Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Changing our Minds on Crime...

The people of Trinidad & Tobago do not feel safe. The truth is we wont for a long time to come. Reeling from years of an inestimable crime problem that looked to have the authorities beat, we may see the results of the new dispensation with many quick to point out how hard the police and other members of law enforcement are working, but like victims of sustained violence all through history, it is going to take some time for us to accept that we are in fact truly free. Even the criminal element, members of the police service tell of their surprise when they are caught, so accustomed were they to plying their trade without fear of consequence, some of them end up dying due to the clumsiness of sheer disbelief.

We are creatures of conditioning. Victims of domestic abuse cower and tremble when certain sounds play. I read the story of a woman who was abused every night after the news and for years and years after her liberation the sound of the musical score of the nightly news was enough to dramatically disturb her and make her almost non functional. We are creatures of habit, of learning. We can be taught to be afraid. Violence applied over time has been used for centuries to break human spirits, and we in T&T are no different, our spirits are still broken. After decades of abuse inflicted without respite we developed a conditioned response, and it is this more than anything else that keeps us feeling unsafe despite the undeniable drop in crimes of all types and the dramatically increased interdiction rates.

I myself wonder at times what it would take to feel the freedom of a crime free society, to establish in the minds of the criminally minded that to choose such a pastime in these times have almost one of two certain outcomes, life spent in a cage, or terminated in a hail of gunfire as attacks against law enforcement are met with the unexpected fury of the superior fire power of the highly trained and well armed determined to reverse the tides. Had I not heard the head of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association himself admit that for the first time in a long time the streets of the capital city are safer as the crime numbers are dramatically down, or the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, despite being on opposite sides of the political divide praising the Ministry of National Security and the law enforcement community for successes in Tobago how would I be able to gauge?

Doesn't the news contain stories of violence and crime daily and nightly? How are we to distinguish and to accept facts that seem to be challenged by reality? Well the truth is that all social conditioning ebbs and flows like waves, where one person's actions determines another's in like fashion. Much of the crime that we are hearing now usually have a different outcome than it did in the not too distant past, and the perpetrators who choose to challenge the authorities rather than surrender to clearly superior odds are routinely killed for their miscalculation of the situation if not their trouble.

Can this be dealt with? Yes, over time. What law enforcement needs to do is continue to build on its successes, and to keep speaking up and out. Nothing exceeds like excess, and high visibility responses are going to continue to be the best kind.

A couple weeks ago I stood alongside others and witnessed the Coast Guard and Police Service intercept and subdue a criminal gang in Cocorite in broad daylight and the professionalism demonstrated even during the suppression stage of the operation astonished us all, the Hollywood-esque, surreal quality to what we were watching. The almost scripted dance as sea-going law enforcement gave way to their land based counterparts and back again as those caught in that act tried every imaginable trick to evade capture to no avail. I remember watching the faces and expressions of some of the other onlookers and noted the shock and awe mirrored in each face as we watched the reality of law enforcement doing its job, the cheer as the arrival of the helicopters provided the final piece in what was already checkmate and had us rooting for the good guys.

The truth is we don't feel safe and we probably wont for a while to come, but we can, especially if the law enforcement agencies keep up and build upon the good work that they have been doing in the recent past. This nation and its people are due for a healing, a grand gesture to define the changing of the order. The arrest, trial and conviction of the killers of Dana Seetahal or the successful arrests and prosecution of the big fish behind the juice tin cocaine bust are two that come to mind that could help speed this process along the way, that changes our preconceived notion that crime does in fact pay in Trinidad & Tobago.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hijacking the Balisier...

On any given day I am approached by people from all walks of life who apparently have no problem off-loading all of their political cares and concerns on me as if they and I have been friends for life or as if this were somehow my role in the thing. I have no problem as sometimes these exchanges could be funny, other times eye opening, usually informative, and for the most part as long as it is reasonable I bring it to the public in the hopes of broadening the national discussion.

Take my good friend the elderly doctor from an upper class neighborhood in Diego Martin West who bounced me up in West Bee's carpark on Sunday morning, he raised an issue I must confess I had overlooked, and his treatment of the matter seemed so rational I thought it should be advanced.

From my friend's position (and to hear him speak that of many others in the traditional People's National Movement strongholds as well) it appeared as if Opposition Leader Keith Rowley's PNM was trying hard to distance himself and the party from itself, and many of his and their appointments of late have been consistent with a sort of reverse ethnic bias, begging questions as to that party's position, intentions, and future momentum where its traditional supporters are concerned.

Long recognized as the 'black' party for its afro-centric roots (as opposed to the United National Congress' more indo-centric lean), the doctor's statement that the new face of the PNM appears anything but, and while he said he applauded any organization that reverses its own racist, tribal, or otherwise divisive agenda, in the cut and thrust of politics the people presented are usually packaged to attract votes and for that reason usually tend to reflect the demographic of the target audience so who was the PNM targeting now?

He got my attention.

“Change is great and broadening of the base is ideal” he went on, “but if one were to line up the PNM's Parliamentary front line and put it to stand next to its own Senatorial arm the contrast is so striking as to beg a question on the surface, is the PNM trying to compete with the United National Congress for the East Indian vote?” I was stunned by the question. He went on “If the answer to that is no, how then does one explain all of the appointments and much of the successful screenings having so few traditional PNM and dare I say African looking faces? With the exception of Maxie Cuffie, almost every other single appointment made and advanced by the Keith Rowley team has thus far been anything but Afro-centric, and while I (his words) like every other forward thinking, all inclusive patriot again wholeheartedly and fully support the notion of all inclusion in this beautiful multicultural nation of ours, at what point do we begin to look at not so much as to what has been included, but in acknowledging what has been excluded?”

I was beginning to see his point.

“Where are the young, bright, educated and talented Afro-Trini members of that party that were allegedly being groomed under (former Prime Minister) Manning, and why aren't the older heads advocating for their inclusion among the new ranks?”

He continued passionately “Clarence Rhambarath, Justin Phelps, Stuart Young, Faris al Rawi, Diane Baldeo-Chadeesingh, Avinash Singh, Alif Mohammed, Neil Mohammed, Terry Shaun Jadoonanan, Abbegail Nandalal and Terrnece Deyalsingh all make up the list of now frontline speakers, Senators and successfully screened candidates, and when one takes the leadership council of Andrew Gabriel, Rohan Sinanan and Franklin Khan into account, doesn't it strike anyone else as odd the almost one hundred and eighty degree turn where people of African descent are concerned that the People's National Movement has made since Keith Rowley rose to power?”

I must admit I was starting to see his 'point' even more clearly, but surely there had to be some other less sinister explanation for the obvious pattern of appointments, standing there in the noon day sun I was hard pressed to find one.

Seeing my discomfort in being cast in the role of listener in a dialogue to which I could not reasonably contribute my friend brought our time together to a close with two more questions. He asked me to ask who is the the People in the People's National Movement now that the new look has swept away the old guard, and the last question he asked needs to be asked in his words - “In a world where the PNM seems to have abandoned its roots and turned its back on the very people who put them into public office, who is supposed to represent the now orphaned children of the Balisier wandering the political wilderness of Trinidad & Tobago?”

I found that I could not answer any of his questions satisfactorily even to my own mind and that troubled me. In pondering the possible and the plausible the obvious kept presenting itself, and if that were to be the real answer then I worry for the grandchildren of Africa in Trinidad & Tobago, long under-represented by the politics and social experiments of the PNM, they are in desperate need of a new dispensation, leadership with a heart and a vision for them as a people worthy of respect and real representation. I almost forgot I was there to go to the grocery.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Yes, Prime Minister...

In the classic fable 'The Emperor's New Clothes' the Emperor is duped by the clever knowing that the 'yes men and women' around him would dare not disagree with him even if they were told that he was not naked in public but was in fact wearing clothes that they just couldn't see. So they ended up lying to agree with him in his confusion and ended up making a royal fool of him. This same plot-line was taken to the extreme and milked of all its comic value in the British hit comedy series 'Yes Minister,' and made the point every week that one ought to be careful whose advice and more importantly, whose interpretation of circumstances one subscribed to.

