Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Being one of the persons whose name was called in Parliament some 10 days ago as one of the citizens whose telephone conversations and e mails were tapped and spied on, you will undoubtedly appreciate that I had more than just a passing interest in the debate on the new wiretapping legislation that began in the House of Representatives on Friday last. I was particularly interested when I heard that former Prime Minister Manning was going to speak and as a result I made it my business to tune into Channel 11 (the Parliament channel on TV) in order to hear for myself exactly what this man had to say.

My "flabber" was completely "gasted" however, when I realised after a little while that the former Prime Minister had absolutely no intention of dealing with the very serious issue of the terrible breach of the rights of all those individuals who had been spied on so callously and illegally. Instead, the man spent some time in justifying the existance of the SIA and the history of how it was originally set up during the Panday regime. (In this regard he seemed to be making the extremely questionable argument that as Panday had started the spying, his regime should not be blamed for continuing it!).

Assuming (though certainly not accepting) that everything that Patrick Manning said about the history of the SIA was true, he never touched even lightly on the illegal spying on citizens by his regime. Instead, he succeeded in pulling the wool over a rather gullible press by producing large glossy photographs of Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar's new home under construction for the last 8 years or so, and making the terribly outrageous suggestion that not only did it cost a fantastic amount of money ($150 million), but that the Prime Minister had financed this palatial mansion from contributions of Drug Lords! And the press fell for it!

Speaking for myself (and many others who have expressed similar sentiments to me) I do not for one minute believe any of the outrageous allegations of Patrick Manning as regards Mrs. Persad-Bissessar's new home. I do not believe that it cost any where near $150 million or even 10 per cent of this sum. I do not believe that Mrs. Persad-Bissessar has ever had any dealings with any Drug Lords, much less taken money from any of them. I consider Manning's allegations as scandalous in the extreme and extremely dangerous in that it appears that he is prepared to say and do anything that might take attention away from his own terrible actions. This is awful, and quite frankly beneath the dignity of a former Prime Minister. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

The wiretapping scandal is outrageous. Ramesh Deosaran was right when he said that it was more dangerous than the 1990 coup attempt because of its insidious and secretive nature. The persons responsible should be made to pay ... and pay dearly. There is a great suspicion that Manning himself was involved in the spying. After all, just about every name on the list (including mine) were persons who either opposed and continued to oppose Manning, or who at some time or the other had opposed him. There was absolutely no justification for spying on those persons on the list.

Mrs. Persad-Bissessar has caused a pre-action protocol letter to be written to Manning for his terrible and defamatory remarks about her. Good! I hope that she sues him for every penny that he has got. I will sue him too ...as soon as I get the evidence that will stand up in Court that proves that he caused my phones to be tapped.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


The deep significance of Divali and all that it stands for ... the ultimate triumph of light over darkness is a beautiful and universal message for all mankind. May I extend to all of my readers a happy and holy Divali. I pray that Mother Lakshimi may shower you with her choicest blessings, now and forever more.

Monday, November 1, 2010


The short answer to the above question is a definite 'yes'! President Obama came to power in the November 2008 Presidential elections preaching change (sound familiar?). The American electorate was war weary and justifiably terrified at the economic precipice that their country (and the world) was falling into. They were looking for new leadership, a new direction, and above all, hope that Obama would "deliver them from evil".

Enter Kamla Persad-Bissessar at the beginning of this year with a very similar message to a Trinidadian/Tobagonian electorate that was simply fed up with the leaders of both of the main political parties. The electorate basically felt that the leadership of both the PNM and the UNC was arrogant and out of touch with their needs, wants and desires. If you had asked almost anybody of whatever race, creed or religion in the street this time last year whether he thought that either Manning or Panday genuinely cared for him and his family you would have been met with a resounding 'NO'! And it wouldn't have stopped there. If you had asked whether either of the two leaders had his feet on the ground, his finger on the pulse of what was going on, again you would have got a shouted 'NO'. (Nobody was really taking any notice of the COP which was whithering on the political vine until Kamla handed them a lifeline.) It was therefore (especially in retrospect) hardly surprising that Mrs. Persad-Bissessar's message of hope and change would resonate so resoundingly in the country or that she would win so convincingly in the May election.

People were worried about almost everything: Crime, the economy, their future, corruption! You name the problem and you would have found a sizable segment of the population concerned about the particular issue.

But the new Government has now had some five months "to settle" and you are beginning to hear concerns that nothing is happening. Everything seems to be at a standstill and there is a lack of direction ... a lack of leadership that is disturbing to say the least. And most of it is emanating from a lack of movement in the economy. The banks are reporting that borrowing is way down and that everybody is in a 'wait and see mode'. The budget that was presented in September was long on rhetoric but very short on specifics, and the failure to get the new State boards up and running has crippled many businesses who are depending on getting paid monies that are now long overdue. Real estate values are declining by the week and the 'engine of growth' that has traditionally been the government seems to be in the repair shop for an unduly long length of time.

Like most people I voted for the People's Partnership. Like most people I genuinely want them to succeed. Unfortunately, like most people I am now beginning to become concerned. The appearance or perception is that they do not have their act together, that they do not understand the basics of governance. I genuinely hope that this is not so. I do not want them to fail. It is not in this country's interest that they fail. On the contrary, it is in all of our interests that they succeed. But if they continue in the direction that they are heading they are going to find (as Obama is now finding) that the people who supported them and voted for them will turn against them as sure as night follows day.

What is causing the "dithering" (for want of a better word) is not yet in the public domain ... although we are all hearing the rumours which are daily gaining strength as well as credibility. And the "boys" ought to be aware that effective opposition to a government rarely comes from within the Parliament ... it usually comes from outside. Therfore they should not count on the fact that Keith Rowley is proving himself to be an ineffective opposition leader. Dr. Rowley's lack of leadership potential will not save them. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the same can also be said about politics. In fact, the lack of a credible alternative often leads to greater instability.

Let me repeat: It is in our collective interest that this Government succeed. But they need to get the message early, rather than late, that they have to "get off the pot" and begin performing. Their honeymoon is over. And they have only to look at the U.S.A. to see what can happen when you don't deliver on your promises!

Friday, October 29, 2010


It is difficult to understand what is going on between the Government and the Public Service Association with regard to the salary negotiations for public servants. Oh! It is fairly easy to understand the P.S.A.'s President, Mr. Watson Duke. His is the classic trade unionist's position: "We want more money". And there is nothing basically wrong with this approach ... at least as an opening gambit. But unfortunately things don't always work like that and a big problem right now for the Government is finding the necessary funds to meet all of its obligations including, but not limited to increased salaries for the public servants.

The present dispute is not, and should not be about whether or not the public servants deserve an increase. By and large they do. There are a few who don't deserve even the salary that they are getting at present ... but they are (thankfully) not anywhere near a majority, and it is unfair to effectively punish the majority of hardworking and deserving public servants because of an inefficient minority.

No. The real issue is whether we (the country) can afford any increase at all ... and if so, what is the size of the increase that we can afford. Now, it ought to be of great benefit to both sides of this issue to have as the present Minister of Labour a man whose trade union credentials are impeccable and therefore whose word ought to be trusted by Mr. Duke et al. But the Minister has been conspicuous in his silence on the issue and the question has to be asked: Why?

I can only think of two reasons why the Minister might want to keep quiet and not intervene now:
1) He is completely incompepent and does not understand his proper role and his duty to
the country; or
2) He simply does not trust his Ministerial colleague, the Finance Minister, and is not
personally convinced that the figures that are being presented by the Government (his
Government) are true and correct.

