Friday, January 28, 2011


This Rishmi Ramnarine/SIA affair has me troubled at a number of levels. First of all, let me put my own personal cards on the table. I voted for this Government. Like so many of my fellow citizens I was absolutely fed up with Patrick Manning and his PNM on a plethora of levels or issues and I welcomed the promise of change, transparency and open government, and an end to"business as usual". 'At last,' I thought, 'we would eventually move or begin to move our little country out of the grip of the neo-colonialists and into the 21st century. At last we would begin to be truly independent in our thinking and the tribalism and not so covert racism would begin to be a thing of the past'. That is why I voted for the People's Partnership. You could say that all my reasons could be summed up in one word: Hope!

Further, as if to reinforce the correctness of my decision to vote for the Partnership, since the general election the PNM has done nothing to convince me that it has learned anything from its defeat. Keith Rowley has (so far) been living proof of the Peter Principle ... where a man is promoted and promoted until he is promoted out of his level of competence. Dr. Rowley may yet show that he has the capacity to grow into a national leader, and one can fervently hope that he does ... it is not in the country's interests that we do not have a competent opposition. Sadly, though, almost from day one he has proven to be a huge disappointment as far as national leadership is concerned. Some (unkind) wags have even said that he makes Patrick Manning look good!

But this post is not about Dr. Rowley and his failings. That can be discussed at another time. I merely mentioned it in passing because this is one of the factors that have me most concerned, i.e., that there is no credible alternative to the People's Partnership at this time. And that is most worrying! A country gets the best from its elected Government when the politicians know that if they mess up there is a credible alternative ready and waiting in the wings. Perhaps the best example of this is the Panday regime (1995 to 2000). At all times Mr. Panday and his boys knew that one false move could and would have Mr. Manning and his PNM charging back! (Which is, of course, exactly what eventually happened).

But the Government's handling of the "Reshmi Affair" has been awful to say the least. the biggest problem with the affair is that it has damaged very badly not only the Government's credibility, but that of the National Security Minister as well as the Prime Minister herself. Brigadier Sandy's reputation is in tatters. He may or may not resign. The truth is that is exactly what an honourable man would do. How can he possibly not? And if he stays, what would the country think about any future contraversial pronouncements that he will most certainly have to make? Talk about damaged goods!

But the most serious (as well as the most worrisome) damage has been to the Prime Minister's credibility. She has not emerged from this matter without some serious wounds to both her image as well as her credibility. And her PR advisers clearly have neither the political knowledge nor the political experience to help her over this particular hump.

Oh! She'll get over it. And this will pass. But the Partnership is going to discover very soon (if they haven't found out already) that political credibility is something that once lost never quite comes back. Put another way, if, say, the Partnership's credibility the day after the general election was at one hundred percent, and the "Reshmi Affair" has caused its credibility to slip, say to eighty-five percent, they may (if they work hard) restore some of their lost credibility to, say, ninety percent. But it will never come back to one hundred. The problem is that if their credibility gets another sideways blow that reduces their credibility by, say, another fifteen percent, then they will only be able to claw back five percent, which means that they would then be down to eighty percent. And so it goes on until their credibility falls below the critical level ... and then they are finished!

And the tragedy is that it was a self inflicted wound that was not only completely unnecessary, but the result was completely predictable. What in the name of heaven were they thinking?

Thursday, January 27, 2011


So, almost 21 years after the event we are finally getting a Commission of Enquiry (CoE) into the 1990 coup. It is going to be interesting to see what comes out of it. So far, there has been nothing that we didn't already know ... then Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson was shot, the policeman outside police headquarters was murdered in cold blood, the Muslimeen stormed the Parliament and took the Parliamentarians hostage, then Minister of Planning Winston Dookeran was mandated to "negotiate" with the Muslimeen, and so on. But the really serious issues which have been kept out of sight and not discussed are what we need to know, for these unanswered questions can help us understand the past and plan appropriately for the future.

