Friday, November 25, 2016

PRIORITIES

Today:
Two men were found in Marabella this morning tied together, eyebrows shaved off and their faces painted. The bodies were discovered lying near the roadway outside Las Vegas Recreation Club, Tarouba Road at daybreak.Police said they were discovered by a resident on his way to work along a roadway which links the San Fernando Bypass Road.


Two days ago:
A woman was raped and killed in Farnum Village, Guaraca in a street opposite the Masjid mosque.


Five days ago:
The decomposing body of Eulan Blackman was found on the corner of Queen and Nelson Streets in Port of Spain. He was reportedly last seen alive on the previous Sunday afternoon.


Yesterday:
The national football coach was fired after losing the last international game against Costa Rica. But 410 murders later (for this year) both the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of National security still have their jobs. Tells you a lot about our priorities,, doesn't it?!?



Thursday, June 2, 2016

BILLION DOLLAR COMPANIES AND 'PEEWAT' STATES

In my last post I warned about the looming crisis in Venezuela when nobody else was writing about it. Sadly, since then a lot of folks have woken up and smelt the coffee. The crisis in Venezuela has not yet quite reached bursting, but it is clear for all to see that this very ugly boil will pop very soon.


Today, though, I would like to leave that sad topic alone and concentrate on another storm that is appearing on our economic horizon. I am talking about Liberty Global, Cable and Wireless,  Columbus Communications (Flow) and Massey Communications.


Let me explain: some six months or so ago Cable and Wireless (C&W) bought over Columbus Communications (Trinidad) Limited, the ubiquitous television cable provider in T&T. The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad & Tobago (TATT) approved the deal but ordered that C&W do sell it's 49 percent shareholding in TSTT, the telephone company in which the State owns 51 percent.


In the meantime, 'back at the ranch', a huge American telecommunications giant Liberty Global (Liberty)  bought over C&W making it, if not the largest, then certainly one of the largest telecommunications providers in the world. Liberty is big. Really big! And they have shown themselves not afraid to use their power in disputes with small states. Recently in a dispute with the Bahamas Government Liberty virtually brought that government to its knees ... but that's another story.


In any case, as you can imagine, there are few if any buyers who will want to or are capable of buying out C&W's 49 percent share in TSTT. One of the obviously big problems for any buyer is taking a minority share in a state enterprise. That buyer is going to have a lot of money tied up in a business which it cannot control. That's not exactly a recipe for a profitable investment.


Enter now from stage left Massey Communications Limited, a subsidiary company of the large billion dollar T&T conglomerate. Massey Communications is presently carrying on simultaneous talks with Liberty/C&W on the one hand and the T&T Government on the other to buy out all of the shares in TSTT. That's right: all!! And the Government is seriously considering this offer.


Well, you could argue that the taking over of TSTT by private enterprise wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. But what if after the Government sells its shares to Massey and Massey buys C&W's shares then Liberty Global decides to make Massey an offer that it can't refuse for 100 percent of TSTT? Or even just decides to buy out Massey Communications Limited? There are a number of obvious permutations and combinations in this scenario.


Pay attention. It just could happen. And the open ended question is would this be a good thing for us?



Monday, April 25, 2016

IS TRINIDAD & TOBAGO PREPARING FOR THE LOOMING FALLOUT FROM VENEZUELA"S CRISIS?



Just about anybody who reads the newspapers is (or ought to be) aware that Trinidad's closest neighbor has completely collapsed economically. Venezuela is now officially a complete and utter economic basket case with its currency being unofficially devalued on a daily basis on the black market (the official rate of exchange is such a joke that nobody even bothers to quote it any more). Last week the black market rate was in the region of US$1 being able to buy more than Bolivars 1,150!! Inflation is running at around 700 percent and basic things like toilet paper and women's feminine products are scarce. Manufacturing has collapsed ... last week Polar, the country's largest beer manufacturer said that it would stop making beer! Eggs and milk are in short supply. And I mean short supply!!


The electricity supply is now so bad that Government offices are now closing on Fridays in order to conserve the supply. And this is in addition to power cuts averaging 4 hours a day in the capital city Caracas. Many private offices are also closing on Fridays as well. In other words, productivity in this most unfortunate South American country has gone to hell in a basket.


Shopping for groceries can only be done on alternative days and your fingerprints have to be taken before you are let in the store. Crime is completely out of control. Its so bad over there that Venezuelans who come over here are surprised at how much we complain about our own crime rate. 'Yours is nothing', they say with something approaching scorn. 'You should see ours!' And in comparative terms they are right! Most people do not even wear their wedding rings any more when they walk out of the house. Gangs on motor cycles terrorize motorists holding them up and robbing them in traffic jams.


Of course, if you listen to Venezuela's President Maduro (who on a play on words Venezuelans call 'Ma burro' ... 'burro' in Spanish is 'donkey') you will readily understand that the economic woes of his oil rich country have absolutely nothing to do with his and his predecessor's (the erstwhile Hugo Chavez) economic policies but are all the fault of that 'Great Satan', the United States!! (To which you will undoubtedly yawn and say 'what a surprise!') Of course, the total and complete incompetence of the regime not to mention the corruption that pervades the Chavista movement from top to bottom has nothing to do with a country that has been blessed with a plethora of riches from oil to gold and everything in between, being on its economic back!


