Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Maybe the best way to assess this question is first to go back to basics. What are the responsibilities of a Regional or City Council? Basically, the local Council looks after things like the state of the roads, the sidewalks, the garbage collection, the regulation and placement of the markets, traffic regulation and parking. To do all of this the Council needs money. Most of its money comes from subventions handed out by the central Government. If the Council is starved of funds from the central Government it will not be able to carry out its functions in either a timely or efficient manner. And therein lies the rub!

Many councils have complained from time to time that they were being denied funding from the central Government because they happen to be controlled by the political party that formed the opposition. In other words, the central authority was using its power of the purse to punish the region/city/borough for having the temerity to vote against the ruling party of the day. While most of these type of complaints have come (with considerable justification) from the then UNC controlled Councils, the truth is that when the UNC was in power similar complaints were heard from the then opposition controlled PNM Councils. In other words, though both sides vehemently deny ever indulging in this type of behaviour the truth is that there are far too many complaints not to believe that there is a lot of fire behind this particular smoke.

So, what can be done? It is clear that the present system can be manipulated by a Government in power. Heck! The elections can even be postponed indefinitely ... a fact that we are all too painfully aware, though I don't think that any other Government abused this power as much as the recent Manning regime did. This system needs improving, but short of giving the Councils the right to raise taxes in thier own districts ... something that I certainly wouldn't support ... and fixing a date (e.g. the first Monday inSeptember of every third year), I really can't see a viable solution to these problems.

In thinking about the problem and possible solutions I also thought about the fact that we really are a very small little country of approximately one and a half million souls and a total land area that is probably maller than Greater Miami. So why do we need Local Government? What would happen if we were to abolish it completely? Well, if we did that it's fairly obvious that we would have to replace it with something else. So ... what?

Answer: why don't we do just that ... abolish all local authorities (including the Tobago House of Assembly). There are 41 constituencies. We could divide each consituency, say, in two so we would have then 82 districts. Each district would be represented by a Representative (or as they are called in the United States - Congressmen). The lower House of Parliament, the House of Representatives would be made up of these 82 men and women. They would be elected on a fixed date(say, the first of September) for 2 years only. They would be full time Representatives and have responsibility in their district for all the functions and activities currently carried on by the local authority.

But 2 years is a very short time, and the upper House would have to have a longer time. So our Senators would no longer be appointed but would be elected ... from the 41 constituencies ... for a perod of 6 years and on a fixed date (the same date as elections are held for the lower House). But we would have one third of the Senate being elected every two years. Then we would have an elected President elected every 4 years. His cabinet would be appointed, but every appointment would have to be approved by the Senate.

And yes, it is basically the American system. Do I like everything about the American system? No. There are things that I definitely do not agree with, e.g., the fact that their judges face the electorate. But there is a lot to admire in the way that they set up their system. And it would work a lot better for us than the Westminster system does. Incidentally, one of the big attractions for me is that a U.S. type President wields a lot less power inside his own country than a T&T type Prime Minister has in his ... but that is another story! What I want to discuss here is how can we improve Local Government. What are your ideas?

Monday, July 19, 2010


It was the extreme far sightedness of India's first Prime Minister, Jawarhalal Nehru, that caused to be founded the Indian Institute of Technology ("IIT"). Today the IIT is by far and away the world's premier Information Technology school and one in which the world's best and brightest students try their hardest to get in. The students who apply to the IIT have listed as their second and third choices such prestige schools as Oxford in England and MIT in the United States. The IIT not only has the highest entrance standards in the world (thus making it the most difficult university in the world to get into) but also is the most difficult to stay in once you are there. Successful entrants to the university cannot rest on their laurels, but they must keep their grade averages at the university's extremely high levels. The result is that graduates of the IIT are literally fought over by the world's leading IT companies. The heads of Microsoft and IBM, for example, are graduates of the IIT! Indeed, more than 90% of the companies in California's famed Silicon Valley have IIT graduates as their CEO's! And everybody is keenly aware that India itself is now forging ahead in the IT sector.

