Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Hand so Badly Played...

According to Kenny Rogers in 'The Gambler' - “You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” For all he did wrong this was clearly something that Anil Roberts understood that Anand Ramlogan doest not seem to. That there comes a time in the play when you realize the game is over, and you take your winnings and walk. Instead, embattled in the position and losing ground by the minute, the outgoing Attorney General is holding on with all his might, attempting to discredit and damage anyone who he perceives as the enemy, and he and his minions have taken to social media to discredit both the Minister of Legal Affairs and the Minister of National Security for standing on the principle that, ironically, had he had, we would not be where we are right now.

In all of this the one thing I find inescapable is, as allegations go, this one is so lightweight it should never have been able to pull such an accomplished Attorney General low, so how did it? How did such a 'your word against mine' accusation become fact so fast and galvanize a population so completely that all they want to see is the back of you? What did you do? Well if one were to look at the actions of the few Anand loyalists still under his direction, you might get an understanding as to why this man has become so universally hated if not despised. The message seems to be scorch the earth in a bid to save their leader, without stopping to realize that, without a government to belong to, the efforts would be for nought.

In what could only be described as the Opposition's wildest dream coming true, Anand Ramlogan is doing or attempting to do what they never could, and that is destroy the United National Congress and the People's Partnership Government from within.

And much like the situation she faced when she was left with no choice but to fire Jack Warner, the Prime Minister has to be aware that her Attorney General is now tearing her government apart and she needs to take action.

Did he do it? At this point the only people who know for sure are David West the accuser, and Anand Ramlogan the accused. Not even National Security Minister Gary Griffith, duped by the AG to carry a message of enquiry into a matter whose contents he was unaware and can only verify that the AG was asking 'something' of David West knows for sure, and yet the public is not interested in any further evidence to arrive at their decision. They want nothing to do with this Attorney General and will rout this government and fire all to rid themselves of him.

To Anand Ramlogan every hand seems to be an 'all in' bet and every disagreement a disrespect and the Prime Minister may not be able to rely on him to do the right and honorable thing in these circumstances.

She may be left with no choice. Even if he (Anand) were to successfully survive being removed from office at this juncture the government may end up unelectable come elections time. The momentum against him could well end up collapsing everything so many hard working people have worked so hard to build as the determined electorate insists on having its democratic say.

Yes the opposition PNM has this government in its sights as that is their one role in our Westminster system of government, but they themselves are too weak and mistrusted to have galvanized this much support. This was all Anand, ultimately it is his own hubris that brought him here, and like David Abdulah and his fledgling MSJ and the one man party Fixin' T&T, they are all trying to ride the crest of the wave claiming a victory in which they had no part, testing the analogy that the crowing rooster causes the sun to rise.

The only person with a stronger hand in this particular gamble is the Prime Minister of the Republic, and she must know by now that every minute that she appears indecisive over this she risks costing herself the respect of the very people she is going to have to turn to in a few short months to put her back in office.

Or to again quote Kenny - “Every gambler knows that the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep”

Madame Prime Minister, your play...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Where the Truth may Lie...

There's an old African saying - “When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers...”

Last Sunday we were treated to the ignobility of an allegation made against two important and senior public office holders, one in the person of the Attorney General of the Republic who a newspaper article accuses of attempting to bribe the current Police Complaints Authority Director with the offer of the job last year, with a request that, if proven true, also attempted to pervert the course of justice and was a clear example of misbehavior in public office.

Since that publication we have had the Minister of Legal Affairs and Political Leader of the second largest political organization that makes up the People's Partnership Government publicly call for a clearing of the air on the matter so as to preserve the sanctity of both offices, with the AG responding by rubbshing the article, and the PCA Director retreating behind sound bytes, posturing and an almost admonition to the Legal Affairs Minister that while the PCA did fall under his line of Ministerial oversight, it was in fact an independent body not answerable to the Minister.

Which brings us to where we are today.

With regards to the Attorney General, to the average citizen this matter only underscores the distrust with which he is widely is held, compounded by his penchant for arrogant outbursts and schoolboy styled taunting of those with whom he disagrees, it may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back where his involvement in government is concerned. There is no way any seasoned or informed political observer can envisage a UNC or PPG campaign that includes Anand Ramlogan achieving victory at the polls, with the assumptions raging from sure defeat to too close to call. Over the days that followed the media accusation, public discontent went from furious to dark in quick time, and in a series of snapshot polls conducted on Breaking News  (one of the largest Trinidad & Tobago current affairs social media pages), when asked of over twelve thousand people if they had the opportunity to fire one member of Government who would that person be, a resounding ninety percent voted for Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. Keep in mind that this is the same twelve thousand people who, the very next day when asked the same question of the opposition, almost a similar figure voted to fire his (Ramlogan's) partner in continuous public squabble, the leader of the opposition Keith Rowley, so the question of any partisan bias does not arise.

