Wednesday, April 11, 2018

UNEASY LIES THE HEAD THAT WEARS THE CROWN







I can't now remember who first wrote the story "Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears The Crown" but I do remember having to read it in the original Latin. Basically, the story was about a poor man who was hauled before the king for some minor infraction. Before the king sentenced him the poor man said to the king that he couldn't possibly understand the stress that a poor man had to suffer. The king answered him by asking if he (the poor man) didn't think that kings suffered even greater stress than poor people. The poor man scoffed at this and said how he would love to be king, even if only for a day.


The king then said okay, but the deal was that the poor man would have to sit on the throne for the whole day and not get off. The poor man happily agreed to this and they exchanged places. The poor man looked at the king down below and asked how he could possibly regard this job as stressful, to which the king quietly replied 'look above you'.


Hanging by a horse's hair was a razor sharp, huge scimitar (sword). If the hair broke there was no way that the occupant of the throne could escape. And the slightest breath of air could cause the hair to break. The poor man understood then what stress the king had as at any moment his life could be ended while all the poor man had to worry about was putting food on his table.


All of the recent goings on inside the Government reminded me of this story, for it is common knowledge that Dr. Rowley wanted the job of Prime Minister and did all that he could to dethrone and defame his predecessor, Patrick Manning. Now that he has got the job he is becoming painfully aware of the various scimitars hanging by horses' hairs over his head.


I'm not going to bother commenting about the Daryl Smith imbroglio. That story in itself speaks volumes for itself. But there are other "swords". Take, for example, the Maxie Cuffie matter. The unfortunate Mr. Cuffie suffered a serious and debilitating stroke that has left him incapacitated for the last six months. No right thinking person can do anything but wish Mr. Cuffie a full and speedy recovery. But the business of the country is not about feeling empathy for an individual. The business of the country needs to be carried on a daily basis and will not wait indefinitely for an individual (no matter how deserving) to get better. Six months ... half a year ... is too long to wait and it doesn't matter how good a person Mr. Cuffie is. What matters is the answer to the simple question: can he do his job as a Parliamentary Secretary and as a Member of Parliament? If not, then the interests of the country require that he be replaced in both positions as soon as possible. And the next question: is he coming back now? If not, when?


And by the way, section 84 of the Constitution reads "A Minister or a Parliamentary Secretary shall not enter (emphasis mine) upon the duties of his office unless he has taken and subscribed the oath of allegiance for the due execution of his office (emphasis mine). In other words, in order to take up his new position the unfortunate Mr. Cuffie will have to be sworn in. Simple question: when is this going to happen?


And the list of problems goes on. There is bringing Ms. Marlene McDonald back into the Cabinet for the third time in the short life of this Government. People in the know say that this was done to shore up Dr. Rowley in the upcoming internal PNM elections. There are unconfirmed rumors that certain elements inside the PNM are planning a "palace coup"  and Ms. McDonald's appointment is to strengthen the Prime Minister's hand in the internal elections. Is this true? I honestly don't know. But the story sounds plausible. There are certain persons who are nothing if not ambitious and some of them have major backing from very wealthy financiers. Certainly, a Prime Minister who wants to keep his job will pay attention to such rumors and take steps to counteract any possible actions that might be being planned to remove him.


Then there is the infamous Galleons Passage or "Ferrygate" affair. Minister Imbert took great umbrage the other day when it was suggested that the boat wouldn't be here until May. Speaking personally, I don't see how it can possibly be here before June ... but that's not my point. My point is that it is clear that there are massive problems with the sea bridge and as Prime Minister that particular buck has to stop with Dr. Rowley.


And again the list goes on. The economy. Crime. Education. Health care. You name it. But the point here is that I am certain that Dr. Rowley had simply no idea how difficult it was/is to run a country. Certainly, one is entitled to ask whether or not he understands that even now. There are multiple reports of his playing golf during the week at times when one would reasonably expect him to be at his desk.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

THE TOP TEN PROBLEMS FACING TRINIDAD & TOBAGO







I have been thinking about our (T&T's) problems. And because I am firmly of the view that if you can't say something in one sentence you can't say it at all, I am going to set out what in one sentence each what I think are the ten biggest problems that we have. You will realize that it will probably take a paragraph, a chapter or even a whole book to discuss each one properly. I don't propose to do that. I simply propose to list the "top ten" problems in the order that I see them as being important.  If you disagree with my order or even feel that some other problem/s is/are bigger and either should be higher up my scale or that something on my scale shouldn't be there, then feel free to say so. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and the first step in our journey ought to be articulating clearly each and every problem that we are facing. Incidentally, my list is not intended to be political or critical of anybody ... it is simply intended to be a discussion point and to try and come to a consensus as to the way forward. And, yes, I personally do have some ideas but as Chairman Mao once said, "if you want to lead the people, lead from behind". The point here is to promote a national discussion without rancor or finger pointing. It matters little at this point who is to blame for the sinking ship. The damned ship has hit an iceberg and is sinking. Rather than quarrel about whose fault it was that the ship hit the iceberg, I think that we should talk about how to save the lives of everyone on board.