First of all, there is the very, very serious question that has not been addressed, i.e., the terrible lapse in the State's security apparatus that allowed the Muslimeen not only to import into the country the terrible firepower that was so obviously in their hands, but actually to be able to use it with such devastating effect. Prime Minister Robinson was head of the National Security Council (NSC). What reports was he getting before the coup? Did he have any information on teh activities of the Muslimeen? If so, what information exactly did he have? What steps did he take to deal with that information? And if he took none, then why not? The buck for national security at the end of the day stops with the Prime Minister. Mr. Robinson has got a lot of explaining to do and the CoE has a duty to extract that information from him regardless how sympathetic (or pathetic) a figure he may cut at the age of 84 where he is clearly weak and fragile. No right thinking person can approve in any way the treatment meted out to Mr. Robinson by the Muslimeen. he did not deserve to be shot, nor did he deserve a boot in his face, nor any of the other indignities suffered by him at the hands of these men. But that does not take away from his responsibilities to the nation for this very obvious lacuna in the nation's security. He is/was ultimately responsible for the breaches and we need to know how these breaches in security came about. For if we don't know, they can happen again ... and again, and again, and again!!

There are other obvious questions as well: How did the guns for the coup get into the country? Who facilitated the entry? Were they brought in on regular containere ships and smuggled through Customs? Were they brought in by small boats from Venezuela? How did they get here? There must have been agents for the Muslimeen buying these guns in the United States. We know that one person has already been convicted in the USA for purchasing these weapons. Were there others? If so, who? This was before e mail, Facebook and Twitter. How did they communicate with their co-plotters back in T&T? Were the Muslimeen's communications being monitored back then? If not, why not? If so, then what reports were going up the chain of command to the regular autorities?

It is important to remember that at the time of the coup the Jamaat al Muslimeen were being closely monitored by the State and there was an army outpost at the Jamaat's lands in Mucurapo. How the Muslimeen were able to leave their compound on that fateful Driday afternoon, under the very noses of the army, armed to the teeth, and be allowed to go into Port of Spain unimpeded is a serious question that has never been answered to date.

There are also peripheral questions which need to be answered, for they too are most serious. For example, both Messrs. Manning and Panday were not in the Red House when the rebels stormed in. This could well be coincidence and certainly over the years there has not been one iota of evidence to suggest that either or both of these men had foreknowledge of the crime of treason that was committed by the Muslimeen. But rumours persist that both men knew in advance of the Muslimeen's intentions. This is most unhealthy for everyone, not least Messrs. Panday and Manning. The CoE has a duty either to clear the names of these two men ("they had nothing to do with the coup and had absolutely no foreknowledge of it" or "they knew about it in advance and that is why they absented themselves. In the circumstances, they ought to be charged with being an accessory before the fact to treason"). The fact is that asuuming (though certainly not accepting) that either or both men knew about the coup in advance and did not alert the authorities then they would be guilty of being an accessory to the crime of treason. Treason and murder, by the way, carry the death penalty in T&T!

If the hard questions that have remained unanswered over the years are not answered now then this CoE will have been (like so many before it) a total waste of time and money. If the CoE does ask and get answers to these questions then it will have done a tremendous service to the country and the Caribbean as a whole. All of this comes at a time when national security is in the spotlight with the imbroglio over the appointment of Ms. Reshmi Ramnarine. In other words, it underscores the critical importance of competent persons being at the reins of the nation's security apparatus ... which, of course, is the reason why there has been such a fuss made over the appointment of the unfortunate Ms. Ramnarine in the first place!

Monday, January 17, 2011


There have been 'rumblings and a'tumblings in the atmosphere' coming out from certain quarters in T&T that seem to indicate that there are a lot of people in decison making positions that just haven't got it. I am specifically referring to the Minister of Finance and his cadre of advisers as well as the Minister of Labour. I will readily admit that there may be others, but these two gentlemen are the chief culprits in the crisis that is slowly approaching us.

Let's deal with the Finance Minister first: He just doesn't seem to get it! The economy is at a standstill and there is serious capital flight. Why? The newspapers reported on Saturday that last year (2010) some $700 million TT fled the country. And yet, Trinidad 7&Tobago has ample foreign reserves and international rating agencies such as Standard & Poors are giving us an excellent credit rating. So why is there a shortage of foreign currency and why are wealthy persons preferring to convert their money and send it abroad stashing it in banks where the return on investment is barely 1%?

The answer has to be a ringing lack of confidence in the Finance Minister and his ability to handle the various problems that beset the country. Enter the Minister of Labour. He too has to take a major part of the blame. His absolute refusal to intervene in the ongoing PSA dispute has been noticed by the private sector. And they (the private sector) have voted with their dollars. "Let's get them out of here", the private sector has said, "at least until we are satisfied that things will settle down again". The Minister has categorically refused to use his considerable influence and credibility with the labour movement to help to settle this dispute, preferring instead to leave his colleague, Mr. Dookeran, spinning helplessly in the wind while the economy goes down the tubes. And you can talk until you are blue in the face! The private sector's first (and last) loyalty is to their own personal bank accounts. The wealthy did not get wealthy by "putting country first"!

