Thursday, March 28, 2013
The uproar in the Press to the Prime Minister's allegation earlier this week that there are rogue elements in the media was entirely predictable. The media in Trinidad & Tobago are notorious for never apologising for anything they do whether right or wrong (and especially when they are wrong) and for guarding their turf jealously. This is a pity, because more often than is happy the media say and do things that are just plain wrong, and there is little or no redress other than a very expensive and time consuming law suit for defamation. They know this full well and tend to take advantage of it. For every law suit for defamation there must be at least twenty instances of the media being "naughty" and wrong.
Don't believe me? It happens all the time. Look, just the other day the Express newspaper published an article with a headline to the effect that the Attorney General was denying that a certain Rolls Royce motor car belonged to him. The article was even accompanied by a photograph of the car complete with a Trinidad licence plate! Most of the article (and the headline) was about the AG's denial that the car was his, but towards the end of the article it was reported that the car in fact was registered to a very well known company and quoted the managing director of that company as saying that the car was his and that he had owned several Rolls Royce motor cars previously. But you had to read the whole article to get to the truth. So, why the headline and the article? This surely wasn't news?!
The only reason that I can think of was that the Express wanted to embarrass the Attorney General. I can think of no other reason. What is news worthy about a Government Minister NOT owning an expensive motor car? The answer is: nothing! Nothing at all!! So, if they weren't trying to embarrass the AG why would they print such an article? Nothing else makes sense. If anyone can give me another plausible reason as to why the Express would print such an article I will immediately apologise.
This is the second time that the Express has attacked the Attorney General in this manner. The first time was over some apartments that he bought shortly after taking up office. Again, in that article (as in "the Rolls Royce article") the reader was left with the distinct impression that there was some sort of 'hanky panky' ... or to put it more bluntly, corruption ... taking place but that the paper just can't prove it. Certainly, that was my impression.
But this surely is wrong. A newspaper shouldn't be allowed to print an article like "the Rolls Royce article" without some more facts. If the newspaper suspects that the Attorney General is involved in some sort of corruption then it should say so ... and not slide around the issue in a manner that, frankly, reeks of dishonest and malicious reporting.
Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. The Guardian has also stepped into the act with some rather serious attacks on the erstwhile and very voluble Sports Minister, Mr. Anil Roberts. Basically what happened was that there seems to have been some rather serious allegations concerning the Boxing Board, the end result of which has caused the Integrity Commission to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Guardian reported that amongst those being referred to the DPP was the Sports Minister. This turned out to be incorrect.
Now, any referral of any matter to the DPP is serious.And a report like this one is bound to make the ordinary citizen look twice at the Minister. But it wasn't true. What is true (at least from all that is in the public domain) is that there are some rather serious issues to be looked at that could possibly constitute corruption of some sort by certain people. But (at least for the moment) the Minister is definitely NOT one of them! The story is clearly not finished and, I dare say, a lot more will come out. But at the very least, surely the Guardian could have and should have published a front page apology to the Minister ... especially if there was no ulterior motive but just a desire to report the facts. So, why hasn't such an apology been made? It doesn't make sense ... unless, there is something else behind the article. But what?!? Does the Guardian have more facts that implicate the Minister? If so, then they should come out and say so. Or is there another more sinister and (ultimately) dishonest motive? What? And if there was no malice, why didn't/doesn't the Guardian apologise? It doesn't make sense!
And I am not getting into the counter allegations of the Minister against the reporter, nor of her responses to him. I am about what is right and about doing the right thing and about what are the undisputed facts. I do not accept the media's brushing aside the fact that it wrongly reported that a matter involving Mr. Roberts was referred to the DPP and effectively refusing to apologise for their mistake. It is right that someone should aplogise when he has done something wrong, especially if the mistake was a genuine one. (Of course, it is harder to apologise where the mistake was deliberate and not accidental!) I think that Mr. Roberts was right when he said that the media should be held to as high a standard as possible. I do not accept that freedom of the press means licence to print or broadcast anything that you want. I do not believe that the Prime Minister's statement about rogue elements in the media can even be remotely construed as an attack on press freedom. I do believe that there are rogue elements in the media, and by that I mean elements that have their own agendas, some of them hidden, and which have nothing to do with reporting the facts but everything to do with the furtherance of their particular agenda or agendas. And nothing that I have seen or heard over the last many years has convinced me otherwise.
The best expression of how I believe the modern media should operate comes from a man called C.P. Scott (1846 - 1932) who said:
"The newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly,
and its first duty is to shun the temptations of a monoploy.
Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of
its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in
what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode
of presentation, must the unclouded face of truth suffer
wrong. Comment is free but facts are sacred."
