Wednesday, November 28, 2012

War! WAR! vs. JAW! JAW!

The Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh/Re-route movement matter continues to dominate the news headlines. It is probably fair to say that despite the rhetoric on both sides of the issue (which is getting rather extreme) that nobody wants Dr. Kublalsingh to die and that most people would like to find some middle ground or solution that effectively allows both sides to save some face. After all, Dr. Kublalsingh's point (after stripping away all the 'ole talk' and threats to kill himself) is that the Mon Desir/Debe section of the highway is damaging to the environment. There is nothing wrong with a man taking this point (unless, of course, it is not true).

Allegations have been flying fast and furiously as to whether or not this central point is correct or not. The "Re-routers" claim that the Government study is a farce and not worth the paper that it is written on. Dr. Kublalsingh himself seems (as reported in the newspapers) to have changed his demands from requiring a meeting with the Prime Minister, then not requiring one but instead requiring a commitment from her  to appoint a committee approved by the "Re-routers" to look again at the environmental issues. (The reporting in the newspapers is not as clear or as balanced as one might hope for ... but, hey! We've got to work with what we've got). The Government's position is clear: their reports show that the claims are groundless and so the highway goes forward.

And then we have all the opponents of the Government crawling out of the woodwork seeking to bask in the "reflected glory" of Dr. Kublalsingh's fast. The fact that some of these people were nowhere near Dr. Kublalsingh's protest against the aluminium smelter is forgotten and seemingly irrelevant. What is important is here is yet another stick to beat the Government with! (Nobody ever said that Life in the Tropics was dull!!) But none of these people seem to want to help find a solution. One gets the (rather unkind) impression that they would actually like Dr. Kublalsingh to die so that they could beat the Government with an even bigger stick!

My view on the whole imbroglio is as set out in my last post on this subject. Nothing has happened to persuade me to change my mind. What I would like to discuss now is a possible way forward.

The "Re-routers" (and, please, I use the term in a purely descriptive sense ... just in case somebody wants to take issue with it) are making a claim which, if true, ought to be taken seriously. Further, they say that the Government's study is flawed. Well, perhaps a way out might be for them (the "Re-routers") to present to us ... the general public ... their own study on the problem listing the experts that they have relied on and their qualifications. This way we could all see whether or not they really do have a point.

In a court room "he who alleges must prove". Okay! I know we aren't exactly in court, but do we have to be? I consider myself a fairly well informed person, but I don't have any recollection of the "Re-routers" providing scientific and documented reports to prove their case. If they have, maybe they could/would provide it again.? I can't believe that if a clear, cogent and scientific argument is made for all to see that the Government would not listen to it. But all that I have seen so far is a lot of blinding emotion. Frankly, I do not blame the Government for not giving in to the emotional arguments even though I readily concede that cool, clear reasoning will never defeat blinding emotion!

By the way, I am not interested in whether Dr. Kublalsingh is "cheating" on his fast (although I will confess that if he is in any way that this would affect his credibility and would therefore lead naturally to other matters that I prefer not to discuss at this time). What I am interested in is finding a way forward. Both sides are digging in and nothing less than "all out victory" would seem to suffice. Both sides have a lot to lose from a defeat. Let's try and turn the rhetoric away from winners and losers and try and discuss this matter in an intelligent and civilised manner. Because at the end of the day, Trinidad & Tobago will win if the right decision is made and Trinidad & Tobago will lose if the wrong decision goes through. We are all in this together. 'War! War!' is not the answer. Let's try a little 'Jaw!Jaw!'

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The hunger strike of Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, leader of the Re-route the Highway Movement, is receiving (very) understandable media attention. Any reasonable observer looking at the whole 'brouhaha' dispassionately would have to admire Dr. Kublalsingh's commitment to his cause. After all, if a man so believes in his cause, whether it is to re-route a highway or a religious belief, or anything and everything in between, that he is willing to die for it, such passion and such commitment is something that ought to be admired whether you agree with that person or not.

Put another way, if Dr. Kublalsingh were to use that passion and commitment to, say (being ridiculous), invent a better and more nutricious hamburger, society would praise him and beat a path to his door. He would make a fortune!

There are quite a few people though who tend to regard Dr. Kublalsingh more like a Don Quixote type figure who was described in Miguel de Cervantes's epic story "El Caballero de la Triste Figura" ("The Knight of the Doleful Countenance") as "... un entreveradero loco, lleno de lucidos intervales" ("... a muddle-headed fool, with frequent lucid intervals") ... Don Quixote was made famous in the story for his 'tilting' with (attacking) windmills that he thought were evil giants.

