Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Recent events in Trinidad have been like manna from heaven for the newspapers and other media outlets. Whether you call them gaffes, missteps, mistakes, or simply outbreaks of incompetence the latest furore over the proclamation of the now infamous section 34 is revealing about the society as a whole and the fact that our politicians on both sides simply don't seem to get it.
The facts that are in the public domain are as follows:
(i) All sides agreed in Parliament that the law needed to be changed
to get rid of the archaic system of having preliminary enquiries in
criminal matters to see whether or not an accused person should
be made to face a jury of his peers over allegations of criminal
(ii) A Bill was brought in that effectively dealt with this but it was
agreed by all that certain things would have to be put in place
before the Bill could become law;
(iii) Somebody (or bodies) on the Government side gave an
undertaking (or undertakings) to the Parliament that the Act
(when a Bill is passed by Parliament it becomes an Act) would
not be proclaimed until everything was in place;
(iv) It was not going to be possible to put everything on place until
about January 2013.
(v) One piece of the Act ... section 34 ... was proclaimed by the
President (a Presidential proclamation brings an Act or a piece
of it into law) on 31st August, 2012 ... Independence Day!
(vi) Section 34 effectively puts a limitation period on the
prosecution of certain crimes (excepting things like murder,
etc.) if the trial has not begun within the specified period.
Those are the facts. But, in typical Trini style now comes the confusion. The proclaiming of section 34 helped two of the most "famous" (if that is the right word) accused persons, Mr. Ishwar Galbaransingh and Mr. Steve Ferguson who have been facing corruption charges arising out of the building of the Piarco Airport more than ten years ago. The cases against these men have been proceeding tortuously through the legal system at a pace that would make a snail look like Usain Bolt. What feels like a million years later their preliminary enquiries are still not complete.
Messrs. Galbaransingh and Ferguson are anything but foolish and as soon as section 34 was proclaimed they jumped and applied to the Court to have their matters thrown out.
The problem is that both of these gentlemen are known to have been
financiers of the ruling UNC in the past. And whether it is true or not, most people believe that they still are. Further, the very surrepticious way that the Government went about having section 34 proclaimed has raised very ugly and (what ought to be) unnecessary suspicions that there was/is some "hanky panky" at play. These suspicions have been exacerbated by the fact that absolutely NO explanation has been forthcoming from either the Justice Minister, Mr Volney, under whose Ministry this particular Act falls, or The Attorney General who has overall responsibility for all legal matters in Trinidad & Tobago, as to WHY section 34 was proclaimed when it was.
The population has been inundated with all sorts of excuses and explanations and the Government has even had an emergency session of Parliament to repeal section 34, but nobody on the Government side has come forth with a simple and believable explanation as to why section 34 was proclaimed when it was.
In most democracies, Governments manage to survive crises like this one which cause a sudden and unexpected loss of confidence, by the firing or resignation of the Minister or Ministers at the centre of the particular storm. This has not happened in this case and the two Ministers in the centre of the storm have given every indication that they ain't gonna "fall on their swords" any time soon; and in the very glaring absence of a credible explanation as to why the now infamous proclamation was made or some judicious resigantions or firings, Mrs. Persad Bissessar is going to find that the moral authority to govern has slipped away like the proverbial thief in the night. Unless this situation is rectified now (and "now" means "now") she will find that the country will rapidly become ungovernable ... and that is not something that any right thinking person could possibly want. It is not in our collective interest that a Government should fall like this, but fall it will if the Prime Minister does not act quickly and decisively ... and fast.
Posted by Robin Montano at 12:02 PM
Monday, September 3, 2012
I had deliberately stayed out of the debate about the "fifty most important people" because (full disclosure here) I felt that the contribution of my uncle, Bobby Montano, was probably the single most important contribution to T&T's development in the last 100 years. I couldn't believe that nobody thought to highlight it or even mention it. Maybe I should have. I certainly could have ... easily. But I have always felt a certain reticence in blowing my own or my family's trumpet and I thought that at the very least that serious commentators and persons who genuinely care about T&T might have done so.
But now that the fiftieth anniversary celebrations are over and no one has "stepped up to the plate" I feel that at the very least I should use this space to bring to the attention of anybody who really cares about this little country and its history, something that has been completely overlooked.
What am I talking about? In two words: Point Lisas! The development of Point Lisas was the brain child of my uncle who led the South Trinidad Chamber of Commerce and pushed it ... hard! At first, the Williams led administration wouldn't "take the height" of the south based businessmen who used their own time and their own money to get the idea off the ground. Dr. Eric Williams simply wasn't imterested! It was only after everything had been planned and a way forward had been mapped out that the Government moved and took over Point Lisas. (And by the way, ask people like Bobby Montano, Krishna Narinesingh and Sydney Knox how the Government came to take over PLIPDECO as the Point Lisas Development Company Limited is called. That story will almost make you cry with the unfairness of it all!) Incidentally, would you believe that most young people now believe that it was Eric Williams who thought up Point Lisas?!
But the story of Point Lisas is not being told and neither is there sufficient recognition of those who pushed it. And without the development of Point Lisas we wouldn't be anywhere near the development that we are at today. It is the single most important story coming out of Trinidad & Tobago in the last 100 years and has impacted all of our lives in a most positive way.
Instead, we read of "fifty greats" like, for example, musician Roy Cape. Now, I have always liked the music of Mr. Cape, but are we seriously saying that his music was of greater importance to T&T than the development at Point Lisas? And if you say that is not the point, that music and the arts ought to be recognised as well, I will reply that I couldn't agree more, but that the operative words in that sentence are "as well". And, incidentally, this is NOT to be construed as a criticism of Mr. Cape.
We need not only to be aware of our history but why it is so important that we get it right ... now! Put another way, we need to be truthful.
Posted by Robin Montano at 1:40 PM