Our media certainly cannot put its hand on its heart and swear that this is exactly what it does. Lightning would strike them down if they did that!
Perhaps now might be an appropriate time for a Commission of Enquiry into the operations of the media in Trinidad & Tobago?
Posted by Robin Montano at 11:27 AM
Monday, March 18, 2013
Acting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said something over the week-end that is as dangerous and potentially destabilising as can be imagined. He has claimed that he has evidence of a plot by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency to kill his right wing rival, Enrique Capriles, and trigger a coup before the April 14th Presidential election. He said that the plan was to kill Mr. Capriles and then blame it on Mr. Maduro and his cronies thus destabilising the country.
Now you have only to look at this to see not only how stupid such an action would be for the United States, but how Maduro is really thinking. It would be a very, very stupid thing for the United States to do because Mr. Capriles is the one candidate who has been able to unite Venezuela's fractious opposition. The death of Mr. Capriles would set back Venezuelan opposition unity by several years ... and THAT would not be in the best interests of the United States! And whatever you might want to say or think about the Americans, one thing you cannot say is that they are stupid! They act (as do ALL countries) in what is in their own best interests ... and there is nothing wrong with that! And it canNOT be in America's best interests to destabilise the opposition in Venezuela.
But for Mr. Maduro to say that there is a plot by the Americans to kill Mr. Capriles quite frankly looks more like a very amateurish way of saying that he (Maduro) is planning to do just that and blame it on the Americans when it happens. I didn't hear Mr. Maduro say, for example, that as his Government has uncovered this dastardly plot that the Government was stepping up security for Mr. Maduro. Why not? Wouldn't this happen in a proper democracy? But Venezuela's government is anything but democratic.
This is not the first time that Mr. Maduro has made outrageous claims. He has said that Mr. Chavez's cancer was in fact caused by the Americans who somehow managed to infect him some two years ago. Of course, the world still has not been told exactly what type of cancer killed Mr. Chavez nor has the world got details of the treatment that the late President underwent. Nor do we know how the Americans could so cleverly infect Chavez and kill him so slowly. Assuming (though not accepting) that the Americans could have infected and did infect Chaez with something, wouldn't it have made more sense to have killed Mr. Chavez quickly rather than have it take two long years? But little details like this are irrelevant when you are dealing with such a liar as Maduro obviously is.
Maduro has clearly learned the lesson of Josef Goebbels (Adolf Hitler's Nazi Minister of Propaganda), that the bigger the lie and the more often it is repeated the more people will believe it.
The problem is that he is clearly signalling that he does not care an iota for the truth and neither does he care what he says about anybody or anything. It is also clear that he is a man who will say or do anything to retain power at all costs. I expect him to be declared the winner in next month's election. I do not expect there to be a free and fair election. I also expect that Venezuela will continue to spiral downwards after the election and become more and more impoverished. The dangers are obvious for the ordinary Venezuelan citizen. The problem is that instability in one of the Region's largest and most powerful countries can cause ripple effects in the neighbourhood ... and T&T is very close to Venezuela!
Maduro is much more dangerous than most people realise. A leader who has to lie and effectively threaten to kill his political opponents in order to stay in power is a leader who ought to be condemned by all right thinking peoples every where. The Venezuelans can't do it. Obviously! But we can!!
Posted by Robin Montano at 11:11 AM
Thursday, March 14, 2013
There is only one reason for politics. It is the same and only reason for government: to make life better for the people. Period! There is no other reason!
It is vital that one keeps this in mind while discussing whether or not we should reform our Constitution, and if the consensus is that we should, then how we should go about it. Should we simply tinker with the present system? Is it working well, but just needs a little "tweaking" here and a little adjustment there? Bottom line: has it made life better for the people of Trinidad & Tobago? Could we have been better off if we had had another system? (Well, that last question is highly speculative, but I will still ask it for the sake of inclusion.) Could it/can it be improved upon? If so, how?
Winston Churchill once defined a Westminster type Parliamentary system as a dictatorship punctuated once every five years by three weeks of democracy. You can readily understand his point when you realise that under our system of Government that a Prime Minister is not "primus inter pares" but simply "primus". He (or she) is the absolute boss and rules with great power. A Trinidadian type Prime Minister is more powerful inside his (or her) own country than an American type President is in his!