But this post is not about the idiocies of Chavez and Ma burro (sorry, I mean Maduro). It is about the old Trinidadian adage 'when your neighbor's house is on fire wet your own'. T&T is doing nothing to prepare for the serious possibility of refugees from Venezuela that will occur when the proverbial mud hits the proverbial fan. The situation in Venezuela can't last much longer. Their "sell by" date for serious social unrest has long since passed and the regime can only stay in power by more and more brutal and undemocratic means. How long it will take before the lighted fuse finally hits the dynamite is anybody's guess. But that an explosion is inevitable is beyond question.


So? What are we doing to prepare for the coming explosion? What should we be doing now?  And don't say 'nothing'. We should pay attention and prepare for the coming tsunami. Because, come it will.


P.S. Full disclosure: my wife is Venezuelan.

Friday, March 4, 2016

WHEN DO TWO WRONGS MAKE A RIGHT?





Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has done what he does best: attack. He has criticized First Citizens Bank fiercely for their apparent breach of confidentiality involving the deposit of some $93,000 in cash by his Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis into her account. On the face of it, Dr. Rowley's criticisms seem justified. After all, there are few things more personal than one's financial affairs, and banks are supposed to keep the details of an individual's banking transactions confidential. Exposing Mrs. Robinson-Regis like this certainly appears to be a breach of confidentiality by somebody in First Citizens Bank.


So far so good! In other words, on the face of it Dr. Rowley appears to be right when he says that the bank had breached its confidentiality obligations to it's customer, Mrs. Robinson-Regis, when somebody (obviously in the bank) leaked details of a transaction in which some $93,000 of unexplained cash (not cheques) was deposited in her account. The Prime Minister is always at his best when he is in attack mode, and he was scathing in his criticisms of the bank's apparent breach.


But hold on a minute. Several questions arise. The first and most obvious one is that isn't this cash transaction of Mrs. Robinson-Regis suspicious of itself on the face of it? Frankly, for a politician ... any politician ... holding a Ministerial position to deposit the rather hefty sum of $93,000 in cash into her account gives rise to most unnecessary and very ugly suspicions that the money is "dirty". It may very well not be, but the explanation given by the erstwhile Minister that she had closed an account of her husband's at another bank, withdrawn the cash and then re-deposited it into her bank quite frankly defies the belief of all but the most gullible. Why didn't she withdraw the money in the form of a Manager's Cheque? It doesn't make sense. I have said it often, but it bears repeating: when somebody tells you something that doesn't make sense 99 percent of the time he doesn't want you to understand what he is saying. The remaining one percent of the time it is because he doesn't understand what he is saying. So, why hasn't the Prime Minister also dealt with this cash transaction? Is it that Mrs. Robinson-Regis, a perceived Keith Rowley loyalist, is untouchable?


No.  Mrs. Robinson-Regis is going to have to ... or put another way ... ought to explain  very, very clearly exactly where this money came from, and prove it!! Why? Because if she doesn't most right thinking members of society will continue to harbor those dark and ugly suspicions that I referred to above ... and it is simply not in the best interests of society to have these suspicions floating around. If there is substance to them (i.e., if they are true) then the miscreant ought to be dealt with. Obviously! If they are not true then leaving them to linger effectively destabilizes the society as some persons who believe them to be true will say that what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander and will believe that it is acceptable to indulge in an illegal act. Either way, good governance demands that this matter be 'put to bed' conclusively.


Then, the next question that arises is why didn't the Prime Minister in the next breath after he attacked First Citizens Bank so fiercely not turn and demand a full and complete explanation from his Minister? Maybe he did, but if he did, why didn't he say so? It doesn't take much of an imagination to conjour up images of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley in and out of Parliament frothing at the mouth if instead of a PNM Minister who had been so grievously exposed it had been a UNC Minister who had given the exact same explanation. Just think about what he would have said in that case and you've got the picture clearly. A Prime Minister can't be a Prime Minister of only one section of the society. He is the Prime Minister of all of us. He must not only be even handed in his dealings especially when it comes to the integrity of his Ministers but ought to be seen as being even handed. And in this case, he regrettably falls short ... at least, so far.


Thirdly, the PNM made a lot of noise about whistleblower legislation, or rather the lack of it and how necessary it was ... and rightly so. Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Stuart Young says that this legislation is being drafted now. So, the question arises: is this affair something that will be covered by the whistleblower legislation when it eventually comes to pass? Because, make no mistake, it is very clear that somebody in the bank was sufficiently upset by this transaction to spill the beans. Okay. There is no legislation in place right now, so legally the bank appears on the face of it to be liable for this egregious breach of confidentiality. But if the coming legislation is going to be designed to cover such events as this, then something is wrong with the picture of two politicians (the P.M. and his Minister) complaining about something that they are planning to be allowed in the future. And it is not acceptable to say in effect 'well, that's not the law right now'. And if it is not going to be covered by the coming legislation then the obvious question is why not? This is exactly the sort of thing that the pending legislation ought to cover!


No. Two or even three wrongs can never make a right. As it stands, the bank certainly appears to be wrong. But, without a full and  proper explanation (and so far there hasn't been one), so does the Minister. The Prime Minister cannot and ought not to be allowed to blame one without looking carefully at the actions of the other, and if she is found wanting, dealing with her severely.

Monday, February 22, 2016

WHO PROFITS FROM NON-DIVERSIFICATION?



Somebody asked me a few weeks ago 'who profits from the non-diversification of the economy'? Thinking about it I realized that this was an excellent question which most people were more comfortable with ignoring rather than facing it frontally ... a typical West Indian trait! I never got a straight answer but did find that this was a question that certain persons as far afield from Trinidad as the Bahamas, are asking. Well, I am certainly not an economist and those economists that I did ask could not give me a straight answer but gave instead  lot of unintelligible "mumbo-jumbo".


