Monday, June 17, 2013
I am beginning to come to the very reluctant conclusion that our society is hopelessly and helplessly mired in corruption. And I am not just talking about corrupt politicians (and God knows that we have more than our fair share on ALL sides of the political divide) but I am talking about everybody.
Let's get the politicians out of the way first: this firetruck issue, for example, stinks to high heaven. In a million years you cannot justify to me a cost of $6.7 million (or more than a million US dollars) to haul a truck out of a ravine/ditch/hole/whatever of approximately fifty feet. That is as bad as Gary Hunt's $2 million flag ... or worse, because the obvious thievery was more. And I am fed up with all those PNM hypocrites who kept absolutely silent during the excesses of the Manning regime who are now holier than thou and crying corruption every chance that they get!
I am also fed up with Keith Rowley's endless bleatings about corruption when the Landate matter is still not resolved. (For those who have forgotten, Dr. Rowley was involved in a land development project in Tobago about 10 years ago. The sub-contractor on that project was a large company called NH International which is owned by his good friend, Emile Elias. A commission of enquiry found that materials and equipment had been wrongfully removed by NH International without the knowledge or permission of the engineer from a site where the Scarborough General Hospital was being built by NH International, and taken to Dr. Rowley's development. The commission of enquiry recommended that there be a police investigation to determine whether or not NH International "had commited any breaches of the Larceny Act", in other words whether or not the materials had been stolen. No such investigation has ever taken place, and the question has to be asked: why? No good explanation has ever been given!)
I am fed up with so called paragons of virtue committing acts that cannot be justified and pretending that these actions are all right because they would never do anything wrong. Look at what the Chairman of the Integrity Commission did! He has a secret meeting with the Leader of the Opposition in his home over an issue which his commission is supposed to be investigating!!?!! And nobody sees anything wrong with that?!?!
Let me tell you what's wrong with that: suppose you and I are in a dispute which is going before a particular judge in the High Court of Justice. How would you feel if I went to the judge's home one evening before our trial?!? You would feel good!? No! You wouldn't! But isn't our judiciary composed of honourable men and women? Yes! And don't you trust them? Yes! But such a meeting would be patently wrong on the face of it and I surely don't have to waste any more words in making that point. Ken Gordon was wrong to meet Keith Rowley in his home. He can write all the aide memoirs that he wants ... but nobody except the erstwhile chairman and Dr. Rowley ... the two participants ... was there to confirm or deny that what he wrote was in fact true. And there should be absolutely no cloud of suspicion hanging over the Integrity Commission. What the heck does the word "integrity" mean, for crying out loud?!
And then look at what I wrote about the charity United Way spending money on a cocktail party. I might as well have been whistling in the wind! None of the daily newspapers see this as wrong! Nobody has written about it! Why? Is it because those involved are all "big" businessmen and therefore advertisers who can pull their ads if they are criticised in public, or is it that I am wrong in thinking that was a big thing and is as wrong as wrong can be?
And what has got me so riled up now? On Saturday we had a birthday party for our 11 year old son. My wife got the bright idea of hooking up a little karaoke machine that we have to our other son's lap top and downloading some karaoke music from the internet for the kids to enjoy at the party. We needed a special cable to connect the karaoke machine to the lap top.
But when we shopped around we found that the cable was going to cost $528 so we said "nah!" That was way too much. But the son of a friend of ours went on to the internet and found the same cable on Amazon ... too late for the party, but he found it! Guess how much it costs on Amazon? Four American dollars!! Or, if you like, a little more than TT$25!!! Talk about rip-off!! Profit is one thing, but this kind of rip-off is as dishonest as it is wrong. It makes me wonder what else we are being overcharged for in this little republic of ours! And don't bother to answer that! The question was really rhetorical!
I am as fed-up as I am upset! I am upset because the same people who complain vehmently about the corrupt politicians are the same ones who are ripping off the society in other ways. The hypocrisy is too much to bear! And we all seem to think that this is acceptable, for none of us does anything about it! We criticise the politicians, but not the businessmen or those who spend large wads of money given for charitable purposes on expensive parties! But then, in Trini Wonderland, by definition, you obviously can't be corrupt if you are not a politician!
Posted by Robin Montano at 11:15 AM
Monday, June 10, 2013
On the social page of today's Trinidad Guardian ('The Talk of Trinidad') there is a two page spread of photographs of a cocktail party hosted by the children's charity United Way at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Port of Spain. (Now, for those who might not be aware, the Hyatt is the most prestigious and most expensive hotel in Port of Spain.) The blurb accompanying the photographs says that the function was held by the charitable organisation to say 'thank you' to its sponsors for all the support that the sponsors have given to United Way.
