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Development is freedom

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 03:38

Mornings on the Zanzibar archipelago in the Indian Ocean figure with lines of handsome women elegantly carrying firewood and pails of water on their heads, fishing craft with fishermen arching poles, and dhows with their single sails silhouetted against the sun like a brass gong vibrating over the canes in Couva.

During Ottoman rule, hundreds of dhows would sail every year across the Indian Ocean from Arabia, Persia, and India with the monsoon winds blowing in from the north-east, bringing iron, cloth, sugar, spices, and dates.

When the monsoon winds shifted to the south-west in March or April, the traders would leave with their ships packed full of tortoiseshell, copal, cloves, coir, coconuts, rice, ivory, and slaves.

The Maluku archipelago in modern Indonesia in the Banda Sea came to be known as the Spice Islands due to the nutmeg, mace, and cloves that were originally exclusively found there.

What these distant climes share in common with these leaves of brown islands that cling to the blue rim of the Caribbean basin is a history of extractive European economic and political institutions that would condemn them to underdevelopment.

Extractive institutions in Guatemala have enriched the elite for four centuries. Guatemala remains a polarised country with a minority of European-descended elites controlling politics and economics while an indigenous majority remains on the margins.

Repressive violence continues to be the norm—a practice rooted in the colonisation of the region.

The same process of vicious circles was evident in ancient Maya city-states that began around 500 BC, preventing them from becoming an empire. The same is also true for plantation economies.

Extractive institutions create huge inequalities and greater wealth and unchallenged power for those in control.

Extractive institutions then not only pave a yellow brick road for the next regime to be even more extractive despite the loss of El Dorado but they engender continuous conflict.

Inside the iron law of oligarchy, it is challenging to chart a new path as with the Glorious Revolution in England or the Meiji Restoration in Japan.

Inclusive economic institutions foster economic activity, growth in productivity and economic prosperity.

In 1860, a census of the British colony of Barbados unmasked that of the 60,000 inhabitants, 39,000 were African slaves who were the property of the remaining one third. In fact, they were the possessions of 175 sugar planters who owned most of the land and who had well-enforced rights over their slaves.

Of the 40 judges and justices on the island, 29 of them were the largest planters. Barbados did not strive at that time to have inclusive economic institutions. Two-thirds of the population had no access to education or economic opportunities or incentives to nurture their talents.

Christopher Codrington was a planter in Barbados (1668-1710) and a friend of the King. He amassed a great fortune from his sugar plantations. He was a fellow of All Souls, Oxford where he would endow the library at All Souls that carries his name. A library of books built on the backs of slaves without schools. In 1935, Eric Williams failed to receive a fellowship at All Souls.

Just as virtuous circles enable inclusive institutions to persist, vicious circles create influential forces that buttress the persistence of extractive institutions.

Such institutions are not unbreakable and history is never destiny, but extractive institutions exhibit resilience. They create potent negative feedback loops that allow extractive political institutions to forge from limited-liberty extractive economic institutions which in turn create a basis for the persistence of politically extractive institutions.

Under-inclusive economic institutions, wealth is never concentrated among the sparse elite who use their economic prowess to impose their political will disproportionately.

Additionally, there are more limited gains from holding political power and thus weaker inducements for any group or individual to try to take control of the state.

Rich nations are rich because they have developed inclusive institutions over the last three centuries. At first, they are fragile and are inclusive only in a limited sense, to begin with; but the butterfly effect amplifies frail flutters into storms of virtuous circles.

Once these inclusive institutions persist, there is no need for the same confluence of factors to re-emerge for them to survive.

The initial interplay between existing institutions and the opportunities and challenges need not recur.

Inclusive institutions open a path for two engines of prosperity: technology and education.

Development is freedom and is always accompanied by technological improvements that enable people (labour), land, and capital (plant and machinery) to become productive.

The contrast of South and North Korea and the United States and Latin America illustrates a general principle.

Dr Fazal Ali

Categories: News

Ending the Williams model?