So? Who benefits? Because in more than fifty years of independence somebody (or 'bodies') must have benefitted. After all, money, like water, will always obey gravity and will accumulate wherever it is easiest. Having looked at it with my admittedly inexpert economic eye I have come to the (not surprising) conclusion that the fault lies with that commercial class which Dr. Eric Williams once scathingly referred to as "commission agents", i.e., those so-called businessmen who add little or no value to imported products, but simply mark up the goods and re-sell them at a huge profit.


There has been so much oil money floating around that these guys have become quite adept at making money off of foreign goods and ideas. Take one of our more profitable public companies, Prestige Holdings. This company has the KFC and TGI Fridays franchises and makes millions from them. The service in these places is lousy, but who cares? Nobody. The company makes a fortune and every year pays huge sums in franchise fees to the American owners. Oh, I know: Prestige will argue that they employ lots and lots of people and pay lots and lots of taxes. But the company adds no intrinsic value to the economy. It doesn't make or produce anything. Another popular and profitable company is Pricemart. The list goes on and on, but you get the point. If you want to make a lot of money import something from abroad for pennies and sell it locally for dollars. If you follow this tried and proven formula you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams.


Don't believe me? Go into any Massey store that used to be known as Hi-Lo and buy a DiGiorno pizza there. You will pay about TT$100 for it. Go into a supermarket in the States and the same pizza will cost you US$5.00. That's about TT$32.50 if you convert at US$1.00 = TT$6.50 (which is more than the official rate today). In other words, there is a lot of profit in this particular product built in for the importer who clearly will not be buying the product at the retail US$5.00 price but for much less!!


Put another way, we, the general public are being ripped off by the greedy and unscrupulous commission agent class and nobody has done anything about it for more than fifty years!! Dr. Williams (to give him credit) did try once when he, for example, prevented the importation of foreign assembled vehicles in order to try and start an assembly industry here. But that effort failed. The local businesses were unable to meet the demand and the quality of the locally assembled cars was worse than abysmal. Since then, nobody has seriously tried to force the commission agents to become more entrepreneurial. Oil money has flowed like water and calls to diversify are met with 'oh yes, that's a great idea', but nothing else.


I must blame also the University of the West Indies. Nowhere have I seen or heard any real or good workable ideas from the 'think tank' that the University ought to be as to how to achieve this purpose. UWI has failed this country and the region terribly. The professors and lecturers have been by and large completely incompetent and incapable of providing the kind of modern and progressive thinking that is so badly needed to get us out of the economic doldrums. They are very good at talking though! But then most West Indians can do that  fairly well even without a university degree.


No. The only test for leadership is leading and leading vigorously. Sadly, throughout the region there is a dearth of leadership which has resulted in our Third World thinking and the fact that because of this we will continue to allow the 'commission agents' to continue to rip us off. And our economies will continue not to be diversified.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"TO PROTECT AND SERVE" ... IS THERE ANYTHING THAT WE CAN DO TO FORCE THE POLICE TO DO THEIR JOB?



ASAMI NAGAKIYA was a talented and pretty young Japanese pannist (for the benefit of my foreign readers, that's somebody who plays the steel pan). She had come to Trinidad to play her instrument and to play Carnival and her body was found on Ash Wednesday morning. She had been strangled and one news report says that she also had been raped. Frankly, I believe the report of sexual assault, although the police seem bent on covering up this aspect of the crime. (Why they would want to do that is beyond me.)


But her horrible death ... and the fact that the police are doing nothing to stop or even slow the steadily growing assault by criminals on civil society has got me to thinking: can we really do nothing about it? Are we hopeless and helpless? In other words, are we perpetual victims of the criminal elements who seem to control all the important arms of the State so that they can literally thumb their noses at us and say in effect that they can do whatever they feel like doing? And we, poor fools that we are, can do nothing except bitch and complain?


Okay. The short answer to those questions is 'yes'.


But what if we the people decided to change that paradigm with some out of the box thinking? What if we came up with a solution that would force the 'powers that be' to perform or pay when they don't perform?


Let me explain: currently all the legal authorities and precedents suggest that there is no civil liability on the part of the police or even the State if a person were to become a victim of a crime. In the leading American case of Warren v. District of Columbia (1981) it was decided that there is "no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen." I haven't had the time to check the Commonwealth authorities but I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that they will fall along the same lines. In other words, the State has no legal obligation to protect you that can be enforced in a Court of Law with financial penalties if it doesn't.


But in good old T&T it is against the law for a law abiding citizen to even carry a pepper spray, and it is very, very difficult to get a firearms licence. Put another way, the State ensures by it's laws that it's law abiding citizenry is at a great disadvantage when it comes to confronting armed and dangerous criminals. And the police service (whose rather laughable motto is "to protect and serve") is so woefully incompetent and/or corrupt that the conviction rate for murder hovers somewhere around three percent! In other words, you can bet your bottom dollar that you are strictly on your own when it comes to defending yourself against the criminals. Neither the State nor the arm of the State meant to protect you (i.e., the police) are going to help you or defend you. You are going to be deliberately left unarmed and defenceless and with no legal recourse.


But aren't we a nation of laws? And aren't laws supposed to exist for the benefit of the greater society? And don't we elect politicians to make these laws for our benefit and protection? So? Why don't we tell our law makers to do their work? Lead, follow or get out of the way!!


