Wednesday, February 29, 2012

DEAR GYPSY ( ....or how to take Carnival to the next level)

You have said that you want to take our Carnival "to the next level". This is a noble and highly commendable objective, and, if truth be known, something that could be done with a little "out of the box" thinking. On the basis that Einstein's theory of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result) is correct, and on the evidence before us that nothing really new has been proposed to take us to this "next level", I thought that you might like some ideas to mull over. So here goes:

1) One of the great things about the Rio Carnival is that it is geared not only for the paticipants, but for the spectators as well. While it is true (and a good thing) that our carnival is more participant oriented, we really are not paying attention to the viewing enjoyment (if that is the correct phrase) of the thousands that do not participate but come down to see the Mas'.
Now, there are two basic problems here and both are probably equal, so it doesn't matter which is mentioned first. One problem is that there is always a back log or log jam of bands in the Savannah with it being not uncommon for the masqueraders in the various bands to be forced to wait for several hours before they can get a chance to cross over. The result is that the spectators often have to wait for long periods to see the various bands.
The other problem is that on Carnival Monday (Lundi Gras) most big bands are hardly ever up to strength and their masqueraders almost without exception do not wear their full costumes. The result is that the show on the streets and even on the stage on Monday is never quite what it should be. Visitors often express disappointment with Carnival Monday's presentations.
What about doing the following which would fix both of these problems. There are "X" number of bands who cross the Savannah stage ... let's say for the sake of argument and to make the point that there are ten such bands. Well, in order to prevent the "traffic jams" that build up at the Savannah why not give each band a number. Bands numbered one to five cross the stage on Carnival Mondays and bands numbered six to ten cross on Carnival Tuesdays. The log jams are seriously lessened and the visitors/viewers get "pretty mas' " on both days. Everybody wins and now you have a more attractive product.

2) The next problem has to do with the perennial complaint that the original idea of the Carnival costumes is slowly dieing with the modern bands being not much more than skimpy bikinis and glass beads. The jefes of the Rio de Janiero were faced with the same type of complaints ... and we have all seen the pictures of the even skimpier bikinis that pervade the Rio scene!! In any case, they came up with a rather ingenious idea: There is/was a type of old Carnival costume emanating from Bahia (yes, the same place as the girl in David Rudder's famous calypso) where the ladies would wear these huge hooped skirts. Now, every Carnival band in Rio has to have at its head a section of revellers dressed in these old fashioned skirts. Why not make it a rule that every single band that wants to go across any of the stages has to have a section at its front of old time mas' that they can fit into the particular band's theme, followed by the bikinis and beads. It would be one way of keeping the true mas' alive, and again would be very appealing for the viewers/visitors.

3) Then there is the problem that Peter Minshall complained about ... Carnival is street theatre. But it is degenerating into not-so-soft core pornography. I am the last person to be prudish about anything, but quite frankly, some of the pictures of revellers that were in the newspapers and some of the images that flashed across our television screens this year were outright lewd, vulgar and totally out of place for what is supposed to be a major tourist attraction. There are not a few tourists or potential tourists who will want to come with their children. The raw and vulgar gyrations that took place on stage left absolutely nothing to the imagination and really ought to be discouraged. Perhaps one way of doing this is to announce that if such vulgarity takes place on stage that the band in which it is allowed to happen will be fined a hefty amount. We must try and lift the mas' up rather than allow it wallow in the vulgarity that seems so regretably to be allowed to be taking over.

The short point of all this is that it wouldn't take a lot to turn our Carnival into a world class product. But we ain't there yet! And if truth be known, unless we do something soon we could see such a real deterioration in standards that we will soon lose our place in the Carnival world and the competition certainly is not standing still. Put another way, this is the twenty-first century. Isn't it time that we applied a little twenty-first century thinking to modernise our twentieth century festival?

