Friday, April 30, 2010


Okay. I admit up front that I do not have a "hotline" to Patrick Manning nor have I consulted the Oracle at Delphi, nor have I consulted any seer women (or men),so what follows is purely speculation on my part. But the words that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put in the mouth of his great fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, have always stayed with me:

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"
So, on that basis let's examine the possible reasons for calling the elections half way through a term when Manning had such a comfortable majority in the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago:

(Possible) Reason #1
Manning said that he called the election because the logical consequence of a no-confidence motion is that an election be called. So, he decided to give the Opposition what they wanted and has accordingly caught them by surprise and he will whip them at the polls.
I think that we can safely regard this as balderdash. And I don't think that any reader of this blog really needs an explanation as to why I say this.

(Possible) Reason #2
The economy is in serious trouble and harsh economic decisions are going to have to be made by September. For example, Petrotrin has an $18 billion dollar debt that it simply cannot repay. Accordingly, there are going to have to be massive lay-offs at the State owned oil firm ... some experts are predicting that at least half the work force is going to have to be sent home. Further, there is the CL Financial bailout to be considered. Word on the street is that this particular "black hole" is $47 billion deep. The exact position is difficult to ascertain because, quite frankly, there has been a dearth of information on this particular subject. But for those who pay attention, the recent high level resignations (Eurich Bob et al) are cause for raised eyebrows, if not outright concern. What was the real reason that these guys quit? Not very many people believe the reasons given. Also, the word is that there is a looming deficit that is even worse than the one that was predicted.
In these circumstances, the Prime Minister may well have realised that he would need a new mandate to govern. His moral authority to do so had already been badly damaged by the UDECOTT Commission of Enquiry and there was the very serious perception in the public mind that his government was corrupt. (Interestingly, to date corruption has not been a big issue on the Opposition campaign platforms).
So, it could well be that Manning called the election because he realised that his moral authority to govern had been seriously undermined by the UDECOTT fiasco and that without this authority he would be unable to hold things together when the harsh economic decisions that are coming down the pipeline have to be taken.

(Possible) Reason #3
Manning knew that he was going to lose the no-confidence debate. It was no secret that he and Dr. Keith Rowley were "at daggers drawn". It also does not take a political genius to realise that if Manning were to be "killed" (politically, of course ... this blog certainly does not advocate violence of any kind) tonight, Rowley will become the leader of the PNM tomorrow morning. The no-confidence motion was presenting Rowley with a really good chance to do away with the Prime Minister. The Opposition had 15 votes. Rowley's vote would make it 16. All that was needed was 5 more votes. Would Penny Beckles, for example, have sided with Rowley? She certainly had motivation to do so. Were there 4 more PNM M.P.'s? There is evidence to suggest that certain others might also have wanted to think about voting against the Prime Minister and had in fact lined up behind Rowley to do just that and that there were in fact 5 others who would line up with Rowley to vote against Manning and bring him down.
You must remember that the Motion was a motion against the Prime Minister and not the Government. If it had been carried Manning would have had 7 days to resign or call an election. If he had chosen not to resign but to call an election, his party would have probably revolted and thrown him out before the election and replaced him with Rowley. Either way, he was finished.
You must also remember that a Prime Minister is head of the National Security Council, and as such gets security reports on every thing that is going on that affects the security of both the State and his Government. If such a plot was afoot Manning would have got wind of it. That is for certain!

(Possible) Reason #4
The Americans told Manning that if he did not call an election that they would destabilise his regime. The Americans in fact destabilised the George Chambers regime way back in 1986 when they "cooked" the IMF's books and forced an unnecessary recession on Trinidad & Tobago. All that is now history and it is not relevant to this post as to why the Americans did that then. So, why would they want to interfere now? Because they have major economic and political interests in Trinidad & Tobago which could be seriously threatened if there was social unrest ... and all the signs were there that the country was heading for a serious period of social unrest (see Reason #2 above). The Manning Government had suffered serious body blows to its credibility and its moral authority to govern had been seriously undermined by various mis-steps (Calder Hart, UDECOTT, even the "$2 million flag", etc.). In the circumstances, the order was "call an election and we won't interfere. Don't call one and we will!"