Let me give you an (admittedly outrageous) idea: what do you think would happen if we were to change the law and make the State liable in the civil law if a person is a crime victim? If all of a sudden a Prime Minister and his/her Minister of Finance (and I'm referring here to any Prime Minister and Finance Minister ... not just Messrs. Rowley and Imbert) found themselves having to pay out millions of dollars from the State's coffers to victims of crime, how long do you think that they would tolerate those losses? How long would they stay in power if their administration had to pay out millions in damages to crime victims?


Look, somebody has to pay. We have to stop the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. My experience has been that nothing gets done if nobody has to pay for 'it' (whatever 'it' might happen to be).  Of course, we can just sit back and watch while we get picked off like rabbits in a shooting range and complain about how unfair and incompetent our leaders are.


But you should know that we, the ordinary people, really do have the power to change things ... if we really want to!! And you don't have to like or agree with my idea. Just come up with another that will fix the problem.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

WE ARE IN TROUBLE ... DEEP TROUBLE



Unfortunately, nobody seems to have zeroed in on the real problem that Trinidad & Tobago is facing with its finances. Oh! There is a lot of talk, but nobody is explaining to the ordinary person just how deep we are in the mess. Last night I had a conversation with a leading economist who put the problem in perspective for me. He said that he had reviewed the budget over the Christmas holidays ... not the speech, that's not the budget, but the real budget ... the figures. He said that when he looked at the projected income figures from the energy sector for 2014 they showed an income of approximately $16 billion. The figures projected by the Government for the 2016 budget (he said) show a projected income of $3.5 billion based on oil at $45 per barrel. he expected that with oil prices continuing their downward trend, the real income will be something closer to $2 billion!


Got that? Well it gets worse. In 2014 (he said) VAT earnings were approximately $5.7 billion. He went on to say that for most of the previous years before 2014 VAT earnings were more or less at this figure. But for 2016 the figure jumps to something like $12.1 billion. How? Where is this extra projected VAT income going to come from? The short answer is that it ain't comin' any time soon!


So? What is the Government likely to do? Well, my expert continued, if you look at Canada and Australia, which are both resource based economies like ours, they have had to devalue their currencies by approximately 25 percent. In other words, we can expect the same ... which will take us to around $8.00/$8.50 to the US dollar. The Government can then make up part of its shortfall this way.


Also, he said, the Government will probably stop paying VAT refunds. This way the debt (the refunds) will be an effective loan that won't show up in the books as a loan! It will soak up the excess liquidity in the system and private businesses and persons who were counting on that money suddenly won't have it any more.


To add more misery there is the issue of Petrotrin. If you thought that Caroni Limited was a drain oon the exchequer Petrotrin makes it look like a walk in the park. Petrotrin currently employs some 5,000 workers. The average monthly salary at Petrotrin is $23,000. In other words, Petrotrin's average monthly wage bill is $11,500,000.00!!!


You don't have to be a genius to figure that one out! So question: if shutting down Caroni was the right thing to do would it be also the right thing to do to shut down or scale back Petrotrin significantly? If not, why not? If so, when will this be done?


Put another way: we are in trouble ... deep trouble!!



Sunday, January 3, 2016

WE AREN'T SERIOUS ABOUT TOURISM (and probably never will be)

How would you like to go to what was represented to you as a first class hotel and find that it's beach was as filthy as is shown in the above picture? You wouldn't? What a surprise! But take a look at the next picture of the same beach:





Yep! It's really dirty isn't it. But you are paying at least US$250 per night (or more for the privilege of staying in the hotel. (And yes, those deck chairs that you saw in the above picture are for the hotel's guests to sit and savour the wonderful view of the filthy beach).


And where is this 'nirvana'? Take a look at the last photograph below. Recognize the place? That's right! It's none other than the Magdalena Grand ... one of Tobago's premier hotels proudly owned and operated by the Government of Trinidad & Tobago!
 
All three pictures were taken on New Year's Day this year by a foreign visitor to Tobago.  She was a guest at the hotel and was distressed at the filth that was on the beach. She told me that the cost of her holiday was certainly not cheap. She said that complaints to the manager of the Magdalena as well as to the staff of the hotel were met with shrugs and the statement that they could do nothing about it. Really? The manager could not even complain to Chief Secretary Orville London? Maybe he had tried before and Mr. London had told him to shove it. Maybe he hadn't complained at all. But how could Messrs. London & Co. (otherwise known as the Tobago House of Assembly or THA) not know about  the filthy state of this beach outside of one of Tobago's top hotels. Do they care?

Just the other day the new Tourism Minister made a visit to Tobago and was reported to have gone to the Magdalena Grand. This beach didn't get dirty overnight. Didn't he see it? If so, what did he do about it?

I asked my friend if she would come back to Tobago again. She smiled and shook her head. "I don't think so," she smiled.  And that said it all! Either we wake up and smell the coffee or we don't. But don't tell me that we are serious about developing tourism as a possible source of foreign exchange when we so clearly don't give a damn about the tourists or providing them with a clean and safe environment.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

THE PARIS ATTACKS, ISIS & T&T







It is time now that we focus on possible external threats to our peace and security at home. I am referring to the terrorist group that calls itself ISIS.  (And I don't know, by the way, if anybody has ever noticed the oxymoron in that terrorist group calling itself ISIS: ISIS apparently stands for Islamic State in Syria. The word "Islam" comes from the Arabic "Salam" which means "peace". ISIS definitely cannot be defined as a 'peaceful' organization!) In any case, our newspapers have reported that there are some 89 Trinidadians over in Syria right now fighting with or for ISIS. The problem here is that every single citizen of Trinidad & Tobago has a constitutional right to re-enter the country at any time.


