Thursday, March 25, 2010


The Trinidad Guardian in screaming headlines has reported wealthy contractor Emile Elias, the owner of NH International Company Limited (NHIC), as saying that any probe into Landate would be/is a waste of time and money. According to Mr. Elias, there have been lots of probes into that project and they have all come up with nothing except a huge cost to the taxpayer.

I can understand that Mr. Elias would like all questions on Landate to simply go away if not disappear altogether. The problem is that it just isn't that simple, nor is Mr. Elias all that correct. Indeed, Mr. Elias in the Guardian story (assuming always that he was quoted accurately) has indulged in telling only half the story ... and everybody knows that half-truths are often more dangerous than lies.

The whole truth is this: way back in 2004 there was a Commission of Enquiry (COE) into the construction of the Scarborough General Hospital headed by retired Justice Annestine Sealey. The "players" were NIPDEC which was the owner of the project, and NHIC which was the contractor. (Incidentally, NIPDEC was then headed by Calder Hart!) There were several complaints surrounding the project including the question of rather serious cost overruns. Another serious question was whether or not materials were being transported from the Scarborough General Hospital site to another site where NIPDEC was also the defacto contractor. This site was owned by Dr. Rowley's wife and was known as Landate

The allegation was that valuable construction materials were being transferred from a public works project to the private Landate project illegally.

NHIC at first participated in the COE but withdrew before one of its senior managers could be cross-examined on this question of illegally transferring materials. The evidence that came out of the COE (amongst other things) was:

(a) that the terms of the contract were that the materials became the property of the owner (NIPDEC) as soon as they arrived on site (my emphasis);
(b) that the engineer had no idea that the materials were being moved;
(c) that, in the words of the Quantity Surveyor for the project Mr. Cleveland Leonard (partner to local Transparency Jefe Victor Hart), this moving of materials was "a recipe for chaos"; and
(d) that there had been no real or proper accounting concerning what materials had been moved.

NHIC at first tried to say that the materials belonged to their corporate entity and that they could do with them whatever they liked. They argued that in any case, moving materials from site to site without the knowledge or consent of the engineer was standard practise in Trinidad & Tobago. Unfortunately for NHIC, the only witnesses who supported this thesis were from NHIC. In addition, the contract clearly disproved the allegation that the materials belonged to NHIC.
Well, the COE recommended that the police investigate the matter with a view to seeing whether or not NHIC had breached the provisions of the Larceny Act. In other words, had NHIC stolen the materials?
NHIC would be guilty of theft if it could be shown that the materials that were removed from the Scarborough General Hospital site to Landate had not been accounted for and if in fact NIPDEC had paid for them. Remember, the engineer had no idea that NHIC was removing the materials!

The matter has lain fallow now for 6 years. The DPP reported about a year ago that the police said that they couldn't investigate the matter because they did not have the file and they didn't have a copy of the COE's report! Good grief! Only in a Mickey Mouse country could such an excuse be made. But, it has held water up to now!

Mr. Elias also says that the matter should not be investigated because the Integrity Commission (IC) already did so and the High Court has ruled on the matter. Well, again, that is only half true. What happened was that the IC decided that Dr. Rowley had breached the provisions of the Integrity Act in regard to his declarations on Landate and had decided to prosecute him. Dr. Rowley applied to the High Court for judicial review of the decision to prosecute him saying that he had not been given a chance to explain himself. The High Court agreed and said the IC was wrong not first to give him a chance to be heard. And that was all! The substantive question on the issue has never been determined.

So, let's see what happens next. Will the new Director of Public Prosecutions deal with the matter or will he just let it slide ... again?! Or put another way, is the Landate probe really a waste of time? Stay tuned, my friends.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Opposition Unity … Unachievable Fact or Achievable Fiction?

There is a lot of talk going around about all the “work” that certain committees of both the UNC and the COP are doing to work towards a unity that will be real and lasting. Persons are calling for Mr. Dookeran to meet with Mrs. Persad-Bissessar quickly so that a united front can be presented for the looming Local Government elections which are due by September of this year (unless postponed again … but that is another story!).

Speaking for myself only, I am more than a little fed-up with the nonsense that is emanating especially from the COP camp on this subject of opposition unity. You see, I believe that if you ever want to understand a problem you should go back to basics. Now, if two (or more) political parties want to consider uniting the obvious questions are: what are our differences in terms of policies and philosophies? What are the policies and philosophies upon which we agree? On what issues are we prepared to compromise our values and beliefs in terms of the differences in our policies and philosophies and why would we want to compromise them?