It is tempting to argue that Dr. Kublalsingh is doing the same with this hunger strike as Don Quixote did with his windmills. He is insisting that he will starve himself to death if the Prime Minister of this little Republic refuses to meet with him (and no doubt capitulate to his demands). That this is emotional blackmail of the highest order cannot be in doubt. In other words, he is saying that it will be the fault of Mrs. Persad-Bissessar, and only Mrs. Persad-Bissessar, if he dies. Now let me be clear: whether you fall on the side of the "re-routers" or not: NO Prime Minister can ever be seen to be giving in to this sort of blackmail ... and it is blackmail! If it happens in this case, where would it end. No! As much as Mrs. Persad-Bissessar's humanity and her obviously clear desire is not to see a needless death, as Prime Minister she cannot allow herself to be forced to do something like this. It is clearly not in the interests of the State. If she did this (give in) today, what would stop somebody else from doing a similar thing tomorrow? Where should we draw the line?

You will note that I have been careful in this writing to avoid discussing the rights or wrongs of Dr. Kublalsingh's argument. I see that as completely separate and apart from what is happening right now ... the potential death of a human being that is completely unnecessary and not in the best interests of the society, much less the good doctor's family nor the doctor himself! Further, it is not in the best interests of the wider society that our Prime Minister (and she is our Prime Minister whether you voted for her or not) be forced to meet and treat with someone in circumstances where she is effectively being blackmailed.

Let's look at it dispassionately: if Dr. Kublalsingh does in fact starve himself to death will that change the route of the highway? I doubt it. His death might give opponents of the Government yet another stick to beat the Prime Minister and her team with, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts that NO intelligent opposition politician (and to the detractors of the PNM please do not say that this is an oxymoron) would say so clearly that there would be no way out of the statement (other than "I was wrong") that he would give in to a hunger striker. It just ain't gonna happen! No statesman (or woman) can afford to give into something like this!

In other words, Dr. Kublalsingh is probably killing himself (for that is exactly what he is doing) for a lost cause. As I said at the beginning of this post: I do admire his passion; I admire his commitment, but I don't think that this particular cause is worth killing himself for. Even if you think that what he is doing is pure tomfoolery or that he is just plain wrong on this issue, I would urge you to add your voice to mine and say to him please don't kill yourself. There will be other causes where your country will need your passion and your commitment. If you are dead then it will be our loss and you won't be there to help.

 The famous English playwright, George Bernard Shaw, said it best when he said "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable man insists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man"

We need men (and women) like Dr. Kublalsingh in this country whether you agree with them or not. They keep the rest of us on our toes. They force us to look again at issues that we might otherwise overlook to our long term detriment. Please join me in asking him not to kill himself.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"we were wrong"

That's a title or headline that you won't see over any editorial in any T&T newspaper any time soon. Another title or headline that you shouldn't hold your breath for is "WE ARE SORRY". The question of a fair minded press comes to the fore once again. Let me be clear: the newspapers have every right in the world to be as biased or as unfair as they want to be. Bottom line: that is what freedom of the press is all about. I am not about trying to muzzle them, intimidate them, or restrict them in any way and I will be the first to join in condemning anybody who would be so foolish as to attempt to do such a thing.

But criticism is a very different thing from intimidation, and nobody and no institution should ever believe that it is so sacrosanct that it cannot be criticised.

What has brought this on is the announcement by the Attorney General yesterday that the long running (2 year) arbitration battle between the Government and BAE Systems over the cancellation of the OPV's (Offshore Patrol Vessels) has been settled in the Government's favour with BAE Systems having to pay to Trinidad & Tobago the not inconsiderable sum of $1.382 billion.

Now, on Sunday 28th October, 2012 the Sunday Guardian published a headline article that the Attorney General had gone to the Cabinet with a request for approval that the Government pay BAE the sum of $1.3 billion!! The article caused a huge fire storm with the Opposition yelling "we told you so!" at the top of their voices.  The article went into some detail saying that several Cabinet Ministers were irate and "confirmed the decision" to pay BAE had been taken but did not want to be taken. The article even went on to report that Mr. Dookeran, who had chaired the meeting, walked out of it.

The Attorney General vigourously denied the truth of the article and slammed the Guardian for publishing it at a time when the matter was 'sub judice'. Other Government Ministers also stepped up to the plate, but the truth is that not very many people believed them. After all, why would the Guardian publish such a story IF it weren't true?

It is pellucidly clear now that this report was as wrong as wrong could be. In fact, the truth is just the opposite! But there has been absolutely no apology from the Guardian or even a paltry acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, it got its facts all wrong and that what was reported simply could not have been true. But the editorials in both the Guardian and the Express this morning chose instead to criticise the Prime Minister for her criticisms of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley which she made at the Divali Nagar.

Tell me something: what do you honestly think is more important to Trinidad & Tobago this morning: the fact that the country has won a huge law suit or that the Prime Minister inserted certain political comments in a speech at a religious function? (And I am not here discussing whether or not the comments were justified. That is for another time. Let's not mix apples and mangoes.) For the life of me I can't understand it. I see this victory in the arbitration as a big thing and whether or not you like the Government "the boys" ought to be congratulated. It is a big thing. But the newspapers haven't done so.