Take our illustrious Prime Minister, whose brand management and now electoral campaign is being run by an illusion artist capable of convincing her that the growing negative public perception of her that is happening on his watch is nothing for which she should be concerned. So the hit that she took and continues to take while they gave out bribes to media workers in her name and at her event remains, and while it is being touted as a 'help for the needful in times of need,' no explanation was given as to why this 'help' was not given out in the full glare of everyone else or to everyone else invited. But that is nothing. This same charlatan is presiding over her name slowly being made synonymous with bad luck and blight, so that everything that she blesses or attends, if the team she supports loses, it becomes comic fodder after on social media and in traditional 'ole talk' that 'the Prime Minister blight the team.' This was seen in the Brazilian World Cup epic defeat and just recently the Trinbagonian Women's Team's attempt to qualify for the World Cup. But it gets worse still.

In the recently concluded Cabinet retreat held in Tobago to prepare for the upcoming General Elections, the overwhelming majority of Cabinet Ministers polled readily agree that the individual in question appears clueless to the needs of the party and its floundering popularity despite the fact that it and they delivering on an extremely high level. They point to the telegraphed campaign to create a cult of sorts around the Prime Minister where she is adored for the government's successes, and the associated marginalizing of every other Minister that is surely bound to backfire by an opposition who now only have one target to hit. On the upside to this the Ministers with the power to ignore this communications mismanagement who are in fact managing their own brands and preparing to step into the light should the need arise, and one only has to point to the remarkable transformation of the Housing Minister from dour and arrogant to tempered and measured and a joy to listen to even when engaging his and the government's enemies, who now keeps his rapier wit sheathed while focusing his barbs in cleverly designed come backs that make even his detractors laugh, showing an understanding of the national culture and a willingness to bend the show to suit the audience.

The public for their part is also telling the government to hold the public relations and deal with them from a position of fact, to give us the bitter medicine stripped down of all the glitz and glamour and let them decide. Take the fourteen month old Minister of National Security for example, who has demonstrated a willingness to communicate with the public at every step regardless of the perceived popularity of his policy or lack thereof at the time, which has resulted in a public trusting him in a Ministry that, prior to his elevation, was considered a career killer for every previous holder of that office including two Prime Ministers who were all ridiculed for their efforts. This from a Minister who has dismantled the culture of rewarding gang members with state contracts, contrary to the previously widely held belief that the government through the MONS should be accommodating to gang leaders in exchange for peace. Instead he has extracted peace through the enforcement of the law and the threat of further enforcement and the public is lapping it up. Now he does not even have to defend himself or his policies, and Friday's broadcast that a New York based fringe group was taking serious issue with his immigration repatriation policy saw social media rise vociferously to his defense. To the uninitiated that is called winning the battle of hearts and minds.

So what am i saying?

That it is a cheap stunt to attempt to package everything good in the land as the Prime Minister's doing, and everything bad as the work of sinister opposition forces. The public is not that foolish and the push back when it comes will sting. Further, this policy of isolating and shaming those perceived to be opposed to the government in any way is backfiring badly, and our hard working multi talented and willing Attorney General seems to be the first to pay the ultimate price. His ratings are so low outside of the People's Partnership Government and the United National Congress there is a new joke making the rounds, that if Anand were to cure cancer the people would choose cancer over his cure.

Now there are many who would not dare tell the AG that simply because the AG appears unable to process negativity or bad news, but to succeed in public life one must not only develop a thick skin where detractors are concerned, one must almost become Christ-like in one's willingness to forgive. This is something that the high functioning public figures around the world understand, that the people demand their right to an opinion of you as an expression of their own power, and the real job is to manage that impression. It is where Fuad Khan went so wrong over the easily solved ambulance issue, and instead of taking the matter being raised as a personal attack he had a wonderful opportunity to come down on the side of the people, express outrage over the tragic and calamitous state of affairs and pledge to work unceasingly to rectify them regardless of the obstacles that needed to be overcome. His surly and withdrawn response has drawn the ire of the public and now they are monitoring his every step to expose him again, something inevitable in the difficult to run health sector and I daresay, the new career killing Ministry.

My advice to Fuad? Come straight with the public, out yourself and the entire health sector, bombard the people with the failings and their failures, implement new policies in full view of the public, and most importantly, engage your detractors. There is no amount of money available to fool people with PR stunts equivalent to a converted detractor. When those traditionally opposed to you start singing your praises it is then that you would have won the public's trust.

Similarly with the Attorney General, whose personality seems to reflexively lash out at people he considers opposed to him. This is not working for him and neither is the campaign to 'soften' his image now being waged on social media. His is a unique situation as he is supposed to embody his office and should do so with the dignity for which it calls. The only approach of merit for him is to cease the public politicking altogether, to only approach national issues from the position of the Attorney General of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, and to do so with the greatest respect for the office and all that portends.

But why am I giving all of this free advice?

To let Rodney Charles and any cabalists in the government know that I am unfazed by their behind the scenes chicanery to punish me for speaking the truth. The threat of the loss of contracts or the ability to bid for contracts will never work to control me, and, if anything will further embolden me to  expose the heavy handed misuse of state funds to control public opinion.

I also understand that these same individuals have been working behind the scene to prevent me being allowed to contest the Diego Martin West seat as a member of the People's Partnership, but I wonder what they believe would be the outcome of that situation with someone so politically minded and active as myself, who had to sacrifice much of his own support base to support this government? I wonder if Rodney Charles is ready for the push back of myself and others like me come election time, who have zero interest in seeing a PNM government ever come to office but would inadvertently end up working in their favor as we work to punish the political charlatans in our midst?

As Kahlil Gibran said in his world famous work 'The Prophet' – 'You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?'

Madame Prime Minister the last polls told you that your communications is not working. That despite you presiding over the best performing government that we have ever had, the people are anxious to rid themselves of your government. This will not get better and accelerating while being stuck only deepens the hole. As of this writing I am prepared to resign any position and surrender any contract in exchange for principle and integrity and to let you know that you are being made a fool. You are a high functioning capable Prime Minister, quite possibly the best that we have ever had. Do not allow the simple minded to dress you up and trot you out like a Barbie Doll. Listen to the ground, they will tell you everything you need to know and to do to retain office in 2015. You might be surprised the benefit to your popularity a tactical firing or two could accomplish right now.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Bringing this Rowley nonsense to an end...

Before he could finish smirking over the allegations he made in the Parliament last Friday that 'police all over' were looking for a former government Minister and United National Congress Member of Parliament, Political Leader of the People's National Movement Dr. Keith Rowley had to switch off his phone to stop taking calls as the rumor mill was abuzz with the latest news, that a young attorney short listed as one of his bright new stars and earmarked to be a future PNM Member of Parliament was himself arrested a short time after.

Now not wanting to get into the details of either matter, it is clear that the time tested sayings stand the test of time simply because they're have so much truth in them, and in this case it is obvious that who the Gods wish to destroy they do indeed first make mad.

But this is to be expected, and like the former People's Partnership Minister who himself seems bent on self destructing spectacularly, this is a man who has built an entire career on nothing but fluff and bravado and has pushed it so far even he must be shocked that he is still getting away with it. I mean seriously, think back over his twenty five year career and tell me one thing of national value this individual has contributed. Can't, can you? It's unbelievable that he has slipped by this far on so little for so long. And at the constituency level it is worse. Much worse. He has never once been on the ground. The only time we've ever heard him mention walking about was in reference to nineteen eighty six when he mentioned that he walked in Westmoorings and Glencoe, but for the rest of the constituency, not a word, not a trace. It's almost as if he's a ghost. Phoning it in from the start, he is that guy on every job site who figures out the boss' movements and times him. Who appears busy only when he absolutely has to be. Who is the most vocal on a wide assortment of issues, but none of them can he ever really claim as his own.