The Prime Minister is trying to tiptoe around this problem. She has sent a clear signal that she is unable to deal with Mr. McLeod by putting another trade unionist, Mr. Rudy Indarsingh, in the Ministry of Labour, obviously hoping that Mr. Indarsingh's labour credentials will be enough to be able to talk to and appease Watson Duke, the head of the PSA. We can only hope that this move will solve the problem ... but Mr. Indarsingh will still only be a junior minister in the Labour Ministry, and my personal guess is that the unions will all look for a signal from his substantive boss, Errol McLeod. And Mr. McLeod and his sidekick, David Abdullah, have both made it crystal clear which side they are coming down on and that no such signal to settle will come down any time soon!

So the bleeding of foreign exchange continues; the currency continues to devalue; the Minister of Finance continues to dither and his advisers seem hopeless and helpless to deal with the deteriorating situation. And the economy remains stalled with inflation climbing and jobs being slowly lost!

If you were to ask me what to do, I would say to the Prime Minister that she has to have a very serious talk with Messrs. Dookeran and McLeod and tell both of them that they have a very limited time to perform or "get off the pot". Their mutual dithering (for different reasons, no doubt) is causing serious heartache. We haven't got a long time again to solve our problems and get the economy moving.

Monday, January 10, 2011


My wife asked me a very good question this morning: "If you were the adviser to the Government for one day ... and they would listen to you ... what would you advise them to do?"
"That's easy", I thought. "I would ...!" And then I stopped. What the heck would I advise them to do? There are a host of problems to deal with. And all of a sudden it was my responsibility to solve them?! It's really easy to fix the problems of the country from the luxury of your armchair ... or computer, but when you actually have the power, what would you do? What would I do?

So I stalled for time. "Why are you asking me that?" I said. "Because', she replied, "You are always so critical. What would you advise? How would you fix things?" Well, I don't really think that I am so crititical, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if my wife of all people thinks that I am ... well, maybe there might be something in the criticism. (Just 'maybe' ... the lawyer in me says never admit anything!). And she was right! You shouldn't criticise unless you really believe that you have a solution to whatever you are being critical about.

I must confess that I found this a very difficult question to answer. But here is the summation of the advice that I would give to the Government (who, of course, in an ideal world would listen to these 'golden nuggets' of wisdom and act on them):

First of all, I would deal with crime. At the end of the day the solution to crime does not involve more laws. It involves catching the bad guys and locking them up. This involves better policing. We have had about a million crime plans, all with varying catchy names like Operation Anaconda and so on, but none of them making so much as a dent in the terrible statistics coming out day after day and week after week. Let's face it, if the system of policing that we have now involves an inexorable rise in the crime rate, the solution does not involve making excuses for the rise, the solution lies in changing the system. So far, all we have done is tinkered with the system. But we haven't changed it! The Police Service is badly trained, badly paid, badly equipped and badly educated! Deal with it! Nothing! Absolutely nothing is going to change until we deal with that problem head on.

Next, I would deal with the economy and what Indira Sagewan-Ali called the biting issues. For example, I would tell the Minister of Finance that he had to settle with the Clico policy holders now. What exactly the settlement would look like, unfortunately I can't say today because I do not have the necessary figures from the Treasury ... but if I were the adviser ... well, I would have them, wouldn't I? But I would tell the Finance Minister that he had to start practising what he preached for so long ... transparency and open government. Trust the people with the truth.

Then I would turn to the Minister of Labour and tell him to get off his fanny and intervene in the PSA dispute. Either the Government has the money to pay the public sector workers or it doesn't. If it does then he should come out and say so and force the Minister of Finance to bend. If it doesn't then he should do the same thing and use his credibility with the Labour movement to convince them that the Government simply can't pay. But this sitting on the sidelines and coming up with the neo-colonialist bleating of "There is a process to be followed" is just so much ... I almost wrote a four letter word beginning with 'c'. Let me just say that it is so much rubbish!

I would then call all the Ministers together and tell them that even though their Government is a coalition and they all come to the table with differing agendas, they are going to have to understand that they are the Government of Trinidad & Tobago. In this regard they have got to learn to speak with one voice and to control their respective mouths and their respective Parties. This squabbling in public has to stop. It ain't good for anybody, not least the country.

