Monday, September 18, 2017

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE LAW ASSOCIATION





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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Yours faithfully,


Robin Montano
Attorney-at-Law

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I'M BACK!!





I have deliberately not written anything on this blog for the longest while (actually since March of this year)! The truth is that I felt that I wasn't making a difference and that there was no point in continuing with what felt like battering my head against a brick wall. But a lot of people have been asking me 'to come back', as it were, and a friend just wrote to me adding his voice to those who have been telling me that I should. Actually, he kind of pushed me over the edge.


So! I'm back. There is a lot to talk about and a lot that is going on in Trinidad and Tobago that needs to be talked and commented about. So, in no particular order, here goes:


1. The Speaker of the House of Representatives
If ever there was a Presiding Officer of a parliamentary Chamber who ought to be removed it is this one. Clearly, Mrs. Annisette-George simply doesn't understand how vitally important the role and function of an impartial speaker is. Last Friday (8th September) was the last straw. (Okay, that's not vey good English but you understand what I'm trying to say.) Last Friday she saved the Government's proverbial bacon by using her casting vote not once, not twice, but three times!! Now the Speaker's casting vote is supposed to be used to maintain the status quo.  She didn't do that. For example, on a motion to adjourn the House there was a tie. Unbelievably, she voted with the Government to adjourn! The House was in session. How could she do this?
No. It was very wrong. Frankly, if I was advising the Leader of the Opposition (and I am not) I would tell her to file a motion of no confidence in the Speaker, recite exactly what took place on Friday and then sit down after a very short five minute speech. I would challenge the Government to say why they think that behavior was acceptable and not reply at all. Let the country be the judge. You would know that the Government will use its majority (wrongly in this case) to have it's way, but that wouldn't be important. What would be important was to see who in the Parliament was prepared to put country before Party.


2. The Abuse by the Police and the Army with their sirens
It is getting impossible to go anywhere where there is traffic without some police or army vehicle turning on its siren and barreling down the wrong side of the road pushing all and sundry out of the way. Take two personal examples: about a month ago I was going down to Chagaramus. It was about 4pm and the traffic coming out of 'Chag' was bumper to bumper and at a standstill. All of a sudden an army car with heavily tinted windows and a flag (obviously an army big wig) came barreling down on my side of the road with its siren blaring. I refused to pull over. The driver rolled down his window and waved his arm signaling me to get out of the way. I waved back signaling him to go jump in the nearest lake. To the best of my knowledge, Venezuela hadn't declared war on Trinidad and there was no emergency other than the big wig not wanting to sit in traffic with the rest of the plebians. In any case, to the best of my knowledge the army has no legal right (except in times of war or states of emergency) to use its sirens. I was kind of hoping that the soldier might try to arrest me, but he didn't! That case would have been a great one to defend!
The second example occurred about ten days ago. My office is at the bottom of Abercromby Street. To get to it one has to drive east along Independence Square and turn left at the Republic Bank corner. My wife was driving me at the time. When we arrived at the corner an unmarked police vehicle turned on its siren and blue lights and dashed in front of us. Now, there is such a thing as radio and it is always possible that there is a genuine police emergency and the police (unlike the army) do have special powers, so my wife quite properly gave way. But (and here's the thing) the policeman stopped his car obliquely opposite my office and went into a snackette to get his breakfast. I know. I followed him because I wanted to see what was the emergency. I said nothing, but honestly? It was very annoying. And very wrong.


3. The Ferry and Petrotrin Debacles
There is so much that has been said about these two scandals that I'd probably be simply repeating what others are saying. At this time therefore all I will say is that what do you think that Keith Rowley would be saying about these scandals if all the facts that are in the public domain now were in the public domain in the hypothetical situation where he was the Leader of the Opposition instead of being the Prime Minister and Kamla Persad Bissessar was the Prime Minister instead of being the Leader of the Opposition. When you have figured that out you will understand everything.


There is a lot more and I promise to write again soon. But tht's it for now!
Cheers

Monday, March 13, 2017

POVERTY AND THE STATUS QUOS





Is poverty the result of laziness, immorality and irresponsibility? If people made better choices, worked harder, stayed in school, got married, didn't have children they couldn't afford, spent wisely and saved more, would they escape poverty?


This is essentially the story that we are often told about why people are poor. Speaking for myself, I reject categorically this conclusion. Low wages, a lack of good jobs, the poor quality of education in too many of our schools, a banking system that rips off the "non-rich" (if I can coin a word), the lack of marriageable males in poor, mainly black communities like Laventille, the ongoing discrimination against mainly poor black persons coming from communities like Laventille, the lack of effective government support for institutions like the Family Planning Association (and the key word here is "effective"), all contribute to the tsunami of poverty that is engulfing us.


It used to be that there was a belief that if you got a good education and worked hard that you would benefit from  upward income mobility. Certainly, that is what Eric Williams and his PNM preached (and delivered on) in the late fifties and the sixties. Williams lifted the educational standards of the country and thereby raised the standard of living of hundreds of thousands of our citizenry (at a time when the population was just a little over half a million) ... citizens who had never had the opportunity of being able to go to school before. The country lurched forward by leaps and bounds.


But somewhere along the way we lost our focus. New and different problems arose and there was no Williams to deal with them. By the mid to late eighties the economic "flavour" was Reaganism and Thatcherism ... 'trickle down' economics. ANR Robinson came to power in the late December 1986 and decided that the best way to run the country was to run it like a business; cut salaries and throw people out of work and fix the balance sheet by adopting sound business principles.


In the budget debate in the Senate in 1987 I argued then that while I could see that the proposed solutions of the NAR would balance the country's books ... and they did ... that these proposals would cause massive hardship to the poor and economically weak ... and they did. I argued then that you simply cannot run a country like a business without causing great hardship to the poor and that the net result of these policies would be that the rich would get richer and the poor would get poorer.


It gives me no satisfaction whatsoever 30 years later to have been proven to be right!


Patrick Manning's regime continued with the NAR's economic policies ... as has every government since then. The argument that the banks needed to be brought under control was ignored. And so today you have a powerful banking sector that is ripping off the poor in ways that are completely immoral and unfair, but you don't hear a cat complaining! Today you have a situation where people whose parents had worked hard to lift themselves out of the morass of poverty now see those very same parents slipping inexorably back into the dark abyss of despair.


We are in a mess. It is a mess of our own making. We pretend that God is a Trini and all is right with our world. We pretend that energy prices will rise to save us again and that the creeping poverty is really the result of personal immaturity and/or irresponsibility and that all would be right if only poor people would know their place, work hard and shut up.


We continue to tinker with a broken education system that is simply not preparing our children for the challenges of the 21st century, Ask yourself this: if the education system was blown up this afternoon so that absolutely nothing of it remained, would you put back the exact same system or would you put in something different? Only one person has ever told me that he would put the same system back. Everybody else has said that he would put in something different. So, the question remains: why are we tinkering? Where is the 'out-of-the-box' thinking that we need to solve our problems?


This essay is really a "crie de couer" for the poor of our country... especially the poorest members of our society. And who are they? Answer: the children! They own nothing and are helpless to do anything that might improve their lives.


We owe it to them to fix the system and come up with the same type of radical thinking that Dr. Williams came up with in the fifties. Problems cannot be fixed with the same level of awareness that created them.


There are solutions. That is the good news. But all of the decision makers in our society today appear to be bound and gagged by traditional thinking and self-interest. There are too many 'status quos', and we all know that the slightest suggestion for change always means death to some status quo. And that is the bad news!