My issue with this individual is his blatant disingenuousness. His two faced, hypocritical forked tongue double standard. This individual who stood up in the Parliament and accused his political leader of knowing that the Cabinet he led was corrupt to the core and was engaged in bid rigging, because he said he told him so in two thousand and three. But he told us all this after his falling out with his same leader in two thousand and nine, but what he has never said to this day is what he did for the six years in between. By his own admission the systematic rape of the treasury that was taking place every year was ten times worse than what took place at Piarco, and as by then we all knew the estimated haul at Piarco was upwards of a billion dollars, is he saying that he knew for a fact that the PNM government that he was a part of was stealing over ten billion dollars a year, and he did nothing for six years? This man, who has called the country to order on a whiff and a suspicion, who has invaded the sanctity of the Chairman of the Integrity Commission's home when he thought the matter was of an urgent nature based on flimsy suspicions made no report to the same Integrity Commission for six years despite admitting that he knew for a fact that the government of which he was a part was stealing tens of billions of dollars of public funds? Not a call to the media? To the police? To the Fraud Squad? As a senior Cabinet Minister he could have called in Transparency International if he wanted, but from his own mouth again we know he did absolutely nothing, so tell me, on what is anyone to base any consideration of this individual for the office and positions he currently holds, much less support him for higher office?

And if all of what I said before were not already an indelible justification and a stain on a bleak and dismal failure of a career, what has he done to advance the cause of his party or the interests of the country or its people for the over four and a half years he has been leader of the Opposition? What plans and policies advanced? What options suggested? What ideas mentioned in passing?

On what then does this Prime Ministerial hopeful base his and by extension our fortunes should he succeed with his ambitions? On a wish? A prayer? On the public's possible disenchantment with the government so that he could benefit from another 'slip een?’ I put to the entire national community that it is way past time that this entire Keith Christopher Rowley charade be brought to an end. That this chapter in our political misfortunes need to be closed and the individual retired to a place where he can do no more harm. In an ideal world that would be the responsibility of the very Opposition that is currently languishing like a rudderless boat in stormy water under his leadership, but out of concern and love of country we may all need to get involved and put this particular political misadventure out of its misery. For all of our sakes. Just in case.

When the People Rise... (Real Unity)

Don't you just love it when those who set out to fool are themselves fooled and made fools of? This week we had two perfect such examples of the flipping of the script that my romantic heart was filled with so much hope it made me proud to be a Trini once more.

The first was the clearly orchestrated attempt at managing our low information voter through the clever use of racism and threats of violence to destabilize the nation, but which did not so much as backfire as it fizzled, leaving the Public Relations Officers of both of the political parties implicated in the matter taking to the airwaves to finger point and jibber jabber, while the rest of the population yawned, looked away and ignored them both. I swear, if I could have shaken one point three million hands that day I gladly would have, just for the message it sent to the two empty suits of the UNC's Rodney Charles and the PNM's Faris al Rawi. Now it's back to the drawing boards for these two and the dinosaurs behind them who still think that punctured tires and a threatening flyer placed on vehicles was going to incense the public enough to affect them on a passionate political level.

Shows just how much they are misreading the public, doesn't it? The majority of Trinbagonians aren't Africans and Indians no more, they seem to have seen through the ruse. The polls taken by the pollsters continue to tell the politicians and the public two different things, and if I were to advise those pulling the campaign strings it would be to shut up and listen, the people are guiding you. You are not getting statistical dead heats in the polls, you're getting apathy. The people are fed up. This is not twenty years ago, this is the time of instant information where the news cycle lags behind the public information curve. Now the people form opinions before the opinion shapers get a chance to tell them what to think, catching pundits everywhere off guard every single time and I have to say I love it.

Every creed and race appears on the way to finding an equal place, and step one along that road seems to be a uniting in disgust over the fables of the story tellers. Wonderful time to be alive I tell you.

The second thing that happened was the evaporation of Ancil Roget's political if not union leader career and everything else that came wrapped up in that embarrassing collapse of yet another PNM supported, ILP inspired, OWTU led march to nowhere over nothing for no good reason. Not that I am taking a political side to the union's position but am in fact questioning why the union would have one in the first place. But i'm getting ahead of myself. I wonder what David 'opinion on everything ' Abdullah thinks of this latest calamity to befall him and his comrades in arms?  Is he savvy enough to read the tea leaves to see that the entire population is just fed up of the nonsense now? That the lack of real leadership offered by Keith Rowley is a turn off? That the Jesus today, Judas tomorrow games Jack Warner plays are all played out? That no one cares if Ancil Roget is happy or sad because he has never had credibility or integrity with the public to begin with?

No, the politics of the future is certainly not going to be rooted anywhere near the politics of the past and those hoping for a career better understand the times we live in and get with the programme. The people don't care what you look like or the texture of your hair, they know we deserve better and whosoever is dealing those cards can be dealer for the rest of the game for all they care. They understand now that politicians are servants. That you are not going to get a raise in pay until we get an increase in the quality of our lives. That your bitching and moaning in the Parliament will not help you one iota come election time if the people are not satisfied with either your performance or your promise, and bet your bottom dollar, your words better match your track record or you will feel like Anil Roberts felt on his honeymoon night, unsure of if he was really in or out.

Now is the time for the rise of real people-centered, delivery-focused leaders with national vision and hearts for service. None of the numbers of the past are going to matter in this bright new frontier, in a world where the sitting Minister of National Security is so widely loved he could sit in any party, where any colour and it would matter nothing to a public so enamored with him that all they care about is him continuing to hold that job. And that's the lesson. Serving the people is now a measurable quantity not based on your predecessor or your challenger but on you and your promises. The people hold the reins of media and information and possess the ability to check you against yourself and what they know to be in their best interest. We are at a time when delivery is going to talk and gobar is going to walk, and to close how I opened, I am so proud of my fellow Trinis right about now, if for nothing, for finding their way home despite some of the questionable leadership we have had in the past fifty two years. It's a wonderful time to be alive.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Public Service Solutions...

An experimenter puts five monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder.

The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys.

The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all five sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him.

Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed.

By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left and yet, despite none of them ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas.

That experiment has been used to explain if not excuse a wide swath of inexplicable human behavior including our inability to confront and resolve negative issues by thinking 'outside of the box.' We have become a people to whom 'it has always been so' is enough to keep us in line, regardless of the temptation to do better.

I use it today to confront a nagging national issue, the public service. What is the purpose of the public service? Where is it written that we have to have a public service? If the public service frustrates everyone from government officials to private citizens, why has it not been disbanded and discontinued with all of its workers redeployed? When will we ever have a government forward thinking enough to stop complaining and deal with this issue head on? Who has final responsibility to address this matter?

We have been dragging this same rotting corpse around with us since independence, complaining about the shoddy work ethic and poor customer service from these 'unmovable' workers, so why? Why do we continue to do this if it serves us no one any real purpose? Why has no government seen it fit to take the bull by the horns and disband the public service altogether? To bring the legislation required to make it easier to privatize everything from pillar to post and change the paradigm from 'job for life' to 'in service of the public?'

What makes little or no sense is this idea that the public service as set up is the obstacle to progress. If that were really the case, why has the government not taken steps to fix it? Why not bring legislation to the Parliament that re-invents how the business of government is done? I mean, this is the government that changed the way elections are run despite widespread disagreement, a clear demonstration of what could be accomplished if there is political will, so why not this?

And what of the opposition? Are they too not bothered by these same obstacles to progress? Wouldn't they have a vested interest in supporting legislation that makes the business of governing easier?

So why not fix it once and for all?

Clearly having a public service that prevents employees who demonstrably function as obstacles to progress from being removed from office could never be the intention, so again I ask, why has this not been changed?

I am loathe to end any column on a question but until we have information as to why governments complain about the public service but do nothing to re-invent it we have no choice. Perhaps that should become an issue on the campaign trail for the next general election, with the question being put to prospective candidates - “Do you support either the redevelopment or the removal of the public service altogether?”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Keith Rowley Conundrum...

In 2009 Dr. Keith Rowley stood up in this country's Parliament and told the nation that he had gone to then Prime Minister Patrick Manning and warned him that there was “massive bid rigging and corruption taking place at UDECOTT that was ten times worse than (what took place at) Piarco,” yet he never adequately explained what he did for the six years that followed, six years in which he accepted Cabinet appointments in a Cabinet that he knowingly believed to be led by a willing and informed co-conspirator in the sins named above, six years in which he ate Cabinet food and drank Cabinet wine, six years in which the record shows he did nothing else whatsoever to attempt to rescue this nation from the wholesale pilferage he KNEW was taking place by men and women of the very Cabinet of which he was a part, celebrated six Christmases and Easters, dressed up for six Indian Arrival and Emancipation Days, played six Carnivals, counted two thousand one hundred and ninety odd days  and watched them go by with nary a word to anyone else, not the Integrity Commission, not the Fraud Squad, not the Commissioner of Police, not Transparency International, not the media, not his neighbour, nor the man he bought his tomatoes from, no one and nothing, until he was fired.