So? Under our laws any or all of these "fighters" can come home at any time that they choose. Of course, you don't have to have a degree in rocket science to see that allowing any or all of them back into this little twin island state carries the very real possibility that they might use the training that they have received in the battleground of Syria to wreak havoc in our society.


But either we are a nation of laws or we are just as bad as those who would seek to overturn our society by violent means. We can't simply ban them from coming home, and yet we simply can't allow them in. There would be a huge and obvious risk to our society if we were to do this.


Perhaps, therefore, one possible solution to this conundrum would be to make it a crime for any citizen to engage in any act of terrorism anywhere in the world and subject to a long term incarceration if he/she does. The obvious problem then would be on agreeing what exactly amounts to an act of terrorism? If I go to a foreign land to fight for freedom can I be classified as a terrorist? One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. You see the problem?


Another possible solution might be to say that ALL citizens who have gone to Syria to fight for ISIS cannot re-enter Trinidad & Tobago for, say, at least five years after the war has ended. Again, there are rather obvious objections to this.


But we need to discuss the problem now and come up with a solution now, rather than have a 'knee jerk' reaction to it when it does finally arrive on our doorstep. and trust me: it will sooner or later. That is why I thought that the Minster of National Security's remarks about ISIS not posing an immediate threat to T&T while being quite possibly true, were only telling half the story. There is a potential threat to us and it is home grown. Even if only, say 15 of the 89 return home that will be 15 battle hardened and well trained soldiers whose ideology is highly likely to pose a serious threat to our collective peace and security.


I don't have a solution. I can see the objections to the two possible solutions set out above so please don't bother hauling me over the coals for them. I simply made them for you to see and consider and come up with your own ideas. My point is that we need to start thinking about the problem now and deciding now how we are going to deal with it. Because we will have to deal with it; sooner or later!!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

LIES, HALF TRUTHS AND INNUENDOES - EMAILGATE RE-VISITED

It was not very surprising to read in the morning newspapers that the emailgate case has apparently reached a dead-end and as a result will be closed for lack of evidence. This was apparent from almost the very beginning when the Police were forced to admit that there was nothing on the computers of the persons who allegedly sent the offending emails  and then Google supplied the data which showed that the offending emails had never been sent from the relevant email accounts.


To make a brief recap: the story began when then Opposition Leader (he is now Prime Minister read out several alleged emails in Parliament the sum total of which alleged that then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, then Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, then National Security Adviser Gary Griffith and others were all conspiring to kill a journalist. You can't get more serious than that!


Naturally, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar et al shouted their innocence from the roof tops. But, of course, if they were guilty that was exactly what you would expect them to do.  The first to hand over his computer was Captain Griffith followed by the others at later dates.


The country divided along rather predictable racial and political lines with many believing one side or the other. There were even allegations that the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions was being targeted and illegally bugged!


But after more than two years the Police have admitted that they don't have enough evidence to go forward. They have said though that some of the details in the emails are true and therefore they don't want to say that there is nothing there. To which I reply: poppycock!!


There is nothing more dangerous than a half truth. Let me demonstrate: let's say that I was at your home yesterday afternoon at 2pm and that I can prove that. Let's also say that you too were at your home at 2pm and that I can also prove that. Now let's say that I lie and I say that while I was there I saw you making love to a person who was not your spouse! The two truths do not cancel out my big lie!


And that is the problem here; a good liar will mix up truths with lies in order to make his story credible. So the Police are not doing anybody any favours when they try to protect Dr. Rowley from his most intemperate action. Indeed, the serious question that has not been asked and which seems to have gotten lost is where did Dr. Rowley get those emails from in the first place? Did the Police ever investigate that? If they didn't, then why not? If they did, do they now know who gave the emails to Dr. Rowley? If they don't, they wouldn't that have been an important element in an investigation that has taken more than two years? If it isn't important then can they explain in simple language why with something as serious as an accusation of a plot to kill somebody and to bug the DPP's office it isn't necessary to know who came up with this information in order to assess its credibility? Does it mean therefore that if I decide to make a serious accusation of criminal activity against anyone that a simple anonymous fake email will suffice?


Adolf Hitler's Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Josef Goebbels was right when he said that the bigger the lie and the more often that it is repeated the more people will believe it!!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

FIXING THE EDUCATION SYSTEM (PART II)





In a previous post I had said that I would put forward my own ideas on how to fix our very broken education system. Before I do so, please understand that I don't put forward these ideas as the only way to fix the system, They happen to be my personal ideas. However, others may have completely different ideas that may be better than mine. At the end of the day, I really don't care whose ideas are best; what I care about is that we fix the @#%&*system and fix it now!


Okay, having got that out of the way let's start: I have said it often ... if you want to understand a problem go back to the beginning. The beginning in this case is the teachers. Our teachers are grossly under paid, and by and large under qualified. The starting salary for a T&T teacher is around TT$5,0000 per month. (That's around US$778 per month). Why are we so surprised that we don't get good teachers when we pay them peanuts?


I would have a starting salary for teachers of at least three times that and, of course, with the higher grades being increased proportionately. But (and it is a big "but") no teacher would be able to access this higher salary unless and until he/she meets the following criteria:
(1)  He/she must be fully qualified. In my language this would mean that every teacher must have at least an undergraduate degree from a recognized university, a teaching diploma and have completed at least two years as a trainee teacher. (Teachers who have been teaching for more than two years would be exempted from this last provision) So, in other words, it will not matter if you have been a teacher for more than thirty years and are currently a school principal; if you don't have the academic qualifications you are not qualified. If you want to qualify you will be given help to do so. But no unqualified person can get the new salary.
(2) There will be performance criteria for every teacher in the new system. If a teacher fail his/her performance review (which will be at the end of every school year) two years in a row then he/she will be summarily dismissed. There will be no more security of tenure for incompetent or absentee teachers. And there will be no appeal from such a dismissal.
(3) Every teacher in the new system will have to sign a new contract containing these terms. If a teacher does not or will not agree then there would be no problem. He/she just will not get the new salary. He/she can stay under the old system without penalty. But there will be no new persons hired as teachers under the old system. In other words, the old system will gradually be phased out.