And this was where I said a big loud "WHAT?" What in the name of heaven is a charitable organisation doing spending money that it has raised for charitable purposes in order to host a cocktail party to say thank you to the persons, firms and corporations that gave them money in order to do charitable works? And then the charitable organisation has the guts to boast about it by inviting the Guardian to send it's social reporter and photographer to record the event?!?
There is something grossly vulgar and obscene about this. It probably doesn't fall under the standard definition of "corruption" but to me this is as wrong as wrong can be! A charity doesn't raise money to help sick children and then go and blow a whole wad of it on a cocktail party to "thank" the people who gave them the money to help the sick kids in the first place!! A cocktail party like this will cost a cool $50,000 or more!! If the charity can do this, then the next thing is that the chairman of United Way will say that he needs a Rolls Royce or Mercedes Benz to reflect his status and the importance of his organisation. And don't laugh! Some so-called charities in the United States have done just that! I mean, to heck with helping sick kids (which is the raison d'etre for the organisation in the first place). Let's have a party complete with Johnny Walker Black to thank all these nice folks who gave us all this money so that we could have a party! And not just a party, but a party at the Hyatt!!!!
No! This was wrong! Perhaps it is an explanation of why T&T has the stink of corruption surrounding it no matter what political party or parties we put in power. For if a charity can do this where its directors are so-called honourable people, and we accept that there is nothing wrong with this, then why should we complain when the politicians simply take it one step further?
Posted by Robin Montano at 10:09 AM
Thursday, June 6, 2013
I don't think that there are many people who will disagree with the statement that the Integrity Commission ('IC') over the years has really not lived up to the promise of what it was set up to do, i.e., prevent corruption. And before people like Basdeo Panday stand up and say "if you have evidence of corruption take it to the police" let me state quite clearly that I have no evidence of anybody, either in past or present regimes, being corrupt. But there have been too many occasions when I have felt that the whole thing smells to high heaven. And I can (like too many others) refer to a whole lot of matters that are extremely fishy, too say the least!
But despite having an Integrity Commission that was supposed to make it harder for persons in public life to take bribes, the truth is that from it's inception that august Commission has been singularly ineffective and ineffectual. This is partly, I suppose, because of a certain incompetence, but I suspect that even with the most competent of Commissioners in place that the IC would still be ineffective.
The reason that I say this is because the IC is supposed to scrutinise almost every single person in public life ranging from Prime Ministers at the high end to "lowly" councillors at the other end. In between there are people who will never be approached to take a bribe, e.g., opposition senators. (Who would want to bribe an opposition senator, for crying out loud?! He has absolutely no power or influence over the administration of the public purse.) In other words, the IC spends an inordinate amount of time pouring over all of the forms that persons in public life must submit on an annual basis. (Once when I was an opposition senator I got quite cross with the IC who asked me a bunch of what I considered to be extremely stupid questions and which, on principle, I refused to answer. The whole thing was eventually settled when I met with the then IC Chairman John Martin who apologised and we came to a compromise that allowed the IC to save some face. But this little episode took six months and many letters passing back and forth. A total waste of everyone's time!)
And this is my point. I have a friend who is a councillor. He does not belong to the Party that controls his council. The IC called him in earlier this year to question him as to why his wife owned his company (the financial information of which he had provided although not legally obliged to do so)! My friend eventually walked out and contacted me for advice. There was nothing wrong with his return, the person in the IC just couldn't understand why he was not a shareholder in his own company ... which incidentally does no business at all with any government or state enterprise! Stupidity par excellence!!
In other words, there is quite clearly a good deal of incompetence in the IC. But there is also an inadvertant swamping of the IC with a whole lot of unnecessary work in pouring over the returns of persons who clearly aren't in the "please bribe me business".
So, why don't we revamp the IC? And in doing so, why don't we take a commonsense approach? After all, who is more guilty: the person taking the bribe (the "bribee") or the person giving the bribe (the "bribor")? Answer: BOTH are equally guilty! So, why don't we fix the legislation? We could keep the 'net' of persons that have to file declarations except that we wouldn't make them file declarations unless the IC for any reason asks them to. That would cut out a lot of unnecessary work. Then, we should make all persons, firms or corporations (from banks to contractors and everybody inbetween) that do business with the government or any state enterprise subject to the jurisdiction of the IC. In other words, if a situation arose such as, for example, the present one where some $6.4 million was spent to retrieve a $2 million firetruck (an act that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and stinks to high heaven) then the IC could (and should) of it's own volition go into the books, records and bank accounts of the contractor. If, for example, those records showed a suspiciously large payment, say, to Tief Man, Grabbit & Run Cayman Islands Limited, then the IC could follow that up to see who the Tief Man company belonged to. It wouldn't be too difficult after that to nab the corrupt politician. Follow the money and you eventually catch the thief!
