Monday, October 13, 2014


I have stayed out of the Highway Re-route Movement's (HRM) contra temps with the Government for all kinds of reasons which are irrelevant to the point I wish to make here. In my mind, the question of Dr. Kublalsingh's sincerity in his beliefs is not in issue, or, put another way, ought not to be in issue. We should assume (though not necessarily accept) for the sake of argument that he is being sincere rather than get into an argument about that  ... which would only serve to obfuscate the real issues behind the proposed re-routing of the highway. And no right thinking person can look at somebody starving himself to death and not want to find a way to stop him from dying regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the cause that he has undertaken.

But, in all of the arguments, both pro and con, that I have read there has been one matter that has bothered me no end and which has never been discussed. It is this: forget the re-routing of the highway for a moment. Serious question: should a government (any government) be pressured into doing something that a majority of the population does not want, by an action such as a hunger strike? Does this amount to emotional blackmail?

Consider this: let's say that X sincerely believes that the death penalty is wrong and ought to be abolished. Let's say that the government of the day passes appropriate legislation that effectively allows the death penalty to be carried out again and manages to withdraw from all of the various international treaties that make it so difficult to carry it out now. Let's then say that X brings a case in the High Court to stop the death penalty from being carried out, which he loses twice and now is on its way to the Privy Council, and that the government proposes to hang, say, twelve convicted murderers a la Dole Chadee in one day before the Privy Council can adjudicate on the matter. (And just for the record, I am aware that the Privy Council has stepped into cases like this before, but let's pretend that it won't in this case.) X now goes on a hunger strike and refuses to come off of it unless and until the government of the day postpones the hangings and at the very least agrees to mediation on the whole question of the death penalty.

And finally, let's assume (though not accept) that X is as sincere in his belief as to the rightness of his cause as Dr. Kublalsingh is. So, should the government of the day give in to X and go to mediation? Should it postpone the hangings even though if it does the legal tangles that such a postponement will create would be such that we would be right back to square one with the problem of executing convicted murderers? But if it doesn't postpone the hangings the murderers will be hanged!

Except for the names and a few other changes, the story is the same one. The question is should a government ... any government ... allow itself to be pressured in the manner that Dr. Kublalsingh is doing now? What are the consequences to the country of this government ... any government giving in to this kind of pressure? Should we be concerned with the possible precedent that this will set?

For me, the answer is yes, we ought to be very concerned. As much as I do not want Dr. Kublalsingh to die, I see the issue as being bigger than just his life. And that's really, really sad!! With the greatest of respect for Dr. Kublalsingh I am of the view that he has gone down a wrong route here.

And for the record, I am one of those in the minority who believes that the death penalty ought to be abolished!! I think that it is wrong.  But this post is not about that nor is it about the rightness or otherwise of the HRM's cause. Hopefully, you will understand my point and at the very least think seriously about it. What conclusions you come to is, of course, entirely up to you!!

Monday, October 6, 2014


I can hear you say "what? are you crazy?" No. I'm not crazy and I am deadly serious. I am totally aware of how important Carnival is for our national psyche, business, tourism and just about everything else that defines us a country. But Carnival is (more or less) a short four months away and there is a huge potential problem looming on the horizon. Let me spell it out for you:

Ebola is a virus that is communicated by bodily fluids such as blood or saliva. But those aren't the only types of fluids in our body. There are fluids that come when (ahem) there is a certain 'intimacy' between people. There is also a bodily fluid commonly known as sweat!! Now, at Carnival there is a heck of a lot of sweat both at the many fetes around the country as well as a certain amount of sharing of drinks (saliva), not to mention the 'intimacy' that traditionally causes our birth rate to balloon nine months later.

Let me say at the outset that I do not have an answer to the question as to whether or not Carnival 2015 should be banned or postponed. All I know about Ebola is as follows: it cannot be transmitted in the air and will not mutate into an airborne form; the most people at risk are the healthcare providers and family and friends of the Ebola patient, and finally, the good news (and the bad news) is that in order to get Ebola you must have direct contact with an infectious bodily fluid!

The question arose in my mind when I heard about the person who arrived in the United States some two weeks ago and then after arrival succumbed to the virus. Apparently, there are potentially about 114 people that he had been in contact with since he arrived. To make matters worse, the victim went to the hospital, was misdiagnosed and sent home before being admitted a crucial two days later. And this was in the great United States of America whose health care services are reportedly better than ours! That there are only 114 potential victims is instructive for us. How many people does a reveler bump into on the streets at Carnival time or at a Carnival fete? How prepared are our hospitals for dealing with a potential Ebola victim?

Social media in Venezuela was reporting about two weeks ago nine mysterious deaths in a city just south of Caracas. The reports suggested an Ebola type illness. But there has been nothing in the major news reporting agencies so no one can say that the reports are accurate. The problem is that Maduro's Government ain't exactly open in all things and may or may not have ordered a cover up. It is nothing short of a tragedy that we cannot trust their denials (if it ever comes to that). But Venezuela is just next door. Has Ebola arrived in our next door neighbour's yard? Again, I really don't know, but I am of the view that we should all be on high alert, and unfortunately, as I said,  Maduro and his cronies simply can't be trusted to tell us the truth. And to make matters worse, they (Maduro and company) are not in the habit of allowing unrestricted news reporting in that unfortunate country. So, the bottom line is that we just don't know if Ebola is in fact in Venezuela or not. And a heck of a lot of Venezuelans come over for Carnival ... as well as a heck of a lot of other people!

Heathrow airport is a major world hub for airlines. People from Europe use it as a departure point for the Caribbean (Trinidad Carnival) and it is a departure and arrival point for practically the whole of Africa. You've only got to look at it to see that there are huge potential problems facing us. Somebody on the London Underground could easily come into contact with somebody who has the virus. The mortality rate of Ebola is staggeringly high.

What all of this means is that the Health Authorities in T&T need now to step up to the plate and tell us exactly what they do know about Ebola, what steps they have already taken to control, isolate and counteract the virus if it rears its ugly head on our shores, what additional steps they are planning to take should there be an Ebola victim in Trinidad, where will the victim be taken, that there are plans afoot to be able to contain the virus, that training is taking place now (and "now" must mean "now") of health care providers, what steps that are being taken to prevent any one with Ebola from even getting on a plane bound for T&T. Putting it shortly, what are the control measures that are being taken and implemented  to protect the country now from this epidemic?

The danger is real. It is much more real than, say,  the dangers highlighted by Dr. Rowley's rather pathetic bleatings about supporting UN resolutions on ISIS or  Wayne Kublalsingh killing himself slowly, or even the out of control murder rate. Unfortunately, this is a non-political issue and therefore there is no profit in saying "hold it Sherriff, she's headin' for the strawberry patch!"  But it is a very, very hard question that ought to be faced and discussed now. As a society we need to look at this very hard question and answer it. As I said, I don't know the answer as to whether or not we should ban or postpone Carnival 2015. I simply haven't got enough information to make a proper decision. But I do know enough to be able to say that this potentially could be the most serious crisis that we have ever as a country had to face!! And it is better that we take the hard decisions now than suffer a disaster because we just wouldn't discuss it and take appropriate steps before it hits us squarely in the face!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Albert Einstein famously declared that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Unfortunately, that while that definition applies to so much that goes on in our little twin island republic that it's not even funny, nowhere does it apply more than to our education system. I know that a lot of people are not going to like me saying it, but our education system sucks ... all the way from the primary schools right up to the University of the West Indies and back down again.

Let's start with UWI first: once upon a time when UWI was the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture it enjoyed a world-class, first class reputation. Today, UWI ranks near the bottom of any list of universities and does not appear anywhere on any list of the world's top universities. Don't believe me? Take any discipline ...say, economics ... and have two young graduates applying for the same job ... one from UWI and the other from, say, Harvard. Guess who is going to get the job? I don't think I need to go further: UWI is not a first class school and it could be and should be. Heck, it's not even a second class school!

And as for our so-called "prestige schools", well they are anything but prestigious and it is nothing short of a miracle that some students not only graduate, but are bright enough to go on to first class universities and make their mark on a fast paced and rapidly changing world that is happily leaving us as a country way behind.

But officials in the Ministry of Education continue to tinker with an inadequate, out-moded, out dated, inefficient system and absolutely refuse to consider that the system is way past its "use by" date. The other day I met one of these Ministry boffins who vigorously defended the system, so I asked him "if I blew up the education system this afternoon so that there was absolutely nothing left and you had to start from the beginning, would you put back the exact same system?" He answered honestly before he realized the trap that he wouldn't, which, of course, is exactly my point. If you would put in a completely different system if the old one was completely blown up, then why don't we put in a new one now? And we don't have to blow up the old system, just put in the new one and phase out the old one gradually.

A lot of our problems in this country begin with the failing/failed education system. And part of the reasons that the system is failing is because we simply refuse as a society to pay our teachers a proper wage. The result is that the teachers don't teach in the classrooms, but force parents to hire them to give private lessons to the children. The result is that just about every child that takes the SEA exams or what used to be called 'O' Levels and 'A' Levels in my day are now forced to have their parents hire teachers for extra lessons. If they don't, except for the very bright kids, you can guarantee that the kids will fail.