So here is my list of the top ten problems that we are facing:
1) Lack of economic opportunity and employment;
2) Safety, security, wellbeing;
3) Lack of education;
4) Health security;
5) Food and water security;
6) Government accountability and transparency/corruption;
7) Racial conflict;
8) Poverty;
9) Inequality (income, discrimination);
10) Climate change.


Okay. That's my list. What's yours?

Friday, March 2, 2018

THE BAFFLING APPOINTMENT OF MARLENE McDONALD





Let's understand something: on the face of it Marlene McDonalds appointment on the face of it makes no sense. First of all, she was fired from the Cabinet when an issue arose concerning her husband having a job in her office and also getting certain favours. Indeed, that matter (which goes on back to 2016 is reportedly still under "investigation". (One can't help but wonder how long this "investigation" is going to go on and whether it would have been concluded by now if she was a different person ... but that's another story!) Then she was reappointed to the Cabinet but fired when a person who is reputed to be a gang leader attended her swearing in. And now she is reappointed for the third time because the Prime Minister says that everybody deserves a second chance. (I suppose he also means a third and possibly even a fourth and a fifth chance. But, again, that's another story.)




No. Her appointment as a Minister in the Ministry of Public Communications makes no sense and is completely baffling, unless ... wait a minute! Isn't Maxie Cuffie the substantive Minister? And didn't he suffer a massive stroke some five months or so ago? And haven't there been rumours going around that he is not getting better but is still severely incapacitated or even dead? And wouldn't the Prime Minister know whether or not the stricken Mr. Cuffie will in fact be well enough to resume his duties by Easter? (I know that they said that he was coming home at Easter but the innuendo from that statement was that he was going to be well enough to resume his duties then.)




Now, a few questions: what if the unfortunate Mr. Cuffie is in fact dead?  Well sooner or later that will have to come out. But from the Government's point of view the later it comes out the better because they would not want  by-election in Mr. Cuffie's constituency right now. They would probably lose and they would have to hold one if he was dead.




So, what if he isn't dead, but is so seriously disabled from his stroke that he can't function as a Minister but he can still hang on to his seat in Parliament? Now this makes a little more sense. The question of a by-election can be deflected by saying that he will be able to resume "limited" duties to look after his constituents and in any case the stress of running the Ministry is being handled by Ms. McDonald. Neat, eh?


What do I think? Well, I have absolutely no evidence one way or the other, but on the balance of probabilities I think that Mr. Cuffie is still alive but that he is severely incapacitated. I think that it is even quite possible that he will return at Easter, but that when he does we will see that he really will not be able to function properly.  I think that the Prime Minister knowing this is "taking in front" by appointing Ms. McDonald.




Of course, all this may be complete hogwash and Mr. Cuffie is well and fine (to which we will all sing 'Glory Hallelujah') and there is absolutely no hidden motive or agenda here. But this Government has told so many conflicting things on so many different issues ranging from the Tobago ferry to the A&P 'oilgate' scandal that it is hard to discern when we are being told the truth and when we are having the wool pulled over our eyes. In this regard, Dr. Rowley and his Ministers have only themselves to blame if they complain that people don't trust them.


Of course, one has only to look at Dr. Rowley's speeches on what he thought was misbehavior on the part of the UNC government to think about what he would be saying now if they had done this! I don't understand how right thinking people cannot see the hypocrisy at play here. Unless of course, the rule is that there is one law for the PNM and another for everybody else.




One final point, can anybody explain why the mainstream media has not tried to telephone and speak with Mr. Cuffie personally? Because I have seen no report that any reporter from any newspaper has so tried. I would have thought that in a matter such as this that such an action would have been done not once, but many times. Instead, the mainstream media simply reports in parrot fashion the medical bulletins coming out from the Government. This lack of action on the media's part raises certain ugly suspicions that are probably better left unexpressed at this time. But they(the media) should know that thinking people are taking note of their behavior.







Tuesday, February 20, 2018

THE FIRES IN PORT OF SPAIN



Like most people, I have been absolutely dismayed at the unrest that has been seething in East Port of Spain. There were quite a few people that I spoke to who were/are very against the rioters/demonstrators (or whatever you want to call them). The general feeling was that the police should just go in and "clean them up", by which I understood to mean that all the demonstrators should be killed and thrown in the Gulf of Paria. What these people saw was a threat to their very existence ... their comfortable way of life.


What I saw was something different. I saw a beaten, downtrodden people who had literally reached the end of their rope. I saw a people who were still somehow hoping that somebody somewhere would somehow miraculously make things right for them and allow them to have a little place in the sun but losing faith that the prayed for miracle will ever come. God, they feel, has really abandoned them.


What I am seeing is that it is not going to take a lot to push these people over the edge. If a man feels that he is in a corner and that there is no way out for him, then he won't care if he takes the whole damned society down with him.  And people are reaching that stage now ... if they haven't reached it already!


No. Now more than ever we need to sit down as a society and come up with solutions that will get us out of this terrible morass. We need to sit down and discuss a complete revamping of the education system which has failed us terribly ... even our so-called prestige schools are little better than dumps ... and don't even talk about our health care system which is worse than awful. Our security system also needs a radical overhauling.


Look: the truth is that there is little difference (if any) between the policies of either the PNM or the UNC. There are arguments about 'who t'ief more' that can and will never be settled. There are also arguments about who are better administrators of the economy ... but there are never any serious policy discussions and I defy anybody to lay out for me the policy differences between the two parties. Because I certainly can't see them!