I can hear the objections: TUTTA (the Teachers Union) will never agree to that (you will say)and will insist that all teachers get the new salary under the old system otherwise they will go on strike. My response would be to let them do just that. My proposal does not interfere with present rights. It simply proposes  that we recognize that we are not educating our children to an acceptable first world, twenty-first century standard and that we simply can't afford to let things slide further. And know this: the present salary structure for all teachers/educators (from the primary school teachers to the high school ones) is woefully inadequate. And throwing money at the problem will not fix it. the problem is poor, inadequate teaching. And we get that because since dinosaurs roamed the earth we have not paid our teachers properly and as a result we do not have properly trained teachers because very few bright and competent persons will go into this underpaid and undervalued profession. That is not to say that we don't have ant bright and competent teachers. I'm sure that we do, but they are as scarce as hen's teeth!


Finally, what I have proposed here is a broad outline of how I would fix the system. There are obvious details to be filled in. For example, the annual review process will have to be very carefully set out and thought out if obvious possible injustices are not to occur.


But if we don't start at the beginning and fix the system then don't be surprised if things simply continue to get worse. There is no "bottom" for countries. Haiti has proven that time and again. Things cannot get better by the waving of a magic wand, and guess what? News flash: God is not a Trini! Things will get worse if we don't start to fix them now. And "now" must mean now!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

CRIME, THE POLICE & TRINIDAD & TOBAGO





Okay.Full disclosure: my first cousin, who I loved like a brother, was brutally murdered almost nineteen years ago. The 'hit man' was a policeman. His murder remains officially unsolved although everybody knows who did it.


I say this because it's true and because I want to talk about crime in our little twin island Republic. Although I haven't seen him or spoken with him for more than a decade I counted Richard Wheeler as a friend whom I knew personally as well as professionally. But this post is not about the Wheelers or anybody else who has been the cruel victim of brutal and unsolved crimes. This post is about why those crimes are not being solved.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, has his hero say to his sidekick, Dr. Watson in the story The Sign of Four
 "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever   remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"
So, why aren't the T&T Police solving more crimes? I can think of two reasons: the first is that they are totally and utterly incompetent.
The second is that they don't want to solve the crimes.


If there is anybody who can give me any other reasons I would be pleased to hear them. But I have heard the arguments "oh, we don't have the tools or the necessary resources." That argument falls into my first reason.  But it is the second reason that frightens me. Because, I am personally satisfied that it is a deadly combination of the two reasons that has created the crime problem that we have today and personal experience as well as a reasonable knowledge of how things work suggest strongly to me that the Police really do not want to solve the crime problem. As to why they wouldn't want to solve it, I can think of a number of reasons which are not completely relevant to this discussion.


Let's take a look at some facts: (a) The detection rate for murders hovers around the ten percent mark. The conviction rate for murders hovers around the three percent mark. In other words, your chances of literally getting away with murder in this country are statistically excellent. Why? The only murders really being solved are of the domestic 'husband killing wife' type.
(b) There has been a serious spike in the murder rate since the September 7th general elections. Why? There has to be a reason. What is it?
(b) Only one of the recent brutal attacks/murders against elderly white foreigners in Tobago has been 'solved'. Why? There has to be a reason. What is it?
(c) All of the highly publicized brutal attacks/murders in Tobago that have not been solved have been against white foreigners. Is there a sinister pattern here? Is race rearing its ugly head  and that is why the murders/attacks have not been solved/? Or is there something else? Or is it a combination of factors including race? What?
(e) Nobody in the mainstream media is asking the hard questions of the Police. Why? Does the mainstream media know something that we don't? If so, what? And if they don't know why are they not asking the questions?


I read somewhere once that every suggestion of change always means death to some status quo. Now, there are countless 'status quos' in this country and everybody defends his or her own little piece of the pie. But things here will not change until we as a society begin to demand (and receive) answers to the hard questions that confront us. The scoring of political points in the Parliament is all well and good and certainly sells newspapers, but I for one would be much more impressed if a politician would stand up and tell us exactly what he or she was going to do to fix a particular problem.


And for the record, if you don't want to tell us how you are going to fix the Police because of 'national security' reasons, that's all right. But then give us real and tangible bench marks to which we can hold you to so that we can see whether or not you really are serious about fixing the problem (whatever that 'problem' might be).








P.S. I had promised in my last post to put forward my own ideas of how to fix the education system. I will do so soon, but events have rather overtaken and I considered this more important for the moment.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

FIXING THE EDUCATION SYSTEM (Part I)





As oil prices continue their downward trend and the Ryder report comes out saying that we have only twelve years of proven gas reserves left, there is much talk ... almost panicky talk ... about diversifying the economy. Pundits go on radio and television and with much pontification drop their pearls of wisdom about the importance of moving away from our dependency on oil and gas and diversifying (that word again) the economy. Everybody expects that the new Finance Minister will bring in a budget next week that will be tough and that his report will be that our treasury is, if not empty, then close to it.