Sort of obvious when you put it down like that, eh? But have you heard any COP or UNC leader talk about this? No! Why not? Answer: Because the truth is that there are no fundamental policies or philosophical differences between the UNC and the COP. None whatsoever! Or, if there are, they are so small that they could easily be resolved. No. The problem of achieving unity between the two political parties has nothing to do with ideology, but everything to do with jobs and positions. In other words, the ‘big’ boys realise that if they do have unity then a lot of them will have to give way and step down from the positions that they now enjoy. Mr. X will no longer be a deputy political leader, Mr. Y will no longer be a chairman, Mrs. Z will no longer … well, you get the point.

The problem is that there is a large segment of the population that is fundamentally opposed to the PNM and would like to see change. Some people feel more comfortable with the COP leaders being in charge and others with the UNC leadership holding the reins. The problem that the COP supporters have is that there aren’t enough of them in any one constituency to win a seat. The problem that the UNC has is that if they could get at least fifty percent of the COP supporters to vote for them (with the remaining COP supporters either staying home or voting for the COP) then the UNC would be assured of a victory at the polls. Unfortunately for the COP there are quite a few COP supporters who will vote for the PNM before they would vote for an enlarged UNC that absorbed the COP. Following on Kamla’s January trouncing of Mr. Panday in the UNC internal elections a fairly large segment of the COP support pealed off and “returned home” to the UNC. So, the COP has the problem of convincing their UNC counterparts that the remaining rump of their supporters will follow them “to the gates of hell” if necessary, and that these supporters are indeed numerous enough to make the difference between defeat or victory.

The UNC needs to approach the proffered chalice of potential unity with a great deal of caution. Frankly, if I was advising Kamla, I would tell her to run at least two different polls very quietly amongst the COP supporters to find out exactly how much COP support has indeed come over to the UNC, how much remains, how much will stay if some sort of accommodation is reached, what exactly are the issues that concern the COP supporters, and who in the COP is worth my while to keep and who should I discard. Why would I advise that at least two polls be run? Because when I get the results from the first poll I would immediately verify it with a second using a different team. If the results are the same, then I would know that I have a fairly accurate reading. If they are different then clearly somebody somewhere has made a mistake.

And why would I keep it quiet? Come on! You really don’t need me to answer that, do you?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


You really can’t say that life in good old T&T is boring. In the last two weeks we have been inundated with all sorts of developments in or on the country’s political landscape.

First of all, two days before the judgement in the UDECOTT judicial review case the allegations burst on the scene with documents that if true show that Sherrine Hart, the wife of Calder Hart, is related to certain directors of Sunway Corporation and CH Development. The allegations are serious indeed. Then, before we get a chance to breath the judge hands down her ruling in the UDECOTT matter. She said in essence that while Uff and his fellow Commissioners were negligent and while they did exhibit bias, that was not enough to set aside the Enquiry report. UDECOTT has still to decide if it will appeal. Then, the very next day (Saturday), Calder Hart resigns and leaves the country. Chaos appears to ensue in the Government camp as Prime Minister Manning also leaves the country for England to attend a Commonwealth function.

In the meantime, there is also the story of a $30 million church being built by a small Christian sect in the heights of Guanapo. What makes this news is that the sect is headed up by the Prime Minister’s spiritual adviser/prophetess/ seer woman (whatever you want to call her). Also, the church is being built by Shanghai Corporation. The obvious question: where did this little church get the money to build such a huge church has remained unanswered and as a result ugly and unnecessary suspicions and rumours are circulating all over the place. In addition, it was reported on hearsay that the Prime Minister himself has been seen up there “several times”.
Mr. Manning, in what can only be described as an extraordinary performance in Parliament, lambasted his critics on the question of the church likening their criticisms to “religious persecution”. Had it not been for the Calder Hart revelations the following week no doubt this matter would have continued to dominate the news. As it is, it has not completely gone away.
Then, just when we think that we have heard it all, out comes the news hard on the heels of an announcement that the President was going to appoint a new Integrity Commission on Monday 15 March, which he did. On top of this, we learn that “a former Government Minister” is being investigated for breaching the Integrity Act. Still with me?