And let's agree that we should stop blaming the Prime Minister and his government for everything. The problems that they are facing weren't created overnight. But while not blaming them for everything let's also tell them in no uncertain terms to lead, follow or get out of the way. If you don't have a clue how to fix the problems then say so. There is only one reason for politics; there is only one reason for government: to make life better for the people!! There is NO other reason! Period!! So fix it or go. But stop all the 'shillyshallying'. Fix it!!


That solutions do exist is a given. There are always solutions to every problem. Some may not be either acceptable or palatable, but there are solutions. If we really want to turn this place around we need to start a national dialogue now that is policy and solution oriented. We need to start discussing ideas without disparaging those whom we perceive to be against us.


I have a thousand ideas on how to make this little republic a better place. I have put forward some of them and will do so again in the future. Unfortunately, my efforts to discuss issues like education, health care, national security, etc., have all fallen so far on stony ground.  That's all right. I don't pretend to be the Oracle of Delphi with all the answers  and will happily accept other ideas that can unite us and take us forward. But right now, can we not see that people ... real people ... citizens of our country are really hurting. Can't we stop being fearful of them and figure out how to help turn them into valuable and productive citizens? Because if we don't, the fire in East Port of Spain will spread and engulf all of us ... and probably sooner rather than later.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

THE S***HOLE PRESIDENT





As a Caribbean man I take strong exception to the President of the United States calling the Region in which I was born and by extension the country where I was born a s***hole. Look, nobody can deny that there is a lot in both the Region as well as Trinidad & Tobago that needs fixing. Nobody can deny that Haiti which has real problems and without a massive amount of real aid (and not aid with strings attached) is unlikely to emerge into the sunlight any time soon. (And by the way, I am aware that he didn't specifically name T&T but it is clear that we are lumped into his definition of "s**hole countries".)


But that fascist who sits at the head of what is today the most powerful country on the planet ought to remember a few home truths:


First of all, Haiti didn't get where it is today without a great deal of "help" from France. And yes, the word "help" is deliberately put in quotation marks. After the (successful) war of independence in Haiti France agreed to give that country it's independence provided that Haiti pay to France a crippling amount of "reparations". The payments continued throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th. These payments were to compensate France for the loss of it's colony and it's properties. (By the way, amongst the "properties" lost were the slaves!!)


Now, the jackdonkey that is the President of the United States today seems to have conveniently forgotten that one of the root causes of the rise of Hitler and the Second World War was the penalties that the victorious allies imposed on defeated Germany and the reparations that Germany was forced to pay to them. The result of these reparation payments by Germany caused massive hardship in that country and gave rise to the demagogue that was Hitler who blamed the Jews for Germany losing the war. If it wasn't for the treacherous Jews Germany would never have lost the war!! At least, that was Hitler's argument which resonated with the German people in much the same way that Trump's racist words and incitements do with ignorant white Americans today.


The point here is that except for the names and a few other changes, Haiti's story is not dissimilar to Germany's after the First World War. The difference was that Germany had the wherewithal to rise again from the ashes of defeat and rebuild when Hitler (having come to power) stopped the reparation payments. If Haiti had stopped the reparation payments to France, the latter would simply have invaded Haiti and enslaved that country all over again. In other words, the Haitians had no choice!


But the racist jackdonkey that is the president of the United States today doesn't see that! Anybody who isn't pure white (e.g. Nordic) just isn't welcome in a country that was in fact built on genocide (but that is another story again)!


No. I am personally offended. And I am just as offended by the seeming craven cowardice of my Government which has to date failed to stand up to the bullying jackdonkey and telling him where to get off. The jackdonkey should be told bluntly that his brand of racism is offensive to all right thinking peoples around the world.


And to those who say that we should just keep quiet because the United States can do us great harm, I reply that I prefer to die a man than to live the life of a coward. And to the racist jackdonkey I say, just because we speak with an accent do not make the mistake of believing that we think with one.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

TWO KINDS OF TRUTH





I read somewhere once that there are two kinds of truth: the first is the unalterable bedrock of what actually happened or was actually said; the second is the malleable truth of politicians, corrupt lawyers and their clients, and charlatans bent and molded to serve whatever purpose is at hand. (I'm going to refer to them as a "Truth One'' or a "Truth Two" respectively.)




I was reminded by this when I saw all the events of December, 2017 and before unfold before my unbelieving eyes. First of all, there was the Attorney General of Trinidad & Tobago expostulating before an incredulous public that it didn't matter whether or not the emails in the infamous 'emailgate' scandal were false; what was important was what he called "the substance". Well? What was the substance of those allegations? Answer: that the then Prime Minister and several then senior Ministers conspired to murder a journalist. Okay. So? This is a most serious allegation to make. Where or what is the evidence of it? Answer: there is absolutely no evidence of this whatsoever! So what "substance" could Mr. Al Rawi  possibly be talking about? This is obviously a "Truth Two".