Now, another question: if the system and the schools are so good, why does just about every child who hopes to pass the requisite exams have to take extra lessons? In other first world countries extra lessons are not needed for the vast majority of students! So, why are they a way of life here if the system is so good?

I could go on almost forever on this subject, but hopefully you have got the point. Fixing the education system will ultimately fix most of our problems. Don't fix it and I can guarantee that the problems will not only continue but will get worse. And, yes, I do have ideas on how we might fix the system besides paying the teachers a proper salary. I'll share those ideas in another post. But before I get there we should all be on the same page, which is agreement that the system is broken and needs to be fixed. Once we have agreement on that fundamental point we can then discuss ideas on how we might fix it.

Oh! And by the way, while I do have ideas on how to fix things, I certainly don't hold my ideas out as the only ideas or the only way to do things. The purpose of this post is to try and get as many as possible to recognize the problem and begin thinking of ways to fix it; because one thing is certain: the system is broken!

Friday, September 26, 2014


And the answer to my question is that except for the names and a few other changes, the answer is none! I mean, think about it! The ISIS leaders pretend that they are religious. But the operative word in that last sentence is "pretend", for in a month of Sundays nobody could ever convince me that the so called brand of Islam that they are pushing has anything to do with Islam, which is a religion of peace and tolerance. (Indeed, in the 'dark ages' in Europe it was Islamic scholarship that saved a lot of the accumulated scientific knowledge from foolish destruction from the then Christian fundamentalists. But that is another story.)

Our local gang leaders at least are honest enough that they don't pretend to be representatives of a higher cause. They quite simply are about controlling absolutely the territory that they control, and woe betide anyone (and I mean anyone) who dares to challenge their authority, because the remotest challenge means death to the challenger.

And this is the point of this post. I have written before that we are in the throes of a relatively small scale civil war ... a fact which the mainstream media and the PNM opposition simply refuse to acknowledge. Details are still sketchy at the time of writing but from what has come across on the news this morning is that it seems that there was a huge gun battle last night at about ten o'clock between two rival gangs just outside the Besson Street  Police Station!! Apparently, the gangs had high powered rifles and the fight became a three way fight with the police joining in. The end result is that three gang members have been killed including one who was already wanted for murder.

But when the Minister of National Security says that he is buying armored personnel carriers the Opposition howls in protest and a Catholic priest talks loftily from his pulpit about "extra-judicial killings".

Look, regrettably the only thing that can defeat the force of these gangs is force. Live with it! If you say that you don't like it, well, honestly, neither do I. But I would hate it even more if a member of my family or a friend was gunned down because a gang lord decided that he or she should die for some real or imagined slight such as refusing to hand over a purse/wallet/car keys. I wwould feel a lot happier if I saw all the Opposition politicians (and 'all' means 'all') coming together with the Government of the day and making it crystal clear to the revolutionaries that they support absolutely the unitary State of Trinidad & Tobago. And if they don't particularly like what the Government is doing in the realm of national security, then for crying out loud, stop criticizing and tell me exactly what they propose to deal with putting down this revolution. Stop the platitudes. Let's hear real and concrete proposals. And if you can't then shut up.  For just as ISIS got stronger and stronger so will these guys if they are not stopped now. And 'now' has to mean 'now'!! Put another way: lead, follow or get out of the way!

Monday, September 22, 2014


Like probably most people in T&T, I became very interested in the Scottish referendum for independence which was held on September 18th when a convincing majority (55% to 45%) of Scots voted to stay in the United Kingdom. The story as it unfolded was riveting especially towards the end when opinion polls began to suggest that the result could be very, very close ... so close that it might even have ended up the other way with  a slim majority voting for independence. That this would have led Scotland and the United Kingdom into completely uncharted territory was at once as dangerous as it was at the same time exciting. That in the end the Scots voted for security over everything else, was also probably (with the benefit of hindsight) predictable.

But what caused this movement for independence in the first place? After all, for more than three or four hundred years Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom. There are probably as large a percentage of Scots who served and died in the two great wars of the twentieth century as there are Englishmen. Scotland hasn't done badly in terms of economic "goodies" that it gets from the rest of the United Kingdom. In fact, reports leading up to the vote suggested that Scotland in fact gets more "goodies" on a per capita basis than the other parts of the country. So why would the Scots want to leave such a cozy arrangement from which they were so obviously benefitting? And why would such a large minority (because 45% is a very large minority) want to leave such a cozy arrangement?

It seems that the truth is that the Scots found themselves getting sick and tired of Thatcherite policies being imposed on them from London. It was policies first formed by Mrs. Thatcher that exacerbated a system of inequalities and dumped valuable social programs on the rubbish heap. Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997 did, through a form of federalism known as "devolution", push through some  reforms which allowed Scotland to keep certain policies such as free higher education and national health care while south of the border  the health care system has been partially privatized and English university students are now having to go into debt like their American cousins in order to pay for their higher education.

In other words, Scotland's value system, which is more socialist than the rest of the Tory dominated UK, was/is at risk so long as Scotland remains or remained part of the UK.  But the referendum campaign has elicited promises to the Scots that will give them greater power to resist the Tory policies ... which is probably better for the Scots than independence. And now, with the leaders of all three main political parties having promised even more powers to the Scots the rest of the UK, especially the regional Parliaments in Wales and Northern Ireland, will begin to demand more internal self-government. In other words, the "old" United Kingdom is now dead and something new is going to emerge; what exactly it will look like when all the dust settles is far too early to tell, but one thing is certain: it ain't gonna be like it was before the 18th September. And all of the changes that are to come were basically started by Maggie Thatcher whose policies over the years have created greater inequities in the system that finally dove the Scots to revolt.

I know I am taking a long time to come to the point of this post, which is not why the "no" campaign succeeded or should have failed nor is it to have a dissertation or discussion on Mrs. Thatcher's economic policies. The point that I want to make is that in the United Kingdom Margaret Thatcher never had a popular majority even though she ruled as Prime Minister for 11 years. The most she ever got was 43.9 percent of the vote! The most that David Cameron (the current Prime Minister) has ever got was 36.1 percent of the vote. The point is that Britain's "first past the post" system has allowed the Tory minority to dominate.

The anti-Tory vote gets split between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats were so anxious to get into power the last time around that they formed a coalition with the Tories that effectively reduced their influence to zero. The United Kingdom has had a Tory dominated government for the last 4 years.

So? Where am I going with this? Ask yourself: would history have been different in the UK if instead of a first past the post system as it has now, they had instead a run-off system like the one that T&T is about to get? Would the Tories have been able to govern and impose policies which a majority of British voters do not want if the system had allowed voters a second chance while narrowing their options? Would this have been a bad thing? (And, yes, the majority of British voters do not vote for the Tories in the UK general elections, so I can say with great equanimity that the majority of British voters do not support Tory policies. If they did, they would vote Conservative!)

Speaking only for myself, I was never a great lover of Mrs. Thatcher's economic policies which have been almost slavishly copied in other countries including our own. I argued then (and have been unfortunately proven right) that you cannot run a country like a business and that Thatcherite policies only make the rich richer and the poor poorer. But, again that is not the point that I wish to make here. My point is that despite all the piffle that has been printed about the run-off provisions that we are about to pass into law, the truth is that they can and will go a long way towards making our own little corner of the world a fairer place to live in. And that is important! If the UK had tackled the thorny problem of electoral reform earlier the very obvious looming political problems that it now faces would never have arisen. The first past the post system allows a minority to rule the majority. Imperfect as the run-off might be, it still is a better option.

Friday, August 29, 2014


So,  continuing where I left off yesterday, let's start with the first Objection:

This is undemocratic because it is unfair to the candidate that came first.
This argument shows a fundamental misconception of what an election "race" is all about. In fact, to call it a "race" is somewhat of a misnomer. An election is really about choices. Who are we going to choose to represent us for the next five years? It isn't a race like a bicycle or swimming race where the winner is the guy or gal who comes in first ahead of the pack. It is about who will represent the people of the particular constituency. This proposal (now law) effectively gives the electorate the chance to choose more democratically. For example, you have A, B and C to choose between. A and B get 45 and 40 percent of the vote respectively. C ends up with a paltry 15 percent. So, A and B go to a run-off. The voter now can decide 'well, I preferred C, but if I have to choose only between the first two I will choose B over A' or vice versa. What is undemocratic about that? If A wants to hold on to his lead then he will have to ensure that he gets C's supporters to vote for him. What is wrong with that?

It's unfair to third Parties because they will be automatically excluded in the run off election.
Sounds good, doesn't it? I mean, shouldn't everybody get an equal "bite at the cherry"? But on a closer examination one realizes that it really doesn't stand up to the light of day. Before I answer this let me just say that last night the Senate changed this particular provision by saying that if a candidate gets at least 25 percent of the popular vote, he/she can be in the run-off.  Now, back to the question: the answer is that everybody is getting an equal "bite at the cherry". But third Parties are now going to have to be more than just spoilers in the game. For example, in 2001 Mr. Ramesh Maharajh formed a Party which effectively caused Mr. Panday's UNC to lose that 18/18 tie. Mr. Maharajh's candidate in that election in Tunapuna polled a few hundred votes and the PNM candidate was able to squeak in with a very bare majority. Most political observers concede that had it not been for that third Party candidacy that the seat would have gone to the UNC instead of the PNM. And to add insult to injury that third Party candidate lost his deposit! Put another way, third Parties now are going to have to step up to the plate with real support or get out of the way. What could be wrong with that? How is this unfair to somebody who, at the end of the day, clearly doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of surviving and winning?

