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.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Post Turtles & the General Hospital...

While stitching a cut on the hand of a 75 year old farmer whose hand was caught in his gate while working, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man.

Eventually the topic got around to politicians and their role as our leaders.

The farmer said, "Well, as I see it, most politicians are 'Post Turtles'.''

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a 'post turtle' was.

The old farmer said, "When you're driving down a road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle."

The old farmer saw the puzzled look on the doctor's face so he continued to explain. "You know he didn't get up there by himself, he doesn't belong up there, he doesn't know what to do while he's up there, he's elevated beyond his ability to function, and you just wonder what kind of dumb fool put him up there to begin with."

I usually write my columns in the morning, and this morning i woke up so conflicted i almost did not want to write one. There is so mach bad leadership being displayed by politicians and public officials on both sides of the political divide that to write a column dedicated to post turtles as defined above might well use up the entire paper, but ruminating on the reality of post turtles currently in the public domain I could think of no better example than the following:

Earlier this week one of the evening news shows sent an undercover camera into the General Hospital to show the public just how bad things were for patients, and the shortage of beds was highlighted as the major issue plaguing the institution. People were shown sleeping on chairs, benches and floors, with family members and visitors huddled over trying to make a space for their loved ones. In response and as explanation, the Minister of Health told the nation that the reason that a bed shortage exists in the hospital is because people go there for treatment and refuse to leave, or that families drop their elderly and infirm off and never come back for them.

To quote a former Minister and vociferous Member of Parliament, WHAAAAAAAAT????

Really Mister Minister?

Now, I am not saying that they may not be some truth to what he is saying, but did he really think this through before bringing such a silly excuse to the public? 

Surely he has to be aware as to how inept it made him appear to break the failure of the four point five billion dollar Ministry of Health to bed squatting, and the fact that he did not include when exactly over his term in office that he and they were made aware that bed squatting was crippling the hospital, what the plans were to combat the scourge, or how soon they intend to embark upon rectifying it made him look less the manager that we all assumed him to be.

But before we go forward bigger questions have to be asked, questions such as, when a patient is discharged after treatment, can they refuse to go? And what are the options available to hospital management then? What are the legal ramifications and precedents here? Can anyone choose a bed anywhere, claim it as their own and live there permanently? Can this be done at private hospitals as well? Hotels? Or does this only apply to the General Hospital?

If the nation was not at one time dealing with the distraction of the Constitutional Amendment Bill while waiting to get down into the meat of the organised rape that Lifesport is appearing to be, then surely this Minister would be in the hot seat right now trying to defend the level of ineptitude that allows our health care sector to be run this way, and i daresay, perhaps as affable and as nice a guy as the Minister is, that perhaps he might not be the right man for the job.

Personally i refuse to accept the Minister’s explanations and reject it out of hand. This is at worst a mid-level management issue, at best a floor supervisor’s job and not a problem that should be allowed to force other patients to sleep on the floor nor require a Minister of Government to be making silly excuses.

A glaring example of mismanagement and in light of all the other public building shut downs, what might be the situation should the Public Services Association apply the same yardstick it applied to the Immigration Department and other government buildings to the General Hospital?

Would the hospital be shut down and literally put lives at risk in the name of saving lives?

It is an indictment against us the voting public that we have not called for the resignation of the Hospital Administrator and insist that a care taking management team be installed with the mandate to reverse this horrific state of affairs within a specific and reasonable time-frame.

We cannot be spending the equivalent of the entire national budget of Grenada on health care and our people have to settle for their loved ones sleeping on the floor. One percent of this Ministry's budget could build a multi-story hostel complete with bed space for the abandoned if the Ministry and Minister were so inclined, so why allow such nonsense into the public domain?

I put to the Minister of Health that his excuse is simply not good enough and that it is time that public institutions be repositioned in service of the people who own them, and if those who are placed in charge cannot deliver, then they need to be replaced by those who can.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory...