Then he was a veritable fountain of knowledge, spouting from the hallowed hilltops of those sacred halls information that he withheld from the people of Trinidad & Tobago for his own selfish interests, conspired to deceive them so that he could continue to advance his own agendas, feather his own nest as it were, but only when the ruse of his own masquerade as an able Minister of Government was up and he was left wanting did he then attempt to throw his leader under the bus, to smear and besmirch his name for sins he accused him of knowing for six long years, yet he as a senior member of Government who also knew, also did nothing, while the systematic rape of the people's treasury was allowed to go on unimpeded.

And yet and despite this and for whatever reason they can muster as to the unmeasurable depravity that has allowed this political charlatan to rise so high despite never having accomplished anything of real value to anyone while holding public office, the people of the People's National Movement defend him as leader. A simple walk through the die hard PNM communities in the Diego Martin West constituency that he has represented for twenty five years will offer nothing but desperation, poverty, squalor, violence and the shadow of death. The people of these areas actually went backward on his watch, with illiteracy and under employment rates soaring, home ownership and entrepreneurship depleting, Richplain has become a veritable killing field at night, Covigne is a ghost town, Factory Road a shame for all who have to endure what they have had to suffer despite the party they support having had forty one years of political and economic control and two multi-billion dollar oil booms from which they could have been blessed, but from which they were marginalized and ignored.

Keith Rowley brings nothing original or of value to the table, has not piloted a Bill of note, advanced no real policy, but has instead and without shame dusted off his predecessors plans and policies and are now claiming them as his own and is making them as political promises in lieu of anything of his own making.

To paraphrase the writings of a contributor in Prague, the danger to Trinidad & Tobago is not Dr. Keith Rowley per se, but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with leadership. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of a Rowley administration than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate who would consider such a man for their Prime Minister. The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Dr. Rowley, who is a mere symptom of what ails this nation. Blaming the prince of fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The Republic can survive a Keith Rowley, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools, such as those who might make him their Prime Minister.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory...

This weekend at least one of the daily newspapers quoted a political poll without publishing the actual poll, and while all of us were caught up reacting to the poll, it is only when someone asked me to send them a copy of the poll did I realize that I had not yet seen the actual poll. Worse, every single person that I contacted on the poll who themselves had weighed in publicly on the issue had to admit that they too had not yet seen the poll, begging the question as to if there ever was a poll in the first place.

Putting that aside, it appears as if the poll was commissioned to accomplish one thing and one thing only, to scare the Congress of the People into submission. Because based on the information in the as of yet not published poll which, for some strange and unknown reason only seem to have polled two constituencies as if that was all that was required to make the point, the poll that was never a poll left many unasked questions in its wake, and I thought I would like to request of the good people of NACTA  that if they ever do bother to actually conduct a poll, to ask other more substantial questions, especially where the COP is concerned.

But why say that it appeared to be purposed only to silence the COP? In courtrooms worldwide judges are mindful to guide lawyers as to the way they ask questions so as to protect the person being questioned from being trapped by little or no choice. The classic question posed as “Have you stopped beating your wife” presupposes you to be a wife beater, because in an environment where you are only allowed to answer yes or no, a 'yes' answer assumes that you used to beat her, and a 'no' answer means that you still do. See the quandary? To presuppose a desired outcome through the couching of the question tells the listener exactly what they want to hear, but we all know in reality nothing is limited to only two choices. Even experienced police officers tell that when dealing with disputes between persons that there are always three sides to every story; your side, my side, and the truth.

Basing questions on the viability of the Congress of the People as a political party as part of the People's Partnership labors the COP with all of the sins of all of its partners simply because the COP is held to a higher standard by the electorate first, and then by cunning politicians who know only too well that in the team sport that politics is, the compromises that have to happen if governance is at all to occur makes that position a lie from in front, prompting Niccolo Machiavelli to coin the phrase that has since been bastardized and attributed to Basdeo Panday, that politics has no relation to morals. Imagine asking that same question to the same public but prompting with the preface, “Would you vote for the Congress of the People if it left the People's Partnership?”

Imagine the response triggered by such a prefix, to a jaded public desperate for something, anything like decency and morality in our politics, whose one and only grouse with the COP that it is STILL  a part of the PPG, can you imagine the numbers? But forget the COP having any chance at success as a stand alone party for a minute, have those in the United National Congress who are rumored to have commissioned that poll that never was a poll thought for a second the vast gash that an exiting COP would leave in all of their intentions, and the size of the hemorrhage of votes, especially in the questionably polled east west corridor?

The UNC may boast of having members in seats such as Diego Martins West, Central and North East, but their collective numbers together especially in relation to the post-apocolyptical 2010 to 2015 term would be barely enough to form a line at a St. James roti shop. No, for the People's Partnership to have value in the 2015 elections it needs the COP more than ever now, and like the old time calypso about the two bards fighting over what was more important in the pot after it was cooked, the hambone that flavored it or the rice that could be eaten, to the politically savvy the COP brings even more this time around and may well be responsible for the pot itself.

In the card game 'All Fours' the worst thing to hold in a six card game is the ace and the jack, because with the king and queen still out there to hang you, that hand is referred to as laugh and cry. That is where the UNC finds itself today and it would do well to stop the nonsense where the COP is concerned because, while it is the bigger more established party with war chests (plural) of campaign money, without the COP to bring some semblance of acceptability if not credibility outside the sixteen seats that they could safely call safe, they might well find themselves crying all the way to the Opposition side of the house.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Healthy Response...

As some of you may know the Minister of Health and I have been having a bit of a public disagreement over the deplorable state of our ambulance service and by extension the public health sector, and while some have taken to making this political I have absolutely no interest in going down those roads with this most serious of issues.

I reject the notion that four and a half years was not enough time to fix our ambulance service and casualty department if not our health sector as a whole, and i dismiss the idea that the last administration's mismanagement is responsible for ours.

The truth of the matter is that nothing of substance has been done to reinvent what we have lamented for years to be a dysfunctional caricature of a public health service, yet it boggles my mind that all of this time and money spent, we have no improvements of any value to show for it.

Yes i am thankful that a Children's Hospital is under construction and that the Tobago Hospital was finally finished. I applaud the re-purposing of the Chancery Lane complex into an addition to the San Fernando General Hospital, yet our people are still dying waiting for an ambulance if one ever bothers to show up, are treated worse than animals if they ever need emergency treatment at our casualty departments, and even worse than that should they require a longer hospital stay.

In response the Minister of Health has taken to attacking me for speaking out, but how much longer must we wait?

Blaming the staff, the systems and the equipment for the sorry state of affairs reminds me of the statement attribute to Confucius, who said "Only a poor workman blames his tools."

I put to the Minister of Health and the entire national community that this is simply not good enough, that the blame game is tired, and that the Minister himself has to accept the epic failures of his term in office.

My recommendation to him is to cease the defensive posture and the public sniping and either get to work fixing what passes for our health sector or step down and make space for someone who can.

We need nothing less than the declaration of a public state of emergency on our health sector where all of the resources of state are made available to bring relief to the public in the soonest possible time. The old people say the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Start there. Fix Casualty. Make our Emergency Response the envy of the civilized world. We have the money to do it, so why not the political will? Remove the ambulances service from under the Ministry of Health and reassign it to the Ministry of National Security. Not out of spite, but because the Ministry of National Security is already in the business of emergency response and possesses advanced and sophisticated tools and technology through the National Operations Centre to control, manage, dispatch and monitor. This could be done in the immediate short term and bring real and substantial relief.

We also need to release the burden on the Casualty Departments and on the public by the creation of at least forty one Health centers compete with emergency rooms set up to treat with minor emergencies open twenty four hours a day seven days a week, leaving the real casualty departments to treat with the life threatening stuff.