In fact, this proposal can effectively give third Parties greater influence in that the two major Parties will (if they are smart) have to be very cognizant of a third Party's policies and proposals because if there is a run-off the leadership of the particular third Party can urge its supporters to support either Party A or Party B as the case may be. In other words, the leadership of all the Parties (both major as well as minor) are going to have to be more careful in that they are going to have to articulate their policies more clearly, and the subliminal messages from the UNC and the PNM (vote for us because we are Indian/African) are going to have to become even more subliminal if the ONR/NAR/COP supporters (who still exist ... they just have no "home" at the moment) are going to be attracted to one side or the other is going to get their votes. (These voters are by and large not motivated by racial voting and do in fact cause the outcome in several marginal constituencies).

There is the very good chance that in a run-off not everybody who voted in the first round will vote in the second round; in other words, there is a very good chance that the eventual winner will get less than 50 percent of the votes cast in the first round.
Well, duh!!! Of course that can happen! But this argument ignores the fact that voting is not compulsory. It is a right that is available to every adult citizen. A citizen can choose to exercise or not exercise his right. But he can't complain about any result if he chooses not to exercise his right to vote. What do you expect will happen if you don't vote? It is either that the principle that every single vote is important is a good principle and is correct, or it's not! So, somebody who voted in round one can say "I ain't votin' 'cause I vex' " or he goes out to vote on the basis of the choice that is now available. But don't complain! And the result will be determined by the people who do exercise their franchise! Full stop! Punto finale! Indeed, less than 50 percent of the electorate can refuse to turn out in the first round! You can "play" the numbers game till the cows come home, but the principle that an elected representative should at least have 50 percent of the votes of those who have bothered to turn out is a good one.

That there should have been public consultation before such an important and fundamental provision was brought in; there hasn't been enough time to consider it carefully.
Again, this sounds good at first blush. We even had one of the Commissioners appointed to the Constitution Commission (Ms. Merle Hodge) saying that this was never considered or discussed. To which I would reply, well, first of all, how much time do you think you will need? What are your concerns? The ones that I have articulated? Or are there others? If so, what exactly, and in one sentence for each(because if you can't define it in one sentence you can't define it at all), can you define the other concerns?
Secondly, if this wasn't discussed at all, then how come it was in the addendum that was submitted by the Constitution Commission that Ms. Hodge signed that was submitted on 18th July, 2014? Why did Ms. Hodge sign the addendum? Why didn't she submit a minority report? Did she read what she was signing? Did she even understand it? Or did she only understand it when the PNM began objecting to it? And if it was in the addendum, surely this suggests that it was discussed at some time by the Commission?

That a run-off could leave the country in a political limbo for two weeks, which is an unacceptably long time.
To which the short answer is "bull piffle', Good grief! Don't those who are putting this up as an argument understand the Constitution? It is  unarguable that the results of any election  should be determined as quickly as possible. But even in the best regulated democracies there can be delays. For example, in 2001 then President Robinson took two long weeks to resolve the 18-18 tie (which he eventually did wrongly and unconstitutionally ... but that is another story). And nobody complained then! Why? Because Robinson eventually decided in favour of Manning?  Or this wasn't a concern? In the great United States in the presidential election of 2002 it took more than a month before the Supreme Court finally ruled in favour of George Bush (and, yes, I am very aware that the American Constitution is different from ours). In our Constitution there are provisions that keep a Prime Minister in office even after an election until the President appoints a new one. Now, tell me: what can a Prime Minister do who is awaiting a run-off in a particular constituency in the 15 days between the election and the run-off? Do you really think that he/she would be so reckless as to try and empty the Treasury in that time believing that he/she will eventually lose? Do you not think that any Prime Minister coming in after such a situation will not look to hang his/her predecessor as soon as he/she takes office? Come on!  Mr. Panday has been accused of all sorts of crimes and other misdeeds, but not even his worst detractors accused him of taking advantage of that 2001 18-18 delay to do any corrupt act!

The real reason
No. The real reason, which neither side has articulated but it remains like the proverbial elephant in the room, is because the PNM has quite rightly concluded that this run-off provision is a dagger aimed at their electoral heart. The evidence tends to suggest that the support for the UNC tends to split while the support for the PNM tends to stay solid. Put another way, the combined votes of those opposed to the PNM have frequently exceeded those cast for the PNM.  In other words, a majority of third Party voters are non-African or better educated and do not vote according to ethnicity and would prefer to vote for the UNC rather than the PNM where the only choice is between the two Parties. Where there is a third (or fourth) choice the UNC support will sooner hive off in favour of a third Party before the PNM's support does. Put another way, the PNM believes that they will lose elections more often than they will win when there is a run-off ... unless they bring about fundamental changes inside the Party .... which they clearly don't want to do.  And that, my friends, is really what it is all about!!

Thursday, August 28, 2014


I had not intended to write at all about the latest 'brouhaha' making the political rounds ... the contraversial run-off proposals currently being debated in the Senate. Frankly, I considered the arguments against the proposals a bunch of "bull piffle" and accordingly had decided to obey the injuction of Mark Twain who said something to the effect that one should never get into an argument with a fool; he will only drag you down to his level and then beat you with his experience.

But such confusion has been created by the "piffle" of the Bills' detractors that I have been besieged with requests to try and expain it. Indeed, the requests are probably best summed up by one reader who wrote me an email this morning which is typical of the requests that I have been recieving. He said:

          "Robin, could somebody who is above average intelligence (like yourself), relatively impartial
           (lol- like yourself),describe the pros and cons of the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill?
           I realise that I probably do not fall into either category, but do not understand the
           ramifications. Please enlighten us all."

So hear goes: first of all, there is the criticism that the amendments require a special majority ... which is a two thirds majority ... in both Houses of Parliament. This is simply not true. A simple majority (one vote) can amend any part of the Constitution that does not affect the fundamental rights of the citizenry (which rights are set out in Section 4 of the Constitution and include things like freedom of the Press and the right to join political parties and to express political views, etc.). The proposed amendments do not infringe any of our fundamental rights. A simple majority is really all that is required to pass the Bill.

There are three things that the Bill proposes to change: the first is a proposal that no Prime Minister should serve a total of more than two full terms. Nobody seems to have a problem with this so I 'll leave it alone. In any case, it is fairly clear.

The second proposal is really "a crock" and is effectively not enforcable. It proposes that in any time after the third year of his election an MP can be removed if more than 50 percent of the registered voters in a constituency petition for his withdrawal. The petition must be presented before the last year of a Parliamentary term. Now, the truth is that it will in practise be virtually impossible to get 50 percent of the registered electors in any constituency to sign such a petition. Put another way, it sounds good in theory but it simply will never work!

The third proposal is where the critics have been getting their "knickers in a twist" (as my English friends would say). The proposal is that if there are more than two candidates in any constituency and no one gets at least 50 percent of all of the votes cast, then there shall be a run off election two weeks later between the top two candidates only.

Critics of this proposal say that :
- this is undemocratic because it is unfair to the candidate that came first;
- it is unfair to third parties because they will be automatically excluded in the run off election;
- there is the very good chance that in a run off not everybody who voted the first time around will vote in the second round; therefore the possibilty exists that the eventual winner will get less than 50 percent of the votes cast in the first round;
- that there should have been public consultation before such an important and fundamental
  provision was brought in; there hasn't been enough time to consider it carefully;
- one of the members of the Constitution Commission has been reported as saying that there was no
   discussion on this in the Commission;
-  that a run-off could leave the government of the country in a political limbo for two weeks, which
   is an unacceptably long time.

And that, in a nutshell, are the criticisms. And the answers? Let's take them one by one ... tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Quite near to my home in Maraval (but fortunately not quite close enough to affect me directly) a Roman Catholic private school for girls is about to be opened in Long Circular Road. The school apparently is slated to have 200 students and either the entrance or the exit to the school (I'm not sure which) will be on Champs Elysees, a narrow road that exits onto the main road (Long Circular). Most understandably, the residents of Champs Elysees are very, very upset. The traffic that this new school will generate on mornings and on afternoons will be horrendous. If there are going to be 200 (upper class) students in attendance (and the fees that will be charged ensure that this will be the case) then it is reasonable to presume that at least 150 plus cars will be at the school every morning and every afternoon. It will be extraordinary if there are no traffic jams on Long Circular road(which has become a major artery in the road system in and out of Maraval) at least twice a day, and as for Champs Elysees, which was designed as a very quiet side road, it will be virtually impossible for the residents to go in and out of their homes without difficullty during times of pick up, drop off and special school events such as speech day.