One of the biggest complaints that people have made since independence in 1962 is that they don't see their representatives except at election time. (Remember Churchill?!) And that is a complaint made by everybody on both sides of the political divide! And why does this happen? Because five years is a long time and the representatives know that there is no real necessity to dance attendance on their constituents all of the time. Their supporters usually vote for the political party in any case and not for the individual, so as long as their Party is popular and the M.P. sits in a "safe" seat (i.e., safe in that most voters in the particular seat vote for the particular Party) then the M.P. really doesn't have to work his seat all that hard. To be fair, there are exceptions to this generalisation and there are many hard working M.P.'s. But the truth also is that there are even more who "disappear" between elections and there are far too many M.P.'s who simply sit back and do little or nothing for their constituents. And this has always been so!!
Further, in between elections governments often ignore the electorate and are guilty of non-performance and/or trampling on the rights of citizens. These types of complaints are not new nor are they only being made today, but have been around since the 1962 Constitution.
So, the big question is: what can we do about this? Put another way, how do we, the people, get more control over the persons that we put into government so that we control them and not the other way around? Isn't it time that the dog starts to take control of its own tail again?
I have certain ideas which I will put forward, but I am deliberately not doing so now as I would prefer that readers of this blog think very carefully about the problems so that when we embark on a discussion of possible solutions that there will be no need to have a "back and forth" discussion but that we would all be "on the same page" in understanding and appreciating what exactly we are are trying to fix and why we think it needs fixing.
Posted by Robin Montano at 10:35 AM
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
"The evil that men do lives on,
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar".
William Shakespeare - Julius Caesar
Hugo Chavez is dead. He leaves behind him a country in chaos and a bitterly divided and polarised society. In the coming weeks and months and years Venezuela is going to struggle to pull itself out of the very deep financial blackhole that Chavez created with his 'Bolivarian socialism'. But it is important to look back and assess both his 'victories' as well as his 'defeats' (for want of better words). His victories first:
When he was elected in October 1998 (he actually first took the oath of office in January 1999) he had run a populist campaign that in itself was recolutionary. Venezuela was then divided between a very few "haves" and a lot of "have-nots". I remember going over there in 1997 and being absolutely shocked at the glaring inequalities that were rampant in that society. Clearly a revolution was absolutely necessary to bring equity and fairness to a society whose value systems seemed to be locked into those of the early fifties. There was too much inequality.
And Chavez was just that revolution. He swept to power promising massive changes for the benefit of the poor and dispossessed. In this regard he kept his promises. He brought in universal health care and gave huge opportunities to persons who would never otherwise have had them. His policies of helping the poor and dispossessed certainly raised a lot of people out of a squalid and dehabilitating poverty. He forced through changes that were absolutely necessary in a society that was atrophied and in which only the rich were able to enjoy Venezuela's fabulous oil wealth.
Now for his defeats: he did all this at great expense ... some would argue that the cost was too high. His rhetoric was extremely divisive and his actions were even more polarising. He pitted Venezuelans against each other and opened up wounds that ought never to have been opened. His critics branded him as spiteful and dictatorial. Indeed, there is a lot of evidence to support these accusations. A Supreme Court Judge, for example, who had the temerity to oppose him was arbitrarily arrested and locked up. Companies had their assets expropriated by the State and their owners received no compensation. The media was severely muzzled and criticisms against the Government were not tolerated. If you were so foolish as to criticise the President you would end up in serious hot water. Venezuela was anything but democratic.
Venezuela's economy began to suffer badly. Mr. Chavez spent a huge amount of Venezuela's oil income last year in propping up his economically failing regime so that he could win the elections in October. He won, but at a huge (and as yet unaccounted for) cost ... a cost which some experts say was the direct cause of the huge devaluation that Venezuela's currency suffered last month.
In the meantime, there has been absolutely no investment by the private sector in Venezuela's factories and businesses for at least the last 8 years. In the oil/energy sector Chavez's purge of Stae owned PDVSA some 10 years ago has resulted in oil production falling (at a time of rising oil prices) and a lot of incompetent personnel running the company effectively into the ground. Corruption in high office is rampant. Many 'Chavistas' are multi millionaires with condos in Miami.
In terms of foreign policy it could also be argued that this also was a disaster for Venezuela. Venezuelan oil subsidies have been propping up Cuba to the tune of about US$9 billion per annum for the last decade or so. What the Castros are going to do now is going to be interesting, to say the least. My guess is that they will try to prop up the Vice President Nicholas Maduro, a former bus driver. But I don't think that he will be able to hold the centre for very long. The only countries that seemed to support Chavez were countries like Iran, Ghaddiffi's Libya, Zimbabwe (remember Robert Mugabe?) and North Korea. To be fair, he did have some friends in Latin America like Bolivia's Evo Morales. But you know what they say about 'show me your friends ...'!
And by the way, if you think that crime is bad in T&T you should check out Caracas sometime. Their crime problems make ours look like a walk in the park!