As Conan Doyle so aptly said, "... when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
Well, Trinidad and Tobago, what do you think?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Personal matters have prevented me from writing for the last two weeks, but life goes on and certainly there is a lot to comment on since my last post. The Opposition Parties have now come together under one banner and have agreed on not only a distribution of seats, but also that Kamla Persad-Bissessar will be the Prime Minister should they win the elections. The election is now less than a month away. Prime Minister Patrick Manning has spent the last few days attacking the coalition as being inherently unstable and predicting that they will fall apart soon after they gain power … if they gain power.

Unfortunately for Mr. Manning, this prediction is one that doesn’t look likely to gain traction with the voters. People are more interested in the recent past and the PNM’s handling of their problems. For example, one of the PNM candidates, Peter Taylor who represents Princes Town South, was roundly booed and jeered in Moruga (a part of his constituency) by people who declared quite openly that they normally voted for the PNM. This time they are saying that they will go for the Coalition. Taylor’s seat which was once considered a “safe” PNM seat is now quite clearly a marginal.

Feeling vilified, Mr. Manning has begun to use negative tactics while on the campaign trail. His latest salvo was to resurrect the infamous Scott Drug Report which the NAR Government of A.N.R. Robinson quite wrongly laid in Parliament way back in 1987. Robinson was terribly wrong to lay that Report in the Parliament because it accused many people of being involved in the heinous drug trade without giving any of them the opportunity to defend themselves from the terrible accusations. No doubt there may have been many people who were in fact dealing in drugs, but equally there were probably an awful lot who weren’t. The terrible thing is that nobody knows who is guilty and who is not. For example, the Report named “a director of Queensway” as being involved. Now, the directors of Queensway at the time were John Rahael, a former PNM Minister of Health, and his brother George. Mr. Manning must have been satisfied that the Report was not true of either of the brothers, and I make no criticism of either his appointment of John Rahael as a Cabinet Minister nor do I make any allegations against either of the brothers. Mr. Manning also appointed Camille Robinson-Regis as a Minister. But her husband was named in the Report as being involved in the drug trade! You get the point?
Mr. Manning has obviously cleared the Rahaels and Robinson-Regis (who later got a big job in WASA) but he doesn’t clear Suruj Rambachan, the deputy political leader of the UNC. And he tries to beat Rambachan with the Report on a public platform. Why? Some twenty-three years later nobody has been charged for any of the alleged crimes that are contained in that Report. That ought to tell us something.
(Maybe this last point isn’t so strong … 13 years after my cousin’s murder nobody has been charged, although everybody knows who did it and who helped to cover it up. But I make it nonetheless.)

Back to my point about the elections:
Negative campaigning obviously comes from both sides in this contest, and one could argue that the UNC and COP have been firing their salvos for two and a half years to prepare the election "battlefield."
Negative campaigning can only carry you so far. At the end of the day the average voter wants to know how are you (the politician) going to make his life better. There is a high degree of “fedupness” with Manning especially and with the PNM in general that may well prevent the PNM from a strong showing at the polls.

The election remains Kamla’s to lose. We are in what you might call the period of a “phony war” right now. This is highlighted by the very slick "Made in America" ads running for the opposition. The real campaign will certainly heat up after the Parties launch their campaigns with the traditional rallies where they present their candidates and present their manifestos. Kamla has been towing a fairly soft, fairly bland line so far. But there will be a lot of “slings and arrows” flung at her and the Coalition in the coming weeks. She is going to have to make sure that her shields and defences are in good order, and there is no doubt that she is prepared to fling back.