I am ready, willing and able to accept that there may be another reason (or even 10 more reasons) but I really can't think of any.

Now, speaking for myself and myself alone, I find it hard to believe that Mr. McLeod is an incompetent person. So, if he is not incompetent then his unwillingness to intervene must be (unless there is some other reason which I can't think of) because he doesn't trust his Government's figures and is unwilling to put his credibility on the line for his Ministerial colleague. Because, if he did trust his colleague and his Government he could and should call Mr. Duke and say something like "Hear what Watson. We just don't have the money to pay all yuh." And he could and should then lend his name and his prestige to finding a solution to the present imbroglio instead of leaving the Chief Personnel Officer to twist and turn in the wind. He has the pretige and the clout and the credibility to bring both the P.S.A. and the Government into line.

But he is not doing that at all! The closest he has come to commenting on this most serious dispute is to support David Abdullah marching with the P.S.A. ! What does that tell you?

The only test of leadership is to lead, and to lead vigourously. The Minister of labour has to "get off the pot" and lead the parties out of a dispute that could have serious adverse consquences for this country. And he has to do it now!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Probably the biggest problem that exists for the general public (both the taxpayers as well as the CLICO depositers) is the absolute dearth of information about the true state of affairs in the felled behemoth. Let's face it: We just don't have any real information. For example, does anybody (besides the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank) know the answers to any or all of the following questions?

- What exactly caused the collapse? Is it true that the collapse was caused by the
Manning Administration pulling $200 million out of the CLICO bank?
- If so, who made that decision and why? If not, what caused the collapse?
- Was CLICO insolvent for a long time? When did CLICO become insolvent? Was it 10
years ago as alleged by then Attorney General Ramesh Maharajh? If so, what
responsibility does then Governor of the Central Bank Winston Dookeran (now Finance
Minister) and then Finance Minister Gerald Yet Ming (now placed in charge of CLICO
by Dookeran) have for the present debacle? Could /should they have done something
then? If so, what?
- What responsibility does the present Central Bank Governor have for the mess?
- What responsibility does the former Finance Minister, Karen Teishera, have?
- Did the last Finance Minister have inside information about CLICO's imminent demise
which caused her to take her money out mere weeeks before the collapse?
- What did Patrick Manning, who was not only Prime Minister but Finance Minister for
five long years, know?
- CLICO's reach extended deep into both the PNM as well as the UNC. We know, for
example, that CLICO gave the PNM $5 million in 2007 for its election campaign. Did
these political contributions efffectively prevent the regulatory authorities from doing
what they were supposed to do in the first place?
- If the answer to the above is 'yes', is this not a form of corruption?
- If the answer to this is also 'yes', what politicians are likely to be charged?
- Why does the present Minister of Finance who campaigned for two years on the
promise of more open government and transparency not tell the public exactly what
has happened and give the public all the information concerning this disaster?
- Why after almost two years do we have little more information than we had at the
- Is there a cover-up? If so, why? Who is being protected? Why are they being
- Why have the assets of the principal "players" in CLICO not been frozen? When the
Madoff and Stanford scandals hit the first thing that the American Government did
was to freeze the assets of the leading players before any criminal charges were ever
- Has there been fraud? Is there evidence that suggests fraud? If so, why has nothing
been done for almost two years? Is this part of a cover-up? How long does it take to
figure out if fraud has taken place?
- According to the newspaper reports some $7 billion of public money was poured into
CLICO. What happened to it?
- Why has there been absolutely no accounting to the public by the Minister of Finance
concerning the public money already spent and planned to be spent in this company?

I could go on, but you get the point. We have no information concerning CLICO. It was unfair (and not a little insulting) for the Finance Minister to make that infamous $75,000 offer and say in essence 'take it or leave it'. You ought not to treat people that way. And if he really believes in his own rhetoric and is not a hypocrite he will agree without equivocation. We need information.

The Government of Trinidad & Tobago made a promise that it would see the depositers paid. The credibility of the Government now hangs on that thread of a promise. As to whether that promise should ever have been made in the first place ... well, that is a different story!

Monday, October 25, 2010


An organisation called The World Gold Council puts out a monthly report that shows the official gold holdings of every country in the world. Unsurprisingly, a check on it's website will show that the United States has more gold than any other country. But readers will find it interesting to note that the Council's report for March 2010 showed that Trinidad & Tobago had 1.9 tonnes of gold ... which works out to be about 50,000 ounces, or a value of about US$650 million in gold at then current prices. The website can be found at


You will find Trinidad & Tobago at no. 90 in the top 100 countries in this list.

But if you check the same list for September, 2010 you will find that the gold holdings of Trinidad & Tobago has seemingly disappeared! Now, US$650 million is more than 4 1/4 billion Trinidad & Tobago dollars. So, what happened? Were the country's gold holdings sold? When? Why? (Gold has been increasing in value this year. It's not exactly the best time to sell.) Who took the decision to sell? Who bought it? Was this done before or after the elections in May? Have we been told that we sold all of our gold holdings? I can't remember any announcement being made.

In these hard times $4 billion is a lot of money ... well, even in good times that is a lot of money! So, what happened? Don't you think that we are owed an explanation?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


A lot of people have been asking this question for a few weeks now. The source of this query can be traced back to a few things. First of all, there was the Prime Minister's apparent slapping down of Jack Warner over the airport lighting fiasco. The newspapers were rife with speculation that there was a rift between the powerful Minister of Works and his boss, the even more powerful Prime Minister.

But what has really got the tongues wagging has been the very public criticisms coming from leading members of the COP that they (members of the COP) had not got their fair share of the "spoils of victory", meaning their fair share of appointments to State boards.

Let's deal with the Jack Warner issue first: Mr. Warner has come to public office with a "can do" and "let's get it done" approach that is both refreshing as well as being desperately needed in a country which has long wallowed in neo-colonialist leadership and thinking. He is one of a few Ministers that are really trying to effect "change" (as opposed to "exchange"). The newspapers (especially the Express) seem to have "get Jack at all costs" attitude, and are ready to crucify him at the drop of a hat. The facts are that this airport lighting business has been on the table for the longest while. Further, there is a real danger to the travelling public and the matter is urgent. It needs to be dealt with. Finally, the relevant law was amended by the then PNM administration which gave the Minister the authority to sign off on such a contract. Mr. warner received professional legal advice that he had the legal authority to sign off and approve the contract. He did just that. But (and it is a long "but") Mr. Warner has his fair share of detractor's who decided that here was a perfect "Ah!Ha!" moment (as in "Ah!Ha! Now we have him!"), and they promptly began to make a huge fuss, the essence of which underlying the fuss was there was the possibility that the old Jack may have had his fingers in the kitty.

The Prime Minister had no choice really but to step in and put the brakes on the award. Not to do so would have given grist to her enemies' mill who would have yelled (without any proof or regard to the facts) that here was a perfect example of Partnership corruption ... which, of course, was simply not true. Mr. Warner has taken the seeming rebuke in a proper and statesmanlike manner saying in essence, "well, pray that nothing goes wrong and don't blame me if it does!" He's right. Next point! But this sorry episode simply cannot be taken to reflect a rift in Partnership leadership.