Finally the beds. If we cannot privatize the hospital service then surely we can privatize the property management and security of our facilities. There are Companies that specialize in building maintenance, serve and equipping, and if we do this, if we can leave nothing but the medical management to the medical staff, we would create an environment where everyone is encouraged to succeed.

This is not rocket science but ideas and suggestions, and as sure as i am that there are better ideas and suggestions out there equally workable, I am equally sure that we are blessed to have some marvellous medical professionals who, if motivated to, could make this country's health sector something that serves the people instead of frustrating them. Whatever is the obstacle to progress that is retarding this type of redevelopment needs to be identified and removed, but please, don't waste my time telling me that low level public servants are the source of our concern. Trinidadians are by and large good people, and it has been my experience that those who choose to work in health are usually those with a heart for people and service. We are doing something wrong if our own people are against us, and perhaps we need to be honest with our introspection if what we want in the end is a health sector that serves us all.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Opposing Sensibly...

If the People's Partnership Government were to declare war on cancer tomorrow, Sunity Maharaj would find a way to defend cancer, Keith Rowley and Faris al Rawi would suggest that, by targeting cancer more people are now going to get it, and David Abdulah would say that cancer is good for healthy societies in the long run.

What am i spoofing?

That these people are so consumed by their agendas and zeal for relevance they repeatedly throw the issue out with their biases and oppose for opposing sake time and again.

Not every thing must be politicized, not every policy attacked in the name of opposing for opposing sake. At some point we must be able to be mature enough as a nation to come together to confront the real issues, the negatives that plague us if we are ever to improve to where we want to be.

Take crime as an example. This government through this Minister of National Security is fighting a war against crime on a broad array of fronts never experienced in this country before, and putting statistics and specifics into the national conversation creating by extension an entire generation of armchair criminologists.

We have 'found' the link between state contracts and the organized crime of the ghetto gang culture now that it has been exposed and brought to heel. We 'stumbled upon' the link between the ridiculous number of illegal aliens living among us, people with needs who, unable to get meaningful employment due to their lack of documentation would be left with little choice but to engage in criminal activities, yet when the Minister raises this at a regional level he is accused of 'muddying the waters' of integration. How can defending your nation against unlawful invasion be considered an attack against integration?

Or when the idea of terrorism and zealotry is raised, when links to globally sponsored terrorism are exposed, cheap politics convolutes the thing to the point that when Jamaica deports a notorious son of this soil long linked to radical extremism and who led a bloody assault against this nation's Parliament, politics allows this issue to become anything other than what it is and the individual given mind space to rewrite history and recast himself as some sort of national leader.

How do we grow past this?

Did we take Westminster from the British only to make a joke of it and a laughing stock of ourselves?

Yes the Opposition's job is to oppose, but not for opposing sake but to offer the public real alternatives so that informed choice could determine elections. What we have here is instead is a mockery of that, where opposition forces only have to malign and ridicule, where issues and policies are cast aside and personalities and reputations attacked mercilessly in the name of opposition, leaving the people more confused and less informed, and even more jaded where politics and politicians are concerned.

Surely at some point we must want more. More information. More representation. More service from these elected officials regardless of on which side of the aisle they sit.

If the Minister of Food Production tells us that food inflation is being reversed we should want to know what that means, what are the implications to prices and what should we expect to encounter on the grocery shelves. But by engaging in ad hominem politics that targets the Minister and ignores the issue the information gets lost and the public left exposed to the unscrupulous among us simply because they still have no idea what a peeled back food inflation rate means.

We need to desist choosing wrong for our misconceived right reasons. Wrong can only be wrong. Religious fervor is great until it picks up a gun to shoot you for disagreeing. Political fanaticism is fantastic, until it creates a newspaper built on lies designed to sensationalize character assassination in place of real news. The media itself needs to come up higher. We as a people must avoid becoming ensnared by the desire for more power that we abuse what little power we have. We are all here for a relatively short time, and when given an opportunity to affect public life we must do so with high ideals and a desire to leave this nation better for us having been here. As the old saying goes, when we set out to slay monsters we must make doubly sure that we ourselves do not become monsters along the way. The opposition has a role, but they need to figure out what that means in this context and start contributing to the national development if they want to be even considered as relevant to the equation.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Environmentally Speaking....

When Columbus first landed on these shores there were no roads. Everything that we have done since then has disturbed the environment to some degree, but where would be developmentally without our roads and highways? The good people of Westmoorings, where they live today was mangrove and swamp just thirty years ago. There is a mountain across the road from West Mall that literally bears the scars of being cut in half to reclaim those lands.The Foreshore Freeway also called the Audrey Jeffers Highway that turned the daily commute to the west from hours upon hours to fractions of hours was once beach front property and more mangrove. The Caroni swamp, the same Caroni that thrives and is teeming with wildlife today was cleaved in two many years ago to make way for the north south connector highway that united this island for the first time and paved the way for much of the development that contributes to the quality of life we all enjoy. The Point Lisas Industrial Estate that fuels our industry, what was it built on? All of our homes, didn't nature give way to that? We have altered water courses, reclaimed land, built reservoirs, quarried for aggregate that gave us the roads that gets our children to school, all of this is development, all of this is progress.

Now no one is saying that we are to decimate the environment in the name of development, but if we were to be honest, questions should be asked why so much of our development failed to reach our brothers and sisters in the south and deep south? On whose edict were they cut off and isolated and left to fend for themselves? The Highway that is being built to Point Fortin that passes through Mon Desir, Penal and Siparia ironically will have the least disturbance to nature and the environment than any of the other civil works projects mentioned before. Someone asked and made the point, if it didn't already exist, would we be allowed to cut a road through the rain forest to get to Maracas beach? 
Would our world famous shark and bake exist?

Yes we are maturing as a people and yes we are learning to live in harmony with nature, to preserve our environment and to hand over to future generation better than what we ourselves received. This little country leads the world in such matters. It is why we established an Environmental Management Authority charged with the responsibility of making sure our development does not cost us the earth in the long run. That same Environmental Management Authority was satisfied with all of the plans for this project and gave it the green light to proceed. Why is this not being discussed?

The good people of Diego Martin, who used to spend hours in morning and evening commute, who have now been given those hours back as a gift to spend with their loved ones because of the Diego Martin Highway, the people of Valencia, Toco, Sangre Grande and environs, to whom the Valencia bypass comes like life saving surgery, the people of the far south, cut off from the rest of this country, who have spent years of their lives sitting in traffic, all were and are entitled to relief.

I hold no brief or bad blood for Dr, Wayne Kublalsingh and I respect the passion of the people of the Highway Reroute movement, but I have watched as this environmental protest morphed into a political attack against the government, I looked on as those with political ambitions joined forces to hoodwink the population even as the nation's courts threw out each and every successive claim made against the highway.

There is a place for politics, but it must not be at the expense of the people. It is hypocritical to fix your communities regardless of cost to treasury or environment and then turn around and accuse others who want what you have of being unpatriotic. How unnerving it must be to be a resident of Mon Desir, Penal or Siparia, to be watching this theatre unfold knowing that it could snatch the highway you want so badly away from you, and feeling powerless to stop it. Have those protesting gone there to see how those people feel? I doubt it. Many who overflowed out of their homes and went to give support in St. Clair left homes that destroyed the environment to be built, travelled on roads that trampled it to get there, and then chanted piously, firmly gripping proverbial stones without understanding that the admonishment is let he who is without sin cast it. Let us  demolish Westmoorings and dump it into the sea. Roll back every highway and allow nature to reclaim and replenish itself. Otherwise, to add your voice to a cause that threatens to prevent others from achieving what you yourself already enjoy is nothing more than political bullying and hypocritical in the extreme.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

My Advice to the PM...

I am not an advisor to the Prime Minister, but if i were i would be guiding her towards the grand gesture this last year of her first term, so that her governance would not only be done, but it would be seen to be done, and it would be remembered for having been done. Madame Prime Minister, as the election season begins to heat up, those who are interested in replacing you and your government in office are challenging your track record and I daresay you must respond if you are to win. I have made a few suggestions in the past, I respectfully make a few more now that, if enacted, could well show that yours is a serious government worthy of at least another term.