I can only come up with one possible reason for the attitude of these two newspapers, and that is that they are terribly biased against the Government. If somebody ... anybody ... could give me another reason or reasons I would gladly consider it or them. And as I said from the very beginning, if they want to be against the Government (or anybody else) then that is their absolute and unqualified right. Just be honest about it!

This is the second time that I have pointed out the inherent bias in the press. I know all too well that the editors will ignore what I am saying here and will continue as before, but hopefully, one or two of my readers will begin to notice and will adjust their opinions on what they read in our media accordingly.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Tomorrow the world  celebrates the Hindu festival of Divali (or 'Diwali'), which in itself is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. The name 'Divali' is a contraction of 'Deepavali' which translates as 'row of lamps'.

A reader sent me the following which I thought was so beautiful that I have copied and pasted it verbatim. While the words aren't mine, the thoughts certainly are:

"Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to Ayodhya after the end of Rama’s 14 year exile and after vanquishing the demon king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with earthen lamps.

"To this day, Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps filled with oil; these lamps are also called ‘diyas’. Lighting a lamp is symbolic of the action required to dispel the darkness of ignorance from our lives. When we light a lamp, we make an affirmation of opening our hearts and minds to the light, calling forth qualities that bring our inner brilliance to the fore. When a person is truly happy and fulfilled, they look naturally radiant. Each one of us constantly strives for happiness; on Diwali, we recognize and celebrate light as the source of happiness, light being symbolic of inner power and strength.

"We would like to leave you with a beautiful prayer from the texts of the
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that expresses the powerful yet humble intention that accompanies the age old tradition of lighting a lamp:

“Asato Ma Sat Gamaya
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya”

Lead me from untruth to truth,
from the darkness of ignorance, to the light of wisdom,
from the cycle of birth and death… to eternal liberation."

Shubh Divali to everybody.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Like a lot of Trinidadians I stayed up late to watch the results of the U.S. elections on Tuesday night. One of the things that I noticed ... indeed, that I have been noticing for some time ... is how many similarities there are between Trinidadian politics and those of the United States. In both countries the electorate is deeply polarised ... over different issues, of course, but the divisions in both societies run deep and unfortunately seem to be getting deeper. Both countries are experiencing serious economic difficulties, but both have real and substantial hopes that with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work they can turn the corner and get out of the mess. Both countries had previous administrations that caused unnecessary economic hardship (Bush in the U.S., Manning in T&T) and left their successors with the unenviable task of cleaning up. (And it is a truth that problems cannot be solved with the same level of awareness that created them.) Both countries have political parties in opposition that are more obstructionist than conciliatory and who appear to be more interested in regaining political power than fixing the country. Both countries have administrations that have made more than a few unforced errors in charting the way forward.

I could go on but you get the point: put another way, except for the names and a few other (very obvious) changes our stories are the same.

One of the first lessons that the People's Partnership administration should learn from the American elections is that the size of their electoral victory in 2010 was transient, to say the least. The most that any political party can count on is that its core support will stay faithful. Everybody else ... every other vote ... will de-camp the moment that the party in power merely appears to deviate from the promises made in the general election campaign. Whether those transient voters will go over to the other side is a horse of a very different colour!

For the opposition PNM the first lesson that it should learn is that the loudest voices don't often or necessarily command the votes needed to win. The Republicans shouted the loudest and longest about President Obama's shortcomings (real and perceived) but that did not help them to win. Indeed, when the Democrats finally fought back and exposed many of the things that the Republicans were saying as untrue there was a backlash that obviously hurt Romney and company.

The next lesson for everybody is that inclusive beats exclusive everytime! In the American case the Republican party message was that it really was only concerned with white middle/upper middle class America. The Democrats made it clear that all were welcome under its roof. The politics of inclusion triumphed. In T&T a big problem for the PNM is the generally held perception in the country that the PNM has no real regard or time for the non-African element in the society. Certainly, the present make up of the Party leadership as well as its core support seem to support this widely held perception. The Party has begun to try and correct this perception, for example, with its leader, Dr. Rowley, attending the Divali Nagar, reportedly for the first time ever, in an effort to show himself as being more amenable to all things Hindu and Indian. Unfortunately for him it will take much more than a token visit to a major Hindu function/festival to persuade non-blacks that the leopard has indeed changed its spots. The PP, on the other hand, whatever its faults (both real and perceived), is inarguably much more inclusive than the PNM ever has been despite rather clumsy efforts by the PNM to brand it otherwise.

Another lesson from the U.S. for our politicians is that pandering on or to everything simply does not work. What matters more is a constancy of views. Mr. Romney was regarded as insincere as he continuously flipflopped on a large number of issues that were important to large sections of the American electorate. So when the opposition PNM gets into bed with the trade unions a thinking voter has to ask 'is this being done on a principle that is really important, or is it simply politics of convenience'?

Truthfulness and sincerity are important. President Obama has shown that there is a need to lead with passion and power ... the power of conviction, the power of truth .. and that type of performance ... that type of leadership ...translates out into getting the majority of the electorate to follow you.