The allegation is that the former Minister failed to declare a very large Cayman Island bank account run by his wife in which there was over US$6 million. As rumours began circulating as to the identity of this former Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley came out almost immediately and said that the rumours were all pointing at him but that they were not true. He said he does not have any money at all outside of Trinidad & Tobago.
That might be true, but I don’t think that that was the exact allegation. I believe that the exact allegation was that it was the wife of the former Minister who has the alleged account. But let’s face it, I certainly do not know the identity of this former Minister and I certainly can’t say that it was Dr.Rowley who was being targeted. I did find his denials though a bit strange in that they were very specific in one way -- ‘I don’t have any accounts outside T&T" -- but vague on whether or not he was connected in any way with this alleged Cayman Island account. E.g., through his wife or some corporation ultimately controlled by her.
Again, let me be clear: I am not saying that this is so, just that I found it a little strange that Rowley was not specific in one regard while being very specific in the other. In any case, my guess is that we will soon find out who the alleged former Minister is when the charges come down. And I have been told by persons who should know that charges are coming. We’ll see! If it is Dr. Rowley who is charged, that will be a political earthquake equivalent to the Haiti and Chile quakes combined. Any other former Minister would only be passing headlines.

Then the Prime Minister goes on a walkabout in San Juan and tells the nation that there is basically a war going on between his Government and certain elements in the construction industry. In this war, he says, “some soldiers may fall”, but he made it clear that this will be a fight to the finish! Wow!

No right thinking person can be happy with what is going on. There is an old African saying: “When elephants fight the grass gets trampled”. Most of us are grass in this fight between the elephants that are on the stage right now. But grass has a way of catching fire when there is too much heat and the elephants themselves can end up being burned in the ensuing conflagration.

In 1990 then Prime Minister Robinson started mounting a series of political attacks on the then opposition PNM that made everyone very upset. The explosion finally came on 27 July. I don’t want to sound as if I am condoning corruption of any kind. Neither am I advocating or condoning revolution. I am not. But I do think that everybody should take a deep breath and step back a little. We need to turn down the heat.

Life in the Tropics does not have to be a constant carnival.

Monday, March 8, 2010


A reader sent me the e mail below which I thought was so clear and so well written that I asked for (and received) his permission to publish it on this blog. Quite frankly, I agree with everything that he has said and really could not have put it better than he has done. My sincere thanks to him.

Over a period of years I have been bleating on in letters to the editor on this and several other similar subjects that should be part of the basic education of every Trini.
There should be a course on "home common sense" that should be obligatory in all schools.The idea is first to minimise possible risks to life and limb, then improve quality of life.
Here are some of the subjects that should be covered.

1. Disasters and emergencies (Hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc)
2. Rules of the road and road sense. As pedestrian, rider, and driver.
3. Anger management and conflict resolution.
4. First aid for first responders.
5. General health and hygiene.
6. Risk recognition in everyday life. Fire, electrocution, drowning, falling, poisoning, stings and bites, and other "everyday" risks.

In the quality of life section should be;
1. Civil rights and responsibilities.
2. Basic manners, customs, and etiquette
3. An outline of services available to citizens, and how to access them.
4. Basic home economics, nutrition, and simple home maintenance.
5. Environmental awareness and basic agriculture.

A manual covering these subjects(and no doubt others that will be identified) should be easily available to every citizen, and should be a required textbook in all schools. It should be available in electronic form too.

A diploma in these subjects would be required for entry into any government employment, including the "10 days" type programs. The examinations should be arranged so that alternative assessment is available for those with various challenges, (including lliteracy!).

I hope I have not bored you, but it is my view that many of the "reluctant" students in our current education system would benefit at least in basic life skills from this or a similar curriculum, no matter what their academic inclinations.
What do you think?