If I could advise both sides I would say to them to try and stay positive. We (the people) are not really interested in the bacchanal and ‘mauvais langue’ (as much as we … being Trinis … like to hear them). We really want good governance.
To the PNM, I say justify what you did with all that money that you have had over the last 8 years. Tell us in clear, concise and easily understandable language where you invested it and why. Tell us also how you propose to solve our common problems and why they seem to take so long to solve.
To the Coalition, I say tell us in equally clear, concise and easily understandable language what you think are the problems confronting us now and how you propose to solve them. Tell us what sort of principals you stand for and why you are deserving of the public trust. We know that we are in for a rough ride. We also know some of the problems. But we need you to identify them and tell us how you are prepared to deal with them.

The game is on. Let’s see what happens next!

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Shelly-Ann Ramharack Joseph
24 May, 1970 -- 9 April, 2010

On the evening of Friday 9th April, 2010, at approximately 7:00 p.m., when she was about 5 minutes away from her home, my loyal secretary, Shelly, was killed in a stupid motor car accident. The car she was travelling in was hit from behind by another car. As a result of the blow, her car jumped the median of the highway and was hit by an SUV that was barrelling down the other side. The car that caused the accident did not stop. Up to now, no arrests have been made. Shelly was sitting in the left front passenger seat. She died on the spot. She was a great secretary and a fabulous human being. "Sweetheart" is the word that everybody has used to describe her.

She leaves to mourn a husband, a daughter aged 13 and a son aged 7 ... and me! I have lost not only a good friend but just about the best secretary I have ever had. She was my left hand, right leg and right arm!! Rest in peace, my sweet Shelly. You will be missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing you.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


It has finally happened. With the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago now officially dissolved and general elections called for 35 days from now, it is a good idea to take a step back and look quite coolly and dispassionately at “the state of play” as it exists today. You didn't think I was unprepared for this event, did you?
Remember always that a week is certainly a very long time in politics, and now that Prime Minister Patrick Manning has called the election we will have five long weeks of campaigning before the country makes up its mind. So, without further ado let’s take a look at the three main players:

The Congress of the People
The COP’s greatest (and probably its only) strength is its management capability. Inside the Party are a number of capable and competent managers who do have a recognised ability to get things done. Unfortunately, the COP’s biggest weakness is that it is top heavy on management but is without a single salesman to sell the Party’s brand. The sad truth is that there is nobody in the front line who could sell a hot stove to an Eskimo on a cold winter’s night.
The COP top brass project a certain arrogance (whether intentional or not) that tends to turn off the masses. COP also has the problem that a large percentage of the people who voted for the Party in the 2007 general elections have now migrated back to the UNC now that Kamla has taken over the leadership of that Party. How many exactly? Well, that’s difficult to say without the benefit of a poll … but I think that it is safe to say that the number is significant. Put another way, the COP’s ability to damage the UNC in the coming polls will not be like it was before … unless, of course, something happens. And in this country you can never rule that out!
But the COP remains with the very unpleasant truth that it cannot win a seat. The most that the Party can hope to do is to act as a spoiler if it doesn’t get what it wants in the unity talks with the UNC… and even that is doubtful today. And finally, the COP is flat broke without any real ability to raise money. And elections are very expensive things!