Unfortunately, the recent COP (mis)behaviour is something else again. The claims for a share of the "spoils" by COP activists is as repugnant as it is hypocritical. Didn't Mr. Dookeran base his campaign from the very beginning on "Country first" and "no more jobs for the boys" politics? So what are these guys like Vernon DeLima, Hulsie Bhaggan, Joseph Toney and others talking about? Would we have been hearing from them if they had got appointments? Forgive me for thinking that the answer is 'no'.

In any case, part of the problem is clearly that the COP boys want to behave as if they are equal partners when in fact they are very junior partners in this Government. There are five COP seats which are held by Winston Dookeran, Prakash Ramadar, Carolyn Seepersad Bachan, Anil Roberts and Errol McLeod. If all five walk out the door the Government will certainly not collapse, nor will it be threatened with collapse. In any case, which of these five do you think is prepared to give up his Ministerial appointment for Messrs. DeLima et al? My guess is none! And the truth is also that the COP has no real support in those constituencies contolled by the UNC. Put another way, apart from some huffing and puffing and helping the newspapers to increase their sales, the COP is in an extremely weak position. And the sooner they realise this the better.

So, in answer to the question that headlines this post, I would say no, nat at all!


The express purpose of this Blog is to discuss matters of importance in Trinidad & Tobago, the wider Caribbean and Latin American region, and the rest of the world (in that order). At 9:04am (Eastern Australia time) on Monday 18th October, 2010 my beautiful granddaughter, Ava Elizabeth Grace, was born in a hospital in Sydney, Australia. She weighed 8lbs 12 oz and is thriving!!

Mother (Natalie) and father (Ryan) are over the moon with happiness. And the Montano bloodline continues!!

Readers will undoubtedly understand and agree with me that this was a most important event and will share my pride and joy over this latest arrival to our planet.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


There was something very interesting about Finance Minister Dookeran's latest statements regarding (what I suppose can loosely be termed) "the CLICO Affair", and that was about his reference to the existance of "ghost accounts". What the heck could he be referring to? What is a "ghost account" exactly?

Now the following is pure conjecture on my part and I don't know that any of it is true. I put it forward as pure speculation. But then, in the absence of full disclosure we are all going to speculate about what is going on:
What if these "ghost accounts" are in fact accounts that were established for certain persons where no money had actually been deposited? In other words, what if, for example, John Smith was holding a certificate of deposit for, say, $10 million with interest at 10 per cent for, say, five years, but this fictional John Smith had never actually deposited $10 million with Clico in the first place? well, this could be classified as an arch-typical "ghost account". You realise, of course, that in such a case John Smith would not only have the capital of $10 million, but be being paid interest of $1 million a year! Is this why the Government does not want to pay interest on those accounts which apparently include the "ghost accounts"? Because they know that a lot of these holders ... or some of them ... are not really entitled to the money in the first place?

So, the next question would have to be why would CLICO (or CL Financial or any CLICO subsidiary) issue such a certificate? Why indeed? A possible and probable answer could be was that it was issued to John Smith for some sort of "services" that he rendered. But what kind of services? Could it be some sort of pay off? Obviously if this was so then it would have to be some sort of pay off. But for what? A bribe? The question is asked open ended, but you can see how it makes sense to ask such a question. Then, if so who was being bribed? And for what?

Now, if John Smith was some sort of public servant or some sort of politician then the whole thing would begin to make a little more sense. So, the next logical question is obviously whose names are on these "ghost accounts"? And if these "ghost accounts" do exist, why has it taken approximately 21 months for this information to come out?

Because make no bones about it, if there are "ghost accounts" this suggests a massive fraud that goes beyond the CLICO executives and could possibly involve certain politicians. But who?

We need to know why CLICO failed. We need to know when CLICO started to fail. We need to know why no red flags went up immediately, or, if they did go up why was nothing done. Who was responsible? Where were the auditors? Why did they apparently say nothing? Why did the Manning Administration decide to bail out CLICO with taxpayers money but not bail out the Hindu Credit Union? What was the difference? Did it have anything to do with the possible fraud inside CLICO? What? Why hasn't any action been taken to freeze the accounts of the CLICO executives while the investigation takes place? This is done all the time in places like the United States where executives find their assets frozen before any charges are brought in order to safeguard their possible dissipation. Why did Dr. Eurich Bob and Claude Mussaib-Ali resign from the CLICO board last year? Did they see certain things that made them very unhappy? We never got a satisfactory explanation for the resignations of these honourable men. Why not?

There are too many unanswered questions that affect too many honest people. But more and more it is beginning to look like there has been a massive cover-up and the present Administration is not being as open and as forthright as they promised that they would be. And we are left with the obvious question: Why? One thing is clear: People are hurting badly!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


The summary firing of Brigadier Joseph, the (until recently) head of the Strategic Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad & Tobago, known to all and sundry by its acronym SAUTT, has drawn criticism in some quarters. The editorial in one daily newspaper this week complained that this firing as well as the rather curt and summary dismissal of the former Commissioner of Police James Philbert was not right and that these men should not have been put out to pasture the way that they were.

It is difficult to comment on the Philbert sacking without knowing all of the facts. My personal bet is that there must have been something that happened to have caused the abrupt dismissal, and that something is probably of a national security nature. That is the only explanation that makes sense. But I will readily admit to the possibilty that there is another (nonsensical?) reason.

But Brigadier Joseph is clearly a horse of a very different colour. Frankly, I am surprised that he wasn't dealt with before. Let me explain: First of all, SAUTT has spent millions of dollars with no discernible results. We have the infamous "eye in the sky", also known as the blimp which has cost "a pound and a crown" but which has not made a dent in the crime situation. Indeed, over the years that Peter Joseph presided over SAUTT the crime situation got steadily worse. So, from a value for money point of view, what did we get?

Then there is the question of the wiretapping of telephones. Almost everybody who was opposed to the Manning regime believed that his or her phones were tapped at some time or the other. I can't prove it, but I too believe that my phones were tapped from time to time. Indeed, right at the beginning when ANR Robinson had (wrongly) installed Manning as Prime Minister I set up with a friend of mine a little "sting" to see if my phones were being tapped. At that time Manning and Panday were meeting to discuss a possible way out of the 18/18 impasse and were supposed to meet at the Hilton to discuss same. I called my friend (by pre-arrangement) the day before the meeting was supposed to take place and told him that we had a "bomb" to drop at the meeting. I said that we had been meeting secretly with Keith Rowley and that we were going to go to the Hilton meeting and demand that Manning step down and that Rowley be made the Prime Minister. If he refused we were going to go to the President and tell him that Rowley had our support. I said that we had done a deal with Rowley for the Cabinet posts. None of this, of course, was true. And, this was a private conversation between two UNC activists - me and one other.

Well, what happened next was most interesting. Manning cancelled the meeting and the talks broke down. Coincidence? Or was my phone tapped and the conversation reported to Manning? Because make no bones about it, if what I had said was true (and I repeat, it was a complete fiction) then Manning was in serious danger of losing his Premiership and it was definitely not in his interest to have that Hilton meeting.

Now, does this little story prove that there was wiretapping? No. But it certainly does suggest it, doesn't it?

Put another way, speaking personally, my personal opinion is that there was wiretapping of political opponents by SAUTT and there would have to be really conclusive evidence to prove to me that there wasn't. I believe that Kamla's phone was tapped. Can I prove it? No. Do I know that for a fact? No. But you know the old saying about if it walks like a duck ...?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


There are several problems associated with the Finance Minister's proposal for dealing with that huge CLICO hole. But probably the biggest one is the absolute lack of transparency and information surrounding this terrible mess. Nobody (outside of, I suppose, the directors, the Minister and certain Central Bank and Finance Ministry officials) seems yo have any idea of exactly what the state of affairs is in that troubled conglomerate, nor does anybody really seem to know exactly what happened.