Finally, I would tell the Prime Minister that she still has a lot of goodwill left. But she is squandering it uselessly. There are too many events which the public recognises as 'PR' and too little action taking place on the ground where it counts. I would tell her that she has got to be seen to have a firm grip on the reins and to be leading her fractitious MP's in a manner that engenders confidence. I would tell her that it was time to take the velvet glove off of her iron fist.

By then my day would be over and as there would be no second day for this adviser, I would have to go quietly home and see if any of my ideas actually worked! (Which is, of course, the big test!) Of course, there would be many, many more issues that I had not had the time to deal with ... but, maybe if my first ideas worked they might come back to me for a second day! (Yeah! Right! But I am dreaming, so I have the right to make comments like this.)

But being serious again, that's what I would advise. What would you advise? Think about it. It's not nearly as easy as it looks. And although I have been a little facetious in places in this post, the question is a most serious one.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


On my radio program on Monday afternoon ("Counterpoint", Radio 91.1FM, Mondays to Wednesdays from 4pm to 6pm) I had the good fortune to have as a guest on the show the noted Trinidadian economist, Indira Sagewan-Ali. I asked her several questions including what did she think that economy will look like come December of this year? Ms. Sagewan-Ali replied that she could not answer that question with any degree of certainty as everything depended on what happened with the economy by the end of the first quarter. If things did not get better by then, she said, we would face a bleak end of year ... things would not get better! But, she went on, in order to fix the economy there were six major issues that the Government had to deal with ... and deal with them quickly ... or face a continued 'backsliding' that will have us all worse off.

1) Crime: The economist pointed out that crime not only was affecting the personal lives of everyone, but that it also was affecting the economy in that investments that otherwise might be made by both local as well as foreign investors were either not being made at all, or plans for such investments were being put on hold. Further, the extremely bad publicity being given to our local tourist industry because of crime was seriously and adversely affecting our tourist industry. Put another way, crime was making us seriously un-competitive in just about every area of the economy that requires investment.

2) We need to get a clear sense of direction from GOTT: Just about everybody has been complaining about the lack of a sense of direction from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (GOTT). Those sympathetic to the Government (including me) have pointed out in its defence that the new government inherited a heck of a mess and has had to spend an inordinate amount of time 'putting out fires'. The answer to this from the economists is that this is all well and good, but there has to come a time when you come to the country with a clear message of the way forward. I agree with that. The truth is that there is only one test of leadership, and that is to lead, and to lead vigorously.

3) All Government Ministers must "speak the same language": Well, just about everywhere you go you hear people complaining about this. The sad reality is that too many Government Ministers have been making contradictory statements that have led to confusion in the minds of people as well as ill will between the various factions that make up the People's Partnership. The truth is that this cannot be allowed to continue. It simply does not make for stable government.

4) A quick resolution to "biting" issues: Probably the biggest "biting" issue is CLICO. And the need for a quick resolution to that particular matter is (or ought to be) obvious. But there are other "biting" issues as well. Ms. Sagewan-Ali pointed out that the ongoing PSA dispute needs to be settled quickly, again for reasons that ought to be obvious. There is also the question of the Petrotrin $18 billion debt, which is receiving no publicity at the moment, but which nevertheless is a most serious matter that is bound to rear its very ugly head sooner rather than later.

5) Approach to social intervention: Although the Prime Minister has appointed a young and energetic Minister of Social Development who seems to be always at the ready at the drop of a hat or the coming of a flood to be on hand to give out hampers and blankets, there does not seem to be any real approach or policy behind the Government's actions. 'You have a problem? Well, here's a hamper', seems to be the Government's approach to the social problems of the society. Okay. I agree that the foregoing appears to trivialise the Government's approach, but the exaggerated example was given in order to emphasise the perception that there really does not seem to be any policy or philosophy driving the Government on this very important matter.