Beyond that and with regards to the Director of the Police Complaints Authority who is coming across by his public statements as more willing to play needless politics with a nasty allegation than with setting the public mind at ease, he needs to be clued to that fact that most people believe that some level of the allegation to be true, and that he is in fact somehow compromised as is demonstrated by his silence on the matter and unwillingness to cooperate with a respectful request that he so do.

In response, other activist groups have already begun calling for the heads of both the PCA Director and the AG, and whether or not the incident as reported did in fact occur the public mind seems to be already made up where these two gentlemen are concerned. What surprised me was Mr. David West's refusal, which was foolish when one considers that initially he had nothing to lose. His responding to the allegations that they did occur would have cemented the Attorney General's fate deep into an already heightened election period, his saying that the story was a complete fabrication would have shown him to be a statesman and given the public relief that at least one of these damning allegations were proven false. Now, by his posturing he has tainted himself, and his insistence that the accusations are in his name only and does not affect the PCA could not be more wrong. The fact that his achieving the position is alleged to have been conditional on his performing certain acts already brings the office he holds into disrepute, and his continuing on in that office without seeking to protect it as only he could have further erodes public confidence in the institution.

To him it may have been an irresistible opportunity to rub a nemesis' nose in it for treatment meted out to him at an earlier time, but even he must now be counting the high cost of that decision.

Walter Cronkite is noted to have said that "To seek truth one must first get both sides of a story," and that should be our main objective here.

To my mind and insofar as Mr. West is unwilling to assist in the clearing up of this sordid matter, they should both be made to demit office and an investigation launched into the veracity of the allegations. The President of the Republic should be called upon  to discontinue Mr. David West as Director of the Police Complaints Authority with immediate effect, and the Prime Minister of the Republic needs to act with equal alacrity and remove Anand Ramlogan as Attorney General effective immediately, with the objective being aside and apart from personalities and politics, to restore public confidence in both Offices.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Our Own Age of Aquarius...

One of the best known US politicians in history would have to have been Benjamin Franklin, yet were it not for his desire to get government printing contracts he would never have entered politics in the first place and all we might know of him today for all his other successes, governmental politics would not be one of them. Think about that for a minute so as to put our experience into perspective. Access to government spending is the number one reason most people even consider getting into politics in the democratic capitalist world, and from then to now in a democracy far larger and much older than our own, the issues of procurement, nepotism, corruption, bid rigging, lobbying, gift giving and favors have been dogging the people, with the willing and the determined employing the services of the artful and the cunning to engage in a long running two step with law makers and legislation in the hope that, at some point, something like fairness might prevail. Ultimately though, the effort, as noble and high sounding as it may be will always fail, because there is no lock man can devise that man himself cannot open, and similarly, any legislation predicated on the actions of men will always be thwarted by the actions of other men.

In the 1980's block buster Wall Street Michael Douglas' character Gordon Gekko said - “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind."

Every major project undertaking in this country may have been conceived in altruism but was spurred on by greed. How many of us really know what the billion dollar waste water treatment plant to be built in the Beetham is really about or for? Outside of those intimately connected with the contract? Barely a handful. Or the Highway to Point Fortin for that matter, or any of the other mega-projects now back-burnered by the collapsing energy prices. How many of us benefited from the billions spent hosting CHOGM and the Summit of the Americas? I don't want to lose the point of the conversation, but the NAPA and SAPA projects need not have been as extravagant as they are in a nation where our greatest festival takes place in a dusty field over a temporary stage viewed from bleachers, yet they were built as testimonies not to need, but to greed. Do we as a people gain from having those artful edifices? About as much as we would ever have gained from the billion dollars pumped into the Brian Lara Stadium at Tarouba, which was first sold as a necessity for the Cricket World Cup and then as a tsunami shelter among other things, with each new justification advanced being nothing more than an explanation for the greed for treasury dollars hidden in plain sight behind a stadium we will never be able to use.

A former, now disgraced government Member of Parliament built his entire political legacy on box drains, the very box drains he now curses, now that he no longer has the power to harness the power of contracts to deliver kick backs and campaign finance, yet to the many who benefit from a box drain the cost could never be too high, leaving the champions of procurement legislation gnashing their teeth in frustration at an electorate so interested in getting its problems solved it could not care if the price was ten times the value, build the drain.