And this is a very important question. What the @#$%^& happened? How did this huge financial monolith fall so hard and so far? Was there fraud, as some people have suggested? If so, why haven't there been any charges laid? It's been almost two years for crying out loud! But if there was just bad management, where were the regulators? What was the Central Bank doing? Is it true that for several years before the collapse that warning signals were being sent out? What were the auditors saying? Were they giving the group a clean bill of health right up to the end? If so, what is being done about that? And, if they (the auditors) were sounding warning bells, then where were the regulatory authorities?

With the dearth of proper information there are millions of ugly rumours and even more ugly speculations swirling around ... the sum total of which is that absolutely nothing is going to be done to deal with the men and women responsible for this disaster and depositors are just going to have to "suck salt".

But the Minister cannot continue to treat the depositors with what appears to be scant courtesy and great contempt. It's simply not good enough. In a first world country he could never get away with this. But he is getting away with it here. Tells you something, doesn't it? Why can't we be told the whole truth? Is somebody being protected?

And what about the rumours that the prime assets (like the Express and Republic Bank shares, etc.) being quietly sold to "the boys"? Is there any truth in these rumours? Are deals being quietly done? Is this why the Government has come out with this $75,000 cash offer plus a 20 year no interest bond? To clean up the balance sheet and allow the assets to be sold off to "the boys"?

No. there is something smelling here. What it is, I don't know. But everything that has happened with the CLICO affair points to something going on under the surface that we aren't supposed to know about. And the question has to be asked: Why?

Monday, September 20, 2010


Justice Herbert Volney's diatribe against the Chief Justice (CJ) last week was wrong on so many levels that it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps the best starting place would be the question of whether or not the Chief Justice was wasting tax payers money by renting a supergrade house in Goodwood Park. The answer to this is simple: he is entitled to it. If Mr. Volney wants to debate whether or not a Chief Justice should be entitled to a luxury house at State expense, that is another matter. I, for one, would argue that the Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago should have a supergrade house. He is, after all, the Chief Justice, and his office should carry with it a certain social status for reasons that hopefully are obvious.

Mr. Volney spoke about the two former Chief Justices living in their own homes, and questioned why the present Chief Justice wasn't doing that. The implication was that somehow this was wrong of Chief Justice Archie not to do as his predeccessors had done. Again, this should not need defending. The present CJ has decided not to live in his house but to live in a State house. He has decided not to collect the tax free housing allowance but to occupy a State house instead. If his predeccessors had done this (i.e., occupy a State house) and Mr. Archie had decided that he was not going to do that but collect the money instead, one rather gets the impression that the former Judge would say that this was wrong. In other words, its heads Mr. Archie loses, and tails he loses again.

And while the reasons that the last two CJ's did this (lived in their own homes) do not need to be discussed at this time, the fact is that they both had very good and legitimate reasons for doing so. Put another way, it was to their personal advantage to do so ... and nothing is wrong with that!

Of probably greater interest though is what will the Prime Minister do about this imbroglio. Mr. Volney has obviously deeply offended the sitting Chief Justice. Mr. Archie has shown commendable restraint so far, but he must be highly annoyed. And Mr. Volney is the Minister whose mandate requires that he deal with the Judiciary on a plethora of matters. How is that going to work? You are going to have two men, who clearly do not like each other, having to deal with each other on a regular basis. The Prime Minister has sought to put a band aid on the problem by saying that the views expressed ny the former Judge were his own personal views and not those of her Government. But surely this cannot be good enough? Mr. Volney has seriously defamed the present Chief Justice and is refusing to apologise. Mr. Volney has also breached the rules relating to Parliamentary privilege. Frankly, the PNM Opposition (if they were on the ball ... which they are not) should report the former Judge to the Privileges Committee of Parliament. Unfortunately, that Committee is always stacked with Government M.P.'s so it is most unlikely that Mr. Volney will be dealt with in a proper manner.In other words, he will probably get off. But the report should be made, for the attack was most certainly a breach of Parliamentary privilege.

The Prime Minister is on the horns of a very obvious dilemma: What Mr. Volney did should result in the very least of his being moved from that Ministry. But the firing of a senior Cabinet Minister, or even a Cabinet re-shuffle so early in the game could result in all sorts of political trouble for the Prime Minister, not the least beimg having to deal with the accusation that her team is not a good one. It would be an admission that her judgement in appointing Mr.Volney to that post was flawed. In other words, Mr. Volney has put his Prime Minister in a very bad political position. I would strongly recommend to the former Judge that he start taking lessons in politics and how to behave as a senior Minister. What you can say in opposition is not always acceptable when you hold the reins of power. And finally, I will also give the Minister a piece of good advice: Be aware that the true opposition in the country will not come from the Opposition inside the Parliament; it will come from the people! And the people are not stupid. You have got a lot of goodwill ... still! But a few more unforced errors like this and you will blow it, not only for yourself, but for your entire team!!

Friday, September 17, 2010


Now that the Budget debate is over I must confess to a certain disappointment with both the quality as well as the content of the contributions from M.P.'s on both sides of the House. Starting with the Government side first, I am a little concerned over the apparent death of information that has emerged over the Government's plans, hopes and aspirations. Let me give you an example of what I mean: Let's take the deficit of approximately $7 billion. Is it unreasonable to presume that this is going to be used for the CLICO/Hindu Credit Union bailout? If so, how much of this is going to be used for the bailout? What exactly is that bailout going to cost and how exactly does the Government intend to make good on that debt (i.e., the cost of the bailout)?

The question assumes great importance as there are some very "heavy" rumours circulating around the City that the Government intends to put many of the CLICO assets up for sale. The rumours also say that the sale of the various assets have all but been concluded already and thatthe deals have been struck with certain "big players" who have been literally salivating at the thought of gaining control of various plum assets like the Republic Bank shares and the shares in the Express newspaper's holding company (to name but two). Is there any truth to any of these rumours? If so, what is the truth? All of them? Some of them? If only some of them, which "some" are true? Are these "done deals" of the sort being rumoured, in the national interest? If so, why? If not, and assuming (though not accepting) that there is truth in the rumours (either whole or in part) then why are the deals going ahead?

You get the picture. The budget debate was an ideal place to deal with these rather serious rumours and put them to bed one way or the other, either, for example, by denying them outright or by confirming the truth (whatever that might be) and explaining it to our (the citizenry's) satisfaction.

There are other questions for the Government. For example, in the PNM budgets they used to have a line item showing what particular energy projects were slated for the ensuing budgetary year. For example, so many billions for an aluminium smelter. There are no such line items in this year's budget. Does this mean that there will be no big energy projects in the next 12 months?

I also felt that the Finance Minister missed an opportunity in his presentation in that as this was his Government's first budget that he might have set out not just his plans for the next year, but his Government's vision for the next 5 years. Maybe he did do this, but if he did it wasn't clear to me. Was it to you?

