Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Tale of Two Indecencies...

It started off as a vote of no confidence in the Opposition Leader but by the time Vernella Alleyne Toppin took to her feet it became more, much more. In her contribution allegations were made regarding a school teacher in Tobago, a guest at someone's house, an underaged child with whom sexual relations resulted in a pregnancy, rumors of which have been making the rounds for years and for which the existence of the child of the union has now been confirmed.

In 2013 when the pictures of Keith Rowley's alleged son Garth first broke it was met with the most vehement of denials that it was not in fact so. In a conversation on my social media wall Diego Martin North East Member of Parliament Colm Imbert told a PNM supporter named Dane Wilson who appeared willing to agree and dismiss the fact that there could be further Rowley progeny that he was talking utter nonsense. That the allegations were baseless and without merit and fabricated to add life to a story that was untrue. Colm Imbert said then categorically that he has known Keith Rowley for many, many years, and that if he did in fact have another child outside of his two daughters he (Imbert) would know about it.

Fast forward to now, and as of this writing Colm Imbert has said nothing on the subject to either qualify or clarify his previous statement. Perhaps he will at the next sitting, one can only hope, that is, if he does not lead another walk out of the house in protest of matters the People's National movement's members do not seem to want to have discussed but which a large proportion of the country seems to want and which some say must be had before a general election. How unthinkable to have a candidate for the highest office in the country face the electorate with allegations of rape and that he may have molested an underaged girl swirling around him? What if, in a worst case scenario he were to be elected and then the allegations proven true? Would we have then been faced with the scandal of a sitting Prime Minister being arrested for forty something year old crimes? Like it or not, Vernella Alleyne Toppin did the nation a favor by at least forcing this matter to be ventilated as the confusion surrounding the entire affair was being used politically as wanted as was demonstrated by the Chaguanas West Member of Parliament's Jack Warner's flip flopping on the matter.

Aggrieved and insulted at the level of the discussion, he castigated the house before he too made his exit, demanding that this not be the level of the discussion or that it served no useful purpose. Yet the same Jack Warner said on this matter in the very same House of Representatives in April 2013 directed at the same Keith Rowley that “some of us had a lot in our private lives to answer for.”

Inferring the same rumors and allegations surrounding the Opposition Leader, according to the Trinidad Express of April 26th 2013 Warner went on to say “I heard from the last speaker, something about paedophile... and if a paedophile ends up in the classroom... Did I hear correctly about a paedophile? A classroom? A teacher? What classroom? What age? What teacher? How old is the child? What year? Because yuh see it have a lot of investigative journalists here, you know. And they must investigate. So when I heard about paedophile and classroom, it jolted me, as if of course the member (Rowley) tried to refresh his memory.”

Warner said there were 43-year-old allegations. “Eh, Vernella (Alleyne-Toppin)? You can’t be selective in allegations. He (Rowley) said fraud is not statute-barred, but so is rape,” Warner declared.

See why I said Vernella did us a favor? And while much of what she inferred was hard to hear it had to be said if only to clear the air, and to hear some of those who themselves have said worse to and about others pontificating as to Ms. Toppin's future is downright amusing. The same Martin Daly who is calling for Vernella to be fired is the same Martin Daly who hit then witness in the CLICO Commission of Enquiry a broad side as to his (Assam's) sexuality, causing the Commissioner to intervene and caution him. Is it a case of one standard for PNM and another for the PPG? The media does themselves no good service by playing arbiter of the discussion and guiding its outcome. That is not the role of media and they ought to know it. I know for a fact that many letters have been written asking for clarification on the matter but they are not being published, while letters demonizing the Member for her contribution are getting center stage. Faris al Rawi's scandalous behavior that the nation has been scandalized is a joke when compared to the PNM's track record over the course of the last five years. Ms Toppins' tale of rape and molestation is no worse than the PNM's allegations in the same house under the same privilege that the Prime Minister, her Attorney General and members of her government conspired to murder a journalist among other things without the remotest shred of evidence. At least for her part Ms. Toppin was able to provide a picture of a house. All the Leader of the Opposition brought to support his accusations during his rape of decency when he attacked to malign and injure reputations was the flimsiest of pieces of paper. What contempt for the foundation rule of justice that he who alleges must first prove. What is instructive then and should be to all is the media's handling of both situations. While giving 'emailgate' prominence and top story billing, the only treatment that 'Rapegate' is getting seems to be the burying of the story and the killing of the messenger, the twisting of the facts to suit reality, and a politicizing of an issue that still needs clarification and open discussion.

To be continued....

Sunday, March 22, 2015

An Assault on Decency...