My own personal experience with a school (I live opposite to a primary school) is that most parents are simply oblivious to the problems of residents and they simply disregard their objections unless and until the residents do something that inconveniences them (the parents) at which time they heap abuse upon the abused residents. I solved my own problem of being blocked by the simple expedient of blocking everyone (and I mean everyone) every time that I was blocked from getting into or out of my home. The school and the parents have learned that it is easier to be considerate rather than inconsiderate and as a result we have lived side by side very happily for the longest while disturbed only very occasionally when some wealthy woman (and it is alway the very wealthy women) decides that she does not have to be considerate and occasionally blocks me, with the attendant consequences.

But this post is not about my personal difficulties or how I have solved them, but rather about the machinations of the Town & Country Planning Division. How does this department make its decisions? Can a person affected by a decision object? If so, how does he find out about it before it has been granted?

So, I looked up the Town & Country Planning Act Chap.  35:01 for answers. The short point is that there isn't much that an affected person can do without spending a lot of money. If a person,let's call him X, buys a property that used to be a residence but he wants to use it as an office, he has to apply for a change of use certificate. But the neighbours won't usually know about this application until he has moved in and the office is a fait accomplis. Then X decides to sell to Y who wants to open a restaurant. Y makes his application and again the neighbours won't know what is going on until it is too late. This is what happened with Woodbrook. In other words, the change of use in a neighbourhood tends to creep in gradually and without those who will be directly affected being able to do anything about it in a timely manner. By that time there are so many approved changes that not to grant a change of use from residential to commercial can lead to an expensive law suit where the aggrieved applicant can legitimately claim that because others were granted permission then he ought to be granted as well.  Not to do so would be unfair.  This is what has happened with this new school.

Okay. I know that it is a little more complicated than that, but the point here is that there is no simple mechanism for persons being affectedby a potential decision from "taking in front" before the decision is made. That there are remedies available to those persons is a fact, but they all involve expensive lawyers who will charge "a pound and a crown" to try and set aside the decision that has already been made. (As one of those lawyers my bank manager and I would be very happy to take such a case, but it really isn't right, is it?)

There ought to be an easier, less expensive and more civilised way of dealing with this. Perhaps one solution might be to amend the law so that all applications for a change of use of any property has to be advertised at least, say, 4 weeks before any affirmative decision can be given. Then, if there are objections the relevant authority can hear them and weigh them against the interests of the property owner who quite understandably wants to deal with his property in the most profitable way for him.

Life is always about compromises and in any society there must always be a balance. Imbalances occur when there is a lack of timely information ... and that is my whole point.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a boy in Presentation College in San Fernando at recess time (I believe the kids today now call it 'break') we would go outside the school grounds to buy a barra and channa for five cents and (when we could afford it) a 'doubles' (which was two barras with channa) for ten cents. Outside also were vendors selling shaved ice with syrup which we called 'a press'. (Today they call it 'a snow cone'). A press cost a penny (which was two cents). However, if you didn't have enough money you could get it without the syrup for one cent. So quite often a boy would say to the vendor "gimme a cent shave ice". Of course, because that was the least expensive thing that you could buy the saying developed "he like a cent shave ice", in other words, practically worthless.

In this last year before a general election the politics are going to become very interesting. We have currently all the brouhaha about the run-off proposals that are going before the Senate next week. The PNM is trying its best to de-rail the Bill as it (quite correctly) recognizes that in a three way fight it is the UNC that tends to get hurt. In a straight two way fight in a marginal constituency it is the PNM that usually ends up losing. (UNC voters, it seems, are more ready to try a third party than are PNM voters.) My own feeling is that the Bill will pass and that all the noise is really just that: noise. But that is not the point of this post.

Next on the agenda is what has become known as 'emailgate'. Discerning readers will remember that about a year ago the Leader of the Opposition disclosed in Parliament that he had a thread of emails which purported to be passing between the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and the then National Security adviser (who is today the Minister of National Security) which, if authentic, disclosed a serious criminal conspiracy to (inter alia) commit murder. The parties involved all strenuously denied that they had ever authored such emails and Dr. Rowley refused to say who had given them to him. (he said that he "got it in my mailbox!" ...Yeah! Right!) So, the accused all gave Google permission to disclose whether or not the alleged emails did in fact emanate from their respective accounts and after a lot of legal 'too-ing and fro-ing' it seems (if the newspaper reports are to be believed) that this issue is finally going to get closure.

One of two things is going to happen when this matter closes: either the Prime Minister et al are going to be shown to be guilty, in which case they will all probably be (or should be) arrested and charged immediately, or Dr. Rowley is going to have to resign. Well, he probably won't do that, but certainly he ought to. He will be guilty of misleading Parliament and it is no defence to say that 'well, I was just bringing this to the attention of Parliament. I didn't know if it was true or not, but I thought that it was serious enough to alert the national community'. An unbiased person will note that that defence would be a "crock", i.e., not worth 'a cent shave ice'. Dr. Rowley presented the offending emails as fact and made some very, very serious accusations against the alleged perpetrators. If that defence was really genuine he would have and should have taken it to the police. But he didn't! And therein hangs the tale!

Then we have the so called "principled stand" of Ms. Seepersad-Bachan and Mr. Dookeran when they voted against the Constitution Reform Bill because it didn't go far enough and deal with the issue of proportional representation ... another "crock". I mean, who really believes that? The perception that most people had from their "principled stand" was that the goodly lady and gentlemen were still smarting from their defeat at  the hands of COP Leader Prakash Ramadhar in the recently concluded COP internal elections ... defeat which some say was quietly helped not a little by UNC operatives who regard Mr. Ramadhar as being preferable to Ms. Seepersad-Bachan.

But the truth is that as far as electoral politics are concerned Ms. Seepersad-Bachan is not worth 'a cent shave ice' and Mr. Dookeran could not save his deposit anywhere in the country if he tried. That they both will exit the political scene next year is clear. Until then we can expect them both to use the bully pulpit of their respective ministerial offices to try and sting Mrs. Persad-Bissessar whenever they can. After all, they have absolutely nothing to lose by doing so, not even 'a cent shave ice'.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


We have a rather stupid habit in Trinidad & Tobago of denying the truth of a given situation and criticizing and condemning anybody and everybody who dares to speak about it and tell it like it is. It's what you might call a 'shoot the messenger syndrome'.

So when a senior police officer speaks out and says in effect that the police are declaring war on the bandits in Laventille and the Minister of National Security also speaks of war with the criminals the newspapers and other persons jump up and say that this kind of language is not helpful and will not assist in making things right. In other words, calling a spade a spade is not a good idea because it might offend the very people who the society is afraid of. Or, put another way, it might offend them (the criminals) more and drive them into further and worse crimes of violence, so, don't make statements like that!

From my personal point of view this type of thinking is as wrong as Neville Chamberlain's when he tried to appease Adolf Hitler. And we all know what happened eventually in that matter! In the circumstances,  I decided to look up the definition of 'war' in the dictionary in order to see if what the Minister et al.were saying was fair and accurate.  This is what Webster's  gives as a definition of 'war':

        "Conflict carried on by force of arms as between nations or as between parties within a 
          nation". (emphasis mine).

Well, if what is going on in Laventille is not a conflict "between parties within a nation" then I don't know what is! A soldier gets shot ... killed ... murdered ... call it what you like ... by criminals who (if the news reports are reasonably true) shot him precisely because he was a soldier. Oh? This is not an act of war? This is not symptomatic or evidence of a conflict between parties within a nation? The police are reported to have recovered thirty (count them: thirty!) spent shells from a high powered rifle from the site of the soldier's ambush!

The sooner that we (i.e., civil society) recognize that we are indeed in a state of war the better. Because, the fight against crime is one thing ... all nations have crime at some level or another, but not all nations have a virtual civil war taking place within their borders. Some (Syria, Iraq and Somalia, for example, come to mind immediately) are obviously worse than others, but except in terms of degree what we have inside our country is a civil war where gang lords (aka gang leaders) are carving out ever increasing territories for themselves and their followers. Anybody who is not with them is against them and so they kill them, It's as plain and simple as that!

I am raising all this right now because I think that it is important that we recognize exactly what we are facing. Going to war requires an obviously different mindset from fighting crime. In fighting crime the politicians can (and do) bicker amongst themselves as to who has the better crime plan or who is better equipped to deal with the criminals. In going to war everybody basically has to pick a side and do all that he/she can to ensure that his/her side wins. The politicians need to stop the 'blame game'. Of course I would like to know who and/or what really is to blame for this terrible and absolutely deplorable state of affairs that we now find ourselves in. But what I would really like to see first and foremost are solutions to winning this war that nobody (in civil society) wants or wanted. Afterwards we can indulge in the luxury of 'it's your fault' blame game.