But my biggest disappointment in the debate was in the quality of the PNM's response. Dr. Rowley did not come across as a man who really understood what was needed, nor even that he was aware of the history of the recent past. He sounded like a pot hound barking at another pot hound that is a mile away at 3 o'clock in the morning. He also came with downright peurile vague accusations of corruption for which he clearly had no real or any evidence. The country and his Party are ill-served by this sort of leadership. as for members of his team like Donna Cox and Marlene Macdonald ... well, perhaps somebody should tell them that the strength of their arguments is not increased by the strength of their voices. The PNM for the first time in its long history was unable to present itself to the nation in this debate as a real alternative government that can be taken seriously.

On balance the budget gets a passing grade from me. I will be the first to admit that it is always easier to snipe from the sidelines than to be the actual decision maker and there will always be things that will require further explanation. My hope is that the matters that are raised in this post will be expained ... and soon ... together with other matters that haven't been raised as yet. That is what I meant when I said that I was disappointed. I had hoped for more details and better explanations. Will we get them? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Finance Minister Dookeran has managed to keep the new People's Partnership (PP) Government on an even keel. While the budget cannot be described as breaking new ground or as being brimful with new and innovative ideas, most responsible commentators have given the budget a more than passing grade and say that they expect that the economy will right itself in a relatively short period of time. At the moment there seems to be no reason why we ahould not accept the general consensus and congaratulate the Finance Minister. he certainly seems to have created a much needed confidence in the business sector. And without confidence no Government can succeed. Just look at Patrick Manning's regime for a classic example of how to fail and you will understand what I mean.

But what has me more than a little agitated is the nonsense that spews from the mouths of certain politicians and trade union leaders concerning minimum wage. 'The minimum wage must be raised to at least $20' more than one of these so-called leaders have spouted during the recent general elections and afterwards. I even read a report where Ancil Roget, the head of the powerful OWTU, has expressed his disapointment over the fact that the PP Government has failed to raise minimum wage.

These politicians and trade unionists are either being fundamentally dishonest or are really more stupid than they look (or both) when they call for a raising of the minimum wage. Let me state quite categorically a fundamental fact of economics and life: Minimum wage has nothing to do with helping poor people or low wage earners make a better living. Minimum wage has every thing to do with raising a country's productivity! You can test this in several different ways, but for the sake of keeping this short (and hopefully readable) I will use only two different examples:

Example One: The countries in the world which have the highest productivity are the ones with the highest minimum wage. The countries in the world with the lowest productivity have the lowest (or no) minimum wage.

Example Two: Let's say that you have a small mechanics shop where you employ two young boys to sweep out the garage and help with minor repairs every day. You pay them each teh minimum wage ... $9 per hour for 8 hours a day at 5 days a week. In other words, your wage bill is $720 per week ($9 x 8 hours per day x 5 days a week x 2 boys). If minimum wage were to be doubled to, say, $18 per hour, your wage bill would go up to $1,440 per week. The problem is that you aren't making enough to pay those wages. The only way you can survive is to keep one boy and lay off the other. The one that you keep now has to do the work of two ... in other words, his productivity now has to be twice what it was. The one who has been laid off either has to go and re-train in order to get a better job, or has to understand that when he does get another job he is going to be required to work harder than he did before. In other words, for both boys their productivity is forced to increase.

I am sure that you get the point. And politicians, despite what they may say on the campaign trail, understand this fundamental fact that minimum wage is always about productivity and nothing else. And you can see from the two examples above that too great an increase in the minimum wage can and will result in serious ditortions in the labour market as marginally unproductive and/or unproductive workers are laid off.

The new Government has started well ... with a few hiccups, that is true ... but they have started well. One of the things that they must do is to remain honest and true with the people. At this time there is no reason to doubt that they will do just that!

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Hugo Chavez came to power in late 1998 on a populist wave that sent tremors down the spines of the country's elite. Almost to a man every single upper class or upper middle class Venezuelan expressed loathing for Chavez and the change which he represented. But Venezuela's social and economic progress did not reflect what had happened in the rest of the world. To a large extent, the attitude towards the lower economic classes evinced by the upper and upper middle classes was eerily similar to the attitudes of their counter parts in Trinidad in 1959. The country was just waiting ... no, begging for somebody like Chavez to come along. He was, you might say, an accident waiting to happen. And when he finally burst onto the scene the poor flocked to his banner in numbers that no Presidential candidate had ever seen before.

But his promise of a better tomorrow has been squandered by his complete failure to understand that the world has moved away from the socialist rhetoric of yesteryear and his worshipping at the feet of one of the world's worst dictator's, Fidel Castro ... a man who has beggared his country by his stubborn adherence to socialist policies and principals which have all been disproved by bitter experience... has not helped matters any. Cuba is today one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. But that's another story.

Instead of realising that he had a unique opportunity to become one of Latin America's greatest heroes by utilising Venezuela's vast oil resources for the benefit of his people, President Chavez chose instead to declare a virtual war on all who dared to oppose his ideology. It is perfectly true that Venezuelan society needed to change, and to change radically. It is also true that wrenching social change is never easy, and it is more than likely that those opposed to him would never have embraced him no matter what he did. But history has shown again and again that extremism, especially in politics, is never a good thing and that it will usually produce the exact opposite of what is really intended. Indeed, it is noteworthy that Lula in Brazil (a man who is probably just as left leaning as Chavez, and who came to power in a country that also needed serious social and economic reforms) has managed to achieve great social and economic change in Brazil to the great benefit of all Brazilians in more or less the same period. In other words, one has to question seriously whether Chavez ever understand the word "governance". Because today Venezuela is in a crisis to which there does not appear any answer that could bring a modicum of hope to thinking people.

Venezuela's official exchange rate is now around Bolivars 2,500 to the US dollar. The black market rate is at about 8000 Bolivars to the dollar! And the answer to that from President Chavez is that persons caught trading will be locked up! Yeah! Right! And this will engender confidence in the economy? In the currency? In the country? Exchange control is a tool that governments which have no confidence in their ability to control their economies institute. It is supposed to ensure fiscal as well as exchange rate stability. In real life, all exchange control does is create a further lack of confidence in the economy and a black market in which the real value (i.e. the market value) of the currency is traded to the detriment of the ordinary citizen.

Venezuela's annual inflation rate is well over 20 per cent. There are shortages of basic food items in the groceries in Caracas. The other day it was sugar and milk. The cost of everything has gone through the roof and ordinary Venezuelans are "catching their tails" to make ends meet. There has been no new investment of any significance in plant and machinery by manufacturers who are gradually closing down. Venezuela's import bill continues to climb. Unemployment has risen and life is harder now than it was, say, ten years ago.

There are Congressional elections due on September 26th. Opinion polls show that the Opposition forces are running just about even with the support for Chavez and his Unified Socialist Party. But new rules as to how many representatives each State can send to Caracas may make it difficult for the Opposition to win control.

On top of that there is the issue of corruption. The accusations and stories are so many that it is difficult not to believe that there is a lot of "fire" behind this particular "smoke". Indeed, a new wealth class has arisen in the last twelve years. The Chavistas are now the ones with the money.So much so that you can be forgiven if you go to Venezuela today in thinking that what the Venezuelans got twelve years ago was not change, but exchange!

Then, of course, there is crime. More people are being killed annually in Venezuela than in Iraq! Daylight robberies and kidnappings are virtually commonplace. No Venezuelan goes out into the street with a gold watch or any kind of jewelry again. And the conviction rate is worse than good old T&T's!

Underlying all this is the economy. How much longer can Chavez keep things ticking over? I don't know. But sooner or later reality is going to bite. what will happen then is anybody's guess. I wish that I could be more hopeful. The country is physically blessed and is beautiful. Venezuelans are by and large a warm and generous people. They deserve better.