It is Sunday morning and I have just spoken with Vernon De Lima who gave me a chilling account of the trauma he and his wife both endured in the wee hours of the morning at the hands of gun toting criminals who invaded their home and terrorised both he and his wife, beat them brutally and mercilessly and left at least one of them for dead. Emotionally i am torn, livid with anger that two such decent people could be put through this at their age, sad for them and their loved ones to have to go through such an ordeal, frustrated for my country.

Immediately after speaking with him the next call i placed was to former Minister of National Security Gary Griffith who is himself incensed over the matter and upset over the whole thing, frustrated that so much good work that was having such a serious impact on the crime situation is now thwarted by cheap politics.

I do not want to politicise this but how can you escape it?

This is a country that routinely boasts of its wealth, yet has produced an 'underclass' of citizens so out of touch and disconnected from the main they exist in a violent and lawless dimension of their own, and it is only when the decent and the law abiding come into savage contact with these beasts do we remember again, having forgotten only hours earlier, that something is badly broken in Trinidad & Tobago.

I was in the process of writing my weekly column for the TNT Mirror when i got the news, and Vernon's decision to go public with the matter redirected my attention and focused it here.

How are we to fix this?

The 'average' Trinidadian and Tobagonian are different people depending on which side of the 'divide' you were born, but why should there be such a divide in the first place? Why such a disproportionate allocation of the national wealth that some people are allowed to succeed while others fail so badly they see the first others as targets and prey? We are a nation of one point three million people. A dot in the scheme of real world politics, why for so much government and governance for such a small place we do such a piss poor job? Why would we not have been able yet to take control of the growing hot spots from inside out, enact by law mandatory literacy, create zero tolerance models against all manner of violent crime and successfully enforced it? Why haven't we been able to secure our six hundred and forty combined square kilometers of coast line to prevent drugs and guns coming in unchecked from the South American mainland, while Cuba's three thousand eight hundred kilometers have been closed shut for fifty plus years, with nothing being allowed in or out unless searched and approved on either side?

What's the difference, political will? Are we in fact a narco-state and there is truth to the rumors that the drug barons prevent us from enforcing our laws? I put to you that crime as a political issue is a non issue and of benefit to no one, but crime as a national issue remains the most important issue after the distribution of this nation's wealth and a conversation we need to have outside of politics.

Nothing shows the lie of the illusion of the socio-economic harmony of T&T that the advertisers try to sell us as the contrast of the serene and manicured Westmoorings community when compared to and contrasted with the indignity of ghetto life one mile away in Cocorite among the residents of Waterhole and Harding place, who live cheek by jowl in board huts with mud floors, trekking up and down steps carved out of the bare earth in unregulated communities not served by any real government save and except for gang control enforced through violence.

How do we tolerate and accept this, knowing full and well we have more than enough money to do better? Do I demonize those who choose the violent way? Routinely and as a matter of course, but to do so without recognizing that they only exist in that squalor because of the hidden will and unspoken agreement of us all is to myself be telling a lie.

Vernon De Lima is a dear friend of mine, he, his wife and children are beautiful, caring and decent people and this should not have been allowed to happen to them. Like every other victim of crime they did not deserve this in any way and we need to own and account for that.

At some point we are going to have to stop playing political games and grow up to our responsibility to each other. At some point we as a people have to put personal selfish wants aside and deal with the collapse of our nation state. We quote often that the strength of the wolf is the pack, yet we omit to remember that the flip side is also true, that the strength of the pack is the wolf. This is not about lock up and lock down as much as sometimes I wish it could be. This is about removing guns from hands that have been hardened by rage and poor choices. We need to invade these ghettos and fight to redevelop them altogether. There will be those who cannot be commanded by laws and for these we have courts and jails and they should be made to pay for their own decisions. For the countless many others who only want a better life and to access what the national anthem offers we owe them as arbiters of power, simply by us being higher up on the social ladder we are obligated to create a space and bring them up higher. It is in our own best interest as it is theirs, and again I say again and again, this is the conversation that we need to have.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Tale of Two Diego Martins...

It was Abraham Lincoln who said "Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

It's is time someone asked of the Chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation Mr. Darryl Smith, what is behind the uneven application of the power of his office since he was appointed? Eyebrow raising and questionable, some who commit minor infractions are made to pay for their sins dearly, while others who openly flout the law are allowed to continue on with impunity.

For the purposes of these discussions I raise two examples of the disproportionate decision making by the Diego Martin Regional Corporation as exemplified clearly by these two cases.