It is time now for a coming together of all right thinking citizens. It is time now for all of the politicians to put aside their differences (petty or otherwise) and to say that on this matter that they are absolutely united. A message needs to be sent to the rebels (note that I am not calling them criminals any more) that in this war they face a united front, that we will not accept defeat, nor will we allow our country to deteriorate into a place like Somalia where gang lords rule the roost! We must send a clear and unequivocal message to the rebels that Trinidad & Tobago is indeed a united and civilized society that adheres to the rule of law and does not and will not tolerate any alternative State within its borders. We must send a clear and unequivocal message that any attempt whatsoever to establish any different type of State within the borders of Trinidad & Tobago will simply not be tolerated and will be dealt with firmly ... and 'firmly' must by definition include the use of such force as may be necessary to eradicate the threat of disintegration of the unitary State of Trinidad & Tobago. And this message must be a united message from all sides of the political divide!! There can be no opportunity given to the rebels to exploit a 'divide and rule' strategy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


I am almost certain that most people will have missed the real story behind the suspension of Sports Minister Anil Roberts from the COP. By that, I mean, why did the Congress of the People (COP) not simply expel him instead of suspending him and dragging the matter out further?

For the benefit of my overseas readers let me just do a very brief recap: about two weeks ago the Express newspaper's television station, TV6, aired a video which has gone viral on the internet showing a man in a hotel room with some girls. The man appears to be rolling a joint of marijuana and commenting on it. The video shows a hotel key with the room number 201. The man looks and sounds exactly like Mr. Anil Roberts, who currently holds the Sports Ministry portfolio in Trinidad & Tobago. Mr. Roberts has refused to either confirm or deny that it is he in the video and has retained all of his legal rights against self-incrimination. The problem is that Mr. Roberts is the Member of Parliament for the constituency of D'Abadie/O'Meara which he won in 2010 on a COP ticket. The political Leader of the COP, Mr. Prakash Ramadar, and Mrs. Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, the Chairman of the COP, summoned Mr. Roberts to a meeting last week and requested an explanation from him. Mr. Roberts (probably on his lawyers' advice) chose to say nothing and effectively stymied the nascent inquiry by refusing to answer any questions on the video.

The COP has always tried to project itself as the Party of morality and integrity and of always doing the right thing. But the 'right thing' includes a person's right to be heard as well as being presumed innocent until found guilty. So the Party argued that because he had not yet been heard that they couldn't act. Mr. Roberts refusal to co-operate left the Party's leadership in something of a quandry in that they  they didn't want to be seen to be acting precipitously. They have also said that there is no provision for expulsion in the COP constitution. At least, that's what they said.

Then the Party's executive met on Monday night to discuss the issue and after quite a long session emerged to tell the waiting Press that Mr. Roberts was now suspended from the Party until such time as Mr. Roberts clarifies the situation and the facts surrounding the video. They then said that the removal of Mr. Roberts from his Ministry is solely the prerogative of the Prime Minister. But they didn't call for his removal! Interesting, eh? In other words, they simply 'kicked the can down the road' and ended up standing for nothing while pretending that they did.  And the man being touted as the 'saviour' of the COP (Winston Dookeran) is also keeping very, very quiet and is not taking a firm stand on this at all. Who do they think they are fooling? Certainly it really appears that all they stand for is holding Ministerial office and let the devil take all the rest. And Anil Roberts continues to refuse to confirm or deny that he is the man in the video. (But let's all be clear on one thing: if the man in that video is not the T&T Sports Minister that will be the biggest news since Jesus walked on water! Never have I seen such a perfect double of another!) Mrs. Persad-Bissessar is going to have to act on this ... and soon!

So, we come back to the all important 'why'? What are they waiting for? The answer is quite simple: if an MP's seat is declared vacant at any time during the life of a Parliament then there must be a by-election within three months of that declaration EXCEPT in the last 12 months of the life of the Parliament. There can be no by election in the last 12 months of the life of a Parliament. So? When is the 'magic' date? It ain't May 24th! The first sitting of this Parliament (the Tenth Parliament) was on June 18th 2010.  So, the 'magic' date is June 18th 2014. In other words, there can be no by-election for any seat after this date. And this is what the COP and the Prime Minister are obviously waiting for! Because the truth is that the last thing that neither the COP nor the ruling UNC want right now is a by-election in a seat that will probably fall to the PNM if an election was held now. The propaganda victory that would result in favour of the PNM from such a loss would be enormous even though there would still be enough seats for the Government to carry on. And the COP would be so badly defeated that the reality that it has very, very little support in the general population would be the last piece of dirt that buries an already dead Party. No. Both the UNC and the COP have  very good reasons for not wanting Mr. Roberts' seat to be declared vacant before 18th June 2014. After this date, it doesn't matter. And this is why we have all these shenanigans and no clear and forceful decision is being taken now. And you thought that politicians always tell the truth!?

Thursday, May 29, 2014


The ensuing brouhaha over the video of a man in a hotel room  (who looks a lot like Sports Minister Anil Roberts,) rolling what looks like a joint of marijuana, has got me thinking. I am not going to comment on the video other than to say that I personally do not approve of the behaviour that I saw there. (And, yes, I did watch it.) But that is not the point that I wish to make in this post.

I am almost the only person that I know of my generation who has never smoked weed. This was not because of some higher sense of morality or character or any other high sounding moral principles. It was simply because I have never smoked a whole cigarette in my life. Frankly, I hated the taste and smell of tobacco (and still do) ... and yes, I have stuck a cigarette or two in my mouth in my life and taken a few puffs. So, although (especially in my student days) I was around people who smoked the stuff (marijuana) I can put my hand on my heart and swear that I personally never did.

Why am I making this confession now? Because, quite honestly, I did not then, and do not now, consider the smoking of marijuana to be any big thing. Oh! I have read the reports that say that leaving aside any illegality that it is extremely bad for your health. Indeed,  I even have read one report that said that marijuana is even more dangerous cancerwise than cigarettes! Well, that may or may not be so, but alcohol and tobacco ain't so good for you either!

But I do not see the logic in giving kids who puff a joint and then getting caught by the police a criminal record that stays with them for life. Why would we ... do we ... want to do that? To my way of thinking it really doesn't make sense. Frankly, the only thing that I see happening with the continued criminalizing of marijuana is that it makes the big drug dealers rich (or richer) but it doesn't stop, prevent or even lower the use of the drug.

Indeed, there is an argument (that is personally attractive to me) that because marijuana is an illegal drug, that this makes  it easier for young people to go on to harder and more dangerous drugs like cocaine. If you are already breaking the law for smoking marijuana, the argument goes, you might as well get hanged for stealing a sheep instead of a lamb. In other words, if you get caught it is going to be the same punishment. (And just to be clear: I see a big difference between marijuana and cocaine and am certainly not advocating legalizing the latter.)

As I said at the beginning, the behaviour of the man who looks like Anil Roberts in the infamous video is not something to be admired for a whole host of reasons that, hopefully, are (or ought to be) obvious. We'll soon find out how that particular scandal will play out. But I think that we should use the opportunity that it has created to have a wider discussion on the whole question of de-criminalizing the use of marijuana.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Well, the internal PNM elections are over and,as expected, Dr. Keith Rowley and his team swept the polls. Even if one were to accept that each and every allegation of fraud and/or unfair practices made by the Penny Beckles team was true and all those "lost votes" were added back in, Dr. Rowley would still have been victorious. It was/is a convincing victory and only the most churlish would not recognize this.

But, (and it is a big "but") the problems that I wrote about last week are now going to come galloping to the fore. If Dr. Rowley and the PNM can convince  non African people that the present  perception that is held by them is false then I predict a landslide victory for the PNM next year. However, if they can't, then the PNM will probably lose. And it is as blunt as that!

If you read the political pundits in the newspapers carefully you will see that one or two of the smarter ones have recognized the perception of racism that exists in the society  and that it ought to be addressed sooner rather than later, although most everybody keeps pussy footing around the topic and trying to bury it. But it does exist and you will hear it being muttered in Port of Spain and almost shouted out loud south of the Caroni river. Trinidad is dividing into two clear camps: Africans and the rest, with a few "nons" (i.e., non Africans going into the African camp but with most of the "nons" ... with the exception of the majority of the Syrian community) going into the rest of which by far the largest is the Indian camp.

I have been told that I ought not to raise this matter because all that I am doing is making matters worse by highlighting the problem of the racial divide. That argument is attractive on the surface, but the reality is that although this topic of race and the perception of racism is not discussed openly, the truth is that it lies there just under the surface and just about every Trinidadian and Tobagonian is aware of it.

And yes, I am also well aware that there is a mirrored perception in the African element of the society that the Indian community and the UNC is just as racist as they are held out to be.

And that is my whole point! Put another way, I believe that it is high time that we put these raclail bogeymen to rest once and for all. And I am making a call on ALL the politicians of every colour, creed and religion to come out and clearly denounce racism in all of its forms. Dr. Rowley has to come out clearly and in the most graphic language condemn that nasty  "Calcutta ship" remark. (He did condemn it three days after it was made, but the perception then was that the condemnation was half-hearted and not sincere.) He has to stop saying things like "I am a proud black man.". Good grief! If I said on public television that I was a proud white man I would be pilloried and accused (justifiably) of being racist. But I am white ... an undeniable fact ... and I am proud. But I don't need to put the two together. In fact I shouldn't! And if I shouldn't then neither should he! I have no problem if he says that he is a proud man. In fact, the question then would be why shouldn't he be proud? And he is black. That is an obvious fact. But him putting the two together ... well, it doesn't come across very nicely to say the least. (I prefer, incidentally, when defining myself to simply say that I am a proud Trini! If that doesn't explain it then nothing ever will.)