Monday, August 30, 2010


On Friday August 20th at around 12:30pm the BP owned/managed deep water oil rig, Constellation, which is the furthest rig off Trinidad's south east coast, suffered an electrical failure. By that I mean that all electricity on the rig was completely lost. As I understand it, a complete failure of electrical power to an oil rig is potentially very dangerous because amongst other things there can be no monitoring of the oil and gas lines and there can be an unobserved or un-monitored build up of pressure in the pipeline which can result in an explosion. And we are only too painfully aware of what happened to a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It is sometimes forgotten that not only was there the worst oil spill in history, but something like eleven workers lost their lives in that explosion.

I do not know why there was a loss of power on the Constellation rig. In other words, I do not know whether the loss of power was as the result of poor maintenace of the generators, whether it was the result of human error, or whether it was completely unavoidable ... one of those things that no matter what you do it's going to happen. What I do know is that BP was unable to get the power going on the rig until some eleven hours later (more or less). Power was finally restored around 11:30pm.

So, what's the big deal? Well, the big deal as far as I am concerned is that there were about a hundred and twenty-five men on board the rig when power was lost just after mid day. BP did
not make the call to the helicopter services to evacuate the men until about 6:30pm ... just at around sunset. And as a result, the first helicopters did not arrive at the rig to begin evacuating the men until around 8:30pm. In addition calling late, the weather was very bad. One helicopter pilot told me "well, I earned my salary for the last three years" on that Friday night. He said that the wind and rain hampered the helicopter rescue. I asked him when was the latest that (in his professional opinion) that BP should have made the call for the helicopters. "About 4:30pm", he said. So why didn't they call before, I asked? Should they have been aware of the approaching bad weather and shouldn't they have been concerned to have got the men off the rig as quickly as possible? He said that he preferred not to speculate as to why BP didn't act earlier, but that yes, anybody in that business, in that situation ought to have been aware of the approaching bad weather, the approaching darkness, the time that it would take to evacuate the rig, and the danger to the men remaining on the rig without electricity. If there was no danger to the men then there would have been no need to mount an expensive rescue operation. He said that when power was finally restored the helicopters had removed all save about ten or eleven men.

There are obviously very serious questions to answer here. There is also a very serious need to monitor not only BP but all of the oil companies operating in our waters. Are they (the oil companies) cutting corners when it comes to safety? Are they paying close attention to the safety of their workers? What about the potential for pollution? The matter is serious and quite frankly I consider it a matter of grave concern that BP made no statement whatsoever on this near disaster. (At least, if they did I saw nothing of it in the newspapers.) One inference to be drawn is that the company did not want to draw attention to it and thereby avoid potentially embarassing and troubling questions. But, is the avoiding of having to answer potentially emabarrassing questions more important than the health and safety of a human life?

Friday, August 27, 2010


The answer seems to be when he is a Roman Catholic priest. In July 1972 there was an IRA bombing in the Northern Ireland town of Claudy which killed nine people. This week the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has published a report that says that a Father James Chesney was believed by the police to have been the IRA's director of operations in south Derry and was directly responsible for the Claudy bombings.

The report goes further and says that the then Secretary for Northern Ireland Willie Whitelaw basically conspired (there is no other word for it) with Cardinal Conway, who was the Cardinal for Ireland, not to arrest and try Father Chesney but to allow him to be transferred to a parish in Ireland, out of the reach of British police and the law.

No matter how you look at this it is an absolute scandal and a serious disgrace. This is yet another mortal sin that the Catholic Church is guilty of ... proving, I suppose, the point that while the Church may not be corrupt, there certainly are a lot of very corrupt men in it.

But that is not the point of this particular post. Today we have to deal with terrorism coming from another religious front: Islam. Let me say unequivocally that I fundamentally disagree with, and condemn fanatics like Osama Bin Laden and his ilk. And all those Imams who preach jihad at their mosques every Friday are anything but holy. They are fundamentally wrong in their advocacy of violence and the sooner all right thinking peoples tell them so and turn away from them the better.

I hear a lot of people criticising Islam for the extremists in the midst of right thinking and decent Moslems around the world, but there is a dreadful silence in the Christian community when it is shown that some Christian Churches not only condone violence but actively participate in murder. We are not going to solve the problem of Islamic terrorism unless and until we are prepared to "remove the mote" from our own eyes (as I believe some rather famous revolutionary advocated some two thousand years ago). Hypocritical behaviour is always noticed and causes more, not less, problems.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It is often difficult when you win an election by an overwhelming majority to keep up with all the rhetoric that you splurged out during the campaign as well as to keep your campaign promises. Reality has a way of biting when all of a sudden you find yourself like the dog who was chasing the car and all of a sudden you have caught it! What do you do? What does the dog do? I'm sure you get the point.

The new Kamla Persad-Bissessar Government has not exactly hit the ground running. Oh sure, many Ministers were there for their constituents when the floods hit, and it is clear that this response (to the flooding) was a million times better than the casual, 'don't really care but we'll go through the motions any way' attitude of the PNM Ministers when they held the reins of power. But empathy, blankets and matteresses, and (well deserved) "cussing" of the ODPM only goes so far. It has now been a little over three months since Kamla's historic victory and ... well, if truth be told, nothing of any consequence seems to have happened. The new State boards are not in place, the new ambassadors are not yet appointed and their is a general sense or feeling of drift. The Minister of Finance is not saying anything of any consequence and the whole country is just sitting and waiting. And the question has to be asked: why? What is taking so long? Why are we not at the very least being brought into the picture?

One can't help but compare that other recently elected coalition Government in the United Kingdom with ours. They brought in almost immediately what theyd eclared to be an emergency budget to save the country from disaster. Although the budget contained many very harsh measures (e.g., VAT was raised to 20 per cent) the population accepted that austerity was called for and that the new Government was taking the bull by the horns and working. We have been hearing that things are bad, but how bad? Do we really have to wait for maore than three months to get a report in the budget debate that begins on September 8th? Why? Why can't we be told up front and early? Does the Government not trust the people?

And as if this is not bad enough, Keith Rowley appears to be floundering as Leader of the Opposition. Why is this a bad thing? Because the best governance usually takes place when a Government in power has a competent Opposition snapping at its heels. A classic example of this was the Panday regime. Basdeo Panday's Government is widely regarded as one of the best that we have ever had. But Panday knew at all times that if he made the slightest slip that Manning's PNM would come charging back ... which, of course, is precisely what happened when he did eventually slip!

But Dr. Rowley just hasn't cut it as a leader. One wag told me (rather unkindly) that he never thought that anyone could make Manning look good, but Rowley is managing to do just that! Dr. Rowley has not been able to find his "groove" either inside or outside of the Parliament. His early cricicisms of Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar came across as peurile and downright silly. Nobody took either the criticisms or Dr. Rowley seriously. His Senate appointments have made no impression whatsoever on the public and whatever opposition that exists in the Senate is more on the Independent benches than any where else.

Well, the Budget debate is coming soon and everybody on both sides of the Parliamentary divide will have his/her chance to show the nation how good, bad or indifferent he or she may be. Based on performance to date, I believe that the Government side will do better than the Rowley led Opposition both in the Lower House as well as the Upper one. The PNM Parlaimentarians tend to believe that the length of their speeches is more important than the content. (Actually, that criticism probably applies to more than a few on the Government side as well.) We would be much better off there really was clearly an alternative Government. Unfortunately, there isn't ... at least, not at the moment. And therein lies the rub!