Case one involves a structure on one of the busiest corners in all of Diego Martin - Morne Coco Road and Crystal Stream in Petit Valley to be precise, and on that corner a bar has first broken the law by building out over the parking spaces that are a requirement for their liquor license to be granted, and have broken the law further by extending their structure out over the sidewalk space and into the actual roadway, creating a virtual blind spot for motorists who now have to strain to see around the corner before they can go forward safely. A dangerous obstruction, its existence forces  pedestrians to negotiate between vehicles on the busy street to get to where they are going, in full view of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation whose offices are located within meters of this offending structure, begging the question of the DMRC's Chairman, why is this allowed to continue?

The second case involves the embattled Arbor School at Long Circular road who have been refused permissions to operate by the same DMRC going on seven months now despite meeting and overcoming every regulatory and legal obstacle put in their way, and who have now found themselves ironically to be the most 'approved' school by all state organizations and regulatory bodies if not in all of Trinidad and Tobago then certainly in Diego Martin region and yet they are barred from opening.

Why the unevenness in the rulings? As if to beg more questions as to what is behind some of the decisions, Freedom of Information requests have turned up further surprising results that not all schools are treated the same way. Up the very street from the Arbor's location is the prestigious St. Andrew's school which is allowed to operate despite not having approvals from the  same Diego Martin Regional Corporation, causing parents of the Arbor children to lament as to how can this be fair in a just world? Further compounded by the results of these investigations that point to others who have benefitted from this sliding scale of enforcement include the well heeled and posh International School at Westmoorings, which also does not have DMRC approvals to operate as a school and yet are allowed to, despite existing in a dead end cul-de-sac in an already heavily congested residential area within meters of one of the largest shopping malls in the country.

So what is going on here? Is it a case of one rule for some and another rule for others? And if so, why? I have been told of 'random' appearances of 'inspectors' from the DMRC to certain businesses who are made to get their houses in spic and span order, yet the same inspectors routinely miss glaring abuses such as the steel structure that houses a business that occupies almost an entire lane of the roadway on the corner of Mercer Road and the Diego Martin main Road.

Are these the results of incompetence? Selective vision? Corruption? Surely there must be an explanation as to why some are treated one way and others are treated another, and the person to whom the question must be posed is the Chairman himself and again I ask Mr. Darryl Smith, can you give an explanation to these double standards? Are we waiting for a pedestrian to be seriously injured or even killed due to the DMRC's negligence where Daybreak Cafe is concerned before action is taken? Are we comfortable to live in a country where a sliding scale of enforcement exists where some benefit while others punished in similar circumstances? I put to the Chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation Mr. Darryl Smith that ultimately the consequences of all these decisions are his and his alone. Not everyone is cut out for public office and perhaps the solution here lies not only in a changing of some of these decisions, but also in a changing of some of the decision makers themselves.

Something to think about...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Party Done?

Two things happened this past week that were instructive to the direction of the politics, and while they did not make the earth shake, future history should come back to this place to find where the ground shifted.

First off was the first in a proposed and promised series of meetings planned by the Congress of the People to demonstrate to all and sundry that they are, in fact, not dead, and this more than anything was the subtext of the speech by that party's political leader. Citing that others had written death certificates for that party before, the leader brushed past surmising as to why this might be a new national past time he instead accelerated his desire that the conversation be changed to show a vibrant and alive COP. But something gave the ruse away. TV6 reporter Kejan Haynes 'tweeted' (sent a post to Twitter on social media) that no media covered the event. That there was not even a highlight being shared anywhere. That for all intents and purposes, outside of the group of people enthusiastically waving flags on cue, no one else in the country seemed to care. Strange for the launch of a national party's political campaign, especially a party that is already IN government, stranger still was that no one at the event was sharing their excitement with anyone else. Not a post or a picture on Facebook not Instagram, not a comment on the commentary, not a shot of the excited crowds, no 'selfies' or even group shots, nothing, begging the question as to whether the crowd in the photos sold to us as having been there were there of their own free will, as there was not even an indication that something was taking place on the Congress of the People's very own and enthusiastically administrated social media group. Isn't that strange?.

Contrast and compare that to the reaction to Saturday evening's news of rumors of possible launch of a new party built simply on the gathering of people at a home in Maraval. No media were invited, no press releases sent out, yet this became the top and in depth stories on both leading evening news shows and set off a firestorm of activity on social media, long conversations as to the changing political wind, attacks by party stalwarts and defences by people who had nothing yet to defend other than their right to choose something different than the established status quo, just on a bunch of people getting together to chat.