In no particular order:

- Enact travel restrictions from countries with Ebola. Fast track quarantine facilities at the airport that can accommodate plane loads of people should the need arise.

It is far better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Imagine the situation should an infected person actually get on board an enclosed plane? What do we then do when that plane touches down on Trinbago soil? This one's a no-brainer, and we need to get out in front of this Ebola thing now.

- Cancel the Carnival.

As the previous point intimated, Ebola is not one of the concerns we are going to want to be juggling anytime soon. The national festival is going to present an immediate challenge simply because it is a moving petri dish of cross contamination.

- Hang the next fifteen prisoners duly prosecuted and sentenced to death.

Criminals seem to think that Justice is not only blind, it is dumb and toothless as well. We need them to rethink, and nothing like the threat of execution to cool a murderous climate down.

- Impose a bottle tax on plastic bottles to save the environment and use it to fund a 'reward' to encourage the homeless and the desperately poor to scavenge in exchange for cash.

Plastic bottles do more harm to the environment on a daily basis than just about anything else. As the point suggests, a twenty five cent per container produced tax should be levied and used to reward those who become the plastic bottle scavenging industry, the obvious solution to the problem.

- Bring referendum legislation to the Parliament and pass it into law. Quickly.

We are growing up as a nation and the people want to have their say. Give it to them. Referendums make the democracy work as it brings the big decisions closer to the people. This is a win win as, any government willing to be guided by the wishes of the voters is sure to continue to get their votes.

- Use new referendum legislation to ask the public to weigh in on the Point Fortin Highway, on the decriminalization of homosexuality and the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use.

This nagging and contentious re-route nonsense has been overplayed, yet it continues on like an annoying hum. Forget mediation or confrontation, give the people the opportunity to decide on what is the best way forward, and make sure all parties agree to abide by that result. While we are at it shouldn't we give up the pretense that we are a chaste and sober society and stop penalizing people for their lifestyles and personal choices? Marijuana use seems widespread through all sectors of society, so why not ask society to decide on its fate? The criminalization of homosexuality is another hot coal issue that could be removed from the political directorate and given to the people to decide. Depending on that outcome we could all be guided by how the public at large really feels about the issue.

- Zero tolerance on illegal guns.

My pet peeve. For the life of me I do not understand why it is so difficult to build a dedicated gun court complete with gun jail to deal with gun issues. A dedicated gun court would take the burden off the existing Magistrates Courts and encourage the police to go after illegal guns knowing that the prosecution would be swift. Illegal gun legislation need to be amended to include a maximum three month stay at His Excellency's pleasure for first offense, doubling for the next three offenses and topping off with a fifteen year stay for third strikers.

- Free the prisoners.

Not all, just those who have had cases before the courts for more than ten years. Not to include rape, murder and other blood and white collar crimes of course, but both the Director of Public Prosecutions and his Excellency the President could be approached to vacate the backlog of matters clogging the system, a measure that would free many who have served sentences far in excess of what they could have been awarded had their matters been prosecuted to conclusion. Unclogging the case load and easing the overcrowding at the nation's prisons would go a long way toward paving the way for a far more just society.

- Fix the Courts.

I have suggested for years and I suggest again, we need to create an 'Old Case Court' staffed and manned to handle every matter from today going back into perpetuity. The High Court can then be freed to handle every matter that comes before it from today going forward. This is of course an over-simplification of what is required but it makes the point and has serious merit that is worthy of consideration if what we want is speedy justice in he best interest of all and the nation as a whole.

Of course there are many other ideas and suggestions worthy of implementing and like those I believe that these will have a massive impact on the majority of this beautiful nation. At some point we are going to have to make all the tough calls, rip those bandages off and free this country from the artificial restraints and petty fears that binds it and set it free to bigger more meaningful development. This is as good a place as any to start.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Politics, Religion, Sex & Drugs...

Oscar Wilde wrote “Everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.”

The Prime Minister, in response to a direct question on her government's position on the decriminalization of homosexuality in Trinidad & Tobago stated categorically that the environment for the conversation does not yet exist due to the position being taken by religious bodies on the issue, specifically the Catholic Church, which prompted a scathing response from the same Catholic Church denying that statement but which notably omitted to state, if she was wrong, then what exactly the church's position on the matter is.

Now before we tear in to the matter and have our say it is worthy to note that no other group in society risk prosecution over sexual expression like homosexuals do, despite this being an overtly sexual society described in some quarters as a hyper-sexualized environment. The issue is reduced to how they have sex, as if this is anyone else's business. From there the matter becomes cloudy with inflamed passions over what is right or wrong, moral or immoral or even what is detrimental to the society as a whole, and while I try my best to stay out of bedroom politics, this matter is actually worthy of a discussion if only to prove that we are mature enough to be seeing after our own affairs.

Questions need to be asked and chief among these should be, why should this matter? Without getting into the nitty gritty as to how sex is practiced on all sectors of society, do we really believe that how consenting adults interact sexually can have an impact on the development of society?

And what of the other sacred cows such as marriage and child rearing, do we really believe that the sanctity of heterosexual unions can somehow be undermined by the fact that homosexuals want to also commit to one person for the rest of their lives? Or that unclaimed orphans are much better off languishing in orphanages rather than be given the opportunity to grow in a home environment because we disagree on how those people express themselves sexually?

I for one have been trying to be very mature about this, and while still do not understand a lot of what makes a person homosexual, whether it is in fact nurture, nature or genetics at play, I find that the issue has become one of human rights, and for me to be the social activist I believe myself to be then I am going to have to have to at least weigh in on the human rights aspect of the matter.

The criminalization of homosexuality is wrong on multiples of levels and should be undone. Human beings should be free to express themselves sexually and we as a society need to grow up to that point.

Hoping not to inextricably link the two, I cannot avoid the comparison with this issue and the issues surrounding the decriminalization of marijuana for personal use. Again, this is not a matter 'dear to my heart' as it is another cause for which I am outside the affected group, but here again is another example of legislation failing to keep up with the times. It is a publicly known fact that many, many people smoke marijuana on all levels of society for different reasons. As recreation to get high (as compared to drinking to get drunk), for medicinal purposes (suppression of pain and other negatives associated with chronic disease) or for other reasons, and while we are legally allowed to drink ourselves into a stupor, the use of marijuana has been linked to the opening of the gates of hell and the unleashing of the demon hordes to destroy society.


If you have ever had to engage people who take their marijuana use seriously the first thing you would notice is the almost passionless lack of zeal. It has been scientifically noted that marijuana suppresses urge and perhaps may be a useful thing if harnessed and put to good in our penal institutions, but that is a topic for a whole other discussion. Noteworthy to the discussion, the ill effects of smoking are well known, yet more people die from the avoidable consequences of smoking cigarettes than any other cause and are allowed to do so legally. The facts outstrips the fiction now associated with the drug, and again this is something that requires national dialogue and perhaps a vote from which to make a decision.

Put the democracy to work and let the people decide. Call a referendum on the two issues, giving all sides three months to 'campaign' for their cause, phrasing the ultimate questions as simple yes or no:

Do you think homosexuality should be decriminalized yes or no?

Do you think marijuana for personal use should be decriminalized yes or no?

Guided by the results, laws should be either enacted or repealed to reflect the will of the people. That is the way mature societies should address polarizing issues and in the process create a space for the harmonious enjoyment and celebration of each other's differences in my humble opinion.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Reading Rowley Right...

Translated from Spanish to english, Las Alturas means 'The Heights,' and clearly there were some serious 'heights' (as the young people say) at play in this entire fiasco that is now crumbling down without ever having been used. Adding to the legacy of mistakes that included the purchase of a boat that never float, building homes that could never be used and that had to be torn down is going to be a damning indictment on anything the People's National Movement says from here, but of all the 'heights' that one has to deal with where this latest scandalous fiasco is concerned, I am surprised that so many people missed Dr. Rowley in his defense of his track record, stated that this was just the latest in a series of attacks, that Kamla Persad Bissessar was now 'Baby Uff' to former Prime Minister Patrick Manning's 'Pappa Uff.' What was his message here? Clearly a sotto voce 'play' comparing the two to the Duvalier clan of the Pappa Doc and Baby Doc regimes that were famous for the Tonton Macoute extermination of tens of thousands of Haitians, but forget his hatred for the current Prime Minister, isn't he now calling out his former leader who he just finished lionizing and deifying as the best Prime Minister we have ever had only last week? So which is it? Is Patrick Manning the corrupt thief, guilty of enabling with full knowledge the wholesale looting of the nation's treasury through bid rigging and corruption for six long years under Calder Hart? Or is he, as we were told, such a blessing that a nation is fortunate if it produces one such stalwart in its history, we having been blessed to have spawned a legend whose shoes he admitted he would never fill, so how does he now come to refer to the same man as a brutal dictator and a murderer?