There's a riddle that asks, if a man sets out to fail, and he succeeds, what has he done? When the Parliament reconvened without fanfare this week one could sense the electricity, the getting down to business no nonsense of the mood and I must say it was energizing. Sitting in the visitors gallery of the House of Representatives, watching the Members file in one by one as the Senators, those members from that 'other place' made their way to wherever they could find an inconspicuous seat to observe the day's offering it was clear, the stage was set for big things, and it is with big things it started. The Speaker of the House, after the blessings and other important items, made the announcements that governed the new Standing Orders that were to be adopted, and with all of that business out of the way, in an almost offhand manner he read into the record a letter he received from the member for D'Abadie O'Meara, who had suddenly and without warning or explanation tendered his resignation as a Member of that august House, and in keeping with Section 49 A of the Constitution of the Republic, the Speaker was under no other obligation but to accept it.

And just like that, tropical storm Anil Roberts was over. But for us looking on and the growing numbers in the media space there was also the promise of the Prime Minister's announcement, the top and singular item on the government's agenda, and it is from that she read a contribution that I believed was going to crown her career as Prime Minister of the Republic, she standing there looking the part delivered to the people much of what has been promised for so long, recall legislation to keep members beholding to the voters or be tossed out, fixed election dates to end the back pocket speculation nonsense, term limits for Prime Ministers to prevent their ever being another entrenched dictator for life, and just as she was hitting the high note and headed to crescendo the entire thing fell flat, hinged to an announcement of something called 'run off' which has since dominated the national conversation in a most negative manner (but more on that after), causing many if not all to strain to understand why must they always do this?

Why take a moment of pure spanking glory and screw with it just enough to upset the people who, but a minute before were ready to hoist them onto their shoulders and take them on parade in celebration?

Like the oh so badly needed Section 34 bit of legislating that would have brought so much relief to so many, many of whom have been abandoned to their sorry fates by the other side, their die hard support for life notwithstanding, and then forget to include in the schedule that protects the public from abuse the clause that would have made sure that white collar criminals, scamps and well dressed hoodlums did not benefit from this same bit of mercy drafting.

So instead of being heroes they looked complicit in a master-scheme to set financiers free from answering for high handed theft of the people's money, and when the legislation was undone, the same poor desperate souls languishing behind bars in a system that does not know how to treat with those who cannot afford the most zealous representation, the best intentions led to an even worse outcome for those most in need.

And similar to that, only recently and almost at the death of the last session to bring to the Parliament the so badly needed Judges Pension Increase Bill, a move that would have raised so many former tireless servants of the Bench from penury and destitution and raised themselves to the status of caring and loving servants of all the people, chose instead to attach it to another Bill that also raised their own pensions and salaries in terms and amounts that both alarmed and scandalized the entire population, causing the Bill to be pulled to appease the chorus of disdain, leaving the same Judges who, elated for just a moment, were now worse off than before, because now their names and cause were attached to what appeared to be over reaching and greed by the same angry public.

Why do that?

And now this. Standing firmly against the Ministerial failure that led to the corrupt collapse of the Lifesport programme, the government that should be basking in the firing of the accountable line, instead chose to come to the Parliament and ice the cake with shards of broken glass. And now, instead of being heralded from street to street as the government we need and the one that we should keep, the People's Partnership comes across as conniving and untrustworthy, as in willing to engage in high level gerrymandering to protect their own interest at the expense of the democracy, wrapped up in a document laid in the Parliament that looks to all and sundry like just another Judas kiss.

No, People's Partnership, you do your supporters such a disservice when you do this, to send the Attorney General scurrying from talk show to talk show pressing a case for a matter that should have been the subject of widespread public consultation, but which will now forever be stained into infamy as another underhanded play by an insincere bunch.

I keep saying this government is the best we have ever had but are also the kings of unforced errors, willing to do whatever it takes to move from the high ground to the low road unprovoked and of their own volition. With twelve months to go before election I cringe for what might yet be done, seemingly ill advised by those too clueless to know how much of this appears on the ground with the very voters who, if you are honest and straightforward with and just do your job, may well be so enamored with you that you might not even need to campaign, much less tamper with how elections are done to win.