At least we can hope that this three month long hiatus will finally come to an end and things will get moving again. The only test for leadership is to lead, and to lead vigourously. We need leadership now. That Kamla and her team are capable, I truly believe. But they have got to start performing now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Maybe the best way to assess this question is first to go back to basics. What are the responsibilities of a Regional or City Council? Basically, the local Council looks after things like the state of the roads, the sidewalks, the garbage collection, the regulation and placement of the markets, traffic regulation and parking. To do all of this the Council needs money. Most of its money comes from subventions handed out by the central Government. If the Council is starved of funds from the central Government it will not be able to carry out its functions in either a timely or efficient manner. And therein lies the rub!

Many councils have complained from time to time that they were being denied funding from the central Government because they happen to be controlled by the political party that formed the opposition. In other words, the central authority was using its power of the purse to punish the region/city/borough for having the temerity to vote against the ruling party of the day. While most of these type of complaints have come (with considerable justification) from the then UNC controlled Councils, the truth is that when the UNC was in power similar complaints were heard from the then opposition controlled PNM Councils. In other words, though both sides vehemently deny ever indulging in this type of behaviour the truth is that there are far too many complaints not to believe that there is a lot of fire behind this particular smoke.

So, what can be done? It is clear that the present system can be manipulated by a Government in power. Heck! The elections can even be postponed indefinitely ... a fact that we are all too painfully aware, though I don't think that any other Government abused this power as much as the recent Manning regime did. This system needs improving, but short of giving the Councils the right to raise taxes in thier own districts ... something that I certainly wouldn't support ... and fixing a date (e.g. the first Monday inSeptember of every third year), I really can't see a viable solution to these problems.

In thinking about the problem and possible solutions I also thought about the fact that we really are a very small little country of approximately one and a half million souls and a total land area that is probably maller than Greater Miami. So why do we need Local Government? What would happen if we were to abolish it completely? Well, if we did that it's fairly obvious that we would have to replace it with something else. So ... what?

Answer: why don't we do just that ... abolish all local authorities (including the Tobago House of Assembly). There are 41 constituencies. We could divide each consituency, say, in two so we would have then 82 districts. Each district would be represented by a Representative (or as they are called in the United States - Congressmen). The lower House of Parliament, the House of Representatives would be made up of these 82 men and women. They would be elected on a fixed date(say, the first of September) for 2 years only. They would be full time Representatives and have responsibility in their district for all the functions and activities currently carried on by the local authority.

But 2 years is a very short time, and the upper House would have to have a longer time. So our Senators would no longer be appointed but would be elected ... from the 41 constituencies ... for a perod of 6 years and on a fixed date (the same date as elections are held for the lower House). But we would have one third of the Senate being elected every two years. Then we would have an elected President elected every 4 years. His cabinet would be appointed, but every appointment would have to be approved by the Senate.

And yes, it is basically the American system. Do I like everything about the American system? No. There are things that I definitely do not agree with, e.g., the fact that their judges face the electorate. But there is a lot to admire in the way that they set up their system. And it would work a lot better for us than the Westminster system does. Incidentally, one of the big attractions for me is that a U.S. type President wields a lot less power inside his own country than a T&T type Prime Minister has in his ... but that is another story! What I want to discuss here is how can we improve Local Government. What are your ideas?

Monday, July 19, 2010


It was the extreme far sightedness of India's first Prime Minister, Jawarhalal Nehru, that caused to be founded the Indian Institute of Technology ("IIT"). Today the IIT is by far and away the world's premier Information Technology school and one in which the world's best and brightest students try their hardest to get in. The students who apply to the IIT have listed as their second and third choices such prestige schools as Oxford in England and MIT in the United States. The IIT not only has the highest entrance standards in the world (thus making it the most difficult university in the world to get into) but also is the most difficult to stay in once you are there. Successful entrants to the university cannot rest on their laurels, but they must keep their grade averages at the university's extremely high levels. The result is that graduates of the IIT are literally fought over by the world's leading IT companies. The heads of Microsoft and IBM, for example, are graduates of the IIT! Indeed, more than 90% of the companies in California's famed Silicon Valley have IIT graduates as their CEO's! And everybody is keenly aware that India itself is now forging ahead in the IT sector.

So, that got me thinking: Sorry to say it, but the truth is that the University of the West Indies is a third rate university. You are offended by this statement? Test it yourself: Take a young UWI graduate in any field you like and let him apply for a job where his competition is a graduate of, say, Oxford, or Boston University, or McGill University, or any other top university in the world (you pick the school) and guess who will get the job? The UWI grad? Please! Give me a break! He would be lucky just to get a seat in the waiting room. But we can't really do a thing with UWI. There are too many other islands involved and a raising of UWI's low standards would be politically difficult, if not impossible. By the way, this is not to say that there haven't been bright and able young people passing through UWI's halls of learning. There have been ... a lot! Our brightest kids are well able to compete on the world stage despite the handicap of third rate schools. (You could only imagine how far they could go if they had first rate schools ... but that isn't the thrust of this post). The problem (to paraphrase Shakespeare) lies not in the students, but in the quality of the school that is UWI. It ain't the best!

So, as I said, that got me thinking. We can't do anything about UWI, but why don't we do something with the University of Trinidad & Tobago ("UTT")? UTT is right now probably worse than fifth rate. It's entrance standards are abysmally low and it seems that the men who founded it were more concerned about fooling those persons who are admitted into UTT that their degree will be worth something, when the reality is that a degree from UTT is about the equivalent of a diploma from a not very good trade school. Again, if I sound harsh it is because the truth is harsh. This world is not going to be kind to us simply because we like to boast about God being a Trinidadian.

No. In order to compete in the twenty-first century we too have to become the best. We have got to raise our stadards up ... not lower them for the cheap convenience of a few votes. And we should look to do so in areas in which we already have a home grown advantage.

What am I talking about? In a word ... energy! Did you know that the first oil well in the world was drilled in Trinidad? We have an abundance of expertise in the energy sector that has made us leaders all over the world. You can find Trinidadians in Houston, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Nigeria ... andthe list goes on. I would like to bet that on a per capita basis (and no, I do not have any statistics to prove this) we have more people in the enrgy sector than anywhere else in the world. So, why don't we capitalise on this and make UTT the premier energy university in the world the same way that the IIT is the premier school for information technology in the world? It could be done ... and with a little effort it could bring fantastic benefits to Trinidad & Tobago. For example, while when we Trinis talk about energy we really mean oil and gas, the UTT could become a twenty-first century school specialising in all types of energy ... wind , solar, etc. We don't have to be limited to oil and gas. With a first class specialst university at home we could retain our effective dominance in the energy sector indefinitely. And why not? We could do it ... if we really wanted to!

Friday, July 16, 2010


It seems that nobody in this country has really been paying attention to a rather serious problem that exists in many countries around the world, including our own sweet little Trinidad & Tobago. I am talking about the trafficking in sex workers who are being brought over primarily from Columbia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. These women, in an effort to escape from desparately poor conditions in their native countries, are seduced into coming over here ... many of them enterimg the country illegally ... and then are reduced into bondage by the unscrupulous men who grab their passports and tell them that they have to pay them a huge sum of money (I have heard reports of something like US$6,000) before their passports are returned. In addition, if the women refuse to work for the traffickers they find themselves being reported to the police who come and arrest them, throw them in jail, and after a long while eventually deport them. The women often have families (read young children) back home who are dependant on monies being sent back on a regular basis. Any stint in jail will result in literal starvation for these children. As a result the majority of these women are forced into prostitution. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't.