Then we have the 'fake oil' scandal. The allegation (which seems to be a fact) here is that the oil company, A & V Drilling, overcharged Petrotrin by almost $100 million for oil that was never delivered. This is a "Truth One". But then Dr. Rudy Moonilal stands up in Parliament (and later repeats an allegation outside of Parliament) that basically said that Prime Minister Dr. Rowley was part and parcel of this overbilling. Now this is obviously a "Truth Two". Apart from Dr. Moomilal's allegation there is no evidence whatsoever that Dr.Rowley is in fact guilty of anything.




But what is most interesting here is the way that both the police and the mainstream media have treated with Dr. Moonilal's charge. When Dr. Rowley made his infamous email allegations the press and the police were all over the scandal and the denials of the then Prime Minister and her Ministers were met with scoffs and scorn. This time the press and the police have simply ignored the allegation that Dr. Rowley may have had his hand in the proverbial cookie jar and have simply willed the potential scandal away. Why? If there is nothing there then Dr. Rowley deserves to be comprehensively cleared. But if there is something there then equally something should be done. Immediately.




Quite frankly, the very different treatment by both the media as well as the police give rise to very ugly and most unnecessary suspicions that are probably better left unexpressed at this time. But you don't have to be a genius to figure out what those suspicions are.




Then we have another example of a "Truth Two" taking place in November. Minister Stuart Young announced in early November that the Prime Minister had been invited to a conference in China at the end of November which was to be attended by ten world leaders. After that the Prime Minister was going to have a State visit in China. The only problem with this announcement was that there was no such conference taking place! But when this was pointed out to the Government, Minister Young angrily lashed out and said how the questions being asked were embarrassing to the Chinese Government!! To which I can only say what!? How? But "Truth Two's" don't depend on logic. They run on their own alternative facts.


Then we have the scandal over Massive Goseine's song about Rowley's mother and her counting. Of course, every West Indian understands exactly what this song is all about and to pretend that it is some form of art is just plain nonsense. The trouble here is not with the obvious vulgarity but with the very obvious hypocrisy of those who saw nothing wrong with the smut and racism of African calypsonians like CroCro and Sugar Aloes when they sang their smut about the UNC politicians. The truth is that the critics of Massive's song would be much more listened to if they had criticized the racist and smutty songs of the Black calypsonians in the first place. And the Indian community feels completely justified in turning to the Black critics of the song and thumbing their noses at them because of this hypocrisy on their part.


So, we are left with a "Truth One" which is that this country is hopelessly and helplessly polarized and divided along racial lines. We are left with a possible "Truth One" or a "Truth Two" (depending on which side of the racial divide that you sit) which is that the mainstream media is biased towards the PNM. And the last possible "Truth One" or a "Truth Two" (again depending on where you sit) is that the police service is also heavily biased towards the PNM. (This last is possibly the most worrying).


Can we fix this country? Yes. Do we want to fix it? Aaahh! That's the real question, isn't it? What do you think? Or, more importantly, what do you want?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

WHAT IS IN THE COUNTRY'S BEST INTERESTS?





The failure of the Anti-Gang legislation got me to wondering: why? Why did it fail? Was it in the best interests of the country that we should have some sort of anti-gang legislation in place? If so, then why exactly ... in one sentence ... did the Opposition not support it? (And for the record, I have found that if somebody cannot say what his point is in one sentence then he cannot say it at all; he may need a paragraph, a chapter, or even a whole book to explain the sentence, but he ought to be able to say clearly and succinctly what is his point.)


And I have the same question for the Government: if this legislation is so important then why ... in one sentence ... did you not even consider the Opposition's amendments? What exactly (in one sentence) was there in the proposed amendments that made them so objectionable? Why did you not feel that no compromise was better than giving way and therefore you allowed the Bill to fail? Is it really better to have nothing at all rather than an Act that included the amendments being proposed by the Opposition? Why?


Put another way, assuming that both sides agree that some sort of anti-gang legislation is both desirable as well as necessary, then why couldn't our elected representatives get together and agree on a way forward? 


Because, quite honestly, from where I sit it seems to me that both sides were more interested in scoring points than they were in doing what was best for the country. I tried to listen to the arguments from both sides, but quite frankly, they didn't make sense. I still don't understand why it is/was more important to blame the "other" side ("other" depending on where you sit) than in passing some sort of legislation. It didn't make sense during the debate and it doesn't make sense now.


Let me be clear: I believe that some sort of legislation is needed here. As to what sort, we can debate that. But everybody agrees that something needs to be done. So? Do it, damn it! Just do it!


Most people are not interested in schoolboy tit-for tat behavior. What most people want is a safe and secure country. So I say to both sides: do what we elected you for. We didn't elect you to say in Parliament 'I have bigger muscles than you'. Frankly, we couldn't care less who has the bigger muscles. We elected you (both sides) to do what is in the best interests of our country. so, do it!!





Thursday, November 30, 2017

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN



The amazing escape from jail by Vicki Boodram earlier this week is a graphic illustration of how bad things are in Trinidad & Tobago. For those who may have just tuned in, Ms. Boodram was in jail on charges that she had defrauded a lot of people out of several million dollars for tickets for  cruise and other travel tickets which her travel agency was paid for but never provided. Her bail had been set at something like TT$1 million and she had been sent to the Remand Yard pending her trial for fraud. This was all quite some time ago. (Yet another example of the incompetent justice system taking too long to try an accused person ... but that's another story!)