So, that got me thinking: Sorry to say it, but the truth is that the University of the West Indies is a third rate university. You are offended by this statement? Test it yourself: Take a young UWI graduate in any field you like and let him apply for a job where his competition is a graduate of, say, Oxford, or Boston University, or McGill University, or any other top university in the world (you pick the school) and guess who will get the job? The UWI grad? Please! Give me a break! He would be lucky just to get a seat in the waiting room. But we can't really do a thing with UWI. There are too many other islands involved and a raising of UWI's low standards would be politically difficult, if not impossible. By the way, this is not to say that there haven't been bright and able young people passing through UWI's halls of learning. There have been ... a lot! Our brightest kids are well able to compete on the world stage despite the handicap of third rate schools. (You could only imagine how far they could go if they had first rate schools ... but that isn't the thrust of this post). The problem (to paraphrase Shakespeare) lies not in the students, but in the quality of the school that is UWI. It ain't the best!

So, as I said, that got me thinking. We can't do anything about UWI, but why don't we do something with the University of Trinidad & Tobago ("UTT")? UTT is right now probably worse than fifth rate. It's entrance standards are abysmally low and it seems that the men who founded it were more concerned about fooling those persons who are admitted into UTT that their degree will be worth something, when the reality is that a degree from UTT is about the equivalent of a diploma from a not very good trade school. Again, if I sound harsh it is because the truth is harsh. This world is not going to be kind to us simply because we like to boast about God being a Trinidadian.

No. In order to compete in the twenty-first century we too have to become the best. We have got to raise our stadards up ... not lower them for the cheap convenience of a few votes. And we should look to do so in areas in which we already have a home grown advantage.

What am I talking about? In a word ... energy! Did you know that the first oil well in the world was drilled in Trinidad? We have an abundance of expertise in the energy sector that has made us leaders all over the world. You can find Trinidadians in Houston, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Nigeria ... andthe list goes on. I would like to bet that on a per capita basis (and no, I do not have any statistics to prove this) we have more people in the enrgy sector than anywhere else in the world. So, why don't we capitalise on this and make UTT the premier energy university in the world the same way that the IIT is the premier school for information technology in the world? It could be done ... and with a little effort it could bring fantastic benefits to Trinidad & Tobago. For example, while when we Trinis talk about energy we really mean oil and gas, the UTT could become a twenty-first century school specialising in all types of energy ... wind , solar, etc. We don't have to be limited to oil and gas. With a first class specialst university at home we could retain our effective dominance in the energy sector indefinitely. And why not? We could do it ... if we really wanted to!

Friday, July 16, 2010


It seems that nobody in this country has really been paying attention to a rather serious problem that exists in many countries around the world, including our own sweet little Trinidad & Tobago. I am talking about the trafficking in sex workers who are being brought over primarily from Columbia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. These women, in an effort to escape from desparately poor conditions in their native countries, are seduced into coming over here ... many of them enterimg the country illegally ... and then are reduced into bondage by the unscrupulous men who grab their passports and tell them that they have to pay them a huge sum of money (I have heard reports of something like US$6,000) before their passports are returned. In addition, if the women refuse to work for the traffickers they find themselves being reported to the police who come and arrest them, throw them in jail, and after a long while eventually deport them. The women often have families (read young children) back home who are dependant on monies being sent back on a regular basis. Any stint in jail will result in literal starvation for these children. As a result the majority of these women are forced into prostitution. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

From time to time the police will raid a brothel, arrest the women and deport them ... I have heard it said that these raids usually take place when the brothel owner stops paying his protection money or is late with his payments. I don't know if that is true ... but it sounds believable, doesn't it?

The conditions which exist for these women are little better than slavery ... in fact there are many critics around the world who do refer to this trafficking in women as slavery! I agree with them.

So, what can we do about it? What should we do about it? You don't have to look very far to find a solution nor do we have "to re-invent the wheel". Sweden did it a few years ago. We need to change the law so that the women are no longer arrested for prostitution. In other words, let's legalise prostitution. But (and it is a big "but") let's make it illegal to hire a prostitute! In other words, the woman will no longer be arrested for the crime of prostitution, but any man who uses a prostitute will be treated as the criminal.

Will this cut out the problem? No. But it will reduce the demand for prostitutes and it will cut back on this terrible problem. The statistics coming out of Sweden show that the legalisation of prostitution and the criminalisation of the 'johns' has done just that. We have got to try something and soon. What is being done to these women is terribly wrong. A fair, just and humane society should not tolerate this. Don't you agree?

Friday, July 9, 2010


"An opportunity missed", my father used to say, "never returns". Over the years I have found this old adage to be so true that sometimes it hurts! Which is why right now I am beginning to become slightly concerned with the opportunities that the new People's Partnership Government seems to be missing. The Government's honeymoon period is going to be over soon ... probably by September/October ... and if they do not take advantage now of the extraordinary goodwill that they have at the moment they will find that despite their huge Parliamentary majority, their ability to carry the country along with them will become more and more difficult.