From time to time the police will raid a brothel, arrest the women and deport them ... I have heard it said that these raids usually take place when the brothel owner stops paying his protection money or is late with his payments. I don't know if that is true ... but it sounds believable, doesn't it?

The conditions which exist for these women are little better than slavery ... in fact there are many critics around the world who do refer to this trafficking in women as slavery! I agree with them.

So, what can we do about it? What should we do about it? You don't have to look very far to find a solution nor do we have "to re-invent the wheel". Sweden did it a few years ago. We need to change the law so that the women are no longer arrested for prostitution. In other words, let's legalise prostitution. But (and it is a big "but") let's make it illegal to hire a prostitute! In other words, the woman will no longer be arrested for the crime of prostitution, but any man who uses a prostitute will be treated as the criminal.

Will this cut out the problem? No. But it will reduce the demand for prostitutes and it will cut back on this terrible problem. The statistics coming out of Sweden show that the legalisation of prostitution and the criminalisation of the 'johns' has done just that. We have got to try something and soon. What is being done to these women is terribly wrong. A fair, just and humane society should not tolerate this. Don't you agree?

Friday, July 9, 2010


"An opportunity missed", my father used to say, "never returns". Over the years I have found this old adage to be so true that sometimes it hurts! Which is why right now I am beginning to become slightly concerned with the opportunities that the new People's Partnership Government seems to be missing. The Government's honeymoon period is going to be over soon ... probably by September/October ... and if they do not take advantage now of the extraordinary goodwill that they have at the moment they will find that despite their huge Parliamentary majority, their ability to carry the country along with them will become more and more difficult.

My father taught me a lot ... much more than just the adage about missed opportunities. One of the things that he taught me was that the real opposition to a government hardly ever came from inside the Parliament but from the country, and that for a government to succeed it had to ensure at all times that it had the majority support of the country. If it did not it risked not only an ignominious end a la the Manning and Robinson regimes but it also risked such unpopulartity that even when it came up with good ideas and/or proposals that the country simply would not want to listen.

To be fair, Prime Minister Bissessar is not displaying any of the arrogance or hubris of her predecessor, and most of her Ministers seem to be making themselves much more accessible than their former PNM counterparts. But (and this is a big "but") in the critical area of the economy and finance we are not being told what is going on nor are we being told what exactly are our problems. And forget about solutions or possible solutions! There is simply no discussion!

I blame Winston Dookeran for this. Mr. Dookeran is widely regarded as being an excellent economist and a man whose grasp of financial matters is better than most. But unfortunately that simply ain't good enough. You see, politics is about bringing the people along with you. Mao Tse Tsung once said "if you want to lead the people, lead from behind". In other words, give the people the necessary information in order for them to come to their own informed decisions on whatever the problems of the country are. But if the plan is to wait until the budget debate in September then that will be a case of too little, too late. And it certainly will not be practising the art of "new politics" that we have been hearing about for the last few years. In fact, it will simply be more of the same old neo-colonialist type of governance that we have had for the last almost fifty years.

We need to know what are the "holes" that have to be filled and what ideas are currently on the table on how to fill them. We know, for example, about the $18 billion Petrotrin hole. I have previously written in this blog that I could only see two ways to fill that particular hole: devaluation or retrenchment. A friend gave me a third option the other day after he read my blog; he said that a third option was a sale of the State-owned oil company. Well, that is a possibilty, but any buyer would probably engage in some serious retrenchment after taking over the reins. So that would not really be a third choice or option. The consequences for the workers and/or the country would be the same. But are there other options? If so, what? This is a serious question that requires serious debate. Retrenchement would have serious economic consequences for the workers who are laid off. Devaluation would have even more serious consequences for the whole country. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place!

But we are not debating these problems at all! Why not? The Finance Minister ought to be leading the debate and doing so now. He can't come in September and simply shove his solutions down our throats and say in effect 'well, these are the problems and this is how I propose to solve them'. (Well, actually he can ... but surely that would not be "new politics" but simply more of the same old,same old!)

The debate needs to start now. And it needs to be led by the Finance Minister. If he does not do so he is going to cause a lot of problems for his Prime Minister and his Government that could and should be avoided. he needs to buy into his former rhetoric about "new politics" in such a way that the country really does feel that we all have a clear idea of where we are, where we are heading and where we can go. Somebody once said (I think it was Teddy Roosevelt, but I am not sure) that "the only test of leadership is to lead, and to lead vigorously". It's time for the Finance Minister to lead.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Well, we now have a new Commissioner of Police (CoP). There have been a lot of arguments as to whether or not we should have brought in a foreigner and whether the process of selecting the CoP is flawed or not. My own personal view is that these arguments are for another day. The fact is that for better or for worse this is the process that the Manning regime saddled us with and this is the person who the process turned up. in other words, I support the decision of the new Government to get the show on the road and to stop all this "acting" nonsense. I also believe however that the Government ought to look again at the process that was used to appoint the CoP and to fix it, if indeed it needs fixing. And I say that last bit about 'if it needs fixing' because I genuinely do not know whether the process is flawed or not. I haven't heard all of the arguments both for and against the process in order to be able to come to a reasoned decision one way or the other.

My own (again) personal view is that while I have no problem wth a foreigner being put in charge of our police, I would prefer, if it was possible, to put a local man instead. But all of the information necessary for us to make a reasoned decision as to whether or not Mr. Gibbs is indeed the best man for the job has not been put out in the public domain ... or, if it has, the press has not reported on it sufficiently for the ordinary person to come to a reasoned decision. Again, that's another argument.

Let's understand something: Everybody (except the bad guys) must want this new Canadian CoP to succeed. At the end of the day, we don't care if he is from Canada or the moon if he can fix and actually does fix our police service so that it not only works, but works well. I have no doubt that there will be a small minority who for their own personal, selfish and myopic reasons will want the Canadian to fail. Hopefully, there will be sufficient right thinking persons who will want the new man to succeed, not for his own personal aggrandisement, but for the benefit of the wider society as a whole.

One of the things that the new guy is going to have to do is to change the culture in the police service so that the police are seen by the community as being on the side of the people. The truth is that one of the reasons that the police are failing so badly right now is because the average citizen simply doesn't trust them ... with anything! When, for example, a woman can drive into a police station blowing her horn to attract attention, and the criminal can not only murder her, but can get away right from under the noses of the police officers you begin to understand why the average citizen simply does not believe that the men (and women) in grey are trustworthy. And without the trust of the community the police really cannot be effective.

As I have said, that is only one of the things that the new CoP has to address. I am certain that we can all think of a dozen more. But my argument today is that we should give the new guy a chance to perform and should not try to undercut him from the word 'go'. My message to Mr. Gibbs though, is that you are not going to be given a long time. We expect and demand results ... and quickly. Also, you come from a first world country and have been accustomed to dealing with the citizenry there in a first world manner. Unfortunately, to date our leaders have all operated in a neo-colonialist manner and have not cared to take the citizenry into their trust and confidence. Certainly, it is easier to behave like our past leaders than it is to behave in a first world manner. Please do not fall into this trap. Please continue to act while you are down here as you did when you were in Canada.

Oh! And finally, good luck! You're going to need it!!