Will the real Keith Rowley please stand up?

And what about his defense of his spin doctor in chief Faris al Rawi, whose stint on the Housing Development Board should be the foil from which we draw comparison for his eager ambition to high office? The same Rowley and al Rawi who insisted that the sins of Lifesport were the responsibility of the line Minister who 'ought' to have overseen the activities of his Ministry and any of its charges and agencies, yet fail to see the irony, the culpability of Faris in his failure of his fiduciary responsibility over the same Las Alturas heights? Shouldn't Keith Rowley be dismissing Faris as we speak so as to walk the talk he walks so heavily? Isn't Faris at the very least materially responsible for the failure and because of such, unfit for public office? Where are the mea culpas? The outpouring of connected responsibilities that the opposition uses to hang the government from?

Again, the almost karmic irony here is almost laugh out loud funny, because, had the PNM been in office right now, this same Las Alturas fiasco would have been enough to pull them down from office if the same standard that they want to hold out to others were applied.

Keith Rowley's immediate replacement at the Housing Ministry Emily Dick-Forde said in her brief statement on the issue that she inherited 'a mess' and was 'appalled at the backward approaches being employed at the Ministry,' again not the most noble or stellar of endorsements for the man who has his heart set on running an entire country.

The cold hard facts that seem to dog Keith Rowley no matter how hard he tries to outrun them through distraction, deflection and misdirection is the abysmal failure of his own track record in office. The fact that not one but two major multi-million dollar projects failed under the People's National Movement over geological issues, Las Alturas and Tarouba despite that administration being led by two supposedly qualified geologists, one of whom was no less a person than the then Prime Minister, the other the focus of this Commission of Enquiry, Keith Christopher Rowley, the man one assumed would be able to read and understand the implications of a geological report on the suitability of a site, who has held the most loftiest standards for others to uphold, seems to have once again catastrophically flubbed his lines.

Will the multiples of millions spent on Las Alturas, like the multiples of millions spent on the 'unfloatable' MV Sue and the unstable, unusable Brian Lara Cricket Academy at Tarouba be also written off as just others in the numerous already written off as the cost of a PNM government? From the Caroni Racing Complex that cost billions without even a foundation to show for it to the latest 'heights,' how much will be enough for the people languishing in squalor and poverty of the shrinking PNM die hard communities, feeding flour pap as milk to their babies, dodging bullets, living hand out to hand out, defending a party long on theft, mismanagement, mistakes and corruption, and woefully and abysmally short on any people centered, country focused policies? How much before they too say enough?

Keith Rowley, you said once that we as a nation should judge you on your track record. Which track record were you referring to?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Diplomacy, Controversy & Recognition...

Awards serve two purposes: they recognize the contributions of the awardee deemed worthy of public acclaim, and they use that recognition to broadcast to the widest audience those qualities that we think admirable and deserving of note so as to impact the society as a whole through emulation.

With that said, this column was almost entitled 'The Theatre of the Absurd.' It is no overstatement to say that this year's national awards ceremony has been dogged by needless controversy and mishandled to the extreme, creating fiascos where none needed to be. Putting aside the human resource responsibility of dismissing those responsible for the cluster faux pas, we need to take urgent and positive steps here to undo the damage to such an important national institution so as to prevent the awards themselves becoming tarnished and devalued.

The fact that no one received the Order of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago this time around seems only to underscore the point being discussed on all levels of our society that, all controversies aside, no one was more deserving of such recognition than Dana Seetahal. To hear her family speak, accolades and awards meant nothing to Dana unless it was something that she was actively striving for through dint of sheer effort and hard work, in which case one would be advised to get out of her way.

The real reality here is that granting her the Order of the Republic does nothing for Dana, in fact it takes more than it gives. She does not need it to complete her or her legacy as a legal and social champion or as a reliably strong voice and clear mind through cloudy times, if anything, as a recipient she now contributes to the value of the thing. Perhaps this is what those charged with the responsibility failed to understand, the organic, almost ephemeral nature of issues such as these. That judged solely on the pantheon of those who have received the award for contribution deserving of the highest of national recognition raises the value of the award itself or, conversely, handing it out too cheaply devalues and diminishes the contribution and even the reputations of those others who have gone before.

It is for this reason that I have said that neither Basdeo Panday or Patrick Manning deserve such a prestigious recognition for simply doing their job. Neither of them were so extraordinary a leader that we are bound to immortalize them, if anything both seemed to suffer from the same feet of clay that grounded them and robbed them both of their individual legacies. That is stuff for another discussion, what we need to do right now is find a way forward that restores the reverence and the lustre of the national awards and puts the wrong things done here right.

The public will not be satisfied with anything less than the Order of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago for their reluctant hero, and the government has the power to agree and acquiesce. The family and custodians of her memory have graciously agreed to accept the award at a future date, so why not use that opportunity to reflect on the life of Dana Seetahal to see if an error was in fact made, one that cannot be put right as a win for everyone?

It is regrettable that the process itself could have been so cheapened by this mishandling of what should have easily been a public relations coup for a government badly in need of a victory where public opinion is concerned, that they could hardly afford another misstep of any kind at this point is itself an understatement, especially one this avoidable. I have said before and am prompted by these events to say again that the Prime Minister seems to be almost a victim of her own advisors as some of these unforced errors seem almost designed to make the good lady look bad.

As no other leader in recent history has so mastered the art of accepting consequence in hindsight and then doing the right thing as this Prime Minister has, we can at least rest easy knowing that the solution, when found, can be said to be in good hands. That her leadership style has become one of sober thought and decisive leadership where and when required is without question, so if anyone can fix this with a decision shared with the public, she can.

In this case Madame Prime Minister, and with an abundance of respect I suggest that you play to your strengths and demonstrate that now trademark quality that promises to define your own legacy. I implore you to reach across the limitations of this mortal plane and bring Dana back to life. Engage this most devoted and giving daughter of the soil and bless us all by awarding her the highest accolade that we all can give, in tribute and recognition of a life so richly lived.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Independence 2014

Forged from the love of liberty is the opening line to this country's national anthem, and while we may cherish our liberty, it is as much an overstatement to say now as it was then that the independence we know today has been forged as in iron, melted to the quick to be reformed and repurposed. No, our nation was not forged but negotiated into being on the collapse of the Federation of Caribbean states that perhaps, if we had today, would have us soaring among the great nations, twenty five million souls strong, food and energy independent, able to punch way above our weight and class.

In the fires of hope and prayer we hope on and pray for the selfless guidance that would transform this nation into something more in keeping with what something this blessed should be fifty two years along on its journey

With boundless faith in our destiny speaks to a unified vision, something that we have glimpsed twice, maybe three times over the course of our history. The raising of the red, white and black in 1962, the surrender of the Jamaat al Muslimeen in 1990, and the qualification for the World Cup in Germany in 2006. Other unifying moments may have occurred but they slip my mind now, I name these three as contrast to the chaos of our normal, one nation divided under God.

Side by side we stand, islands of the blue Caribbean Sea is sung with such pride if for nothing then celebrate your geographical location, this our native land, for many of us, three and four generations in we are still reminded that we are not 'Trini' enough (whatever that means), we pledge our lives to thee.

Here every creed and race continues to fight for an equal space, with the dream of the proportional representation that might make that a reality if only politically now paused perpetually in the name of a second ballot run off that is supposed to give smaller groups a magical voice somehow, we lurch and lumber on.

Many things come to mind when celebrating independence, in our case all we have to give thanks for is that we get to make our own decisions, regardless of how reckless that process might sometime seem to be.