But nobody has talked about how exactly we are going to achieve this diversification. A former Minister, Mariano Browne, came fairly close last week when he said that we have to think long term and pointed out how India took the decision way back in the late 1940's to put an emphasis on science and mathematics that has resulted in that country's leadership today in information technology.


Education is the single most important factor that shapes the overall distribution of income and influences the probability of poverty. It is no surprise that the countries with poor education systems are at the bottom of the wealth ladder. It is no surprise that the poorest people in the world are the least educated. Conversely, it is no surprise that the countries with the highest educational standards have a citizenry who enjoy the highest standards of living in the world.


Now, look at T&T and the amount of money that has poured through our coffers over the last half century or so. While there are wealthy people living here, the average person certainly cannot be regarded as living at a first world standard and the levels of poverty are ... or ought to be regarded as unacceptable. We shouldn't be as poor as we are.


The problem is not just about money, but a lack of evaluation and meritocracy in schools ... evaluation is an alien concept in T&T's education system. Years ago I was severely criticized for referring to this country's schools as dumps. But the truth is that they were dumps then and remain dumps now. The level of teaching in our schools is often very low with good or competent teachers a rarity rather than the norm; but any attempt at evaluating teachers and structures have been fiercely resisted because teachers do not want to lose their jobs. So teachers often do not have the right training, or if they are trained their knowledge is hardly ever (if ever) updated.


Don't believe me? I live opposite one of Port of Spain's best primary schools. And yet, every single year since dinosaurs roamed the earth the children in that "best" school who are sitting the SAE exams spend their Saturday mornings at the school taking extra lessons. Every single parent who has a child attending a prestige school will tell you that their kid has to take extra lessons in order to pass the school leaving exams that will get them into university. Now, tell me: if the system is so good, why do the kids at every level (primary and high school) have to take extra lessons in order to pass? In the good public schools in first world countries the children are taught in the class room and extra lessons are a rarity, not the norm.


For decades we have let the education system go down and down to the dogs. There is no attempt today by the best schools in the country to reach for the stars. There is no innovative thinking and absolutely no leadership in anything remotely connected with education. Instead, the system seems to be designed to protect the incompetent and unqualified. And we continue to bemoan the constant lowering of standards in every sphere of our lives and throw up our hands in despair. For the last thirty years (probably more) successive governments have simply tinkered with the system. There have been no fresh ideas as to how to improve it and no desire on the part of the politicians of all stripes on both sides of the aisle to take the system into the twenty-first century.


I have often asked the question of educators and those connected with the education system: if this country's education system was blown up this afternoon so that tomorrow morning there was absolutely nothing and you had to start again from scratch, would you put back the exact same system or would you put back something different? The answer has always been 'something different.' So? Why do we continue to tinker with the system? We don't we do something different?


It can be done, and if it is done we will see a huge change for the better in every sphere of our society. In my next post I will put forward one idea as to how we could change things for the better. But please understand, that the idea that I have will not be proposed as the only idea. If anybody has a better idea (or ideas) then for crying out loud, bring it out. But understand this, and understand it well: ain't nothin' gonna change unless and until we fix the education system.

Friday, September 25, 2015

THOSE (PESKY) ELECTION PETITIONS





A lot of people have criticized the UNC and former Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar for filing those six election petitions. The criticism, in essence, is that it is felt that the UNC shouldn't be a sore loser and should accept the results. The people have spoken, therefore the UNC should put up and shut up. Certain people like former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj have weighed in and said that in his considered legal view the petitions will fail and that the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) had every right to extend the voting hours if it so chose to do.


But then, a High Court Judge gave permission to the UNC to file the petitions showing in effect tat there is at least something there in the argument that ought to be looked at. This has left a lot of people confused. Dos the UNC have a case after all? Is this really just a big waste of judicial time? What exactly is the point of this? And if the UNC is successful what happens next? What will happen in the meantime?


Let's start with the easy questions first: unless and until a Court of law overturns any result declared by the EBC, that result stands. In other words, all six of the persons declared as the winners in the disputed constituencies remain the winners unless and until a Court says otherwise.


Next, assuming (though certainly not admitting) that the Court upholds (agrees with) the UNC's allegations and sets aside the results then by-elections will have to be held in those constituencies in which the results were successfully challenged. Assuming (though again not accepting) that the challenges are successful then while in theory there would only have to be by-elections in those six seats, the Government would probably lose a no confidence motion in the Lower House which would be brought immediately by the Opposition. This would trigger a General Election! As to who would win that ... well, that is a whole other story.


Those who believe that the UNC petitions are frivolous are hanging their hats on sections 70(11) and (12) of the Constitution which say
"(11) The registration and the conduct of elections in every constituency shall be subject to the direction and supervision of the Commission (The EBC).
(12) "In the exercise of its functions under this section the Commission (The EBC) shall not be subject to the direction or control  of any other person or authority."


Seems pretty clear, doesn't it?


But enter the Representation of the People Act (the ROP) which was proclaimed (made law) in 1967. The Constitution came into being in 1976 and although it is the supreme law it is generally recognized that all laws that were valid before the Constitution remained valid after its proclamation. In other words, you have to look at the ROP to determine issues such as these being raised right now.


Now, the ROP says in section 35(1) that
"The proceedings of an election shall be conducted in accordance with the Election Rules."
And sections 27(1) and (2) of the Election Rules say that
"(1)Subject to subrule (2), the taking of the poll at each polling station shall be between six o'clock in the morning and six o'clock in the afternoon of the same day.
"(2) If at the hour of the closing of the poll there are any electors within the polling station who have not cast their votes, the poll shall be kept open a sufficient time to enable them to vote."