We need leadership in the country that sees us all as citizens with an equal right to our own little piece of this twin island Republic.  And to be clear: we need this leadership to come from all sides ... including the unions.We need the media to step up to the plate and slap down anybody and everybody who plays the racial card ... and the slap must be so hard that the person never does it again. But the media has so far shied away from doing this. Why? I don't know. Ask them.

Why am I saying all this as passionately as I can? Because I see trouble looming on the horizon. I see the PNM not doing enough to erase the perception of racism and in reaction I see the non African element swinging the other way. And I see politicians on both sides fanning the flames of racial division. After all, it is much easier to say that "dem" (and "they" are whichever race that you are not) "doh like we and go cause us pain" rather than come up with ideas and policies on how to fix the many problems that face us. The PNM's internal campaign was singularly devoid of any policies, plans or meaningful discussions on what either side would do for the country if and when they got into power.

Prime Minister-elect Modi really said it best when he referred to his political opponents not as the enemy, but as competitors. If only our politicians would see each other publicly in that light we would be half way there towards solving our problems. Why can't the two sides get together to discuss the best ways to fix crime, health care, education, etc.? It would be so nice rather than to here the same tune with the same words week after week in Parliament which can best be summed up in "all ah allyuh is t'tief!" For crying out loud, please tell us clearly what exactly will you (the politicians) do to fix things? What?

It's not too late ... yet! But, trust me: the time is now very, very short. We can help save things if we make it clear to the politicians that we will not tolerate racism. And a first step will be getting Rowley's PNM to fix that horrible perception that is held of them. Don't fix it and I guarantee problems for the country. Big ones.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


The upcoming internal elections inside the fifty year old PNM this coming Sunday is of greater interest and importance than most people realize. Oh, Keith Rowley will win. That is a given. Put another way, I would be really, really surprised if he doesn't. His rival, Penny Beckles-Robinson, has failed to excite the PNM ground, nor has she been able to get the Party's membership to consider her seriously. She has not articulated any sort of vision and (although this is very probably a most unfair comment) her main "claim to fame" seems to be that "it's time for a woman to lead the PNM." This is such a pity, because, with a little bit of effort and political "smarts" the Beckles-Robinson team should have been able to market themselves much more effectively. That they didn't probably speaks as much to the culture of the PNM where internal dissent is seriously frowned upon as it does to the team's seemingly amateurish attitude to campaigning. Whatever the reason, Dr. Rowley has had a very easy run in what Michael Harris, a columnist in the Express, has called a most boring campaign. And it certainly was; nobody on either side really discussed where he or she would like to take the Party and (most importantly) the country. No issues were discussed or even debated. It was a "beauty contest", pure and simple ... which is such a shame. Was this the best that a fifty year old Party could do?

Add to this the inherent conservatism in the PNM, which does not have a history of rejecting sitting leaders, and you do not need a political pundit to predict Sunday's results.

So, my bet is that Keith Rowley will win these internal elections in a cakewalk. But that is where the "fun and games" will start rather than end. National elections are due (more or less) in one year from now. It is almost predictable what will happen: the economy will grow, more money will be pumped into the system and the Government will trumpet its undeniable successes and the Opposition will shout about the many scandals. There'll be a lot of 'blah, blah, blah!'

But behind all the talk will be something that will be unspoken on the platforms and never mentioned in the media, whether print or electronic; and that is the heartfelt perception amongst non-Africans in the country that neither the PNM nor Dr. Rowley cares much for them. When Hilton Sandy made his blatantly racial 'Calcutta Ship' remark in last year's Tobago House of Assembly elections Dr. Rowley was on the platform. It was noted by the  non-Africans in the society ... especially the Indians against whom the remark was made ... that Dr. Rowley did not jump up immediately (he spoke after Sandy on that same platform) and condemn the remark. Indeed, it was noted in the non-African community that it took Dr. Rowley three days before he said anything, and only after there had been somewhat of a firestorm of criticism.

There have been other faux pas that have caused consternation in the non-African community (e.g. the  "too black to be Prime Minister" comment of Fitzgerald Hinds) that have left what you might call the "nons" to feel that the PNM is only about black people and that every non-African had better be very careful if they allow the PNM to come into power under Dr. Rowley.

The unfortunate thing about all this is that these are only perceptions and not necessarily the truth. Dr. Rowley will, for example,  strenuously deny that he has a racial bone in his body and will point to the fact that he is the darling of the Syrian (non-African) community, amongst others. He will trot out people like Terrance Deyalsingh and Faris Al-Rawi to prove his point. Unfortunately, in politics, perception is reality and it doesn't really matter who or what you are, but who or what people perceive you to be! And that is the point of this post, i.e., that in order for PNM to win next year the Party will have to tackle this perception head on. If the PNM fails to dispel this perception both about itself and about its leader then it will find it very difficult to achieve a plurality of the votes. And if it wins a majority of the seats with a minority of the votes (always a possibility in a first past the post system) it will find itself in the unenviable position of being a minority governing the majority: a sure fire recipe for real trouble!

Frankly, the sooner the PNM does tackle this perception the better for all of us. We need a vibrant two Party system. We need to have an alternative Government. But that alternative Government will have to convince us that it genuinely cares for all the people and not just a certain section of the society. It also has to come with new ideas and new approaches on  how to solve our seemingly intractable problems. It is a truism that is often ignored that problems cannot be solved with the same level of awareness that created them.

You can bet that the ruling UNC will be breathing a sigh of relief that they will have to face Dr. Rowley next year rather than Penny Beckles-Robinson. The obvious "ground" campaign will be much easier to run against Rowley than against Penny. What is most unfortunate about Sunday's internal elections is that its foregone result will effectively further divide by race an already racially divided society.

P.S. The tragedy is that if Penny were to win (which is about as much of a chance as snow falling in Trinidad) this problem would be greatly diminished!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

THE MYTH OF MINIMUM WAGE (or what they won't tell you in Politics 101)

Nicolas Maduro, the embattled President of Venezuela whose support is now probably much less than the bare majority that the official results in last year's Presidential elections said that he had, in an effort to shore up his dwindling support has announced this week a thirty per cent increase in the minimum wage as from 1st May. The minimum wage now moves from 3,720 B's (which is equal to US$520 at the official exchange rate) to 4,252 B's (which is US$675 at the official exchange rate). In other words, the increase is officially equal to US $155.

There are several problems with this: first of all,  the increase is only worth a little over US$67 at the black market rate; in other words, in reality the increase is less than half of the trumpeted thirty per cent. Everybody knows that it is virtually impossible to buy US dollars with Venezuelan Bolivars unless you happen to have first class contacts inside the Government. Secondly, inflation last year in Venezuela is officially reported as being 56.2%. (I do not know what the inflation figure is for this year, but you better believe that it is as high, if not higher, than it was in 2013). So, the trumpeted 30% increase "to help the poor workers" has not even kept them level with the raging inflation even at the official exchange rate!

 But the continuing Venezuelan troubles, serious as they are, are not the point of this post. I was just using this particular "event" (for want of a better word) to illustrate how politicians the world over use minimum wage to fool people. Fact: minimum wage is NOT a device used by governments to help the poor and the underpaid worker. Minimum wage is a device used by governments to increase productivity. Don't believe me? Check it out: the countries with the highest minimum wage in the world also have the highest minimum wage. Coincidence? Yeah! Right! And the Easter Bunny brings presents on December 25th!

But you can test what I am saying another way: let's say that the minimum wage in the country of What's Happening Now is $5 an hour. Now, let's say that you live in What's Happening Now and that you have a small garage in which you repair motor vehicles. In this garage you employ two young men at $5 an hour for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. So your weekly wage bill is $400 a week. The government of What's Happening Now suddenly raises the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The result of this decision is that your wage bill now is doubled overnight. But you simply can't  can't afford to pay out $800 ($400 to each employee) a week. So? What do you do? Answer: You have to let one of them go. The other one that you keep has now to do the work of the dismissed worker as well as his own. In other words, he is forced to become more productive. And as to the one who is let go ... well, he either has to retrain himself in order to get another job or work harder in his next job in order to keep it. Productivity has been increased.

Now you know why opposition politicians always yell loudly about increasing the minimum wage when they are in opposition but when they get into power they become strangely silent on the issue They know that raising the minimum wage abruptly and too quickly can have serious and deleterious effects on employment and the economy.  Trade Union leaders are, of course, another story. They (at least the ones in this country) couldn't care less about economics. All they really care about is having their membership pay their dues so that they (the leaders) can live well. (When last did you ever see a Trade Union leader lead a strike and forgo his pay while the workers were out on strike?)