Fifty years on we are still no closer to racial harmony, still have no working model to really share the wealth of this nation among the creeds and races that we boastfully claim in our rainbow, and we still have not found the self awareness to understand that in a nation this wealthy, any ghetto, regardless of the make up of its inhabitants, is an indictment of failure against us all.

We are a nation of contrasts and contradictions that have struck up an uneasy peace lubricated by the petrochemical dollars that keep us all employed. Until we can develop an economy that can survive the shock of an oil and gas market collapse we remain ironically dependent on foreign consumption to pay local bills.

That we have no collective understanding of those bigger problems while we magnify and make a mess of the small ones shows that perhaps we have not yet developed the maturity level required to be running our own affairs. An estimated fifty percent of this country's revenues have been lost to mismanagement and outright theft over the years, with not one single solitary soul ever having to shoulder the burden of consequence of actions.

We will gather to ooh and aah at the annual celebratory fireworks display and cross another year older off our collective calendar, but writing this I find myself confused as to what we as a nation are celebrating at all.

Be that as it may, happy independence 2014 Trinidad & Tobago.

And may God Bless our nation....

Monday, August 25, 2014

Communicating Ineffectively... (Explaining the Inexplainable)

The Minister of Communication has done himself and the Prime Minister a disservice by attempting to spin his way out of the National Awards fiasco, the latest in a rapid series of communications and public relations gaffes plaguing the government ever since he was appointed to the post. Diluting his own credibility, he strains to make connections where none exist to explain the protocol collapse that led to the Prime Minister being embarrassed once again, and rather than look for clever ways to deflect he should come straight with the public without fudge, misdirection or precedent, just admit that it was badly handled and hope that his mea culpa could find favor with a public now weary of real and imagined scandals.

The only questions that needs to be answered here surround whose haire-brained idea was this in the first place. How was this scheme hatched? Who were the plotters? Why was it allowed to appear as policy by vapse and why was the Prime Minister left so exposed to the fall out caused by an amateurish lack of diligence and observance of protocol?

For my part I was stumped and said so publicly upon learning of the announcement, that two men that the government and all of its supporters have publicly declared to be scamps and scoundrels could receive the nation's highest awards while having so many damning allegations hanging over their heads, allegations which were put there by the very people now looking to sanitize and award them. Clearly reeking of cheap politics designed to secure votes,  apparently not enough were fooled to give the thing even the remotest shred of credibility by the public at large. Worse, since everyone reliably expected Basdeo Panday to be the one to reject and pour scorn on the offer, now that Patrick Manning has beaten him to it one can only guess at the hurried behind the scenes negotiations taking place with him and his family to avert further humiliation, and the Panday clan may well walk away from this one with not only a national award, but smiling all the way to the bank.

An Ambassadorship for Bas? A Senate seat for Mikela? A lifetime supply of chauffeur driven spa treatments for Oma? Perhaps a full Presidential blanket pardon for all prior sins? Why, the sky is practically the limit here for a man in Singapore apparently so cut off from the rest of the world and Trinidad politics he has to appoint his daughter to speak for him on all manner of issues including whether or not he might possess a Facebook account.

Having spoken to him recently in public where we continued a chat that we were having over the course of some weeks on that same social media site notwithstanding I am amused at the lengths big people go to when they conspire to deceive, but perhaps I too should be prepared to suspend critical disbelief and accept that he has none, if only for appearances sake.

But back to the Honorable Minister of Trade, Communications and Embarrassing Gaffes, I find it strange that all of his communicating comes in the form of one way statements that are not themselves open to challenge. His position that Manning made an announcement a year before someone who was to receive an award was given the award is of no value here because it misses the critical point that the public hasn't, that this was the announcement of the granting of national awards to political enemies, all in the name of mending political fences, a purpose for which the awards were never intended.

The fact that Patrick manning behaved like a spoilt child and threw the mother of all tantrums over the award was simply Manning being Manning, but the fact that the government gave him the opportunity to 'buss so much style' on them says more than the Minister's statement ever could.

Bharath's assertion that the awards have been refused in the past and cited an example where one was threatened to be returned over religious and symbolic reasons again has nothing to do with the overt politicizing of the thing for what appears to be selfish gain on the part of the government, and this is where he (Vassant) misses the point.

This government that has been stellar and spot on with deliverables and service but has been woefully bad at communicating their achievements, and even worse when they try to plot clever conspiracies for ignoble ends.

Their overwhelming success at actual governance is lost in silence due to the failure of their communications machinery to convert the skeptical public to informed and trusting supporters, so they continuously turn to chicanery and subterfuge to achieve the same end, engaging in cheap politicking that I fear may eventually be their ruin.

A conundrum in itself, someone or someones set out to fail and succeeded. The Office of the Minister of Communications itself should not be used as a platform for political spin but for facilitating communication between the people and the government. With less than a year remaining in Office perhaps the Minister should learn that, as this government could hardly afford another Minister publicly failing to perform.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Malignant Narcissism and Hubris...

With word from Internet search giant Google that for all intents and purposes what we have come to know as emailgate is nothing but a cleverly fabricated hoax, there can be nothing left to the political leader of the People's National Movement and promoter in chief of the motion but to resign and face the courts.

Thrown into the black hole of internal jurisprudence, I am sure it has come as a massive surprise to him (Rowley) and his co-conspirators that the results to the queries put before them could have been delivered with such speed, and now surely all who were involved have to be concerned with what exactly is going to happen next.

Listening to PNM spin doctor in chief Faris al Rawi trying to salvage something from it while looking ashen and defeated on live television, it is clear that no amount of beating is going to get this now dead horse to move. Perhaps the best thing Faris can do right now is to revert to the lawyer that he was when he first cautioned against proceeding along this treacherous course.

And now that the chickens have come home to roost the talk in legal circles is pointing straight to criminal libel as the claims and accusations made, if proven to be as completely and as patently false as Google thinks they are, may well land Keith Rowley and all who sat around that Goodwood Park table that fateful night and concocted this mad enterprise in some serious hot water.

What could they have possibly been thinking, that the government built on virtually some of the best and brightest legal minds in the western hemisphere was not going to figure out how to bring this to a conclusion? Who was advising and who was taking notes? And if sentences are dished out who else besides Keith Rowley stand to take some jail?

The thing just got serious, and while many who were beating the drums of war have now gone silent, those who were warning that this might just boomerang have been proven to be sage in their estimate.

Going forward from here Keith Rowley faces a barrage of lawsuits that may well crush him, but he has no one but himself to blame. We kept calling for the evidence, for him to provide the whistleblower, to give information on the alleged illegal SIA sweep that was then reconfigured and repackaged as emails in the hopes that a case could be built for content, but it was never provided.

Now all of his comrades and friend-with-benefits such as David Abdulah, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj and Fixin' T&T all have decisions to make, should they stick with him? Or jettision in the hope of a soft landing and to fight another day?

Others may not be so lucky. With his fortunes inextricably tied to Keith Rowley's, the OWTU's Ancil Roget may not be able to escape resigning as well as he made available the might and manpower of the oilfield workers union in pursuit of Rowley's mad dream. What can he now say to the thousands who followed him on his escalating fallacy? Sorry? My bad?

In instances such as these the only apologies the people need to hear is the apology for abuse of office. Beyond that pack your bags and hope for the best, as all those who have slandered, maligned, libeled and otherwise defamed the characters of the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Leader of Government Business and Minister of Housing, the Minister of National Security, the Minister of Works and the entire government in general all in the name of a naked grab for power may suddenly find themselves calculating things such as personal net worth in preparation to pay some hefty legal fees and court awards.

What it is they say about those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad? Keith Rowley's rise to power has been a testimony of the destruction of careers, ironically culminating in his own but not unexpectedly so.

I remember quoting Professor Patrick Watson in my column written the day after the accusations were laid in the Parliament, where the goodly Professor opined – 'If this is true it would be the end of the government, if it isn't it would be the end of Keith Rowley's career.' Now he (Rowley) finds himself literally hung on his own petard and, with nothing to verify his claims but a fistful of fake pages and a headful of hubris, may well rue the day he decided to embark on a journey of malice to attack the government with made up facts based on circumstance he fully well knew to be a lie.