In any case, according to newspaper reports two police officers (a man and a woman) showed up at the Remand Yard on Tuesday evening with what appeared to be legitimate papers from the Tunapuna Magistrates' Court requiring her presence there for a night court hearing. The Prison officers looked at the seemingly legitimate papers and then released her into the custody of the two police officers who apparently took her home and left her there! The next day she is reported to have turned up at the Siparia Magistrates' Court and left a message for her attorney that she couldn't attend there because she had to be in another matter in Port of Spain. And then she disappeared. Nobody knows where she is!


Now, those are the reported facts. You don't have to be a Sherlock Holmes or a Hercule Poirot to see that the story doesn't add up and that there are a host of unanswered questions that give rise to a lot of very ugly suspicions. But those suspicions are not the point of this post. What needs to be pointed out  is that except for the names and a few other changes, this story, this terrible story (and it is terrible; on the face of it the case against Ms. Boodram certainly appears to be very strong and she certainly appears to have a lot of questions to answer; a lot of money is missing.) is identical to a lot of other stories that we are being fed with on what feels like an almost daily basis.


For example, let's take this Chinese visit story: we were told at the beginning of November that the Prime Minister was going to China in order to attend a conference of ten world leaders. This was for November 30th. When people started asking questions about this conference we (the general public) were told that (a) The Prime Minister's trip was postponed to late Spring next year and (b) by asking the questions that we had asked we were embarrassing the Chinese Government. To which all I can say is what?!? How in the name of heaven can it be wrong for the population of a democracy to question statements from its leaders? It is interesting to note that other than being told that the trip was postponed and essentially that we were all too "farse" to question the trip, we have had no answers at all to the original questions. Why?


Then let's take the 'fake oil' scandal as another example. Here is what is in the public domain: somewhere in the order of $100 million has been overpaid to a company called A & V Drilling. The owner of that company is reported to be a personal friend of the Prime Minister, His daughter (who is also the secretary of that company) was up until she resigned this week a Government backbench senator. Now, there are a whole host of questions that have been asked about this, none of which have been answered.  And nobody has been arrested or charged. It seems that the police are still investigating. As to how long they will "investigate' is, of course, another story.


Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  In other words, the average person sees what is perceived on the face of it to be wrong doing by persons at the top ... or most certainly, acts and statements that require explanations ... but no satisfactory explanations for what has happened are ever forthcoming.  And that's what is happening here. Nothing is ever properly answered and the curtain is drawn down and the country is told to move on. So, we move on. Next point!


Those of us old enough to remember will recall the headlines that were created after one Carnival when a Roman Catholic priest played mas'. The next year a popular calypso came out "If the Priest Could Play, Who is We?" And that's the point. If those at the top don't have to answer for anything, why should those in the middle and the bottom have to answer?


This society is heading for trouble. You can see it coming. You can smell it. You can taste it. Can it be avoided? Yes? I certainly hope so. Will it be avoided? I don't know, and that is what has me so worried.











Friday, November 17, 2017

THE CHINA SYNDROME (with apologies to Jack Lemmon)





Sometime in the late sixties/early seventies the famous movie actor Jack Lemmon starred in a movie called 'The China Syndrome'. Jack Lemmon was the manager of a nuclear plant in the United States where something goes wrong and a melt down in the central nuclear reactor starts with all the attendant drama. The movie got it's name from the theory that the melt down, if not stopped would put a hole through the earth all the way to China. High drama and all sorts of politics were in play in the movie with politicians and technocrats telling lies about why the plant was approved in the first place.


Although the current brouhaha taking place in Trinidad & Tobago over the delay of Prime Minister Rowley's trip has nothing in common with that (really good) movie, some how I couldn't help thinking about it when I heard about Minister Stuart Young's latest comments on the cancellation/delay/suspension of the Prime Minister's proposed trip at the end of this month.


Minister Young is quoted as criticizing persons such as Mariano Browne, Mr. Reggie Dumas, the former Head of the Public Service, and me for questioning the reports about the trip. He is quoted as saying that we ""should get our facts right". Fair enough. But what are the facts, Mr. Young? Here is what the public knows as reported in the nation's newspapers:


1) On Thursday 9th November, 2017 you announced that the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago
    was going to China on an invitation from the Chinese Government to attend a conference of ten
    (count them - ten) world leaders. The conference was to last from 30th November to 3rd
    December. Thereafter, Dr. Rowley was going to stay in China for a five day State visit.


2) Unfortunately, there was no report anywhere else in the world of such a high level conference
     taking place anywhere in China (nor anywhere else for that matter). Further, there were no details
     as to who the other nine world leaders were. Certainly, there were no reports of any world leaders
     going to China in that period for any reason, much less a conference.


3)  This week the Chinese Ambassador to T&T is reported as saying to the T&T Government that the
      visit scheduled for the end of this month has to be rescheduled for reasons that, quite frankly, do
      not appear at first blush to make a lot of sense, especially when the previous reports are taken into
     consideration. But whether or not the reported reasons make sense or not, those are the facts in the
     public domain.