Well, what do you think?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Harold Wilson once said that a week was a long time in politics. He made this now famous comment when the opinion polls were showing that his Labour Party’s popularity was extremely low and there was a General Election due in a few months. What he meant, obviously, was that his party’s fortunes could (as the Americans would say) ‘turn around on a dime’ and that they could be back in business before you knew it! Unfortunately for Mr. Wilson even though it is true that political fortunes can change very quickly, they didn’t change quickly enough for him. He lost!
Now, even though there is still almost 2 ½ years to the next General Elections in Trinidad & Tobago, it seems that they are Kamla’s to lose. By that I mean that unless things change, the next Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago will be Kamla Persad Bissessar.
There are many reasons for this. The first reason that one could cite is that there is a mood engulfing most of the western world for change. Trinidad & Tobago is no exception to this desire to see things go in a different way. Then-Senator Barack Obama, who is probably the best example, tapped into this mood in the U.S. most successfully a little over a year ago. Here in good old T&T one gets a distinct feeling from “the ground” that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the Manning Regime. The Prime Minister has not helped himself either, and has only increased this desire for change with the way that he defended his Spiritual Adviser/Priest/(or whatever you want to call her) in Parliament. People are asking very serious questions, yet he chose to lash out at just about every other religion in Trinidad & Tobago in a way that was guaranteed to cause (and did in fact cause) great offence. Unsurprisingly, he is getting hit from just about every angle on this issue and his cry of ‘religious persecution’ is falling on stony ground. Nobody is buying it.
On top of that, Mr. Manning is the only “salesman” in his Party. Having systematically decimated all of his leading “salesmen” (Ken Valley, Keith Rowley, etc.) he now finds himself with nobody but himself to carry his message and “sell” his visions to the public. And his senior ministers simply can’t carry the fight. Mariano Browne, for example, presents himself as a most competent individual, and to his credit, there has not been a whisper of corruption attached to his name. But Mr. Browne, competent as he is, is not charismatic and his message is often lost in the dry and uninspiring way in which he talks in public.
Kamla, on the other hand, has presented herself as the agent for change to a country that is growing increasingly fed up with Mr. Manning’s rather autocratic style of leadership. While the Prime Minister continues to present himself as the leader of a Government that is there to rule the people, Kamla is presenting herself as a leader that leads almost from behind … in other words, as a consensus builder. Her style is so dramatically different from that of the old lion (Panday) as well as Mr. Manning’s that even her critics are being won over. And since she became the leader of the UNC she hasn’t made a misstep … yet!
That “yet” is important, for while I said that the next election is Kamla’s to lose, the truth is that there are many pitfalls still ahead of her. The first thing to recognise is that while she has now become the “owner” of the UNC “brand”, that Party is presently broken, broke and in a most disorganised state. The Party machinery hardly exists, and that which does exist is in an extreme state of disrepair. Also (and more importantly), the Party is flat broke. Its coffers are empty. Now, it is true that the indefatigable Jack Warner (of deep pockets fame) is standing by, but way back in 1995 the UNC was accused (with not little justification) of falling into being “owned” by a small handful of financiers. The Party/Kamla will need to avoid falling into that particular trap again. If the perception is allowed to grow that Jack Warner now “owns” Kamla and the UNC, that belief alone (whether it is true or not) could be enough to sink her.

She also has the continuing problem of Basdeo Panday who has refused to exit with any degree of grace. Panday is now setting up (or trying to set up) a classic “triangulation” by saying that he is going onto the back bench and will stay there until Mr. Warner accounts for some $30 million allegedly given to him (Warner) by an unnamed UNC financier. That this accusation against Mr. Warner is patently ridiculous is irrelevant. Mr. Panday knows that some people will believe it and as long as he keeps it up he effectively undermines Mrs. Persad Bissessar even though he ostensibly now says that he accepts her leadership. Watch for him trying to create more trouble along the way.
Then there are M.P.’s like Vassant Bharath whose efforts to be on all sides at the same time are embarrassing, to say the least. The UNC’s constitution gives the leader the right to veto the nomination of any person going up for a seat. What will Mrs. Persad Bissessar do when the time comes for nominations to be made? Will she allow persons like Mr. Bharath to go up in safe seats like St. Augustine knowing that they could bring her down a la Ramesh or will she replace them at the appropriate time?
Then again, Mr. Manning is aware that he is in mid term. He can open the financial sluice gates next year, create a lot of jobs and hope that the apparent prosperity will save him. Will that be enough? Difficult to say at this stage, but a short answer is probably not.
There is a feeling of “fedupness” in the society that needs to be addressed and dealt with. He needs to re-connect with the people and come down from the ivory tower that he is perceived to be in. (Remember, in politics perception is reality). If he doesn’t, then in a little less than 2 ½ years from now you will hear a newscast on the radio begin with the words “Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar said today…”