My father taught me a lot ... much more than just the adage about missed opportunities. One of the things that he taught me was that the real opposition to a government hardly ever came from inside the Parliament but from the country, and that for a government to succeed it had to ensure at all times that it had the majority support of the country. If it did not it risked not only an ignominious end a la the Manning and Robinson regimes but it also risked such unpopulartity that even when it came up with good ideas and/or proposals that the country simply would not want to listen.

To be fair, Prime Minister Bissessar is not displaying any of the arrogance or hubris of her predecessor, and most of her Ministers seem to be making themselves much more accessible than their former PNM counterparts. But (and this is a big "but") in the critical area of the economy and finance we are not being told what is going on nor are we being told what exactly are our problems. And forget about solutions or possible solutions! There is simply no discussion!

I blame Winston Dookeran for this. Mr. Dookeran is widely regarded as being an excellent economist and a man whose grasp of financial matters is better than most. But unfortunately that simply ain't good enough. You see, politics is about bringing the people along with you. Mao Tse Tsung once said "if you want to lead the people, lead from behind". In other words, give the people the necessary information in order for them to come to their own informed decisions on whatever the problems of the country are. But if the plan is to wait until the budget debate in September then that will be a case of too little, too late. And it certainly will not be practising the art of "new politics" that we have been hearing about for the last few years. In fact, it will simply be more of the same old neo-colonialist type of governance that we have had for the last almost fifty years.

We need to know what are the "holes" that have to be filled and what ideas are currently on the table on how to fill them. We know, for example, about the $18 billion Petrotrin hole. I have previously written in this blog that I could only see two ways to fill that particular hole: devaluation or retrenchment. A friend gave me a third option the other day after he read my blog; he said that a third option was a sale of the State-owned oil company. Well, that is a possibilty, but any buyer would probably engage in some serious retrenchment after taking over the reins. So that would not really be a third choice or option. The consequences for the workers and/or the country would be the same. But are there other options? If so, what? This is a serious question that requires serious debate. Retrenchement would have serious economic consequences for the workers who are laid off. Devaluation would have even more serious consequences for the whole country. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place!

But we are not debating these problems at all! Why not? The Finance Minister ought to be leading the debate and doing so now. He can't come in September and simply shove his solutions down our throats and say in effect 'well, these are the problems and this is how I propose to solve them'. (Well, actually he can ... but surely that would not be "new politics" but simply more of the same old,same old!)

The debate needs to start now. And it needs to be led by the Finance Minister. If he does not do so he is going to cause a lot of problems for his Prime Minister and his Government that could and should be avoided. he needs to buy into his former rhetoric about "new politics" in such a way that the country really does feel that we all have a clear idea of where we are, where we are heading and where we can go. Somebody once said (I think it was Teddy Roosevelt, but I am not sure) that "the only test of leadership is to lead, and to lead vigorously". It's time for the Finance Minister to lead.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Well, we now have a new Commissioner of Police (CoP). There have been a lot of arguments as to whether or not we should have brought in a foreigner and whether the process of selecting the CoP is flawed or not. My own personal view is that these arguments are for another day. The fact is that for better or for worse this is the process that the Manning regime saddled us with and this is the person who the process turned up. in other words, I support the decision of the new Government to get the show on the road and to stop all this "acting" nonsense. I also believe however that the Government ought to look again at the process that was used to appoint the CoP and to fix it, if indeed it needs fixing. And I say that last bit about 'if it needs fixing' because I genuinely do not know whether the process is flawed or not. I haven't heard all of the arguments both for and against the process in order to be able to come to a reasoned decision one way or the other.

My own (again) personal view is that while I have no problem wth a foreigner being put in charge of our police, I would prefer, if it was possible, to put a local man instead. But all of the information necessary for us to make a reasoned decision as to whether or not Mr. Gibbs is indeed the best man for the job has not been put out in the public domain ... or, if it has, the press has not reported on it sufficiently for the ordinary person to come to a reasoned decision. Again, that's another argument.