So, Mr. Young? What other facts are there that we didn't get right? More specifically, what facts exactly did any of us get wrong? For the record, let me ask again the following questions, which, if you would be so kind as to answer clearly and without obfuscation, everybody would be able to say 'Aahh! Okay. Now we understand'. Because as it is right now the reports are such that because of a lack of clear and forthright statements from you (and I hate to say it, but you really are to blame here for being less than clear in the first place) people are going to wonder just what the heck is really going on? Some people are even suggesting that there was never a trip in the first place! Can you believe that? But the level of distrust in politicians has now reached such a height in the society that very ugly and most unnecessary suspicions are arising over this absolute confusion which you caused in the first place. So, here are the questions:


           -  Where did this idea of a conference come from?
           -  Who initiated it? The Chinese? If so, who sent out the invitation and when and by whom
               was it sent?
           -  Where and when did you personally find out about this conference? When was it brought to
               the Cabinet for approval?
           -  Who prepared and presented the appropriate note for Cabinet approval?
           -   As no State secrets are involved and in the interests of absolute transparency is there any
                good reason why we can't get a copy of the relevant Cabinet note?
           -   What was the conference going to be about?
           -   Who were the other nine world leaders going to be attending? (Because I can't believe that
                our Prime Minister would go to a conference not knowing in advance who would be there!)
           -   When was the invitation for the State visit made?
          
There are other questions ... obviously. But answers to those will go a long way to calming people's suspicions that something is amiss.  And you do realize, don't you Mr. Young, that frank and forthright answers would go a long way to putting to bed the very ugly rumors that are circulating in the country. (And, no, you really don't want me to repeat them here. Suffice to say that some of them are scandalous if not downright defamatory.) I mention them only because it is not in the country's best interests that these ugly rumors not be put to rest by putting ALL of the facts into the public domain. Not to do so, but to handle the matter by proverbially 'shooting' those who have dared to ask questions or to comment on the published facts is not happy and not democratic. That's not the way our little Republic is supposed to work. I agree, it would be a lot easier if people like Mariano Browne, Reggie Dumas and me would just shut up and let you and Dr. Rowley do whatever you want. Fortunately, it doesn't work like that ... at least, not yet.

Monday, November 13, 2017

ALL ROADS LEAD TO CHINA? (APPARENTLY)





On Thursday last, Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Stuart Young, announced that Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley has been invited to a meeting of world leaders in China from November 30th to December 3rd. According to reports Minister Young said at a post-cabinet media conference, that Trinidad and Tobago was selected by the leadership of China to attend the meeting. Mr. Young is quoted as saying that                                                                                     
"(United States) President (Donald) Trump is in China right now and coming out of that conference, the leadership of China looked around the world and decided they would like to meet with ten world leaders" .
"I am pleased to announce that Trinidad and Tobago was chosen as the one from this region and the Prime Minister Dr Rowley has accepted that invitation".


After the conference Dr. Rowley (according to reports) is going to stay in China until December 9th for a State visit.


Now, normally, as a Trinbagonian I would be very proud of the fact that our Prime Minister had been invited to what should be a very important conference, to represent the Region. After all, it would be recognition of Trinidad and Tobago as a leader in the Region (which must include by definition all of the countries that border the Caribbean Sea.


So? Obviously there is a problem. And the problem is that there has been no announcement of any conference of 'world leaders' to be held in China or anywhere else between November 30th and December 3rd. Further, Minister Young said that the conference would be attended by ten 'world leaders' of whom the esteemed Dr. Rowley would be one. But no other leader, much less a 'world leader' has announced that he/she is going to China for this alleged conference.


So? Why the lie? Because it seems that there is no conference and therefore what has been said is simply not true. Or, if you prefer, why the misspeak? It doesn't make sense. If Dr. Rowley is going to China for a State or any other kind of visit, that is one thing. But why pretend that he is going to attend a nonexistent conference of 'world leaders'?


The population has a right to trust the words of their leaders and to expect that they will be told the truth on big as well as little things. If a Prime Minister decides that the interests of his/her country are best served by making a particular trip then he/she has every right to say to the population 'I am going to X country because ..." and the country can then judge whether or not the expense of such a trip is justified and justifiable. But when the justification for that trip is patently false then ugly and unnecessary suspicions arise as to the real reasons for the trip and why they are being hidden from the population.


And that, Mr. Young, is why you should come clean with us. Did you make a mistake? If so, how did this mistake come about? Where did you get the information about this nonexistent conference from in the first place? If you didn't make a mistake then why is it that nobody seems to know anything about this conference? Who besides Dr. Rowley is going? Where is it being held? After all, China is a big place. Are those dates accurate? If not, why not?
What exactly does T&T hope to benefit from Dr. Rowley's attendance at this (nonexistent) conference? How much will this trip cost us? And as for the State visit, is a five day State visit really necessary? What exactly is on the agenda for that portion of the visit?  how much will that portion of the visit cost us? Is there anything on the agenda for that portion of the visit that couldn't be dealt with during the period of the conference? After all, we are talking about the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago being out of the country for a period of about two weeks if travel time is factored in. Is it in our best interests for our Prime Minister to be away from home for so long?


There are a host of other questions, but surely you get the point. For me, the biggest question is why the lie? It just doesn't make sense. Frankly, the whole trip doesn't make sense. That it could, is a given. But the lack of information and the obvious obfuscations are not. And that is what is so troubling.

Monday, October 23, 2017

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?