The United National Congress
The UNC approaches the coming polls with a fair number of obvious strengths under its belt. Probably its most visible asset right now is its leader Kamla Persad Bissessar. Kamla has been a breath of fresh air not only to the UNC’s politics, but also in the poliyics of the country. She has become the media’s darling and is enjoying quite a little honeymoon with the Press. She is bright, articulate, and does not wear her femininity as a weapon, but is not afraid to be a woman. The truth is that the coming election is hers to lose.
In addition, the UNC has a solid base of fifteen seats and an organisation that can perform in the six marginals. (Remember that the magic number is twenty-one!) The Party’s electoral strength is solid and has been enhanced with the defections from the COP. It will be a formidable contender when the election bell is rung. Further, money should not be a problem for Kamla. Even if she did not have Jack Warner of ‘deep pockets’ fame by her side, she has enough wealthy backers that she ought to be able to more than raise the necessary funding to run this election campaign.
Jack Warner is also a formidable asset for the Party. Apart from having apparently limitless funds, he has proven himself to be a shrewd and capable politician who does not lose a battle … or at least not easily. He clearly has great organisational skills and is not somebody to be taken lightly at all.
But the UNC’s obvious strengths are also masking some rather serious weaknesses. The biggest danger for the UNC comes from within: what can be loosely termed ‘the Panday factor’. Kamla has several dissident sitting M.P.’s that she must deal with: There is the old Bas’ himself, his daughter Mikela, his brother Subash, Kelvin Ramnath and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj. In addition she has to keep a wary eye on the St. Augustine M.P. Vassant Bharath who didn’t exactly embrace her after her victory over Panday in January.
The danger here is that if she allows them to go back as M.P.’s and she wins the elections this group or clique could pull her down as Ramesh et al did to her predecessor in 2001. It is unlikely that the UNC will win more than twenty-one to twenty-two seats. She will have to rely on their support if she wins. But, if she doesn’t allow them to go back she will have to face the rather obvious manoeuvrings that one or all of this group might engage in. Already, her deputy political leader Suruj Rambachan has made what could be a potentially damaging political error in saying that he is going up as a candidate in Panday’s seat of Couva North.
Why do I say this? Because Basdeo Panday still has support. What if (for example) he were to have, say, five hundred supporters turn up at Rienzi Complex when screening is being conducted for Couva North, and these supporters are there basically to boo Rambachan and cheer Panday? How will the ensuing debacle play on the evening television news and the next day’s papers? What if the others (Ramnath, Maharaj, etc.) also do something like this? In other words, Kamla has to have a plan in place to deal with these very possible exigencies. Failure to do so could present an image to the country of weak leadership.

The People’s National Movement
The PNM’s greatest strength is its formidable organisation. No other Party in Trinidad & Tobago is as organised as is the PNM. This organisation extends down to a fundamental understanding of its supporters and how best to ensure that they turn out to vote. Do not discount this ability!
The PNM also comes to the electorate with a fairly solid base of at least fifteen seats and with strong organisational skills already in place in the six marginal seats … and make no mistake about it: this election will be won and lost in the six marginals. The rest of us could almost stay home. The PNM also has deep pockets and ought to have a fairly strong war chest for this occasion. Further, the PNM does have enough financial support to replenish its coffers and ensure that there is enough for the coming battle.
But the PNM also has some rather glaring weaknesses. The obvious ones are what has been dominating the news for the last year or so: Calder Hart, UDECOTT, the new Revenue Authority, the Property Tax, etc. All of these can probably be summed up by the phrase ‘the PNM’s track record’. The PNM also has only one salesman … Patrick Manning … to carry its banner high into battle. Manning has “killed” Rowley and despite all the rumblings that we are hearing, it would be absolutely earth shattering if Keith Rowley was a PNM candidate in the next election.
The lack of a team of salesmen to carry the flag will tell in the campaign. With the exception of Colm Imbert, none of the present front liners have the ability to sway a crowd. Look for a rather lacklustre PNM performance on the hustings. The corruption bogey will also haunt the PNM on the campaign trail.
And finally, the media is fairly set against the Party. While the daily newspapers pretend to be balanced, the truth is that you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that they would like to see Manning go down.

So, where does this all leave us? Waiting and wondering. At the moment, my prediction is that the fight will be remarkably close and will go down to the wire. Is that prediction cast in stone? Not at all! I don’t pretend to be an oracle, and I reserve the right to change my mind when things change or new matters come to light. Having said all that, if I had to bet with you today I would bet a dollar to a doughnut on Kamla.
We will decide afterward who will pay the dollar and who will pay the doughnut.