Maduro's gambit of increasing the minimum wage will play well temporarily with that increasingly diminishing section of the electorate that still supports him, but as reality continues to bite the poor in Venezuela, he will find it harder and harder to convince his countrymen that he really knows how to fix the very serious problems created by his hero, Hugo Chavez. The truth is that this latest action of his just shows how really shaky he is. The reality is that his government cannot last ... at least, not without even more severe repression that is taking place right now.  If I could advise him I would tell Maduro that he ought to know that problems cannot be solved with the same level of consciousness that created them. Unfortunately, nobody has taught the former bus driver this. What a pity!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


There is in circulation around the internet right now a joke that (like most jokes) has a lot of truth in it. It says "it's only when you see a mosquito landing on your testicles that you realize that there is always a way to solve problems without using violence." I was reminded forcefully of this joke this morning when I read the Guardian story about the mother who beat her teenage daughter for posting most inappropriate pictures of her in various stages of undress. The mother posted the beating of the daughter on the internet because she wanted the daughter to be suitably embarrassed at the humiliation of the beating (as if the reported 63 or 69 blows were not enough!)

Now,  I was in my car close to lunchtime and had tuned into I95.5fm radio which had a live on air discussion about this video, the punishment meted out to the girl, and whether or not it was appropriate. To my great chagrin  what little I heard of the radio program (I had tuned in very near the end) suggested to me that not only were all the callers in agreement with the mother beating her daughter, but the radio host also felt that the beating was in order. Certainly, I did not hear the host disagreeing with all the callers who made it clear that they saw nothing wrong with the beating and in fact condoned it. One female caller even invoked the old saw about sparing the rod and spoiling the child!

So? What's wrong with this picture? Go back to the top of this post and read the rather crude joke. Then pay attention to its deeper meaning. Look past the more than slightly explicit crudity and understand the point that it is making. If I have to explain that point then you obviously haven't got it and never will!

But, what does this attitude tell us about our society? The answer, unfortunately, is a lot! If the average person in this society believes that it is all right to beat a child for any infraction ... serious or otherwise ... then why is the average person in this society so surprised at the levels of crime here in good old T&T which every right thinking person in the society condemns? All violence does is to breed more violence.

In order to succeed as a nation we must look at ourselves as honestly as we possibly can. And when we do so we must admit that just about everything in this society that is wrong is not really the fault of the politicians (although I would be the first to admit that a lot of them on all sides seem to be doing their level best to make things worse) but is really our fault. We are the ones to blame. We are the ones to blame for the lousy health service, the terribly inefficient police force and the worse than useless system that tries to pass for an education system. We are the ones to blame for the corruption that seems to pervade everything. It is us and nobody else. To paraphrase William Shakespeare on his 450th birthday, the fault, dear friends, lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we have almost gleefully ignored and avoided all the hard decisions that would have let us build that "shining city on the hill."  We really do not have a right to complain about anything! We have brought it all on ourselves!

Thursday, April 3, 2014


With the Sharma/Ramadarsingh debacles behind us we can probably expect all sorts of commentary both in social media as well as in the Sunday newspapers in support of the Government and the Prime Minister's handling of the two debacles as well as scathing criticisms of the Prime Minister, her management style, and of the two protagonists ... all of which are (or will be) fairly predictable. As a society we seem to be incapable of original thought and of any meaningful capability of not only analyzing a particular situation but of setting out a plan of where we are, where we need to be and (perhaps most importantly) the best way of getting there.

Let me give you an example of what I mean: on both Tuesday and Wednesday of this week Senator Faris Al-Rawi, the PNM's erstwhile Public Relations Officer spent a total of about one hour ( a half hour on CNC 3 on Tuesday and another half hour on TV 6 on Wednesday) criticizing the government, the Prime Minister and the two errant/fallen Ministers. I listened carefully to both interviews in the hope that I would hear something different. My own view was that the discussion of the very obvious mistakes made by all in the two debacles ought not to have taken more than, say, about ten minutes or so in each interview. What I would have found to be much more interesting and more important, was what the PNM thought could and should be done to eliminate, or, at the very least, reduce violence towards women. I am a father of three girls. I have a wife whom I love very much, and I have a mother and a sister. (And in case there are any wags out there, yes, I love my daughters and my mother and my sister as well). I am acutely aware of certain ... shall we say ... "unfortunate" attitudes towards women that seem to prevail in our society, and I condemn them roundly.

But all we seem to get from our leaders is a lot of rhetoric and nothing else. For example, I would have been far more impressed with Senator Al-Rawi's performances on the two television programs this week if he had (after taking the understandable and obligatory swipes at the Government) had said something to the effect like "The PNM strongly condemns violence against women in any form whatsoever. Further, when we regain political power we intend to do the following ....", and then list out the Party's proposals. "Further," he could have said, "let me make it clear: if any of our people are guilty of violence against women they will be expelled forthwith from the Party."

Now, I don't mean that he had to use those exact words. What I mean is that I would have liked to have hard concrete proposals as to what a major political party that hopes to form the next Government of this country would do about a serious problem that plagues our society. Violence against women, unfortunately, is not confined in our society only to UNC front line politicians but goes across all races, creeds and political loyalties.

I suppose that what I am really complaining about is that in our society we tend to allow our politicians a free pass where we accept their criticisms of the other side but we do not insist on them spelling out their own philosophies and policies in any meaningful way. Perhaps some blame for this can be laid at the feet of the media. Perhaps some blame for this can also be laid at the feet of the politicians themselves. But the sad truth is that the majority of the blame must lie with ourselves. We continue to complain but do nothing about it. We do not insist on either philosophical or political debates, but prefer instead to listen (with a certain relish) to allegations of 'who t'ief what'! While accepting absolutely that the question of 'thievery' is important, my own view is that 'thievery' is a by-product of an amoral society that refuses to confront the real problems that exist, choosing instead to indulge in high sounding rhetoric that, at the end of the day, means absolutely nothing.

Monday, March 24, 2014

                            DON'T SAY THAT YOU WEREN'T WARNED!!!!

The picture above was taken of an opposition march in Caracas on Friday. As you can see, the streets are jammed with about fifty thousand people. Now, that's a heck of a lot of people!! And when a march like this and of this size takes place in a major metropolis like Caracas you can bet that just about the whole city is effectively shut down. The problem here is that this isn't a 'one-off' thing, but is something that is being repeated every week, several times a week all over Venezuela. Put another way, Venezuela is grinding to a halt ... if it has not already ground to a halt. There are now basic shortages of just about everything ... except, it seems, Cubans and armed thugs who are shooting at persons who are protesting against the Government.

I deliberately put this picture on this post as I know that a lot of people are simply not aware of the depth of unhappiness that exists in Venezuela. The pro-Maduro supporters like to try and paint the opposition as being only the wealthy. In my experience, the wealthy do not demonstrate ... and certainly not in numbers like this!! Look at the picture again!

The situation clearly cannot last much longer. Maduro is pulling out all of the stops and trying his best to prevent the bad news from getting out of the country. In this regard, if truth be told, he has been moderately successful as the major news agencies seem to be steering away from reporting everything that is going on, especially where the reports make Maduro's Government look bad. Certainly, pictures like this are not being broadcast, and, if they are, only once in a while.

But the reality is that things are bad ... very, very bad! The fact is that things like toilet paper and women's sanitary pads (for example) are now in very short supply. Foreign exchange is in even shorter supply  ... and this is for a country that is sitting on one of the largest oil reserves in the world, and press freedom is virtually non-existent. (As an aside, isn't it interesting that all those persons who cry about infringements of press freedom here in T&T appear to be blissfully unaware of what Maduro is doing to their brothers and sisters across the water?)

On Friday Trinidad & Tobago assisted the Maduro regime in keeping a lid on things when it voted to have a debate in the Organisation of American States (OAS) held in private. What had happened was that the President of Panama had appointed a leading Venezuelan politician, Maria Corina Machado, as special ambassador to the OAS for Panama in order to inform the OAS about what was taking place in Venezuela. The representative of the left wing regime of Nicaragua moved a motion that the debate should be held in private ... in other words, away from the prying eyes of the world's press and the public. And, with the support of all those little islands who are benefiting from Chavez's PetroCaribe initiative ... as well as the inexplicable support of Trinidad & Tobago ... the motion to hold the debate in private was passed!! Why? I honestly have no idea. The only reasons that I can come up with are probably libelous. But nothing else makes sense. Certainly, T&T's vote doesn't make any sense to me! It was the WRONG thing to do and I am extremely critical of the Government of my country for this foreign policy mistake.(What could Dookeran have been thinking? But this is not the point of this post. I'll deal with this another time.)

Incidentally, Ms. Machado was detained for several hours when she returned from Washington over the weekend. Why? But in "free" Venezuela these things apparently happen with nobody questioning the authorities.

In the meantime, the average person in Venezuela is seeing his standard of living slipping into a bottomless pit of misery. Everything seems to be breaking down and shortages increase daily. Inflation is now running at almost 60 per cent. Foreign exchange is in such short supply that although the officail rate of exchange is around 11 bolivars to US$1 the black market rate is now around 80 bolivars to US$1 !!!! Can you believe that?!? And this is happening to one of the potentially most wealthy countries in the world!! But this "Bolivarian" (whatever that means ... poor Simon Bolivar. He must be turning in his grave over the hijacking of his name by these people) socialist regime trumpets loudly that they are doing everything for the benefit of the people. And the poor people are benefiting in much the same way as the mobs in ancient Rome benefited from the largesse of the Roman dictators ... bread and circuses!  And nobody says 'boo'. It seems that it is okay to hand out 'bread and circuses' if you are ... well, let's just say 'politically correct'! How you screw up a wealthy country is totally irrelevant!!