P.S. I know that Carnival started a lot earlier than the twentieth century. But it really became a "big" or people's celebration in the last hundred years or so which is why I referred to it as 'our twentieth century festival'.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I have been looking on with interest and not little amazement as to the confusion (and 'confusion' has to be the correct word) surrounding the latest imbroglio to hit the Integrity Commission ('IC'), what with newspaper offices being raided, the predictable howl from the Media, the suspension of a Commissioner (Mrs. Gafoor) by the President and the appointment of a tribunal to investigate Mrs. Gafoor's conduct in refusing to recuse herself from the IC tribunal that is investigating former Attorney General John Jeremie.

The facts as have been reported seem to be these:
(1) Former Attorney General John Jeremie was/is being investigated by the IC
on a matter involving his alleged participation in the infamous 'land deal' with
former Chief Magistrate Sherman McNichols and the prosecution of former
Chief Justice Sat Sharma;
(2) For reasons that are not entirely clear, Mr. Jeremie had objected while he was
Attorney General to the appointment of Mrs. Gafoor to the IC.
(3) Mr. Jeremie, when the IC began to investigate him, objected to Mrs. Gafoor
sitting on the tribunal on the grounds that she might be biased against him as
he had previously objected to her appointment.
(4) The current Chairman of the IC, Mr. Ken Gordon, on the strength of Mr.
Jeremie's complaint only, asked Mrs. Gafoor to recuse herself in the matter,
a request which Mrs. Gafoor, a lawyer, refused.
(5) Certain matters that were discussed in IC deliberations were leaked to the press
in the person of Mr. Andre Bagoo, a reporter for Newsday.
(6) The IC asked the police to investigate the matter and find out who leaked the
information and the police did so with raids on Newsday's offices and the home
of the reporter.
(7) The President, at the fairly obvious urging of the IC,
suspended Mrs. Gafoor and appointed a tribunal headed by former Chief Justice
Michael delaBastide to investigate Mrs. Gafoor's behaviour and whether she
had/has done anything wrong.

And that is all that is in the public domain.

It would be foolish to comment on the rights or wrongs of the matter unless and until all of the facts are in. However, it might help our understanding a little if we went back to basics. A judge (or any person who is sitting on a matter in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity) is disqualified from sitting where he (or she) has a personal or pecuniary interest. As to whether or not Mrs. Gafoor might appear to be biased against Mr. Jeremie because he had once objected to her appointment to the IC is the type of argument that lawyers love for it is not necessarily as clear cut as might first appear on the surface. A judge in the House of Lords once said in a famous case
"My Lords, I wish that the use of the word 'bias' should be confined to is proper sphere.
Its proper significance, in my opinion, is to denote a departure from the standard of
even-handed justice which the law requires from those who occupy judicial office, or
those who are commonly regarded as holding a quasi-judicial office, such as an

Bottom line: what does all this mean? It means that without looking at or seeing or hearing all the details it is not possible for any of us in the public to say whether or not Mrs. Gafoor was right not to recuse herself or that Mr. Gordon was wrong to ask her to step down. Put another way, the matter is not as simple as all that and there is a lot of law on the subject of bias and perceived bias.

What I think that the IC should have done is that all of the Commissioners (Mrs. Gafoor included) should have gone to a Senior Counsel (a person like Russel Martineau comes to mind) who has a (well deserved) reputation of giving good and impartial advice as to whether or not the claim of bias by Mr. Jeremie could be substantiated. Assuming (though definitely not accepting) that the advice came back that Mrs. Gafoor was right in her assertion that she should not step down and that the allegation could not be sustained in law, then everybody would have been protected. On the other hand, if the advice came down the other way, it is hard to see that such an experienced jurist as Mrs. Gafoor is, would not step down. A lot of unnecessary pain could have been avoided if the IC had done this. Perhaps this makes the case for the Chairman of the IC to have a legal background?

Then now, we have the matter of press freedom. It is important to understand in discussing this aspect of this multi-faceted imbroglio that the only profession that enjoys absolute privilege as regards confidentiality is the legal profession. There is no law and no right of the press (or even a priest for that matter) to keep sources and/or information secret or confidential. The truth is that in other democracies priests have been jailed for refusing to disclose matters heard in the confessional and journalists have also been fined and jailed for refusing to disclose their sources. In other words, there is no right of the press to keep sources confidential and any action taken against the press in this regard is not necessarily an attack on press freedom.