This is where and who we are, this is the legacy of the colonials who raped and plundered us, of the saviours who furthered the rape, of the politics of excess, of rum and roti, of jerseys and blue notes.

Scottish advocate, judge, writer, university professor and historian Alexander Frasier Tytler said “A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship."

We are almost there. The next financial collapse will erase our democracy as the people war over the shrinking spoils. What is taking place in Morvant, Beetham, Laventille and Sea Lots is no different to what is taking pace in Boardrooms and offices across the country, where people do whatever it takes to extract the greatest advantage in exchange for the least amount of tangible worth, further depleting any heritage or real legacy, resulting in the haphazard slipshod development that can be seen the length and breadth of both islands, and further resulting in an annual budget so top heavy with subsidies, transfers and pork our tomorrow is already being leveraged to pay for yesterday.

It is only a matter of time before the gravy train that feeds this greed grinds to a halt, leaving nothing but the unbridled demand and a macabre righteous anger in its place. Those who are unfortunate to be left here then will pay the price for all of this, but until then, grab what you can in the looting frenzy that is the kleptocracy of Trinidad & Tobago.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Tribute to Excellence...

*Phone rings*

Me: Hello
Raoul Pantin: You following this nonsense at the Guardian?
Me: Very closely
Raoul: They cant get away with this you know, we have to do something.
Me: Yes, agreed.
Raoul: This is damn foolishness, if they feel they getting away with this they lie.
Me: What do we do?
Raoul: What you mean what do we do? We going to protest. Looking for my damn shoes. Will call you back.

We were on TV6 the next morning, ready to defend the freedom of the press.

This has been my experience of Roaul Pantin, who decided early on without any input from me that he was going to be my mentor. Regularly he would post comments on my writings like “You spent the entire conversation skirting the issue, was that the intention?” Leading me to either rewrite or scrap the entire thing and start over. He would email me his columns and ask for advice, he would make suggestions of issues that I should be championing if I were really an activist worthy to be so called.

I cannot boast to know Raoul as long or even as well as others, but as well as I did know him what struck me everytime was his honesty with himself and his willingness to accept the limitations of his own humanity. He would use humor at his own expense to lighten a mood or to make a hard example, but it was his commitment to excellence that I will always remember. Raoul told me once that no one else need think that he was good, but that did not excuse him from trying his best to be good. His research into the recent terrorist killings in France had him climbing the walls trying to get in contact with anyone who could give a genuine French perspective, so the frustration with the fact that the Embassy here was closed and the numbers provided via the directory were going to voicemail no matter the time of day or night was probably the last and best example of his determination to do it right or not at all for many of us in his communication circle.

Together with Marcia Braveboy, Danielle Francois and Devon Welch, Raoul and I did a popular stint on Sunday morning radio that culminated in a three part series on the armed insurrection of 1990, and his presence in the studio was a rudder to the discussion, guiding all the guests who came and went as all of us assembled there tried to replay those dark days through the minds and words of those who lived it. Former Ministers, current Ministers, hostages, journalists, property owners and citizens, he knew them all and they he. His almost palpable hatred for the Jamaat al Muslimeen, Abu Bakr and everyone who had a hand in that dastardly affair was so real you could almost feel it, yet during the phone-in segment of that same event one of the insurgents called in to defend the Muslimeen's position, and consummate professional that he was, Raoul put aside his vexation and interviewed the chap as if he were buying a newspaper at the corner store.

Like others I assume, Raoul and I had some grating disagreements over national issues on which neither were prepared to give ground, yet without needing to say it, he epitomized the idea of agreeing to disagree. In that way he reminded me of another strong independent analytical patriotic mind for whom I had nothing but respect, Dana Seetahal, who was known to text during our morning shows if we were not prosecuting the issues to her satisfaction that she “was getting bored.”

I have been blessed. In my lifetime I have come to have the people I grew up revering almost call me peer. Raoul told me I was a writer, one of the best he had ever read. I compared it to the time Raffique Shah commented on one of my pieces, an essay into corruption with the words 'Kaiso Boy!' 

Without commendations from people like those I am not sure I would be writing today. Like with Dana, I am not sure that this nation is aware of what it had and what it lost when Raoul passed from us. Selfless and devoted for intangible gain, they held the pole that flew the flag that kept us going forward as a people. 'One ah we' regardless of who the we were, they transcended tribe, class and culture to straddle the idea of Trinidad & Tobago, the seamless integration of us all, to paraphrase Kurt Allen “Where every creed and race could find ah 'wining' space.”