Perhaps, and I admit to presuming as I do not know what is going on in the Congress of the People now, but perhaps those left behind at the COP's after party are coming to realize that political support cannot be manipulated, that much of the 'flow' that created that party is now ebbing and that the changing tides (to belabor the metaphor) are heralding the people's desire for something new. Make no mistake, it is easy to form a political party. All one needs are a name and a symbol and for a small fee down at the Elections & Boundaries Commission Office, one can be set up in business so to speak. But support is a different matter. More than parties, politics requires people. It is is why entire organizations have been set up to create the impression of support at election time to hopefully fool fence sitters and invite them to join the crowd. But that can only go so far. As someone said to me only yesterday, having the machinery to effectively and efficiently disseminate information is one thing, to have content worthy of disseminating is something else, and therein lies the rub. To most of the former members of the Congress of the People, there is nothing that its leader has to say that they want or need to hear. That for all his pontificating his actions make lies of his own much touted positions on intangibles such as integrity and principle, and having appeared to have sold out the party one fateful Monday evening in exchange for his own political preservation, the people on whom the Congress of the People are built are no longer interested.

That is the dynamics of politics, it is what makes democracy still the best vehicle available for harnessing the will of the people, that disenchantment on one hand can be reflected by enthusiasm on the other. The public appears to have no more interest in the Congress of the People and 'bussed in' crowds and staged events will not change that. They have moved on, and if the leadership of the COP had any remaining dignity and self respect they would accept that and move on as well.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Where it All Went Wrong for the COP...

The reason for the collapse of the Congress of the People is that Prakash Ramadhar has never been able to explain his position regarding the People's Partnership to the membership of the COP, long fed up of the abuse met out to them by the lead party in the partnership, the United National Congress. And were it not for the selfish, me first, eat ah food culture so easily exemplified by the UNC and its members, if the Partnership were for a moment the all inclusive love fest it is portrayed to be, none of these problems that are dogging them now and that may well cost them the election would be happening.

Why? Because believe it or not, the same UNC that can pull twenty, thirty, forty thousand in Brazil, Oropouche and even Chaguanas West would have the hardest of times pulling one tenth of that number in Tunapuna, and St. Augustine, and one hundredth of it in any of the three Diego Martins. The fact is the UNC has never been able to travel well, and needed the COP to pull it along outside of its sixteen traditional seats. And now, like the scorpion who is drowning because he stung the frog that was giving him a ride across the river due to his innate nature, the UNC has killed the golden goose that could have given them a second term in office.

So what now? Well, nothing really. I mean, our politics is nothing if not devious and two faced and the voting public have long been proponents of the maxim 'yesterday was yesterday, today is today' even if they didn't know it before Jack Warner told them, but the fact of the matter is that if Keith Rowley were to cross the floor tomorrow and express his love for Kamla, the yellow shirt wearing, kool aid drinking, sycophantic front lines of the UNC would embrace him lovingly as a lost son coming home, the same Keith Rowley they are demonizing today. And vice versa. That the same Jack Warner was greeted like a comrade in arms by the same PNM that marched repeatedly against him personally, who declared his presence in the Parliament an affront to ethics and good governance, is nothing but more evidence of this, and should Anand Ramlogan and Anil Roberts resurface in red shirts tomorrow waving a balisier, the PNM rank and file would claim them as their own.

No the problem is of course the broken systems that make conspirators and pilferers of us all. We are to blame, but not solely and on our own. This is what we inherited, and without real motivation to change the ease with which crime is committed and excused in this country, this is who we have accepted ourselves as being. This is who we will be until Kingdom come, and the disenchantment in the COP was not so much about what the UNC was getting away with, but that they weren't sharing. All of the walking in the rain without getting wet nonsense was just theatre, was just play acting to the voters to give us a bligh, and had the UNC the sense they rode in to government on they would have easily played 'one for you and one for me' with the COP and lived in office forever, or at least as long as it took the PNM to realize that their leader was what was keeping them from being elected.

The last of the Mohicans Keith Rowley, he who occupies the same mental space as Jack Warner and Anand Ramlogan in the minds of the voters, he is now left like the cheese standing alone, and in full glare and without the counterbalance of the rest of the trio of 'despicability' he is left to take the brunt of public revulsion all alone.

No Prakash Ramadhar has failed to secure his place in history simply because he mistook his greed for power, spotlight and perks as his afflictions alone. Had he dared to look back among the ranks of the party of integrity and saw the salivating at the promise of political power he would have negotiated better with his UNC handlers and shared the wealth. As it is, he and they have failed to keep the few COP die hards who might have pulled the floating voters along for the ride one more time happy and well fed, and this, more than anything else is why the COP and by extension the People's Partnership is dying today. Greed. And the inability to share the spoils of office.