I am not saying that this present case is not an attack on the press ... neither am I saying that it is. What I am trying to do is to strip away all of the hype ... from both sides ... and to present the facts and the law as simply as possible so that we can all understand it and understand exactly what happened and what the arguments are. Unfortunately, in this Trini Wonderland world in which we live all too often we don't see the woods for the trees. Because we don't analyse things carefully, we tend all too often to get it wrong. But then, blinding emotion has never been convinced by cool, calm and clear logic. And we Trinis are nothing if not emotional!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

TO FIU OR NOT TO FIU .... that is the question!!

Readers of this blog will know that I have in the past been quite critical of Winston Dookeran's performance as Finance Minister. The truth is that I remain critical of his performance and do believe that he could have done better and, perhaps more importantly, ought to be doing better. I am of the view that a lot of unnecessary pain is being inflicted on the economy of Trinidad & Tobago because of his failures to act on many fronts.

However, in the interest of fairness I came across some information over the weekend that a few people are very ... nay, acutely aware of, but of which most people haven't got a clue. It all begins with the Financial Intelligence Unit (the FIU) which came into being a little while ago amidst certain (inevitable?) contraversy as to the appointment of Ms. Susan Francois (... a lady for whom, incidentally, I have always had the highest personal regard). And this information tends to put a slightly different light on the general contractions in the economy that are taking place.

It seems that the International Monetary Fund (the IMF) and the Americans have been putting the proverbial squeeze on good old T&T especially as regards money laundering. The IMF has literally forced the Government to put measures in place that have put a most severe squeeze on the activities of our dearly beloved and protected Drug Lords. It is now (thanks in large part to the activities of the FIU) much more difficult to launder money. In the past, for example, a Drug Lord could have a shop in, let's say, a popular mall. He could use that shop as a front to launder, say TT$100,000 per day saying that this was his receipts. The bank would happily accept it even though if you made a trip to the mall you would ss hardly anybody in the shop and his alleged sales did not match his actual purchases. But nobody was complaining. Everybody was making money!

Indeed, the 'black' or underground economy was as big as the 'white' or legitimate economy. That, for your information, is about TT$50 billion a year ... or if you prefer it in greenbacks, a little under US$8 billion a year! A sizable sum in any currency!!

But now, the banks are being forced to question the deposits and to report them. The FIU is sending its agents to monitor stores (like the hypothetical one used as an example above) to see whether or not the stores are really doing the business that they say that they are. In addition, the FIU is reporting the results to the Board of Inland Revenue who are checking to see whether or not income tax is being paid. And the agents are sitting in front of the stores for weeks and can judge fairly easily that, for example,our hypothetical store is not doing $100,000 a day in sales.

The result has been severe pain for the Drug Lords who have legitimate debts that they can no longer service. If what I heard is true, for example, a certain Drug Lord owes some TT$900 million to a certain bank. He was more than able to service this loan in the past, but all of a sudden he can't. Money/cash is piling up in shoe boxes but he can't get it into the system. The result is that his legitimate businesses are going slowly bust! And he ain't alone!!

Put another way, just at the time that the legitimate economy is contracting, the underground economy is crashing! Trinidad & Tobago is getting a "double whammy" of bad news. Apparently, you can't even buy a million dollar car (Range Rovers, Porsche Cayennes, Mercedes Benz, etc.) without having to show the FIU where you got the money from to buy this (whatever "this"is) car. You can't buy a property without having to report the source of funds! Put another way, the easy days of money laundering appear to be over ... at least for the time being.

One of my cousins told me that he had met a senior FBI official recently who told him that T&T was the place to be a gangster. According to the FBI guy there is no other place in the world where it is so easy to steal and launder money. Hopefully, that will change now. But it is going to be painful. Taking even a portion of $50 billion out of the system will cause pain and suffering ... necessary as it so obviously is.

But, you know, Mr. Dookeran should have told us this. We shouldn't have to find out for ourselves. This is what openness and transparency is all about. And anything that hurts the Drug Lords has to be a good thing.