On the face of it , nothing! But Look at this picture again that is on the front page of today's Guardian. It shows Prime Minister Keith Rowley with Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon, and Minister of Rural Development Kazim Hosein being berated (according to the caption underneath the picture) yesterday (Sunday) by a resident of Mayaro.

But if you look at the picture again and read the caption again you will see some things that aren't being highlighted. First of all, the Rowley visit took place yesterday ... some five days or so after the flooding had started. Why? Why did it take so long for the Prime Minister to go 'on the ground' to see for himself exactly what had happened to thousands of people.

Next, where are the Members of Parliament for the areas in question? News reports say that the Prime Minister had deliberately not invited them! Why? His Minister of National Security said that politics should not come into dealing with this disaster ... a most admirable statement. So why didn't the Prime Minister invite the respective MPs for the areas? Instead he goes with the defeated candidate for Mayaro who is now his Minister of Agriculture. Ugly and unnecessary suspicions arise that the Prime Minister was indeed playing politics with this disaster for it is difficult to think of any reason why the MPs weren't invited along other than they come from the opposition UNC. Of course, there may be another good reason why they weren't invited, but, if so, what is it?

Thirdly, I heard with my own ears the Deputy Head of the ODPM say that this flooding was a 'small thing'. Really? I saw him in what looked like a three piece blue suit, nice and dry in his office saying that this flooding wasn't a big thing! And the Prime Minister doesn't fire him at once for his incompetence and insensitivity?

Fourthly, look at the face of the Prime Minister. Does he look sympathetic to the lady's problems? Or does he look as if he is just taking the criticism because it is politic to do so, but that he really doesn't care? I will readily admit that a snapshot is just that ... a snapshot ... and that the picture can be misleading. But is it? Is it really? Have the actions and words of the Prime Minister both during and after the flooding indicated that he really gets it? If you think that the answer is 'yes' then don't bother to argue the point. But know that perception is reality, and the perception of an awful lot of people is that the Prime Minister really doesn't get it and that he really couldn't care less. After all, goes the perception, all the flooding took place in opposition held constituencies so there is no real need to do anything for these people ... who, by the way, are mostly Indian. And yes, I am saying that the perception is that race has most unfortunately played a part in both the ODPM's and the Government's poor response.

Would that somebody would prove this perception wrong. Why aren't we moving in a direction where such perceptions can be easily debunked? They are divisive and do nothing to take us forward as a nation. So why do I highlight them? Because pretending that they are not there and sweeping them under the proverbial carpet simply hasn't worked. No. Its time that we faced our demons head on and by opposing end them (with apologies to William Shakespeare).

Saturday, October 21, 2017

THE CONTINUING PROBLEM OF VENEZUELA





The President of Venezuela, Nicholas Maduro, and the men around him are crooks. Oh! They are running a dictatorship as well, but they are nasty, thieving crooks. Apart from holding very fraudulent elections last week (which in itself ought to be a crime) which were intended to consolidate Maduro's hold on power, the Cartel de los Soles (Cartel of the Suns) now runs one of the world's largest and most profitable drug cartels. In addition the trade in human flesh ... prostitution ... is booming as thousands of poor Venezuelan women are being forced into this terrible trade either by the very dire economic circumstances that they find themselves in or by outright kidnapping.


The  Cartel de los Soles is exporting arms and drugs through Honduras, Surinam, the Dominican Republic and ... wait for it ... you guessed it ... Trinidad and Tobago!! And people wonder why our crime rate is rising?!?


In the meantime, our government continues to do business with Maburro's government (and yes, the misspelling of his name is intentional ... he is a donkey!) I understand that country's don't have friends, but they have interests. But how can it be in our interests to be friendly with a dictatorial regime that is actively either involved in or turning a blind eye to the active export of arms and drugs to our shores?!? This can't be right!


And for the record, I challenge the Donkey to sue me for defamation in calling him a nasty, thieving crook. Because he will have to come to Trinidad and go into the witness box and face cross-examination from my lawyers. And everybody knows that (1) a perfect defence to defamation is the truth and (2) he is a coward. He ain't gonna come here and sue me! Not in a month of Sundays! Why? Because he knows that what I am saying is true.


And yes, I know that I can't go to Venezuela again. And isn't that something? I can curse the President of the United States  and then hop on a plane to Miami and come home. But I don't dare go to Caracas because they will lock me up and throw away the key. And people continue to pretend that the Donkey and his cohorts are democrats and our government continues to deal with them.


Sad!!





Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FIRST PEOPLE'S DAY





I read somewhere that this week marks 525 years since Columbus first set foot in the Americas. That this feat undoubtedly changed the course of world history is unquestionable. However, until very recently it was regarded as a great feat and something to be proud of, while completely ignoring the dark side of European conquest: the whole scale obliteration of the indigenous peoples of North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean by the Europeans through genocide, enslavement and disease.


When I was a boy, and throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Columbus was a hero; the 'discoverer' of the 'New World'. The Spanish conquistadores having destroyed the First Peoples' culture and religion turned the few survivors into servile labourers and obedient Catholics. That is why Pope Francis (the first Latin American Pope) in 2015 asked for their forgiveness for the sins that the Catholic Church had either visited upon them or aided and abetted in inflicting upon them.


