. He has restricted his campaigning basically to his constituency in Tabaquite and if truth be told has not been able to excite the UNC heartland in any meaningful way. He does have a few hardcore supporters, but nothing really that would put him in serious contention.

There is a lot of talk about possible cheating at the polls. Jack Warner has been shouting it from just about every rooftop! Even if Panday and his troops wanted to cheat, my information is that it is now going to be difficult if not impossible to do so. The tsunami is too large and there are too many people in place who will be watching. Of course, anything is possible, but it looks like we are going to be waking up on Monday to a new political paradigm … or ‘para-dig-m’ as one ex UNC Minister once pronounced it. If a Kamla victory does occur, then a lot will change … it will have to! But then that’s the subject of another post.

Note: Post from 22 January that did not get published due to a technical problem.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


There is nothing quite that clears the mind and lets you see things through fresh eyes as a short holiday abroad. I went to Venezuela for Christmas, and while I have nothing but praise for the hospitality and generosity of my wife's family and friends, the truth is that I couldn't help but notice how things had deteriorated in that beautiful country. The cost of living has gone through the roof, food is a lot more expensive and people are coping, but they are not happy. Crime in Caracas makes the crime we are complaining about here look like a tea party! They really have problems!

So, when I came back home I looked again at where we are, where we have come from, and where we seem to be going. Let me say from the outset that I agree with most (if not all) of the criticisms that are heard in the street, on the radio and are read about in the print media with what is wrong with our little country. But I always try to be fair (even if I don't always succeed) and because this blog is not about being in a popularity contest but about trying to discuss things that I think need discussing, I thought that perhaps it might be worthwhile to look at where we are from a slightly different angle. In other words, are things really as bleak as we like to make them out to be? Are we really in serious trouble as so many (including me) like to say? Or can we say to our selves that despite everything there is hope?

Certainly we are better off than our Latin neighbour just to the west of us. I don’t propose to go into any analysis of why Venezuela is experiencing the problems that it has, my point is simply that they really are in trouble. And I genuinely hope that they can get out of it. We are also much better off than our Caricom brothers and sisters to the north of us. All of those little islands are in trouble. Jamaica is facing economic problems that would make a grown Trini cry! Even well run Barbados has experienced a major downturn in its financial affairs! Why do we think that we are or ought to be immune? And, yes, I know what our Prime Minister and his minions have been saying in the past and are saying now. But, for the purposes of this particular post I deliberately do not want to “taint” it with criticisms (or praise) of any particular politician(s). I just want to look at our position right now as coldly and as truthfully as possible.

And if I were to be completely frank I would have to say that while acknowledging all the well known criticisms (or perhaps even in spite of them) the truth is that we are not as badly off as we sometimes like to say. Unemployment (whether helped by CEPEP or nor) is still relatively low. Our economy, while it has been battered is still fairly healthy. Our currency although it has depreciated slightly has not been devalued. (Incidentally, as I understand it a major reason for the present depreciation is that a lot of “big players” have moved their money out and converted it to US dollars! In other words, we are creating our own “crisis”.) Our Court system still enjoys the confidence of the vast majority of the citizenry and the Judiciary still feels that it is able to stand up to the Executive whenever it deems it necessary. And although our press has many (undeclared) biases it is still by and large free and able to criticize the government whenever it feels it necessary or desirable to do so.

You might think that all that I have listed is not important. But it is. You might also say, well all the more reason that we should be vigilant and make sure that we do not lose our rights and privileges … and I would agree with you absolutely.

There is an organisation called Freedom House. It was founded in 1941 with a mandate or objective (amongst other things) to report on the state of freedom in countries around the world.
It is a highly regarded and respected organisation around the world. If you go to its website you will find reports on something like 193 countries. Our little country scores a 2 on political rights and a 2 on civil liberties. The highest score a country can get is a 1. Our status is listed as “free”. The United States gets a 1 in political rights and a 1 in civil liberties and its status is also listed as “free”. The website says that countries whose ratings are between 1.0 and 2.5 are regarded as “free”. Countries whose ratings are listed as 3.0 to 5.0 are regarded as “partly free”, and countries with a rating of 5.0 to 7 are regarded as “not free”. A “2” rating in civil liberties and political rights means that these countries have a slightly weaker system because of “such factors as some political corruption, limits on the functioning of political parties and opposition groups, and foreign or military influence on politics”.

Brazil, one of Latin America’s strongest emerging countries has identical ratings to ours. Neighbouring Venezuela gets a “4” on both political rights and civil liberties and a “partly free” rating. Zimbabwe gets a “7” and a “6” and a not free rating. Jamaica is like us. Barbados is the only Caribbean nation to get a”1” in both political rights and civil liberties!

Put another way, we aren’t doing so badly. Put another way again, perhaps we should recognise that our glass is really half full as opposed to half empty. What do you think?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


What a shocking and sad turn of events for our Caribbean neighbors in Haiti this week. I am certain that I speak for all the people of Trinidad and Tobago when I say that we are deeply saddened by the loss of life, the injuries and the devastation. The people of Haiti and the brave rescue workers are in our prayers as we mourn this tragedy.

In however small or large a way, we must do what we can to support the rescue and recovery efforts of our Caribbean brothers and sisters. The swift efforts and noble commitments of aid from the world and from Trinidad and Tobago this week are commendable. It is our responsibility to monitor the progress of relief in Haiti and provide as much assistance as possible as their needs become more apparent.

Now, the long-suffering people of Haiti are in the midst of the crisis – in the midst of the darkest chaos of destruction. With the world community and the Caribbean family in particular, we extend our hand to the Haitian people. We must help them climb out of the depths and into a brighter day.

For now, do what you can to support the Caribbean Red Cross and ask your friends and family to do the same: