Monday, December 24, 2012


Our beloved housekeeper, Claudia, is a pastor in a small Pentecostal church in Barataria. She is a lovely, God-fearing woman who is not only religious but deeply spiritual. Yesterday, at her invitation, my wife and I together with our two sons made the pilgramage to her small church for a Sunday/Christmas service. Minou (my wife) had earlier in the week gone and bought presents for about thirty of the young children in Claudia's church to hand out after the service. She (Minou) stayed up quite late on Saturday night wrapping all of them and fixing labels on each present with the names of the children that Claudia had given her.

And so, at exactly 8am (the time that Claudia had told us to be there) we arrived with the proverbial rings on our fingers and bells on our toes. What can I say? We were welcomed with love and genuine friendship and the service as well as the sermon (performed by a visiting pastor - Sister Diane) was completely inspirational. I honestly cannot say when I so enjoyed a service before!

Hold on! I am coming to the point! But I had to set the scene first.

After the service my two sons, Robin Alberto (13) and Reynaldo (10) put on Santa hats and stood up in the front of the small congregation and called out the names of the children and gave them the presents that Minou had so lovingly wrapped the night before. The children were obviously thrilled at receiving a gift, BUT (and this is important) were even more thrilled that each gift had their OWN name on the present. In other words, the gift wasn't just a 'generic' present, but each child felt special as his or her gift was so obviously meant for him or her personally!

Afterwards, going home in the car Reynaldo opined "Now I know why Santa likes giving so much. I never knew that it could be so much fun!!"

And that just about said it all! I know that I took a long time to come to the point. Forgive me, please. But it struck me forcibly that all too often we lose sight of what really matters in our lives ... love! The gift of giving is an important part of Christmas, both for Christians and non-Christians alike. And sometimes the words of a child serve to remind us sharply of this.

Mery Christmas to you, my dear readers. And may all that you wish for come true in the new year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


It had been my sincere hope and desire that the last post that I would make on this blog for this year would be to wish everybody a merry christmas and to close down for the rest of the year. However, President Max Richards has decided to raise this issue of section 34 yet again and I just can't, in the interests of fairness, let this go without saying something.

I have said it many times before: if ever you want to understand a problem go back to the beginning. So, we must begin with the question: was section 34 a good idea and good law? The answer to both questions is an unequivocal 'yes'. So? Next question: why? And the answer is: because there is a huge back log of cases in the criminal courts and it IS (and I use the present tense deliberately) felt by all stakeholders that it is more than unfair to have persons with a criminal charge hanging over their heads for ten years ... an unconscionable period of time. Further, it was felt, that in the event that the delays in proceeding with a trial were not unconsciable in all of the circumstances of a particular case, that in the interests of justice, a case would not be automatically dismissed but that in order for it to be dismissed the accused would have to apply to a High Court Judge who would have a discretion as to whether or not the charge should be struck out.

Got that? Good! Because now we move on to the next part of the story: According to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice came to the Cabinet of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago and said that he wanted to have section 34 proclaimed immediately. He is reported to have said that he had consulted with the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the Chief Justice who had both agreed and 'signed off' on the early proclamation. The rest of the Act (the Administration of Justice Act) could not yet be proclaimed as certain things that needed to be put in place had not yet been organised. The explanation made sense as it was recognised from the beginning that the particular section was good law. So the Cabinet went along with the request. Incidentally, there is NOTHING to suggest that the Prime Minister's account of what happened is not correct or true.

It turned out that the Justice Minister had NOT consulted with either the Chief Justice or the Director of Public Prosecutions who were as surprised as everyone else as to the early proclamation. Further, the already dark and (what ought to be) unnecessary suspicions were exacerabated when reports surfaced of the Justice Minister drinking with one of the Piarco accused, Mr. Galbaransingh, in Mr. Galbaransingh's hotel in Tobago. (Whether it was champagne as was reported, or Perrier water as claimed by Mr. Volney, is irrelevant).

Mr. Volney was fired and the Prime Minister made a report in writing to the Office of the President occupied at that time by Mr. Timothy Hamel-Smith, the then Acting President, on the matter. And that ought to be the end of the story.

So? What the devil is President Max Richards up to? He meets with the Prime Minister EVERY Wednesday for crying out loud! You mean to say that in all of these meetings since he came back from his vacation that he did not ask the Prime Minister what the story was about section 34? Really? And now he puts pen to paper? Really? He does not know what happened? He didn't read what the Prime Minister told HIS office while he was away? Really?

The President has to be very careful here. An impartial observer might well be forgiven if he came to the conclusion that the President was trying to cause a little mischief and trouble for the present Administration in these waning days of his Presidency. If that was true, he would be doing a great disservice both to his office as well as the nation.

Monday, December 17, 2012


On Saturday morning sitting in our kitchen having our morning coffee and watching the news on television my wife and I were moved to tears over the tragedy in Newport, Connecticut. I decided then that I would write something on this today (Monday … I like to keep my computer in my office … if I take it home I will end up working there). But later on that morning I received an email from a very good friend, Lennox Raphael, who lives now in Copenhagen. In my mind Lennox expressed so exactly how I personally feel about the tragedy, that although his words are not precisely mine, they express exactly how I feel … about everything. So, with his very kind permission, I publish his e mail to me below as if it were my own.

Hi, Robin,

That is what a good friend said to me when I had Papaya: "Lennox, you are making your grandchildren!"

And I’m thinking of this right now because I am so saddened by what happened in Connecticut yesterday, hours after I left New York to return to Copenhagen.

So painful that young lives can be snapped out so easily, so casually, as tho they are flies, when they are actually angels. I think it was ex-Commissioner Bernard who said some years ago that Trinidad was experiencing a satanic wave: well, not just Trinidad&Tobago. Seems to be everywhere.

The enormity of this cruelty has been derailed by customary jet lag.

Even the snow that covers Copenhagen seems to be crying.

The world is never easy.

I know (in Trinidad) we feel at times our world & values are crumbling before our eyes; but it's everywhere.

Here, in Denmark, where there is at least one bank robbery a week, irrational acts are commonplace.

About a year ago the front page of the bestselling newspaper here, ExtraBladet, was covered with snapshot photos of young kids who had been knifed by their parents, as fallout from parents caught up in jealousy.

And not so long ago that massacre of young people in Norway.

In Trinidad & Tobago adults are poor examples of commendable behavior. And I am alarmed when I see the public language that is considered acceptable.

There is so much rage in everything. I noticed this the five weeks I spent there recently. Even the way people drive cars; the way politicians speak. Everything is bait instead of debate.

Words do break bones.

If anything, with all the good we have going for us, we are an increasingly careless nation bent on stretching the rubberband to breaking point.

A satanic wave seems to be embedded in all levels of the society.

Impatience replaces Intolerance.

Public conversation is punctuated by insults.

We seem to forget that young people are convinced by good examples.

There seems to be a death wish in the society.

I admire people like you who can make a point without prolonging scars.

Too much picong is ruining the society.

We have to pull back from the emotional cliff.

I was thinking of some of these things while in Washington getting Papaya her Kazakhstan visa and while in New York where people instead of helping a distraught man who was pushed unto the subway tracks would chose to take photos of him being savaged by the train.

Skyscrapers become tents.

And even the New York Post would splash the unforgivable photo on its front page, the photographer, when criticized, said he was using his flash to warn the incoming train that smashed the poor man to bits.

So the Connecticut fever is everywhere in varying doses.

Well, I don't want to continue in this vein. This is the season of the Christ.

And our children & grandchildren are holy and ought to be shielded from the mindless savagery of our times.

God bless,


Incidentally, you can get more of Lennox at the following address:

Thursday, December 13, 2012


It is well established in democratic countries around the world that editorial writers are always anonymous. The editorial written in a newspaper (daily or otherwise) represents the view of the newspaper and not of the individual who actually writes the piece. This is why I can understand the disdain of the 'Jamaica Observer' when calls were made to disclose the identity of the writer who wrote the editorial on Tuesday last (December 11th) headed "The More Important Issue Is Abuse of substance". Clearly, the persons calling for such disclosure wanted to suggest that the writer of this editorial was an African and/or a Trinidadian who is opposed to the People's Partnership Government. In other words, that the editorial was racially motivated.

Certainly, the editorial in question was curious to say the least. Assuming (but not accepting) that any and/or all of the criticisms in the editorial have validity then an obvious question arises: why didn't the esteemed newspaper raise these type of criticisms years ago when black/African regimes were in power in Trinidad & Tobago. There are endless examples of this type of behaviour which the learned editorial writer calls "an abuse of substance" relating to past regimes, and yet there is not even a peep of an acknowledgement from the newspaper that this is not something that arose today.

So? Why? What is different? Is there a connection between the newspaper and certain opposition elements in Trinidad & Tobago? (And I ask this question completely open ended and without inference.) Naturally, the newspaper would deny this even if it were true. But if there was then that would explain this rather savage attack on the T&T Government. After all, the editorial basically says that the PP Government of Trinidad & Tobago is racist! (Let's call a spade a spade!)

But, is it really? Did other administrations in T&T not do the same thing? If so, were they racist as well? If not, why not? (And by the way, the short answer is 'yes' other administrations did EXACTLY what the 'Observer' editorial is accusing this administration of doing.

Let us put the race card squarely on the table: Since independence Trinidad & Tobago has had thirteen different administrations including the present one. (Two of them were headed by Patrick Manning at different times so I am counting those as separate). Of these thirteen administrations only three were headed by Indians: Basdeo Panday and Kamla Persad-Bissessar. And of the two consecutive administrations headed by Mr. Panday, one lasted less than a year! All the other administrations were headed by Africans.

Now, a cursory look at T&T's civil service will show a preponderance of Africans. And I mean a REAL heavy weighting that certainly does not reflect the ethnic make up of the society. It's even worse when one takes a look at the ethnic make up of employees at the Central Bank, which is sometimes disparagingly referred to in T&T as "little Nigeria" (a reference to the overwhelming preponderance of Africans in that establishment). Ambassadorships and chairmanships have in the past been dominated overwhelmingly by Africans ... many of them friends and relatives of the regimes then in power.

So, the question remains: why did the 'Observer' choose to write this editorial now? Is the newspaper connected with certain elements opposed to the Government in T&T? If so, shouldn't the newspaper declare this? (Understand me well: there is absolutely nothing wrong if it is, but at least then people would be able to understand why it wrote that editorial). It would be naive to think that the newspaper would not be aware that its editorial would not create waves in Trinidad & Tobago. Not in this day of Internet connectivity. And it would be equally naive for the newspaper not to know that opponents of the PP Government would not use this as an example of "unbiased" reporting and commentary. Pull the other leg: it's got bells on it!

No. The 'Observer' had an agenda that it hasn't disclosed. There is no law that says that it has to disclose the agenda and it has every right in the world not to disclose it. But what is one law for the goose also has to be the same law for the gander, and the newspaper's blindness and apparent unwillingness to recognise the real injustices of the African dominated administrations of the past is of concern. Why? Why isn't the newspaper even-handed in its criticisms?

Finally, nothing in this post should be construed as defending or attempting to defend the PP Government. I personally do not want to appear as a defender or an apologist for the present administration and I have very deliberately not commented one way or the other on the charges made against them by the 'Observer'. My purpose here is to say quite publicly that I have noticed a very clear bias against the PP Government by at least two daily newspapers in T&T which bias is completely defensible in terms of freedom of the press, but which is indefensible in that both newspapers pretend to be politically neutral ... which they are quite patently not!  Ugly suspicions in my mind are raised when I see a daily newspaper in far away Jamaica attacking the Indian dominated PP Government seemingly out of the blue. Why would the Jamaican newspaper do this? It doesn't make sense! And when somebody does something that on the surface you don't understand it is usually because he does NOT want you to understand! Would that my suspicions could be proved to be completely unfounded!

P.S. I intend to send a copy of this post to the 'Observer'. I don't really believe that they will publish it ... but, hey! You never can tell! It would say a lot if they did, but would say even more if they don't!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

QUESTIONS THAT SHOULD BE ANSWERED (but probably never will)

One thing about us Trinis, we always seem to get caught up with the confusion of the moment and very rarely take a step back to look at various issues with an unclouded mind. Bearing in mind that compelling reason will never convince blinding emotion (and we Trinis are very, very familiar with blinding emotion)  I have listed below some 29 questions that I think ought to be asked, even though I have no doubt that none of them will ever get an answer. Still, if I make at least one person think then I will consider my job here well done. The questions are all asked as open ended as I could possibly make them. Readers will have some idea from previous posts as to what my personal opinion might be on any one question, but my opinions aren't important here. What is important are yours. What do you think?

1) Why did the DPP try to stop the Coleman Commission of Enquiry (COE) into the Hindi Credit Union and CLICO just when the COE was about to move to begin to look into the actions of Messrs. Duprey, Monteuil, and other CLICO honchos, on the ground that the COE might prejudice a criminal trial?

2) If this is such a serious point why didn’t the DPP take the same point when Harry Harnarine and the Hindu Credit Union came under Coleman’s spotlight?

3) Why did the DPP take so long to launch a criminal investigation into CLICO?

4) If the CLICO honchos were giving the Central Bank such a hard time to get information why didn’t the Central Bank say or do something a lot earlier?

5) Do you believe that the Central Bank’s hands were really tied in getting CLICO to “behave”? If this is the truth, then has this problem been fixed? If so, when was it fixed? Who recommended that it be fixed? When was this recommendation made? If it still has not been fixed, then why not?

6) Why didn’t it come out sooner that the Government had a lot of technical reports on the Mon Desir/Debe section of the highway being built in the South?

7) If the reports were/are so flimsy that they only consist of a few pages and some photographs as has been alleged by Dr. Kublalsingh why will it take the JCC 60 days to read them?

8) If the reports are so voluminous that it will take at least 60 days to read them and this is in fact a reasonable time, then does this mean that Dr. Kublalsingh and his supporters were not telling us the truth when they claimed that the report(s) is/are inadequate?

9) If they were not telling us the truth then what does this mean?

10) If they were telling us the truth then where did these reports suddenly come from?

11) Do the re-routers and/or Dr. Kublalsingh have their own technical reports to back up their claims and allegations?

12) If not, then on what basis exactly were/are they making their protest? Because they “feel” or “believe” that this is wrong? And if they have no scientific evidence to justify their claims then why do they want to meet with the JCC committee to put forward their views?

13) If their protest is based on scientific evidence, where is their study? Who did it and when? What exactly does it say?

14) Why hasn’t the press checked on the re-routers claims rather than printing them as fact?

15) Did Dr. Kublalsingh really go for some 8 or 9 days without water? If so, would this be a world record given that T&T has a very hot climate and dehydration in a hot climate is always greater than when it is cold?

16) If he (Dr. Kublalsingh) did cheat and/or has been cheating on his fast is this important? If so, why? If not, why not? Does it make a difference to know whether he cheated or not?

17) Why didn’t the press “embed” a reporter with Dr. Kublalsingh to make sure that he wasn’t cheating? Is this important?

18) Should we accept everything that the media tell us without questioning it? Is the media reliable and do they always tell us the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

19) Is the print media especially biased against the PP Government?

20) Is this important to know? If not, why doesn’t it matter? If so, why should it matter?

21) If the print media is indeed biased should they declare their bias? Would this be an infringement on their freedom to publish whatever they liked or would it simply be an act of openness and honesty? Is it an infringement of a free press to require that it be honest?

22) Is the Milsherv/Tobago House of Assembly a big deal? If not, why not? If it is a big deal then why is it not making continuous headlines a la Kublalsingh? Or is this an example of political bias on the part of the media in that the THA elections are coming up next month and they don’t want the PNM to be embarrassed?

23) If Commissions of Enquiry are really important why did the police effectively refuse to investigate NH International (the construction firm belonging to Mr. Emile Elias) for possible breaches of the Larceny Act in the Scarborough General Hospital/Landate matter by saying in writing that they couldn’t find the file?

24) Do you believe that the police really couldn’t/can’t find the file?

25) If you don’t believe that they can’t find the file what do you think is the real reason that the police will not investigate this matter?

26) Should the press be pursuing this or should they allow it to be dropped as it is now more than 10 years old?

27) If they should just drop it then does this mean that all old matters should be dropped? What about Calder Hart? When should his matter(s) be dropped?

28) And speaking of Mr. Hart, do you believe that he can get a fair trial in T&T?

29) If you were on a jury that was trying Mr. Hart would you approach the trial thinking ‘well, I presume that he is innocent but I will certainly listen to the evidence of the prosecution’ or would you approach it thinking “I know you’re guilty but let me hear what you have to say’?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


It is difficult to understand why people are so surprised to learn that more than 300 persons who fall under the auspices of the Integrity legislation in Trinidad & Tobago haven't filed their 2011 declarations. Let's face it: filling out those forms is a pain in the neck (if not somewhere lower) and because there are so many forms to review a lot of people will reason that perhaps they might simply get away with it as the Integrity Commission simply won't have time to go after them. That is the reality of the human condition.

The truth is that the Integrity Commission with the best will in the world is largely ineffective and ineffectual ... and this comment has nothing to do with the competence or lack thereof of the Commissioners or their staff. It has everything to do with the fact that the legislation is cumbersome and unworkable. Case in point: is there anybody out there who wants to bribe an opposition senator or member of Parliament? No?! Why am I so surprised!! But opposition MP's and senators have to fill out the @#$%*&% forms! I remember once when I was an opposition senator the Integrity Commission began asking me what I considered at the time to be really stupid questions concerning a matter in my form. I got really quite upset with not only the stupidity of the questions but with the sheer arrogance of the Commission. The matter was eventually resolved by the then Commission Chairman John Martin meeting personally with me and apologising orally for their arrogance and stupidity and acknowledging that in no way was I suspected of doing anything wrong but that they were just "following protocol", and begging me just to give a simple answer to one question which I did. I had been prepared though as a matter of principle to let them take me to Court. And I did ask them for the names of anyone who might want to bribe me! After all, as an opposition senator there was absolutely no way that I could award or influence the award of ANY contract. Stupidity! But if I told you of the time that was wasted on this nonsense you would want to cry!

But there are a lot of people who probably should fall under the net but aren't there. For example, there are a lot of not-so-high but not-so-low civil servants who can do a lot of damage to the public purse if they so desired. Then again, who is more guilty: the "bribor" or the "bribee". And yet we ignore the "bribor".

I could go on, but hopefully you get the point. Why don't we do it another way? Instead of requiring a huge amount of persons in public life to file a return every year, why don't we widen the net to include just about everybody who might be capable of being involved in "bobol" of one kind or another, but that nobody be required to file an annual return as such. Then we give the Integrity Commission the power to make enquiries of any person for any period that he is in public life. This way, for example, if it was suspected that Minister X was paid a bribe by contractor Y for project Z the Integrity Commission could go into Y's books to see whether or not there have been any suspicious payments. Then the Integrity Commission could take a harder look at X.  Follow the money and you usually will find the crook.

In other words, rather than making everyone file every year, only those persons whom the Integrity Commission decides to be investigated would have to answer. A lot of time wasting and inefficiency would be avoided and the Integrity Commission would become much more effective and efficient.

One final problem could be the possibility of witch hunts. Yes. In this country that is a real possibility. But we could figure out a way to deal with that. Indeed, I have one or two ideas of how we might deal with it which I would prefer not to discuss at this time. That would be for another post IF this idea were to gain "traction". There is no point in discussing something now that simply ain't gonna happen! But then again you never can tell.  What do you think?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

War! WAR! vs. JAW! JAW!

The Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh/Re-route movement matter continues to dominate the news headlines. It is probably fair to say that despite the rhetoric on both sides of the issue (which is getting rather extreme) that nobody wants Dr. Kublalsingh to die and that most people would like to find some middle ground or solution that effectively allows both sides to save some face. After all, Dr. Kublalsingh's point (after stripping away all the 'ole talk' and threats to kill himself) is that the Mon Desir/Debe section of the highway is damaging to the environment. There is nothing wrong with a man taking this point (unless, of course, it is not true).

Allegations have been flying fast and furiously as to whether or not this central point is correct or not. The "Re-routers" claim that the Government study is a farce and not worth the paper that it is written on. Dr. Kublalsingh himself seems (as reported in the newspapers) to have changed his demands from requiring a meeting with the Prime Minister, then not requiring one but instead requiring a commitment from her  to appoint a committee approved by the "Re-routers" to look again at the environmental issues. (The reporting in the newspapers is not as clear or as balanced as one might hope for ... but, hey! We've got to work with what we've got). The Government's position is clear: their reports show that the claims are groundless and so the highway goes forward.

And then we have all the opponents of the Government crawling out of the woodwork seeking to bask in the "reflected glory" of Dr. Kublalsingh's fast. The fact that some of these people were nowhere near Dr. Kublalsingh's protest against the aluminium smelter is forgotten and seemingly irrelevant. What is important is here is yet another stick to beat the Government with! (Nobody ever said that Life in the Tropics was dull!!) But none of these people seem to want to help find a solution. One gets the (rather unkind) impression that they would actually like Dr. Kublalsingh to die so that they could beat the Government with an even bigger stick!

My view on the whole imbroglio is as set out in my last post on this subject. Nothing has happened to persuade me to change my mind. What I would like to discuss now is a possible way forward.

The "Re-routers" (and, please, I use the term in a purely descriptive sense ... just in case somebody wants to take issue with it) are making a claim which, if true, ought to be taken seriously. Further, they say that the Government's study is flawed. Well, perhaps a way out might be for them (the "Re-routers") to present to us ... the general public ... their own study on the problem listing the experts that they have relied on and their qualifications. This way we could all see whether or not they really do have a point.

In a court room "he who alleges must prove". Okay! I know we aren't exactly in court, but do we have to be? I consider myself a fairly well informed person, but I don't have any recollection of the "Re-routers" providing scientific and documented reports to prove their case. If they have, maybe they could/would provide it again.? I can't believe that if a clear, cogent and scientific argument is made for all to see that the Government would not listen to it. But all that I have seen so far is a lot of blinding emotion. Frankly, I do not blame the Government for not giving in to the emotional arguments even though I readily concede that cool, clear reasoning will never defeat blinding emotion!

By the way, I am not interested in whether Dr. Kublalsingh is "cheating" on his fast (although I will confess that if he is in any way that this would affect his credibility and would therefore lead naturally to other matters that I prefer not to discuss at this time). What I am interested in is finding a way forward. Both sides are digging in and nothing less than "all out victory" would seem to suffice. Both sides have a lot to lose from a defeat. Let's try and turn the rhetoric away from winners and losers and try and discuss this matter in an intelligent and civilised manner. Because at the end of the day, Trinidad & Tobago will win if the right decision is made and Trinidad & Tobago will lose if the wrong decision goes through. We are all in this together. 'War! War!' is not the answer. Let's try a little 'Jaw!Jaw!'

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The hunger strike of Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, leader of the Re-route the Highway Movement, is receiving (very) understandable media attention. Any reasonable observer looking at the whole 'brouhaha' dispassionately would have to admire Dr. Kublalsingh's commitment to his cause. After all, if a man so believes in his cause, whether it is to re-route a highway or a religious belief, or anything and everything in between, that he is willing to die for it, such passion and such commitment is something that ought to be admired whether you agree with that person or not.

Put another way, if Dr. Kublalsingh were to use that passion and commitment to, say (being ridiculous), invent a better and more nutricious hamburger, society would praise him and beat a path to his door. He would make a fortune!

There are quite a few people though who tend to regard Dr. Kublalsingh more like a Don Quixote type figure who was described in Miguel de Cervantes's epic story "El Caballero de la Triste Figura" ("The Knight of the Doleful Countenance") as "... un entreveradero loco, lleno de lucidos intervales" ("... a muddle-headed fool, with frequent lucid intervals") ... Don Quixote was made famous in the story for his 'tilting' with (attacking) windmills that he thought were evil giants.

It is tempting to argue that Dr. Kublalsingh is doing the same with this hunger strike as Don Quixote did with his windmills. He is insisting that he will starve himself to death if the Prime Minister of this little Republic refuses to meet with him (and no doubt capitulate to his demands). That this is emotional blackmail of the highest order cannot be in doubt. In other words, he is saying that it will be the fault of Mrs. Persad-Bissessar, and only Mrs. Persad-Bissessar, if he dies. Now let me be clear: whether you fall on the side of the "re-routers" or not: NO Prime Minister can ever be seen to be giving in to this sort of blackmail ... and it is blackmail! If it happens in this case, where would it end. No! As much as Mrs. Persad-Bissessar's humanity and her obviously clear desire is not to see a needless death, as Prime Minister she cannot allow herself to be forced to do something like this. It is clearly not in the interests of the State. If she did this (give in) today, what would stop somebody else from doing a similar thing tomorrow? Where should we draw the line?

You will note that I have been careful in this writing to avoid discussing the rights or wrongs of Dr. Kublalsingh's argument. I see that as completely separate and apart from what is happening right now ... the potential death of a human being that is completely unnecessary and not in the best interests of the society, much less the good doctor's family nor the doctor himself! Further, it is not in the best interests of the wider society that our Prime Minister (and she is our Prime Minister whether you voted for her or not) be forced to meet and treat with someone in circumstances where she is effectively being blackmailed.

Let's look at it dispassionately: if Dr. Kublalsingh does in fact starve himself to death will that change the route of the highway? I doubt it. His death might give opponents of the Government yet another stick to beat the Prime Minister and her team with, but I bet you dollars to doughnuts that NO intelligent opposition politician (and to the detractors of the PNM please do not say that this is an oxymoron) would say so clearly that there would be no way out of the statement (other than "I was wrong") that he would give in to a hunger striker. It just ain't gonna happen! No statesman (or woman) can afford to give into something like this!

In other words, Dr. Kublalsingh is probably killing himself (for that is exactly what he is doing) for a lost cause. As I said at the beginning of this post: I do admire his passion; I admire his commitment, but I don't think that this particular cause is worth killing himself for. Even if you think that what he is doing is pure tomfoolery or that he is just plain wrong on this issue, I would urge you to add your voice to mine and say to him please don't kill yourself. There will be other causes where your country will need your passion and your commitment. If you are dead then it will be our loss and you won't be there to help.

 The famous English playwright, George Bernard Shaw, said it best when he said "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable man insists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man"

We need men (and women) like Dr. Kublalsingh in this country whether you agree with them or not. They keep the rest of us on our toes. They force us to look again at issues that we might otherwise overlook to our long term detriment. Please join me in asking him not to kill himself.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"we were wrong"

That's a title or headline that you won't see over any editorial in any T&T newspaper any time soon. Another title or headline that you shouldn't hold your breath for is "WE ARE SORRY". The question of a fair minded press comes to the fore once again. Let me be clear: the newspapers have every right in the world to be as biased or as unfair as they want to be. Bottom line: that is what freedom of the press is all about. I am not about trying to muzzle them, intimidate them, or restrict them in any way and I will be the first to join in condemning anybody who would be so foolish as to attempt to do such a thing.

But criticism is a very different thing from intimidation, and nobody and no institution should ever believe that it is so sacrosanct that it cannot be criticised.

What has brought this on is the announcement by the Attorney General yesterday that the long running (2 year) arbitration battle between the Government and BAE Systems over the cancellation of the OPV's (Offshore Patrol Vessels) has been settled in the Government's favour with BAE Systems having to pay to Trinidad & Tobago the not inconsiderable sum of $1.382 billion.

Now, on Sunday 28th October, 2012 the Sunday Guardian published a headline article that the Attorney General had gone to the Cabinet with a request for approval that the Government pay BAE the sum of $1.3 billion!! The article caused a huge fire storm with the Opposition yelling "we told you so!" at the top of their voices.  The article went into some detail saying that several Cabinet Ministers were irate and "confirmed the decision" to pay BAE had been taken but did not want to be taken. The article even went on to report that Mr. Dookeran, who had chaired the meeting, walked out of it.

The Attorney General vigourously denied the truth of the article and slammed the Guardian for publishing it at a time when the matter was 'sub judice'. Other Government Ministers also stepped up to the plate, but the truth is that not very many people believed them. After all, why would the Guardian publish such a story IF it weren't true?

It is pellucidly clear now that this report was as wrong as wrong could be. In fact, the truth is just the opposite! But there has been absolutely no apology from the Guardian or even a paltry acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, it got its facts all wrong and that what was reported simply could not have been true. But the editorials in both the Guardian and the Express this morning chose instead to criticise the Prime Minister for her criticisms of Opposition Leader Keith Rowley which she made at the Divali Nagar.

Tell me something: what do you honestly think is more important to Trinidad & Tobago this morning: the fact that the country has won a huge law suit or that the Prime Minister inserted certain political comments in a speech at a religious function? (And I am not here discussing whether or not the comments were justified. That is for another time. Let's not mix apples and mangoes.) For the life of me I can't understand it. I see this victory in the arbitration as a big thing and whether or not you like the Government "the boys" ought to be congratulated. It is a big thing. But the newspapers haven't done so.

I can only come up with one possible reason for the attitude of these two newspapers, and that is that they are terribly biased against the Government. If somebody ... anybody ... could give me another reason or reasons I would gladly consider it or them. And as I said from the very beginning, if they want to be against the Government (or anybody else) then that is their absolute and unqualified right. Just be honest about it!

This is the second time that I have pointed out the inherent bias in the press. I know all too well that the editors will ignore what I am saying here and will continue as before, but hopefully, one or two of my readers will begin to notice and will adjust their opinions on what they read in our media accordingly.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Tomorrow the world  celebrates the Hindu festival of Divali (or 'Diwali'), which in itself is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. The name 'Divali' is a contraction of 'Deepavali' which translates as 'row of lamps'.

A reader sent me the following which I thought was so beautiful that I have copied and pasted it verbatim. While the words aren't mine, the thoughts certainly are:

"Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to Ayodhya after the end of Rama’s 14 year exile and after vanquishing the demon king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with earthen lamps.

"To this day, Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps filled with oil; these lamps are also called ‘diyas’. Lighting a lamp is symbolic of the action required to dispel the darkness of ignorance from our lives. When we light a lamp, we make an affirmation of opening our hearts and minds to the light, calling forth qualities that bring our inner brilliance to the fore. When a person is truly happy and fulfilled, they look naturally radiant. Each one of us constantly strives for happiness; on Diwali, we recognize and celebrate light as the source of happiness, light being symbolic of inner power and strength.

"We would like to leave you with a beautiful prayer from the texts of the
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that expresses the powerful yet humble intention that accompanies the age old tradition of lighting a lamp:

“Asato Ma Sat Gamaya
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya”

Lead me from untruth to truth,
from the darkness of ignorance, to the light of wisdom,
from the cycle of birth and death… to eternal liberation."

Shubh Divali to everybody.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Like a lot of Trinidadians I stayed up late to watch the results of the U.S. elections on Tuesday night. One of the things that I noticed ... indeed, that I have been noticing for some time ... is how many similarities there are between Trinidadian politics and those of the United States. In both countries the electorate is deeply polarised ... over different issues, of course, but the divisions in both societies run deep and unfortunately seem to be getting deeper. Both countries are experiencing serious economic difficulties, but both have real and substantial hopes that with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work they can turn the corner and get out of the mess. Both countries had previous administrations that caused unnecessary economic hardship (Bush in the U.S., Manning in T&T) and left their successors with the unenviable task of cleaning up. (And it is a truth that problems cannot be solved with the same level of awareness that created them.) Both countries have political parties in opposition that are more obstructionist than conciliatory and who appear to be more interested in regaining political power than fixing the country. Both countries have administrations that have made more than a few unforced errors in charting the way forward.

I could go on but you get the point: put another way, except for the names and a few other (very obvious) changes our stories are the same.

One of the first lessons that the People's Partnership administration should learn from the American elections is that the size of their electoral victory in 2010 was transient, to say the least. The most that any political party can count on is that its core support will stay faithful. Everybody else ... every other vote ... will de-camp the moment that the party in power merely appears to deviate from the promises made in the general election campaign. Whether those transient voters will go over to the other side is a horse of a very different colour!

For the opposition PNM the first lesson that it should learn is that the loudest voices don't often or necessarily command the votes needed to win. The Republicans shouted the loudest and longest about President Obama's shortcomings (real and perceived) but that did not help them to win. Indeed, when the Democrats finally fought back and exposed many of the things that the Republicans were saying as untrue there was a backlash that obviously hurt Romney and company.

The next lesson for everybody is that inclusive beats exclusive everytime! In the American case the Republican party message was that it really was only concerned with white middle/upper middle class America. The Democrats made it clear that all were welcome under its roof. The politics of inclusion triumphed. In T&T a big problem for the PNM is the generally held perception in the country that the PNM has no real regard or time for the non-African element in the society. Certainly, the present make up of the Party leadership as well as its core support seem to support this widely held perception. The Party has begun to try and correct this perception, for example, with its leader, Dr. Rowley, attending the Divali Nagar, reportedly for the first time ever, in an effort to show himself as being more amenable to all things Hindu and Indian. Unfortunately for him it will take much more than a token visit to a major Hindu function/festival to persuade non-blacks that the leopard has indeed changed its spots. The PP, on the other hand, whatever its faults (both real and perceived), is inarguably much more inclusive than the PNM ever has been despite rather clumsy efforts by the PNM to brand it otherwise.

Another lesson from the U.S. for our politicians is that pandering on or to everything simply does not work. What matters more is a constancy of views. Mr. Romney was regarded as insincere as he continuously flipflopped on a large number of issues that were important to large sections of the American electorate. So when the opposition PNM gets into bed with the trade unions a thinking voter has to ask 'is this being done on a principle that is really important, or is it simply politics of convenience'?

Truthfulness and sincerity are important. President Obama has shown that there is a need to lead with passion and power ... the power of conviction, the power of truth .. and that type of performance ... that type of leadership ...translates out into getting the majority of the electorate to follow you.

Monday, October 29, 2012


"Fools rush in", the song goes, "where angels fear to tread". Anybody who is foolish enough to be even perceived to be attacking the media is asking for trouble. The entire media establishment will come down heavily on the hapless fool who makes so bold as to launch even the mildest criticism of any section of the press,  and will not listen or pay attention to his argument except to ridicule it in the strongest possible terms.

The unforced error of the patently incompetent Minister of Communication is a classic example of this. Mr. Mohammed's "crie de couer" about perceived unfairness in the way that the Express newspaper was reporting on his government was treated first as a terrible attack on press freedom and an attempt by the Government to intimidate the free press of Trinidad & Tobago. Then it was treated with (justly deserved) scorn.

Looking at it from the outside I must confess that I didn't get that impression (that the Government wanted to curb press freedom). In any case, let's face it: the Government couldn't even if it wanted to ... the checks and balances are too strong and our Judiciary is too independent for such a plan (if ever there was one) to succeed. The impression that I got was that the Minister is really is not as bright or as articulate as he ought to be (putting it as kindly as possible) and really does not understand either his role as Minister of Communication nor the role of the media in a democracy. That is a pity, and the truth is that he deserves to be pilliored for his rather assinine letter as well as his subsequent statements.

But after we have all tarred and feathered Mr. Mohammed, we ought to take another look at his point and ask the question: is the media in general, and the Express in particular, biased against the Government and/or is the media and the Express in particular reporting and commenting unfairly on the Government.

Again, this is purely my personal view, but to be absolutely fair to Mr. Mohammed, I do feel that he has a point, even if he has stated it in a most inelegant manner. Dealing with the media in general first: I have noticed that there is very little comment or reporting on the BOLT affair. Now, if a matter ever required explanation it is this. And yet  all the newspapers seem to have dropped it. Why?  The only explanation that seems to make sense is that the media do not WANT to report it because of bias. Now, I will readily agree that there may quite possibly be several other good explanations that would or could make sense ... I just can't think of them.

You see, when you contrast the media's treatment of the BOLT affair with that of the Section 34 matter you cannot help but notice the great difference. Almost everyday there is an article, report or commentary on Section 34. And the explanation given by the Prime Minister when she fired Mr. Volney has been swept aside and ignored. In one sentence the criticism of the Prime Minister's statement is that it didn't answer the fundamental question as to why Section 34 was proclaimed in the first place without the rest of the Bill.

I must have missed something, but I thought that the Prime Minister said in essence that the Minister of Justice (Volney) had brought the note to Cabinet for proclamation and that he had reported that both the Chief Justice as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions were on board with it. We know now that this was simply not true. But if I were in that Cabinet and my colleague had come with that note and had reported to me that the relevant stakeholders had agreed I would have trusted him and gone along with his request. I would have been wrong. Very wrong. But I must confess that I would have gone along ... and I believe that just about everybody else reading this post would have gone along as well.

But this is not good enough for the critics of the Government. I can understand that. If I were an opponent of the Government I too would be beating this matter everyday. But I don't understand what else a reasonable person could do. The guilty party was fired. That Mr. Volney clearly misled his Cabinet colleagues is clear. Indeed, he may even be guilty of misfeasance in public office, but that is another matter.And the calls for the Attorney General to resign on the ground that he has overall responsibility for legal affairs in the country are disengenuous to say the least. Section 75 of the Constitution does mandate that the Attorney General will have control over the legal affiars of the Republic, BUT this section is subject to Section 79 which says that the President acting on the written advice of the Prime Minister can assign responsibility for ANYTHING to any Minister. In other words, a Prime Minister can take away any portion of an Attorney General's portfolio and give it to another minister. And that is what happened in this case!
So? What's going on?

But let's turn to the Express. In recent times we have been treated to prominently placed articles and headlines that seem to have the sole purpose of discrediting the Government. For example, recently the Express headlined that Carlos John, one of the accused persons supposedly benefitting from the proclamation of Section 34 bought a Mercedes Benz for his daughter with the licence number PBS 34. The clear inference of the headline was that Mr. John so loved the fact that Section 34 was getting him off a serious hook that he gave his daughter an extravagant gift that recorded his pleasure at the early proclamation. You had to read the article to see that Mr. John had in fact bought the car a long, long time ago ... long before Section 34 reared its head. And then there was the article in the Express that trumpeted the fact that Attorney General Ramlogan had bought two multi million dollar apartments shortly after he became Attorney General. The inference in the headline was clearly implying some sort of hanky panky on Mr. Ramlogan's part although the article did concede that lawyers do often get paid late and that Mr. Ramlogan did have a most successful and lucrative private practice.

I could go on, but you get the point: just as all that glisters is not gold, all that the press say about their integrity and intentions is also not necessarily true. What we really need in this country is a little more honesty ... on all sides!! And "all" must mean ALL!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

BOLTs and Red Herrings

The old saying "the law is an ass" came about for very obvious reasons: from time to time a decision is handed down by one judge or the other that flies in the face of common sense. Put another way, something may be legal on the face of it but may be morally repugnant. For example, until very recently a man could not be convicted of raping his wife. (I am not a criminal lawyer but believe that in Trinidad & Tobago that is still the case, i.e., a man cannot be convicted of raping his wife.) The very nature of rape is sexual intercourse without the woman's consent. It doesn't take all that much imagination or analysis to realise that this law is simply wrong. But you know what? It's the law!

That is why I looked upon the release of the legal opinion from no less a person than the Acting President of Trinidad & Tobago, Senator Timothy Hamel-Smith, given some 18 months ago as a complete red herring and its use in this BOLT affair as making a mockery of the law. Let's understand something: there is absolutely NOTHING illegal about a Build-Own-Lease-Transfer deal. Nothing at all! And without even reading the THA Act (the legislation which sets up the Tobago House of Assembly) I can bet dollars to doughnuts that a BOLT deal is well within the powers of the THA.

So? Why the fuss? The answer is that while there is nothing illegal with a BOLT transaction, the details of the particular transaction under scrutiny do require a lot of straight answers and do (without those answers) raise a number of very ugly and very unnecessary suspicions. As I have said many times, if you want to understand a problem go back to the beginning. So, here are the facts (again) as publicised in the newspapers:

          - The THA buys a piece of land from a company owned by the
             Rahael family for $12 million;
          - John Rahael is a former PNM Government Minister; the THA is
            controlled by the PNM;
          - The THA leases the same land back to the Rahael family - just
             in a different company name for 199 years at the rent of $10 a
          - The THA then enters into an arrangement with the Rahaels
             whereby they will build an office complex for the THA and rent
             it to them for 20 years at the end of which the THA has the
             option to buy the property back at a reduced price. The agreed
             rent is $1.2 million per month;
          - The THA makes a deposit of some $21.5 million as security for
             the rent for a building that hasn't yet been built!

Now, if you ask me as a lawyer is the above deal legal, my answer would be an unequivocal 'yes'.  But if you asked me as a person does the whole thing "smell" I would also have to say "yes". It doesn't take a genius to see from the above that some rather serious questions arise as to the propriety of the whole transaction. That there may be answers to these questions is always possible and at this time we ought not to rush to judgement. But the fact that Mr. London's THA has been silent to date on the questions of propriety (or impropriety) does tend to exacerbate the reasonable fears of the ordinary citizen. Mr. Hamel-Smith's legal opinion would not have addressed these issues - and if it did (which I doubt), then we should be allowed to see how the learned gentleman dealt with them.

But some $33.5 million of public money has been paid out already and nothing concrete (literally as well as figuratively) has been received in return. This is an issue that needs to be aired and answered in full. But without the obfuscations and red herrings that are being dragged across its path. We don't deserve that.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


The old Chinese curse 'may you live in interesting times' obviously was uttered with Trinidad & Tobago in mind. That there is never a dull moment in this country speaks loudly to this curse. The times are certainly most interesting what with the Section 34 fiasco, the BOLT scandal, the firing of the Ministry of Finance lawyers and just about everything else in between.

 The criticisms of the Government and the Attorney General in the Section 34 fiasco can be summed up in one sentence: that the Constitution places ultimate authority for advising the Cabinet on all legal matters squarely in the lap of the  Attorney General and that responsibility cannot be delegated by executive fiat to anybody else. And that is a very good argument.

In one sentence, the defenders of the Attorney General say that at the end of the day responsibility for the Section 34 fiasco fell squarely in the lap of the Minister of Justice and the oversight imposed by the Constitution on teh Attorney General is more of a technicality than a practicality. In other words, it is clearly impractical for an Attorney General to have to oversee everything that a Justice Minister does. Otherwise you might as wll not have a Justice Minister. And that too is a good argument.

I do understand that the arguments on both sides of the divide run deeper than what I have attempted to express above. But if you can't say something in one sentence then you clearly can't say it at all. You may need a paragraph, a chapter or even a whole book to explain the sentence, but you ought to be able to make your central point clearly and succinctly.

I don't want to get into the Section 34 arguments. I can see both sides of the question and (like most of us) are waiting to see what might come out next ... for this matter is clearly not finished.

What I wanted to discuss here is the fairness ... or lack of it ... in the approach by the media generally, and the critics of the Government in particular, in their approach to perceived corruption. You see, those who are critical of the Government in this Section 34 matter have raised a hornet's nest of criticisms over what happened. And no matter which way you cut it, it is clear that something was wrong and at the very least somebody was responsible. The Prime Minister said that the Justice Minister was to blame and he was fired. But this has not been good enough for the critics and the barrage continues.

Then, out of the blue, comes the BOLT fiasco involving the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) which is controlled by the Opposition PNM. Now, this BOLT business simply doesn't make sense. According to the facts in the public domain the THA bought a piece of land from a company owned and controlled by the family of former PNM Minister John Rahael for $12 million. So far, so good. Twelve million bucks goes into the Rahael family coffers. But then, inexplicably, the THA grants a lease for 199 years right back to the Rahaels (well, a company owned and controlled by them) for something like $10 a year! Then the THA gives the Rahael's company a contract to build an office building on the land which the THA agrees to rent for $1.2 million a month! And if this weren't enough, the THA gives the Rahaels $21.4 million as an advance payment for the security for rent for a building that hasn't yet been built!!
And then, Orville London, the Chief Secretary of the THA says that this is a normal and perfectly proper business arrangement!

All I can say is "WOW"! I want a deal like that! I sell you some land for $12 million and then get it back for the next 199 years at a peppercorn rent and that is a normal business arrangement?! And then on top of that you give me an additional $21.4 million as security for rent for a building which I haven't built yet!? And this is normal business practice? Really?

Okay. I know that you don't need my sarcasm. In any case, that is not the point that I am trying to make here. My point is that while I can see a defence for the Attorney General in the Section 34 matter (whether or not one agrees with that defence is not the point ... the point is that one exists) I really can't see any defence in this BOLT matter. It stinks to high heaven! And I would have a lot more respect for Messrs. Rowley & Co. if they were to be as critical of Orville London and John Rahael and this BOLT matter as they are of Anand Ramlogan.

Put another way, if they really are about fairness and integrity in public life shouldn't they be saying something about this? And shouldn't they defend it IF it can be defended? But if it cannot be defended then they should help us dael with that mess. What is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Recent events in Trinidad have been like manna from heaven for the newspapers and other media outlets. Whether you call them gaffes, missteps, mistakes, or simply outbreaks of incompetence the latest furore over the proclamation of the now infamous section 34 is revealing about the society as a whole and the fact that our politicians on both sides simply don't seem to get it.

The facts that are in the public domain are as follows:
      (i)  All sides agreed in Parliament that the law needed to be changed 
            to get rid of the archaic system of having preliminary enquiries in
            criminal matters to see whether or not an accused person should
            be made to face a jury of his peers over allegations of criminal
      (ii) A Bill was brought in that effectively dealt with this but it was
            agreed by all that certain things would have to be put in place
            before the Bill could become law;
       (iii) Somebody (or bodies) on the Government side gave an
               undertaking (or undertakings) to the Parliament that the Act
               (when a Bill is passed by Parliament it becomes an Act) would
               not be proclaimed until everything was in place;
       (iv)  It was not going to be possible to put everything on place until
               about January 2013.
        (v)  One piece of the Act ... section 34 ... was proclaimed by the
               President (a Presidential proclamation brings an Act or a piece
               of it into law) on 31st August, 2012 ... Independence Day!
        (vi) Section 34 effectively puts a limitation period on the
               prosecution of certain crimes (excepting things like murder,
               etc.) if the trial has not begun within the specified period.

Those are the facts. But, in typical Trini style now comes the confusion. The proclaiming of section 34 helped two of the most "famous" (if that is the right word) accused persons, Mr. Ishwar Galbaransingh and Mr. Steve Ferguson who have been facing corruption charges arising out of the building of the Piarco Airport more than ten years ago. The cases against these men have been proceeding tortuously through the legal system at a pace that would make a snail look like Usain Bolt. What feels like a million years later their preliminary enquiries are still not complete.

Messrs. Galbaransingh and Ferguson are anything but foolish and as soon as section 34 was proclaimed they jumped and applied to the Court to have their matters thrown out.

The problem is that both of these gentlemen are known to have been
financiers of the ruling UNC in the past. And whether it is true or not, most people believe that they still are. Further, the very surrepticious way that the Government went about having section 34 proclaimed has raised very ugly and (what ought to be) unnecessary suspicions that there was/is some "hanky panky" at play. These suspicions have been exacerbated by the fact that absolutely NO explanation has been forthcoming from either the Justice Minister, Mr Volney, under whose Ministry this particular Act falls, or The Attorney General who has overall responsibility for all legal matters in Trinidad & Tobago, as to WHY section 34 was proclaimed when it was.

The population has been inundated with all sorts of excuses and explanations and the Government has even had an emergency session of Parliament to repeal section 34, but nobody on the Government side has come forth with a simple and believable explanation as to why section 34 was proclaimed when it was.

In most democracies, Governments manage to survive crises like this one which cause a sudden and unexpected loss of confidence, by the firing or resignation of the Minister or Ministers at the centre of the particular storm. This has not happened in this case and the two Ministers in the centre of the storm have given every indication that they ain't gonna "fall on their swords" any time soon; and in the very glaring absence of a credible explanation as to why the now infamous proclamation was made or some judicious resigantions or firings, Mrs. Persad Bissessar is going to find that the moral authority to govern has slipped away like the proverbial thief in the night. Unless this situation is rectified now (and "now" means "now") she will find that the country will rapidly become ungovernable ... and that is not something that any right thinking person could possibly want. It is not in our collective interest that a Government should fall like this, but fall it will if the Prime Minister does not act quickly and decisively ... and fast.

Monday, September 3, 2012


I had deliberately stayed out of the debate about the "fifty most important people" because (full disclosure here) I felt that the contribution of my uncle, Bobby Montano, was probably the single most important contribution to T&T's development in the last 100 years. I couldn't believe that nobody thought to highlight it or even mention it. Maybe I should have. I certainly could have ... easily. But I have always felt a certain reticence in blowing my own or my family's trumpet and I thought that at the very least that serious commentators and persons who genuinely care about T&T might have done so.

But now that the fiftieth anniversary celebrations are over and no one has "stepped up to the plate" I feel that at the very least I should use this space to bring to the attention of anybody who really cares about this little country and its history, something that has been completely overlooked.

What am I talking about? In two words: Point Lisas! The development of Point Lisas was the brain child of my uncle who led the South Trinidad Chamber of Commerce and pushed it ... hard! At first, the Williams led administration wouldn't "take the height" of the south based businessmen who used their own time and their own money to get the idea off the ground. Dr. Eric Williams simply wasn't imterested! It was only after everything had been planned and a way forward had been mapped out that the Government moved and took over Point Lisas. (And by the way, ask people like Bobby Montano, Krishna Narinesingh and Sydney Knox how the Government came to take over PLIPDECO as the Point Lisas Development Company Limited is called. That story will almost make you cry with the unfairness of it all!) Incidentally, would you believe that most young people now believe that it was Eric Williams who thought up Point Lisas?!

But the story of Point Lisas is not being told and neither is there sufficient recognition of those who pushed it. And without the development of Point Lisas we wouldn't be anywhere near the development that we are at today. It is the single most important story coming out of Trinidad & Tobago in the last 100 years and has impacted all of our lives in a most positive way.

Instead, we read of "fifty greats" like, for example, musician Roy Cape. Now, I have always liked the music of Mr. Cape, but are we seriously saying that his music was of greater importance to T&T than the development at Point Lisas?  And if you say that is not the point, that music and the arts ought to be recognised as well, I will reply that I couldn't agree more, but that the operative words in that sentence are "as well". And, incidentally, this is NOT to be construed as a criticism of Mr. Cape.

We need not only to be aware of our history but why it is so important that we get it right ... now! Put another way, we need to be truthful.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Leadership is, or ought to be, amongst other things, about doing the right thing. Political leadership is, or ought to be, amongst other things, about taking a country forward. Any action by a political leadership that produces divisiveness ought to be deprecated, especially on occasions when it is right and meet that a sense of national pride and unity should be promoted.

That is why I have been looking on with dismay over certain events this week that have me in despair on this eve of our nations fiftieth anniversary. To my mind they were as unnecessary as they were ... well, just plain stupid! Further, instead of the nation coming together this week with a certain pride at reaching this milestone, the country is even more divided than it was, say, a month ago!

Let's look at issue number one: the flag! Opponents of the Government took great umbrage over a billboard put up along the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway by certain private citizens who are supporters of the Government. The source of their angst was the fact that the billboard had the national flag on it; superimposed on the top right hand corner of the flag/billboard was a picture of Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar. On the bottom left hand corner was a picture of the UNC Party Chairman and National security Minister Jack Warner. According to these people this was evidence that (a) the Government was using public funds to promote a personality cult (or cults), and (b) that this was tantamount to a debasing of the national flag wherein the faces of politicians on the national flag cheapens it and is wrong.

To which my reaction was 'huh'? Maybe I have been too heavily influenced by what goes on in the United States, and I would be the first to confess that just because the Americans do something doesn't mean that we should also do it. But in that great country (and, yes, whether you like them or not, it is a great country) they constantly wrap themselves in their flag. Why, just this week I saw a picture of an elephant (the symbol of the Republican Party) superimposed on the American flag. And guess what? NOBODY has said boo!! (You will remember that the Republican Convention is taking place this week in Tampa.) And why didn't any body say anything about this: putting a political symbol on a picture of the flag? (I mean, surely this is worse!!) Answer: Because the Americans take pride in thier republic and are HAPPY whenever anybody or any organisation wants to proclaim his or its love of their country. Put another way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a politician wrappimg himself or herself in the country's flag. Indeed, the PNM did it in an advertisement in the Guardian this week (much to their embarrassment) and I do recall other advertisements in the past when the Prime Minister Manning also wrapped himself in the flag. So what?

But this is really no big thing! Unless, of course, you are an opponent of the present regime in which case you will grab at any and everything to try and make them look bad. Even when it means putting a damper on the country's birthday celebrations!

Which leads me to the next point: Dr. Rowley and the PNM say that they are not going to take part in the country's official celebrations. Why? Basically, because the Government has (in their opinion) not given Dr. Eric Williams a proper place or recognition, nor has he been propery honoured in the celebrations. Also, the Government did not listen to their ideas for how the event ought to have been celebrated!

To which I say: 'What?!' What kind of 'spoiled child' behaviour is this? Let us assume (though certainly not accept) for the sake of argument that the PNM is on solid ground with their complaints. Does this mean that because they might have legitimate complaints that they should not take part in the national celebrations? In other words, because the present regime refused to do things their way that they will not attend the "party"? This is not a private affair. This is the birthday of the nation and even if the Government was wrong in anything that it did with regard to teh celebrations (which I don't necessarily agree with at all) then responsible political leadership requires ... no! Demands... that the politicians on all sides should come together for the country's birthday. It is a little like two siblings quarreling over their parents' anniversary and one saying that he won't go because he feels that the other has not agreed with the type of cake to be served. Who gets hurt by the stupid quarrel? The parents!

The attitude of the PNM and the opponents of the Government in this matter is mean spirited, selfish, small-minded, stupid and (worst of all) designed to create further divisions in an already fractured and divided society. It is just plain wrong!

Monday, August 27, 2012


Birthdays are essentially markers of time ... 'I have now been on the planet for X years' ... and are always a great time for reflection ... even for nations. And a fiftieth birthday is a significant marker, and one which should rightly be celebrated. There are several ways of looking at this particular birthday ... what have I accomplished in my 50 years on the planet? Where am I right now in this particular phase of my life? Where do I want to be? Have I achieved the goals and ambitions that I wanted to when I was younger? I could go on, but you get the point.

Except for the names and a few other obvious changes, the same questions can apply to the fiftieth birthday of a nation. Where were we fifty years ago in terms of our development? Where are we now? Have we fulfilled our potential? What mistakes did we make along the way? Have we recognised our mistakes? Are we moving to correct them? Are we on the right path for the future? If not, why not? If so, are we doing the best that we can in all of the circumstances, or could we be doing better?

I am certain that many of my readers will be able to add more questions requiring answers and introspection that are (or may be) even more pertinent than those listed above. My list is not intended to be all encompassing, but merely a guide as to the type of questions that we should all be asking ourselves as we approach the 31st August. I am going to try and answer ... or at least give my 'take'  on some of them, but, again, do not offer these views either as gospel nor as necessarily correct. They are simply my own personal views and are proffered as such. In so doing, you may notice that I have tried very hard not to be either political or overtly critical of either past or present regimes. The reason for this is because I believe that right now what is needed more than anything else is cool, calm and clear reasoning ... which I am well aware, has never defeated blinding emotions!

Starting with where we have come from: the truth is that we have come a long way. Fifty years ago there was no sharing of the national pie or cake the way that there is today. More citizens are better off today than they were fifty years ago. But, (and it is a big "but") there is today a greater level of dissatisfaction with the quality of life than there was fifty years ago. Perhaps it is because people are generally better educated than they were fifty years ago? Or maybe it is because the promises of politicians over the years have not been kept? Or maybe it is because there is a feeling that we could have done a lot better? Or maybe it is all of these things and more? But it is clear that if you go throughout Trinidad & Tobago today almost everyone you meet will complain about the quality of life and how he/she feels that things are not as good as they could or should be.

So, have we recognised our past mistakes? Because, if we haven't, then we certainly can't fix them! You could argue that we have and that is why over the years we have elected and removed various governments because they had failed us. On the other hand, you could argue that we haven't because the fact is that we have been unable to change the mindset of our politicians who, once they get into office, behave exactly as their predecessors did. My answer to that criticism would be that this is more a fault of our Constitution and that as a people we have failed to have any intelligent discussion on constitutional reform. In fact, I will go so far as to say that unless and until we discuss constitutional reform in a meaningful way that every single complaint that we have today and had yesterday, we will have tomorrow regardless of who is in power.

Could we do better? Oh yes! Definitely! But you must remember that there are in this little twin island republic many entrenched 'status quos' , and the problem becomes more acute when you recognise that the slightest suggestion for change always means death to some 'status quo'.

To quote Shakespeare, "the fault dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves"!

So, I say happy birthday T&T. May we all go forward towards that "shining city on the hill" that we all so aspire to achieve. In the words of the calypsonian, "we can make it if we try".

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Like just about every Trinbagonian on the planet I was thrilled when young (he is only 19) Keshorn Walcott won a gold medal in the Olympics. I was also pleased when a mistake by the Canadian relay team gave us the bronze medal in the men's 4X100 relay race. (Hey! Rules are rules and  a win within the rules is still a win! Sorry, Canada. I do know how you feel, but if the shoe was on the other foot you would also be shrugging your shoulders and saying the same thing to us.)

I also have no problem at all with the rewards and accolades being heaped upon the young man. I think that his achievement was stupendous and as far as I am concerned he deserves all that a grateful nation has heaped upon him and more.

But (as I argued more than ten years ago) we really should establish a firm national policy as to how we are going to reward our sporting heroes in the future. For example, Keshorn won a gold medal. One! But what are we going to do if tomorrow his cousin wins two gold medals? Three? What if his girlfriend wins four silvers? What about if somebody wins two bronze medals and a silver? Get the point? We need to have a settled policy that applies to everybody. Not to do so invites chaos.

In the United States gold medal athletes are given US$25,000 per medal. Silver medalists get $15,000 and those who bring home a bronze get $10,000. In Canada their gold medalists get Can$20,000 per medal. Then the other medal winners are compensated as their American counterparts. In addition, in both countries the coaches of the winning athletes are also given financial rewards (which are not as great as the athletes but still nice). Incidentally, both of these countries impose a tax on these monetary prizes. America even taxes the value of the medals ... but I think that it is the only country in the world to do so.

Now, I am not saying that we should limit ourselves to the Canadian or American standards. Neither am I saying that we should exceed them.
My point here is a simple one: whether you agree or not with the "goodies" that the Government has showered on our Olympian gold medalist, you would have to be absolutely churlish not to agree that Mr. Walcott does deserve something from a grateful nation. The outburst of national pride that he egendered by his superlative feat is ... well, priceless! But we must at all times keep our feet planted firmly on the ground and we must be fair to those who will follow after him. The time has come for us to have a national policy on rewarding ALL of our sporting heroes ... from the Olympics to cricket and football and everything in between ... fairly. And right now, with Mr. Walcott's tremendous achievement freshly before us, would be a great time to start such a discussion and put such a policy in place.

Friday, August 10, 2012


Let me begin by saying that for me personally, I am all in favour of the fuel subsidy. I understand clearly the economic arguments for getting rid of it (or at least reducing it) and, quite frankly, cannot refute them. My only answer is that you cannot run a country like a business and that getting rid of the fuel subsidy will cause a great deal of pain, especially on those least able to afford it. But this post is not to argue for a retention of the fuel subsidy. That argument is for another time and/or place. I have heard via the usual Trini grapevine (which is often as accurate as it is just plain wrong) that new Finance Minister Howai intends to reduce (if not abolish) the fuel subsidy in the upcoming budget in September or October. In other words, the argument to abolish or reduce the fuel subsidy has already taken place and the abolitionists have won.

So, assuming (though obviously not accepting) that my information is correct, I have some suggestions for the very competent Finance Minister as to how he might lessen or alleviate the "damage" to the pockets of the average citizen if the subsidy is reduced or eliminated.

Perhaps we might start with the abolition of the Motor Vehicle Tax (MVT). You see, the MVT is designed to make cars, especially larger gas guzzling cars, so expensive that citizens will think twice before buying them. But if the subsidy is going to be reduced the "raison d'etre" to tax a large engine goes by the board. After all, surely, the reason that we taxed larger engines was to prevent (or make it harder for) people to abuse the subsidy on fuel. So instead of it costing, say $100 to fill up that Range Rover, by abolishing the subsidy it will now cost, say, $1,000. In other words, it is in the tax man's interests that people buy as much gas as pthey can possibly afford. And right there what the Finance Minister has lost on the swing of abolishing the MVT he will more than make up for on the abolition/reduction of the fuel subsidy.

Also, we would then have an incentive to import more fuel efficient cars. Right now the tax system works against this. I understand, for example, that a Suzuki 2 litre Vitara is less fuel efficient than its big sister that has  the bigger 2.4 litre engine. But the present tax structure encourages the import of the vehicle that burns MORE gas!! Life in the tropics?! Bigger engines today do not necessarily translate into less fuel efficient engines.

Again, we import a lot of foreign used vehicles from Japan and other places. These vehicles are usually about 5 to 6 years old and are not as fuel efficient as later models. But in good old T&T this doesn't matter because gas is so cheap. But because they are so old the MVT is very low making them comparitively inexpensive. But abolition of the MVT will reduce (if not eliminate) the need for such inefficient cars.

I could go on, but hopefully you have got the point. Abolish or reduce the fuel subsidy, then do the same with the MVT.

And because the abolition/reduction of the fuel subsidy will cause hardship the Minister should also pay attention to helping bona fide taxi drivers in converting their vehicles to compressed natural gas (CNG). Again, I am not certain how much the conversion will cost, but let's say that it will be about $10,000, then let the Government say that it will pay for the cost of converting a maxi or a car to CNG for all registered taxis (n.b., NOT the PH taxis) up to, say, $10,000. The cost of operating a CNG fueled taxi is peanuts compared to the cost of operating a gasoline or even diesel fueled vehicle, even at today's subsidised costs.

Also, the Minister ought to look at the terrible inefficiency that takes place on the roads. Right now a lot of cars get almost zero miles to the gallon because every single day they are spent in time wasting traffic jams. Trinis tend not to worry about the very real cost of sitting in a traffic jam for a long time because fuel is so cheap. But if the fuel subsidy is removed/reduced all of a sudden people will feel the cost of sitting in a traffic jam with the engine idling, gas burning needlessly and going nowhere fast. For one thing, a lot of people will wake up to the very bad driving habits that take place on the roads now where cars stop in the middle of the road to take on or disgorge a passenger to the detriment of all those behind.

You might say that the whole point of this post is that if we are to get rid of the subsidy then  let's do so in an intelligent manner that at least will hand back to the citizenry something that they will have lost. Tax, tax, tax is never an answer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Keeping a gun in your house or owning a gun is a dangerous thing to do. A gun in the house doubles or even triples the chance of somebody in the house getting hurt or killed by the gun. Further, a gun in the house in the hands of an inexperienced user of firearms can exacerbate an already tense situation when and if an armed bandit enters your home.

That's the bad news about owning guns. On the other hand, the police are not protecting the average law abiding citizen. Oh, they will turn up all right after your wife has been raped, your children murdered and you are left for dead in your home. But they won't be there in minutes (or even "seconds") if you call the emergency hotline with a report that your home is under a deadly assault.

It is time that we recognise that we are living in "the wild, wild west" and that the political parties that we elect to govern us are incapable of fixing the crime spree ... at least, not any time soon. The murder rate is the figure that everyone looks at, but the truth is that violent crime ... the rapes, the armed robberies, the invasion of our homes ... is increasing with a ferocity that daily becomes more frightening. When a former National Security Minister can be robbed and beaten in his supposedly safe gated community and the assailants can get away and not be caught then we must realise that all of us have a very serious problem. The problem in one sentence is that the bad guys just aren't being caught and the police aren't going to catch any of them any time soon. We can pass all the laws we want, but unless and until the cops start to catch the bad guys ain't nothin' gonna happen!

In other words, there are very serious questions that we must ask ourselves: if the old solutions aren't working should we not try something new? Like what? Would arming ourselves work or should we continue to restrict our rights to be allowed to own and use a firearm? If the vote is that we should be allowed to arm ourselves, should there be any restrictions on the owning of firearms, and if so what?

If the vote is that we should not be allowed to arm ourselves, then should we put a time limit on the authorities to get crime under control or then allow us to arm ourselves? What do we do if the police, say, this time next year do not have crime under control? What bench marks are we placing on the Commissioner of Police and all the other persons responsible for reducing crime to get it under control where we can feel safe again? How long are we prepared to wait?

Everybody talks a blue streak when it comes to crime. The Government of the day comes up with excuses and the Opposition attacks. But the truth is that when the PNM was in power nothing happened, and while it is obviously too early to criticize the energetic Jack Warner, at some stage, if he isn't seen to have reduced the crime rate, then he too will be blamed.

Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. Speaking for myself alone, I am personally not at all convinced that loosening the gun controls or gun laws in this country will work. But I see and hear nothing new when it comes to dealing with this terrible scourge. I hear promises that do not come to pass (like Operation Anaconda, for example). All I see is that except for the names and a few other changes the authorities are doing the same thing over and over again. And the issue of our personal safety is left dangling in the wind without any hope of a safer tomorrow.

No. It is time for radical "out-of-the-box" thinking. The old ways haven't worked. Frankly, nothing seems to be working. So, maybe we should try and do something new. It's either that or we continue to be murdered, raped, assaulted and robbed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has today announced that the FIFA ban on Mohammed Bin Hammam has been overturned. FIFA had banned Mr. Bin Hammam from "any kind of football related activity for life" after finding him guilty of taking bribes from Caribbean football officials. The whole scandal resulted directly in Mr. Jack Warner also resigning from FIFA. The CAS said that there was insufficient evidence to support the ban.

The scandal arose when Mr. Bin Hammam had challenged Mr Sepp Blatter for the leadership of FIFA. Mr. Warner had made the mistake of supporting Mr. Bim Hammam against the very powerful Mr. Blatter. When FIFA had handed down the ban on the hapless Mr. Bim Hammam the world's premier football organisation had said that there was "comprehensive, convincing and overwhelming" proof that bribes had been paid by Mr. Bim Hammam to Caribbean officials and that Mr. Warner had supported this.

The CAS has said that its finding is not so much a case of innocence as it is a finding of "case not proven" and that if new evidence comes forward it might be possible to re-open the case. Well, if such new evidence does ever comes forward then we shall see what we shall see. But my point here is to re-emphasise the point that I made last week in my last post which criticised President Richards for, amongst other things, descending into an arena where he condemned Mr. Warner for his part in this particular scandal. At the time of the FIFA scandal I kept quiet because I did not have enough facts at my disposal to comment one way or the other, although I felt certain that Mr. Bim Hammam (and by extension Mr. Warner) was not getting a fair hearing by the FIFA Ethics Committee. Time has proved my gut feeling to be right.

As I said last week and will say again: in this society of ours we are often too quick to condemn without being in possession of all of the facts and then when they do eventually come out showing that at the very least there is not enough justiciable evidence we remain obstinate and refuse to give the accused teh benefit of the doubt. The CAS has not given Messrs. Warner and Bim Hammam a completely clean bill of health, but it has solidly backed the accusations that the FIFA Ethics Committee did not give the accused a fair and impartial hearing. Mr. Blatter is bound to have a problem now because there is the very ugly inference that he engineered these charges to be brought against these men in order to secure his own re-election as President of FIFA. Whether that is true or not I certainly cannot say, but the truth is that this very ugly suspicion is "out there" and will not go away just like that.

We must be careful in what we do and say. And we must demand of our leaders that they also be careful. Leadership is not just about "picking up a sword" and leading a charge. Amongst other things leadership is about practising high principles of behaviour and ethics. Leading by example anyone?!

Friday, July 13, 2012


The convention since we became a republic at the opening of Parliament was that the President would preside at the opening and give a speech that was not contraversial, but would deal with issues of the day. There is also a convention that the President is supposed to stay above partisan politics and as such would refrain from directly or indirectly assisting one side of the partisan divide by directly or indirectly criticising the other.

This is why I found the address of President Max Richards at the opening of Parliament this week to be disappointing to say the least. Frankly, I don't agree with the Prime Minister that his comments on corruption were not a thinly veiled attack on newly appointed National Security Minister Jack Warner. Of course they were. But the President in launching such a not so oblique attack on a Government Minister is also indirectly attacking his Government and giving ample fodder for its opponents. I suppose the President or his supporters might want to justify this by saying words to the effect that "he was only speaking the truth" or "well, if the cap fits ..." or some other similar comment.

With respect, that is not the point. First of all, Mr. Warner has not been charged with any offence either locally or abroad. Secondly, while it is clear that FIFA ain't exactly a Temple of Vestal Virgins there is obviously a lot more that needs to come out on all sides before we can come to any fair and reasonable conclusions of his guilt or innocence. But in Trinidad people repeat allegations as fact and if we happen to be against that person we happily accept them as such. I could give you right now a dozen allegations against any of the top PNM big wigs (ranging from Manning to Rowley and everybody in between) that accuse them of every thing from bribery to drugs and just about everything in between. But I will be the first to confess that I have not a shred of justiciable evidence to support any one of these myriad allegations.

The point here is twofold: first of all, a President under our system of government ought to be very, very careful when he makes comments that are critical of either the Opposition or the Government unless he is fair and even handed, e.g., he hits one side for something and then hits the other side equally hard. He needs to stay above the fray at all times. Secondly, a President who is in the position of the current President ought to be very careful in his comments especially in circumstances where he can be accused of being partisan and being critical because his term of office is coming to an end and it is more than likely that he will not be re-appointed. In other words, sour grapes!

If the President had made similar comments during the Manning era (and God knows that such similar comments could have been as justified then as supporters of the President would now defend his present comments) then perhaps one might say that this was in keeping with a certain forthrightness. But this was never the case then. Further, this President also appointed as an independant senator Mr. Michael Annisette who has never made a secret of his preference for the PNM. There are persons who believe (rightly or wrongly) that Mr. Annisette was appointed by the President on the express instruction of Mr. Manning. Now, assuming (though certainly not accepting) that this was true this would be terrible for obvious reasons.

But you see what happens when a President steps out of his crease? The office of the President of Trinidad & Tobago is important. It is deliberately set up to keep the head of state above the partisan fray. When a President puts himself in a position were a fair number of the population may perceive him to be descending into the political arena he effectively demeans his office. One President has already acted unconstitutionally or extra (meaning "outside") constitutionally and that particular act has had serious and very unfortunate ramifications which our society is still having to contend with although it happened many years ago. We need our President to go back to the centre and stay there.