Venezuela is in for a hard time now that Chavez is dead. There is no one on the horizon who has his charisma and the divisions in the society are too deep to heal overnight. The bad news is that Venezuela's economy is in a shambles and there is nobody in the present Government who has the economic savvy to be able to fix it ... ever! The good news is that Venezuela is essentially fabulously wealthy ... at least potentially so. Now that Chavez is dead it is quite likely that the country will sooner or later move back to the centre and will become once again a nice place to live. Let us hope that in moving back to the centre that the good things that Chavez did do are not buried with him ... although that would surprise a lot of people including old Willy Shakespeare.
Posted by Robin Montano at 11:15 AM
Monday, March 4, 2013
I had intended to devote the next few posts to the question of constitutional reform, but a short (and rather devastating) bout of pneumonia laid me up while events have taken over in the interim. I am talking about the raging 'brouhaha' over the (seemingly) stillborn Flying Squad issue.
Let me tell you a story: in 1969 my father was the then Minister of Home Affairs (this ministry later became the Ministry of National Security). Sometime around September/October of that year my father took a note to Cabinet recommending that three young Sandhurst trained lieutenants, LaSalle, Shah and Barzey, be cashiered from the Regiment. The security service had reported that they were in cahoots with the Black Power elements in the country and were actively engaged in plotting revolution and the violent overthrow of the Government. Unfortunately, none of the evidence was justiciable and even to expose it would have exposed the security personnel in such a way that would render them useless as sources of future information. In other words, there was no proof that could have been used by the Government against them and there was no way of getting that proof.
The then Attorney General, George Richards, bitterly opposed the recommendation to fire the young lieutenants on the ground that there being absolutely no evidence against them, they would win a case against
the Government for wrongful dismissal and the Government would have to pay them huge damages. My father's reply was that the Government would be better off paying those damages rather than paying for the costs of a revolution which could well end up with the entire Cabinet facing a firing squad. Eric Williams, who was then Prime Minister, told my father that he was being overly dramatic and sided with his Attorney General. The rest is history! (Incidentally, this was not the only time in the build up to the events of 1970 that Dr. Williams did not take my father's advice. But that is another story (or stories).)
Shortly after the 1970 uprisings had been put down Dr. Williams called my father to his office and congratulated him on all that he had done in putting down the uprisings and in keeping loss of life to an absolute minimum. About two weeks after this Dr. Williams called my father again to his office and demanded his resignation. Dr. Willaims said that the Party (the PNM) was howling for my father's blood as there were elements in the Party who were claiming (with some justification because they did not have the facts) that the national security lapses that resulted in the uprisings and army mutiny were the fault of the Minister of Home Affairs. My father's attitude was "let them come. I can defend myself against any and all accusations and show where, if what I had recommended had been done, that the mutiny and uprisings would not have taken place". "Ah!" Williams replied. "But then they will come after me!"
In other words, he recognised full well that he had screwed up and that either my father had to fall on his sword or that the whole Government would come crashing down as my father's defence of himself would have dragged not only the Prime Minister down, but the whole Cabinet as well. In a situation where the whole country was in an extremely shaky state and where the very pillars of our democracy had been seriously threatened (remember, we had only achieved independence a short 9 years earlier) my father realised that he had no choice but to go, and to go quietly. Not to do so would have threatened the very existance of his Government. By saving himself all he would do is "kill" his Government and he would go down with the rest. In other words, either he went or they all went. He went.
He kept his peace on this until he died in 2005 although he never tired of telling us (his family) the stories of what really happened until we could all repeat them practically word for word.
I tell this story now as an example of what is supposed to happen and how Cabinet Government is supposed to operate. We are all still waiting for an explanation about this Flying Squad imbroglio and speaking for myself only, I must confess that there are too many elements in the story that simply do not add up or make sense. What does make sense, to me at least, is that the Prime Minister is being horribly exposed when she should not be. If a Prime Minister falls then his or her entire Government usually also falls. This is a lesson that appears not to be understood by those close to Mrs. Persad-Bissessar.
I like Jack Warner a lot. Oh! I am well aware of the stories that continue to swirl around his head and I have no illusions. I honestly don't. But I do like him and think that he has a lot of strengths to bring to the table. However, I am most concerned that this present trouble is such that even if he is able to survive it that his continued presence as National Security Minister may cripple the Government. In which case, he may be finding that even if he is completely blameless in this matter (just as I say without apology that my father was completely blameless in 1970) that he ought seriously to consider whether or not it is best for the sake of his Prime Minister, his Government and his Party that he step aside quietly.
Posted by Robin Montano at 10:39 AM