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 03:35

In an address to a special convention of the PNM on November 27, 1970, by Dr Eric Williams entitled “PNM’s Perspectives in the World of the Seventies” during which he presented “The Chaguaramas Declaration: The People’s Charter Revised”, he outlined a new philosophical direction for the party and the country. One of the more significant excerpts from his Convention Address read as follows:

“The PNM Perspectives reject both liberal capitalism (with its concomitant of penetration and take-over of the economy by multi-national corporations) and the communist organization of the economy and the society. Instead, we follow the pattern that is being increasingly developed by developing countries of state participation in the economy, to the extent of up to 51 per cent in particular enterprises, to ensure that decision-making remains in local hands.” (p 12).

This philosophical position has defined the policy positions of both the PNM and the State for the last 48 years. Momentarily, in 2003, it appeared that the Manning PNM was prepared to commence the dismantling of this model when it undertook the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd. However, that was short-lived as the momentum to create new state enterprises gained steam during the gas boom that followed.

The Williams model as articulated in 1970 took effect with the creation of the National Petroleum Marketing Corporation (NP) in 1972 and the nationalisation of Shell on Independence Day in 1974 and the creation of Trintoc, and gained further momentum during the oil boom of the 1970s with the creation of the National Gas Company (NGC) in 1975 and continued during the downturn in the 1980s when the Texaco refinery was nationalised.

Petrotrin became the crown jewel in the state enterprise thrust that epitomized the philosophy that drove the Williams model. There was also supposed to be a special role for trade unions as Williams’ 1970 speech on the PNM Perspectives went further to say as follows:

“PNM’s Perspectives place great emphasis on the participation by trade unions in economic activity.” (p 15).

Last Tuesday, virtually three years to the day when JTUM and the PNM signed an MOU just in time for the 2015 general election, all of that changed. The demise of Petrotrin as we know it is indeed a watershed moment in the politics and economics of this country. The Williams model that supported it has now been set aside. The reality is that that model only seemed to work when the State had money to sustain the dominant role for the State.

The trade unions have argued that corruption and mismanagement have caused the decline of Petrotrin. The Government has timed its move on Petrotrin to coincide with its signing of a gas agreement with the Venezuelan Government. The members of the trade union movement in this country are strong supporters of the Maduro administration in Caracas, so the political optics cannot be ignored.

At the same time, the Government is well aware that JTUM is hostile to the UNC so their political gamble is that they would be unlikely bedfellows during this philosophical shift.

With Maduro and Rowley being on chummy terms and Roget and Persad-Bissessar being poles apart, now would be the politically opportune moment to make the move to close Petrotrin because the stars are not aligned here.

Back in May, Finance Minister Colm Imbert said that the economy had turned around and that the rain had gone and he could see clearly now. This will serve to increase the tone of the rhetoric and pushback against the Government by the unions. Was the policy move at Petrotrin part of that “turnaround” or must it be assessed separately?

There is undoubtedly a looming political challenge. In the absence of full disclosure about how the Government got to this policy option, there will continue to be unease.

The Prime Minister is expected to address the nation tonight. The unions are expected to take action next Friday. This is going to turn into a political showdown between the Government and the trade unions.

Once it does, it could turn into a battle royal in which the internal elections of the PNM will provide Dr Rowley with the opportunity to have frequent platforms to articulate his specific case and vision, while the unions will try to influence PNM voters about their case. If Rowley and his slate emerge victoriously, he will feel vindicated.

Categories: News

A strike by any other name

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 03:33

If the Joint Trade Union Movement of T&T’s call goes ahead, the country will face another long weekend, this time through an illegal general strike this coming Friday.

Except for the fact you will never hear the word “strike” coming from the unions’ leadership. Why? Because the Industrial Court has a history of narrowly interpreting the legislation and ruling in terms of what the action is called—not what the action is in substance.

It is as if, for the Industrial Court, all it takes to turn a cat into a dog is to call it a dog and presto! It may still look like a cat, behave like a cat, and scratch like a cat but, for the Industrial Court, it is a dog because the union never said it was a cat.