6) Capital flight: For most of last year there has been a steady flight of capital with many wealthy Trinidadians and business people betting that things will get worse economically instead of better. Indeed, our floating dollar now trades at around TT$6.40 to US$1.00 ... down from its peg of $6.30 to $1.00. This slow but steady slide is not being halted ... indeed, the only thing that can and will halt it is a return of confidence in the economy. But nothing seems to be happening. There is no payment of past bills to the contractors who are owed several billion dollars. There was no big capital investment program announced in the last budget (which unfortunately can best be described as "wooly"), and the Minister of Finance is not projecting the confidence that investors need to feel secure. The truth is that many, many people (and I am certainly one of them) want this Government to succeed. And most people are still prepared to give them time to get their act together. But the truth is that time is running out and the Prime Minister is soon going to have to make a very serious decision as to whether or not she has got the right persons in the right job or as to whether or not a re-shuffle of her Cabinet will bring about the changes in the economy as well as a return of investor confidence that is so clearly needed. In thinking about her options I would remind her of two old adages:
- Doing nothing is not an option!
- The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again
while expecting a different result! (Albert Einstein)

Monday, January 3, 2011


The story of the British couple who were viciously attacked in Tobago several months ago is a tragedy for all parties in this terrible drama. It is an obvious tragedy for the Greens. Here was an elderly couple, not wealthy, who invested their retirement monies (or a substantial portion of it) in what they thought was an island paradise only to be viciously attacked and almost killed by a young Tobagonian who clearly couldn't care less as to how badly he hurt them or as to whether they lived or died. It is a tragedy for the attacker who has been caught and is now languishing in jail. A wasted life! It is a tragedy for Tobago and all those who depend on the tourist dollar for a living ... the taxi drivers, the hotel workers (from the desk clerks to the maids) and those who own hotels and restaurants. And one of the biggest tragedies is the T&T society, the majority of whom simply don't get it.

I have seen comments in the press and on the internet from Trinis who can't understand why this country should have to compensate a white English couple (with all the obvious racial overtones in that attitude) who apparently have more money than most Trinis. These mis-guided souls simply don't get it. And so, I will try and explain what has happened and why we should compensate the Greens.

If you are one of those who are of the opinion that we do not need tourism at all, then don't bother reading any more. The arguments in this post are valid only if you think that we do need tourism in Tobago.

To answer those who say that the Greens are not deserving of any compensation I would like to point out the following:
(1) There is on the Statute books of Trinidad & Tobago a Criminal Victims
Compensation Act ... and it has been ther for a long time. But, (and it is
a big "but") no Government has yet appointed a Board to administer
the compensation. So no monies can be paid out that is properly due
to victims of violent crime under the duly enacted laws of Trinidad &
(2) In the United Kingdom (where the Greens come from) there is a law
which is enforced where victims of violent crime are compensated by
the State. (This is addressed to those who say that a Trini would not
receive compensation from the British Government).
(3) Even if there was no such law on our Statute books, the Tobago
House of Assembly made a promise at the time to do so. It sits ill in
the mouth of the THA leader, Orville London, to try and deny this

In other words, on the one hand there is the law to justify such a payment. On the other hand, there is the question of a (broken) promise ... or at the very least, the perception of a (broken) promise. Under our laws, if a Government makes a promise to pay for something (whether the Government was laible or not) then the person at the receiving end of the promise to pay gets a legally enforceable right known as "legitimate expectation". And tell me, don't you think that it would have been better to have dealt with the Greens in such a way that they did not complain to the Daily Mail rather than have to pay for damage control?

But the issue of compensation to the Greens, in my opinion is almost a red herring. Far more serious are the allegations of racism and the Tobago Minister's reaction to these allegations. Stop a moment and look at the facts: Two white English people talking to a very widely read English newspaper have made some terrible allegations of racism and bad treatment received by them while in hospital. Now, tell me: What do you think that the average white English reader will believe? That the allegations are true or false? No prizes for the correct answer! And in those circumstances, what do you think that the average English reader will believe when the Tobago Tourism Minister who has announced that an investigation into these allegations reveals (and I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts that this will be her report) that she has found no evidence to substantiate these allegations?!

And, do you think that this report will calm the fears of those who are thinking about taking a vacation in some sunny spot in the world and encourage them to come to Tobago? Do you understand the old adage about perception being reality?

I'm sorry. My own view is that this tragedy has been terribly mis-handled from start to finish. Further, tourism in Tobago has effectively been killed for at least ten years ... if not longer. The tragedy of the Greens is symptomatic of a much deeper seated problem. The average Tobagonian does not understand the difference between "service" and "servitude" and does not want tourists in his island. (Indeed, there are too many Trinis who don't understand that difference either.) No! Tourism in Tobago is dead. The Tobagonians and the authorities have made it crystal clear by their deeds as well as their words that they really do not want a Tourist industry. If and when they do, you will see a sea change in attitude. Until then, we should stop wasting money in pretending that we want such an industry. We clearly don't!