One by one, airlines are beginning to refuse to travel to Venezuela. They are reportedly owed a total of more than US$3 billion in unpatrioted airline fees. Maduro has blustered that anyone who pulls out now will not be allowed back. Air Canada has said to heck with that. We can't afford to take a loss here and has cancelled its 3 flights a week. I suppose that is not too great a loss for them. It will be interesting to see what other international carriers do.

Venezuela is falling off the proverbial cliff...  if it hasn't fallen already! This situation cannot last much longer and the Cubans will see to it that however it ends, it will end with a lot of bloodshed. The cowardice of the OAS, the cowardice of the regional Governments and the cowardice of the international press is helping to contribute to a situation where approximately 27 million people (the population of Venezuela) are being repressed ruthlessly.

There is a lot at stake here. Cuba cannot afford to lose Venezuela. If the revolution against Maduro and the Cubans  in Venezuela is successful, the Cuban economy will take another sharp downward turn as the new regime will cut off the supply of free oil that is keeping Cuba going. In other words, Cuba has too much to lose to allow the Venezuelans alone to handle their own affairs. Cuba's control of Venezuela's secret police is now complete. Expect to see a lot of blood flowing ... and soon. Don't say that you weren't warned. And don't hesitate either to point the finger of blame at the Cubans and at Maduro and his band of thugs ... however this ends.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


When the news broke that a baby had died from what was reported as a botched caesarian operation, like most people I was absolutely horrified and full of empathy for the mother and father. How could this possibly have happened? From the way that it was reported it sounded very much like a case of terrible medical negligence that seemed to border almost on criminality of some sort. That is, the way that it was reported.

Subsequent newspaper reports have continued along these lines and have gone on to suggest a cover-up of some sort as the doctors and the rest of the medical fraternity circle the wagons to prevent one of their own from being punished appropriately. Again, like, I suspect, most people, I was more than a little upset by this.

So when this last weekend I met someone whom I have known for a long time and who was involved on the periphery of that unfortunate incident I was anxious to ask about it and get some details that up to now have not been published in the press. According to my source, at the time that she went into labour, the young mother's blood pressure went sky-rocketing through the roof. When it was realized that her blood pressure was way too high and that death could result from allowing a normal birth to continue the baby had already become engaged in the birth canal. At the time, the only available on duty doctor was someone who had only recently qualified and who had never done a 'C-section' alone. In other words, the young doctor had little or no experience and certainly not enough experience for an emergency such as this one which had developed most suddenly and unexpectedly.

Well, the rest is history and the baby is dead ... though the mother is alive! There is no doubt that an enquiry will look into everything and that the facts should come out sooner or later. But the operative word in that last sentence is "should".

And this is the point about this particular post. The Trinidad & Tobago media ... both the print as well as the electronic... very often do not report all of the facts, but report in ways to make a story seem more salacious and "newsworthy". A lot more newspapers will sell if the story is a gory one about some slipshod doctor killing a baby in a botched 'C-section' than a story about a baby dying in an emergency operation where the doctor was fighting to save both the life of the mother as well as the life of the child and time was of the most critical essence!! Put another way, assuming that the report that was given to me is in fact correct, then this would put a completely different slant on the whole very sad story. And while I will readily admit that I cannot vouch completely for its veracity, my source is one whom I have learned to trust over several years. In other words, I believe that what I am reporting is in fact true.

Put another way again, past experience with the media has taught me that they are more interested in selling a story than in the truth ... and all I can say is: isn't that a very sad perception to have?

The three daily newspapers, the main television stations and not a few of the radio stations have become rich and powerful. There success has given rise to arrogance, overconfidence, pride ... and prejudice!! One almost prays for them to fail, not because it would be nice to see them fall flat on their smug faces, but because failure usually produces humility, caution and a willingness to learn. Failure usually makes a person more empathetic ... and Heaven knows that we need a lot more empathy in this society! Failure tends to produce humility, caution and a willingness to learn. But the arrogance in the society is not confined just to the media; it permeates its entire fabric. The people at the top in the business community, the bankers,  the politicians on both sides of the political divide, and just about everybody else at the top display a terrible lack of empathy and total arrogance, pride, overconfidence ... and prejudice.There is no humility and no demonstrable willingness to learn.

Understandably, a person will want to focus on what makes him or her feel good. The greatest benefit, though, comes from taking a good hard and honest look at ourselves and our most pressing problems. What isn't working? What can be done to make it work? It takes courage to ask such questions, but they do help to come up with fresh answers that inspire and uplift. And that is what is needed now!

Friday, February 14, 2014


We all know the old adage about wetting your house when your neighbour's house is on fire. But here in happy old T&T we are simply not paying any attention whatsoever to what is happening a few kilometers to the west of us in Venezuela. There are no reports in our local press about what is happening and nobody seems to be paying attention to the looming disaster next door to our shores. On Wednesday (12th February) there were deadly clashes in Caracas when three people were killed. The killings followed a huge peaceful demonstration of more than ten thousand people who took to the streets to protest the economic policies of President Nicholas Maduro and the hardships that the people are enduring as a result.

Right now in Venezuela there are shortages of just about everything ranging from toothpaste and milk to toilet paper. Can you imagine that?! Toilet paper is now hard to come by in the country with  some of the largest oil reserves in the world! How many times a day do you use toilet paper? Seriously. Think about it. Think about, for example, being in a public place (e.g., the airport) and having to go only to find that there is no toilet paper! Do you think that that would be uncomfortable?!? I am sorry to sound so crude, but this is a reality that millions of Venezuelans are having to deal with on a daily basis!

The real reason for these shortages is because there is a tremendous shortage of foreign exchange. Businesses and manufacturers simply can't get enough hard currency to import anything and businesses and factories are shutting down on an almost daily basis. The Venezuelan bolivar is practically worthless ... nobody wants it ... and trades on the black market at more than ten times its official value. Corruption is everywhere. Indeed, I have heard stories that certain high up persons in Maduro's administration are taking the hard currency (US dollars) earned by state owned PDVSA (the Venezuelan equivalent of Petrotrin) and putting an amount in bolivars into PDVSA's bank account at the official rate. They then sell enough dollars at the black market rate to meet this expenditure and then bank the rest outside! We are talking of billions here ... not millions ... being siphoned off. And officially, no money is missing as the correct amount of bolivars are in the company's account. It's just that the US dollars just aren't going into the country but are staying offshore.Neat, eh?

In the meantime, the Cubans continue to suck Venezuela dry. Maduro is continuing the policies of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, and supplying Cuba with virtually free oil. Cuba pays Venezuela back with some doctors and nurses and ... more ominously ... "advisers" on national security. With one of the highest murder rates in the world guess what these security "advisers" are really doing? I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count! If you guessed that they are helping Maduro turn Venezuela into a police state a la Cuba you would be absolutely right!! And Cuba has one of the most ruthless police systems in the world. The Castros are NOT nice people.

Maduro is trying hard to deflect the harsh realities of economics and the problems that ordinary people are facing in Venezuela. He blames the shortages on "saboteurs" and "profit-hungry corrupt businessmen". Sound familiar? In December he tried to curry favour with the proletariat  by ordering the importers and retailers of electronic goods (televisions, computers, etc.) to drop their prices radically and sell their goods at state decreed prices. Naturally, there was a rush to buy. But what had really happened? In an effort to stay in business the businessmen had bought dollars in the black market at a rate of something like seventy bolivars to one dollar when the official rate was only around six to one. Obviously, in order to make a profit (what other reason is there to be in business?) the prices of these electronic goods were marked up at the black market rate. By forcing the businesses to slash their prices Maduro effectively bankrupted them. Now, the only importers of electronic goods in Venezuela are those few who have an "in" with the right people and can get enough foreign exchange at the official rate to buy their goods.

As for Wednesday's demonstrations, it seems that certain masked persons on motorcycles in full view of the police (and, yes, that is true ... I have seen photographs taken by friends of mine at the demonstration) opened fire on the crowd!! And nobody has been arrested!!

Maduro will not last. That is clear. He can and will hold on, probably for another year to eighteen months, possibly less. But he is not going to be able to hold on for much longer. And the Cuban tactics of ruthless repression will not work in Venezuela. Unlike their Cuban counterparts, Venezuelans have enjoyed the good life in the not too distant past, and they know what it is to have free access to the internet (for example). Maduro is cracking down on the media in Venezuela and has effectively muzzled them, but Venezuelans have as many cell phones as the country has  people and text messages, Facebook, What's App, Twitter and other social media are being used all the time by everybody. How do you think, for example, that I got all this information? Nobody bothers any more with the television news or what the state controlled newspapers print.

The tragedy is that Maduro, like most despots, doesn't give a fig for the people that he purports to represent. All he cares about is that he stays in power. To this end he will lie, cheat, and even resort to murder to keep power. He is a terrible blight on the face of Latin America and a destroyer of what was arguably the most beautiful country in South America. Trouble is coming in Venezuela. You can see it; you can taste it; you can feel it. And when it does eventually come a lot of Venezuelans are going to die.