What do you think? Makes sense, doesn't it? But then, it only makes sense if the politicians really want to make it more difficult to steal. The question really is: do we want to make it more difficult for the crooks, or do we like it so?
Posted by Robin Montano at 12:52 PM
Monday, June 3, 2013
For some time now I have been quietly objecting to the so very obvious deterioration in standards in Trinidad & Tobago, not the least being the absolute absence of even a modicum of understanding of what the word "service" means, especially in fast food restaurants and those restaurants that advertise themselves as "family" restaurants. I am not just referring to the total and complete lack of understanding of the concept of service in places like MacDonalds and Burger King ... in those places "service" is clearly something that obtains on Mars or Jupiter, not a concept that applies on planet earth! I am also talking about places like TGI Fridays, Trotters and Ruby Tuesdays. In those type of establishments (and especially in those establishments) service is so lousy and so inexplicably inefficient that you would be easily forgiven from coming to the conclusion that the owners and management care only about making a buck and couldn't care less about giving their customers any kind of value in return. It is one thing to serve lousy food (which they all do). And most certainly, it is also more or less the same thing to charge exorbitantly high prices for the lousy food. But it is really, really insulting to serve the lousy food at exorbitant prices and not just couple it with absolutely terrible service, but to charge the customer an additional fifteen per cent for the privilege of getting lousy service. Put another way, "service" is just another word that has absolutely no meaning in this little country of ours ... at least as far as they are concerned.
I will confess that from time to time I go to one or the other of these really bad restaurants. Usually it is because I am either taken there by a client or my two sons beg me and I can't say no to them... although they are beginning to realise that what I have been saying is true. Thankfully, we haven't been near any of those places since the beginning of this year.
But yesterday (Sunday) being the end of the long week-end, when my ten year old son asked me to take him to Hagendaaz in Ellerslie Plaza for an ice cream I readily agreed. After all, I reasoned, what could possibly go wrong in ordering a few scoops of ice cream? Huh!?!? Guess again! My wife, my son and I entered the little ice cream shop and sat down. After about five minutes a waiter came to us and took our order. Because we had to be somewhere else at 6pm I glanced at my watch to check the time. It was exactly 5:20pm! My son ordered two scoops of ice cream and my wife asked for a piece of apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on it. That was it! Now guess how long it took?
Twenty minutes later I got up and went and quietly complained to the manager that our order had not arrived. He very politely informed me that our order was coming "now"! Now, I don't know about you, but my understanding of "now" is "now", i.e. immediately! Not in five or even ten minutes time! Five minutes passed with no ice cream or apple pie. I got up again and quietly enquired as to why our order had not arrived. To my great surprise, the manager told me that as it was Sunday afternoon they were very busy and that three or four parties had come in ahead of us so we just had to wait our turn. But, not to worry, our order was coming "now" (that word again)! Incidentally, at that time, not all of the tables were occupied!
I had to ask myself 'how long does it take to get and serve a scoop of ice cream'? And the answer has to be less than a minute. You try it sometime. So even if there were, say, four parties ahead of us with, say, an average of three to a party (and most of the tables at that time were occupied by parties of two ... we were the only three person party at that time), then with four parties ahead of us there is absolutely no good reason why we could not have been served in ten minutes (or less). If we were in the States or Canada, for example, I know that the service there would have ensured that we would have been served in less than ten minutes!
I can hear you say 'but this is Trinidad. What do you expect?' And my answer is that I expect right minded citizens to refuse to accept such a lousy excuse and to criticise severely all those who would accept lousy service with a shrug. We didn't make a fuss. We just walked out of Hagendaaz. I saw the manager and a waitress looking at me with some surprise as if to say that I was being unreasonable, especially as they had told me that my order was coming 'now'. But up to the time that we exited the place our order was not on it's way to our table.
To wait twenty-five minutes for a few scoops of ice cream and a piece of apple pie is totally and completely unacceptable and the owners of that ice cream shop ought to be ashamed of the very poor service ... worse still because it purports to be a high class joint! But then, so do all the others!
It is time that we start to complain and refuse to spend our money in those places that encourage their staff to be rude, surly and inefficient. I know that this can be done. For example, there is a great little pizza restaurant in Victoria Avenue called La Cantina. The pizzas are the best in town and the service is superb ... first world in every aspect! And all the waiters and waitresses are Trinis to the bone. What do they know that the others don't? My guess is that the owners and management really care ... the others don't care a fig! But then, why should they? We continue to support them without complaint! And therein lies our tragedy!!
P.S. In addition to a service charge being tacked on to your bill at these places, you are expected to leave a tip. The whole concept of tipping has conveniently been forgotten. The word "tip" come from the acronym "To Insure Promptness". Ironic, isn't it!?
Posted by Robin Montano at 12:16 PM