Let's understand something: Everybody (except the bad guys) must want this new Canadian CoP to succeed. At the end of the day, we don't care if he is from Canada or the moon if he can fix and actually does fix our police service so that it not only works, but works well. I have no doubt that there will be a small minority who for their own personal, selfish and myopic reasons will want the Canadian to fail. Hopefully, there will be sufficient right thinking persons who will want the new man to succeed, not for his own personal aggrandisement, but for the benefit of the wider society as a whole.

One of the things that the new guy is going to have to do is to change the culture in the police service so that the police are seen by the community as being on the side of the people. The truth is that one of the reasons that the police are failing so badly right now is because the average citizen simply doesn't trust them ... with anything! When, for example, a woman can drive into a police station blowing her horn to attract attention, and the criminal can not only murder her, but can get away right from under the noses of the police officers you begin to understand why the average citizen simply does not believe that the men (and women) in grey are trustworthy. And without the trust of the community the police really cannot be effective.

As I have said, that is only one of the things that the new CoP has to address. I am certain that we can all think of a dozen more. But my argument today is that we should give the new guy a chance to perform and should not try to undercut him from the word 'go'. My message to Mr. Gibbs though, is that you are not going to be given a long time. We expect and demand results ... and quickly. Also, you come from a first world country and have been accustomed to dealing with the citizenry there in a first world manner. Unfortunately, to date our leaders have all operated in a neo-colonialist manner and have not cared to take the citizenry into their trust and confidence. Certainly, it is easier to behave like our past leaders than it is to behave in a first world manner. Please do not fall into this trap. Please continue to act while you are down here as you did when you were in Canada.

Oh! And finally, good luck! You're going to need it!!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Like most people (or at least an overwhelming majority) I was very pleased with the May 24th victory of the People's Partnership at the polls for reasons that hopefully are very obvious. (If they aren't to you, then I'll happily debate them, but there are more important matters to discuss at the moment). What concerns me now that the new Government is settling down and settling in is that there are a number of economic or financial "potholes" (for want of a better word) left in the way of the new Government by the Manning administration that can de-rail the Government before it even gets off the ground.
Let me put it to you this way: Let's say that you were in charge of a railway switch. Coming down the track at ninety miles an hour is a huge locomotive that is totally out of control. Now, if you leave it on its present track it will run straight into a very fat man and kill him immediately. If, however, you throw the switch and send the train onto the other track it will run into twelve people a little further down the track and kill all of them in five minutes from now. You cannot warn either the fatman or the twelve people about this imending disaster. If you do nothing, everybody dies. What do you do? would you kill the fat man in order to save the other twelve? Everybody is innocent! It's a terrible choice, isn't it?
Well, that is something like the choice facing the new Government on a variety of matters. In other words, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar is going to have to make some very harsh decisions very soon that will hurt a lot of people. The first "pothole" or "runaway train" that we are facing is the crisis at State owned Petrotrin. Petrotrin has a debt of somewhere in the vicinity of TT$18 billion! There is no way that the company can survive unless something is done, and soon. The only options that appear to be on the cards are:
(a) massive retrenchment (approaching something like fifty per cent of
the work force), or
(b) a devaluation of the TT dollar which would increase the TT dollar
earnings of the Government and thus make this debt more
manageable (remember that the vast majority of the Government's
income is in US dollars).
Then there is the CL Financial/CLICO "pothole" or "runaway train". That particular hole is about TT$50 billion. The last administration was most reluctant to sell of the CL Financial assets, but it is difficult to see how the new Government will be able to avoid doing so. In any event, even with a sale the hole remains uncomfortably large.
Then there is the question of Errol McLeod's influence in teh Cabinet. Will he go along with a reduction of the workforce at Petrotrin if that is the recommendation of the experts or will he insist on a devaluation? In other words, will the pain be confined to a few or to the whole country?
There are other problems as well. It is clear that Mrs. Bissessar's team have inherited a huge mess. It is also clear that there is going to have to be a series of rather harsh and difficult measures that will be needed to get the country back on track. The question that has to be on everyone's minds is what exactly does the new Government propose? Well, we shall all find out soon enough I suppose. But make no mistake about it, they have their work cut out for them!! I genuinely wish them well. If they fail we are @#$%^&*!!!!!!!!!!
Okay! For a variety of reasons (most of them personal) I haven't been able to post anything on this site since the elections. I have at last managed to get my business in order and am now able to start posting again. There will be at least one new post a week (probably ... hopefully ... more). But for now you can look forward to checking me out every week. In return, I am looking forward to all of your comments and feedback. There is a lot to discuss!!