But that is also why I believe that kudos should be given to the Government of Trinidad & Tobago for recognizing the First People of our twin island Republic in declaring Friday 13th October, 2017 'First Peoples' Day' and making it a public holiday. Indeed, if I had a criticism of the Government's move in this regard it would be a very minor one: that the holiday should not be a 'one-off' holiday but should be every year. We could easily replace it with almost any one of our many other public holidays (Corpus Christi springs to mind). But the recognition of the contribution of the First People to our history, for me at least, is a big thing. And although I have been harshly critical of some of the things that this present Government has done, I have always believed that when somebody does something that is right, that good deed ought to be acknowledged, and I do so now.


The declaration of a public holiday in honour of the First People is most fitting in remembering our past and honouring their place in it, as well as their place in our present and our future.


P.S. Full disclosure: my great grandmother on my father's side was one half Arawak. It has always been a source of great pride to me that this means that one-sixteenth of the blood running through my veins comes from ancestors who were here from the very beginning.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

OF FERRIES AND LETTERS OF CREDIT





In the ongoing drama over what has popularly become known as 'Ferrygate' a question has arisen over whether or not a letter of credit was irrevocable or not and whether or not the taxpayers of this country have had to pay out some US$3 million for the infamous ferry called the "Cabo Star".


Spokesmen for the Government and the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) have suggested in the newspapers that the letter of credit was revoked and therefore no money has been paid or will be paid to Bridgemans, the owners of the Cabo Star. But the various statements coming from these spokesmen have been obfuscatory at best or down right ignorant and dishonest at worst.


Let's start with the classic definition of a letter of credit: a letter of credit is a contract made between an issuing bank and a seller of goods or services being supplied to a buyer of those goods or services. A normal mercantile contract usually stipulates that the letter of credit is irrevocable, which means that the buyer cannot cancel it. You have only to look at it to understand why. The whole idea for a letter of credit is to ensure that the seller is paid no matter what. In other words, the buyer cannot come up with some later excuse and refuse to pay because he (the buyer) wants out of the deal that he has made with the seller.


It is trite law that the contract between the issuing bank and the seller (which contract is the letter of credit) is a separate contract and is independent of the original contract between the buyer and the seller. In other words, the bank is bound vis-a-vis the seller to pay upon presentation of the letter of credit and its accompanying documents once everything is in accordance with the terms and conditions under which the letter of credit was issued. The bank is bound to pay even where there may have been a breach by the seller under the original contract which would have enabled the buyer to reject the goods.


The only exception to this rule is where there has been a fraudulent presentation of documents to the bank which contain material misrepresentations of fact relating to the letter of credit which the seller knows to be inaccurate. But these fraudulent statements must relate to the contract between the bank and the seller. The contract between the buyer and the seller is a completely different matter.


Of course, apart from fraud, if any documents relating to the letter of credit are forged, that forgery could also void the letter of credit.


So, you can understand that the terms "irrevocable letter of credit" and "letter of credit" really are one and the same thing. All of which could help to explain why the "Cabo Star" turned up in Trinidad last week. It has been reported that the letter of credit becomes due on Thursday 28th September, 2017. It might have been a condition of the letter of credit that the vessel had to be in Trinidad waters by that date or the letter of credit would be null and void. If that was the case, then it looks like the letter of credit will have to be paid ... if it hasn't been already!


But it doesn't explain exactly what has happened in this whole "Ferrygate" fiasco or why we don't have all of the facts. Certainly, getting to the bottom of this has been more difficult than pulling the teeth out of a chicken ... and, yes, I am aware that chickens don't have teeth!

Monday, September 18, 2017

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE LAW ASSOCIATION





Dear Mr. President,
I don't know if you are aware of it (but you ought to be), but a lot of practicing attorneys were prevented from attending the speech by the Chief Justice in the Convocation Hall today. A young attorney reported to me that he attended the Church service and wanted to go to listen to the Chief Justice's speech. He said that he was aware of the call for a boycott but as this was his first year as an attorney he wanted to take part in every aspect of the ceremonial opening of the Courts.


Imagine his surprise when he turned up for the speech and saw with his own eyes that the Convocation Hall was about ninety percent empty but was told by an usher that he couldn't get in because "seats allocated for attorneys had already been filled."


Now you've only got to look at it to see that this is absolute nonsense and very wrong. Frankly, I am astonished to hear that in a matter such as this that practicing attorneys rank behind lay persons. One would have thought that the ceremonial opening of the Courts are more for us than for anybody else.


In these circumstances I request and require a definitive statement from the Law Association on this. Does the Law Association agree that practicing attorneys should rank behind "invitees and other dignitaries" in matters such as this? In other words, we, the members of the Law Association are not as important to the Courts of this country as foreigners and other so-called "dignitaries"?And our Association accepts this?


If the Council of the Law Association believes that this is acceptable kindly tell the membership and please explain why. I know that members would be most interested.


For the record, I personally think that this exclusion of attorneys was unacceptable because we are officers of the Court and should therefore rank before anybody else in all ceremonies relating to the Court.


It is probably better that I leave unexpressed my opinion as to the real reason why there was this exclusion of attorneys other than to note that this opening of the new Law Term was not without controversy.


Yours faithfully,


Robin Montano
Attorney-at-Law