He told me once I needed to write more poetry, that it took more discipline to write in prose than essay and I should practice that. 

This one's for you Raoul:

“Ring the bell, ring the bell, throw wide the gate for grief
Leave your stool, abandon your perch, stare at death in full relief
It's time has come, the song's been sung in haunting deep refrain
To sing at last, a great soul has passed, never to walk this way again...”

To his friends and family I extend the deepest of sympathy in their time of grief, to Trinidad & Tobago I offer heartfelt condolences for your loss.

May he rest in perfect and eternal peace......

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rising in the Time of Politics...

For all of my life I have been an independent thinker. I do what I choose and I make my decisions based on information that fits my needs or is aligned with my core beliefs and does not require much external input. This has served me well in every endeavor save politics in Trinidad & Tobago, because in politics in T&T one is expected to be a cookie cutter cut out, an exact replica of the ideal supporter, one who agrees sycophantically with every decision, who never questions errors or mistakes but rather defends them fervently, and one who does not pause to observe the dissonance between what is preached and what is practiced.

I simply cannot do it. I bring real thinking to the discussion. I have a very analytical mind. My love and patriotism for my country is unconditional, and my service is given freely. The last three governments have all implemented policies and projects that began as my suggestions, the current government built a campaign slogan (Rise, you remember that?) on a proposal I submitted to the Congress of the People, a concept of social engineering that equalizes all communities, a twinning of 'at risk' or 'hotspot' communities with their closest successful neighboring community, where the successes are emulated as much as possible to bring as many of our citizens to a common space of national identity, and from there we could all 'rise.'

It was based on many factors, most of all observing the children of communities such as Westmoorings and Valsayn and comparing their lives to those of Cocorite and Beetham, and postulating that, if all children had the same benefits, the same full lunch kits, the same transportation to and from school, the same relative safety to play, similar extra curricular activities to harness the energy of youth we might see in short time a true national identity emerge, a real 'Trinidadianess' that allows the ideals of the anthem to come true, where ever creed and race could find an equal place.

Now there is a reason that Tobago is not being included in this as their problems, while many and definitely worthy of addressing, are not built around this type of social separation that is creating generations of haves and have nots as in Trinidad, squared off now against each others like strangers from the same land.

But back on point. 'Rise' would have gone further. It would have asked questions as to the drivers behind the ridiculous illiteracy rates in the hotspots, not so much as to ascribe political blame (there are of course people to be blamed, but the blame game alone solves nothing), but to find real and workable solutions. How do you tell a young man 'hustling' for a dollar at a traffic light to 'get a job' when he can barely sign his own name, much less fill out an application form or, once successful past the interview stage, function in a society heavily dependent on communication? Until we start to address the causes of these things we will not understand the frustration that drives our youth to pick up guns to get all the nice things that a job affords, and we wont get past the blood lust now sweeping the nation, celebrating each new successful 'bandit kill.'

I have suggested to the last government and this one that we should create a policy of 'literacy first,' that anyone requiring to access any government jobs, contracts, housing or state assistance of any kind should be made to prove their literacy, and where illiteracy exists, mandated to do a literacy course that teaches the basics and makes it possible for that person to understand what letters are and what they communicate when assembled in deliberate order. Until we treat with the unemployability of much of these young people, we will be actively creating gang members and criminals simply out of lack of choice.

It went further. My proposal also suggests that anyone arrested and charged of any crime be also tested for literacy as it is an internationally accepted fact that hopelessness and the inability to find adequate employment that drives many to a life of crime, and where found to be illiterate, 'sentenced' to complete basic literacy learning along with whatever consequences for the crime committed.

We have to come up higher. There is more. Children who are raised in homes where there is enough love and communication learn things such as values, ethics, character and the other important yet ignored intangibles that make a human whole and functional. The absence of these ideas leaves a void that is filled by the negatives and misinformation in the popular culture, literally moulding deviant minds, and I will deal with that in depth in the follow up column to this one.

Until we are willing to treat with our disadvantaged citizens from a developmental point of view,  until our policies are predicated on creating hope and opportunity where handouts, dependency and the seeds of crime exist we will never solve the problems of poverty and violence. We need to forget this notion of First world Nation status and focus instead on creating a properly constituted, properly managed society for all this nation's citizens. That is a Vision 2020 from which we could all rise.