And section 34 of the ROP says in essence that if at any time between the issue of the election writ and polling day there is an emergency of any kind then if the President is satisfied that there is an emergency that the President may order a postponement of the polls. In other words, The EBC has no authority to postpone the polls or alter the Election Rules.


But before we all jump on the bandwagon,there is one more piece of law to look at: section 35(3) of the ROP which says
"No election shall be declared invalid by reason of any act by a Returning Officer or any other person in breach of his official duty in connection with the election or otherwise or of the Election Rules if it appears to the Court having cognizance of the question that the act did not materially affect the result of the election." (Emphasis mine.)


So, what do I think? I think that the petitions are serious and ought to be litigated. On the face of it, it certainly appears that the EBC was wrong to extend the opening time of the polls in Trinidad, i.e., that it had no legal authority to do so. And you have only to look at it to see why this is important. Either we are a nation of laws or we are not, and to me, at least the law on this point is clear. Issues like this need to be crystal clear so that our democracy can flourish and move forward.


But the more thorny problem for the UNC is that contained in section 35(3). We'll have to wait and see how the arguments go in court, but speaking only for myself I can't see how the UNC is going to be able to prove that there could have been a different result in the six seats under challenge. And there, as the poet might say, is the rub! 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

STRAWS IN THE WIND?





Let me start by stating the obvious: I am not a member of any political Party and have no interest, financial or otherwise, in the outcome of the general elections other than that of an interested observer. Secondly, I do not have crystal ball nor do I have access to the Oracle of Delphi.


If a person lives in Port of Spain or in the West he could be forgiven if he were asked today who is going to win Monday's poll if he answered the PNM. But a more discerning observer would pay attention to certain 'straws in the wind' that seem to suggest otherwise. For example, the Express newspaper has been virulently anti-Government until about the last two weeks. Why? You couldn't pick up the Express a mere three weeks ago without the first three or four pages carrying stories that were critical of the PP Government. I personally counted at least nine anti-Government stories in the Express about three weeks ago on the first three pages of a particular edition. Then, all of a sudden, the newspaper has adopted a more moderate stance and has been fairly neutral over the last two weeks. Why? What happened?


Further, for the last two Sundays in a row the Express has not published the results of any poll. Why? That newspaper normally employs the Nigel Henry polling firm Solutions by Simulation. So? Why hasn't the newspaper published the poll?


My information is that the Nigel Henry polls (which are generally regarded as the most accurate of all the public polling firms) are showing a PP/UNC victory and that the UNC is ahead with somewhere between 21 seats on the low side to 24 seats on the high side!


Could this be the reason for the apparent move to the centre by the Express? In other words, is the newspaper in possession of information that the PP/UNC is in reality ahead, but doesn't want to admit it but also doesn't want to end up with egg on its face if the PP/UNC does in fact win? If not, then why hasn't the newspaper published any polls for the last two Sundays in a row?


The next 'straw in the wind' was the behavior of Dr. Rowley and the PNM last week when they made a big fuss over some alleged criminal act of the UNC and reported it to the Acting Commissioner of Police. You see, normally, when somebody is winning he/she doesn't whine about some action of his/her opponent. Instead he/she focuses on the finish line and surges ahead. But Dr. Rowley isn't doing that. This, to me, lent credence to a report that I got that at a high level PNM meeting last week Dr. Rowley was complaining angrily that the PNM's internal polls were showing that the PP/UNC was surging ahead of the PNM and he was demanding answers as to how to stop this.


The next 'straw in the wind' is the body language of Mrs. Persad-Bissessar and her lieutenants. The Prime Minister looks tired, but she does not look as though she believes that she is losing. Quite the contrary. She carries herself like a winner.


Now, over the last five years I have observed Mrs. Persad-Bissessar very carefully. When she is under severe pressure (and there have been such moments in the last five years) you can see that she is feeling the strain and that she is not in complete control. But over the last two weeks, she hasn't looked as though she is not in control.


Look: I'll be the first to admit that everything that I have written here is not something to 'bet the farm' on. But over a lifetime in and out of politics I have learned to pay attention to little things ... 'straws in the wind'.  And I also know that both political Parties run internal polls almost on a daily basis during election season and that these internal polls (which are never published) are much more accurate than those which are foisted upon us by the newspapers. Their internal polls have to be deadly accurate. No modern political Party can operate without a first class, reliable pollster. The pollster does not just give the information about who is winning or losing but also on what issues are resonating with the public, where the particular Party is weak and where it is strong. In these circumstances, I look very, very closely at the top 'bananas' on both sides (because only a handful on each side ever gets to see these polls) and see how they are behaving; what their body language is like. It tells a lot. And while I will admit that I am definitely not an expert on body language, as a very amateur student of the art I have found it to be very helpful in a myriad of situations such as this one now.


I am aware of the polls being published in the Guardian. But for reasons that are not relevant to this particular post I tend to discount them. Let me just say that the Guardian has its own reasons for wanting a PNM win, but has learned to be more discreet about it than its rival the Express.


So? What's my prediction for next Monday? PP/UNC by a nose! And I'll bet one dollar to one doughnut on that. (We can decide afterwards who pays the dollar and who pays the doughnut!) Am I certain about my prediction? Not at all! At the time of writing there are still six long days to go and this race is the tightest that I have ever seen in all my years on this planet in this twin island state. Any number can play, but if there are no more great surprises I will stand by what I have said and be absolutely prepared to admit that I was wrong ... if events prove me to be!