This makes no sense and must stop. When a call for action is made that involves the unauthorised and indiscriminate withdrawal of labour (be it for prayers, rest or anything else), that’s a strike. And an illegal one.

It does not mean that strikes shouldn’t be allowed. In any strong democracy, workers are given protection to exercise their right to strike as part of a labour dispute.

There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as the right legislation is in place to make it fair and just for all.

First of all, the legislation must be clear about what a strike is: the unilateral withdrawal of labour.

If either side fails to follow the procedure set out in law, preferably including secret balloting and proper notice, that shouldn’t make it a lesser strike. Quite the opposite.

And the punishment for a breach of strike legislation should be equitable.

Our current legislation sets the fine against a union on the losing side to half what an employer would have to pay. This makes no sense. A trade union may well have higher revenues than a company. Besides, this goes directly against a basic concept of natural justice: the punishment is for the act of breaking the law, not for who you are or represent.

And there should be a right for redress when unions act illegally. If a union’s unlawful action financially damages a company, it should be made to cover that loss, just like workers and unions representing them are compensated when they are unlawfully treated by an employer. Redress should always be fair, balanced, equitable, and transparent.

All functioning democracies must also have clauses limiting or banning strike action in key services or areas. This is not to thwart workers’ rights but to ensure that the wider public is not put in harm’s way.

And giving euphemisms to industrial action by these groups shouldn’t be tolerated.

Days of rest, “total policing” or medically improbable bouts of collective sickness are just acts of deceit the law shouldn’t allow to prevail.

Apart from being illegal, they also show a high level of duplicity and dishonesty, often from union leaders who spare no time to climb the moral high horse for everything else.

None of these legal principles are extreme (they are widely applied all over the world) or stop workers from fighting for their rights.

But they stop their organisations from abusing their powers (and getting away with it).

That takes us back to the strike action planned for Friday.

It should be stopped as it is essentially illegal and political. And if it is about Petrotrin, from an industrial relations point of view, that is a matter between Petrotrin’s leadership, its workers, and their recognised union.

Unless teachers and goat farmers have been dabbling in oil production through Petrotrin and we didn’t know, they have nothing to do with that issue.

Friday should be a normal day in the office, classroom or field for all of us.

Naturally, unions and their members, just like any of us, are fully entitled to voice their disagreement with whoever is in power and to exercise their democratic rights.

The best way to do so is the simplest and most powerful of all: the ballot box for parliamentary elections. Illegal general strikes (or whatever they may name it) are definitely not one of them.

Categories: News

Pan music in we pweffen!

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 03:32

An Independence gift to ourselves as an inchoate nation would be to embark on a full appreciation of how steel band, the music and the instruments, trigger impulses in our collective selves across a range of feeling positive and negative, and how we have to learn from those impulses.

Back in the period (1940s and 1950s) of its creative emergence, when the underclass, which discovered this instrument and began exploring the music that could emerge from it, the “social classes” of the day frowned on it, and saw demonic forces in those who were creating, experimenting and engaging in the instrument, and the music they could begin to generate from the rough pans.

Neville Jules once told me that he was often bathed with wastewater from those who lived in the upstairs homes on eastern Duke Street, as he struggled to make something out of the pans brought to him by his colleague Prince Batson—Cross of Lorraine and Trinidad All Stars.

“Play One” for Ellie Mannette, who beat the pan inside, expanded notes its range, and became one of the first waves of tuners/arrangers and steel band leaders, Invaders.

“Play One” too for Rudy Piggott, the historian of the contestations among the bands to protect the instrument and the panmen from imploding against themselves through the “badjohn” culture. Rudy often referred to the “badjohns” as the generals of the steel band who fought to preserve the advances along the way.

“Play One” too for the misguided ruffian police officers and the high and mighty magistrates who hounded and jailed the early panmen who were struggling to create the instrument.

“Play” a positive one for the “white boys”, the “college boys”, Ferreira, Pierre, and the Pouchet brothers who fought against the social prejudice of their social class and put Dixieland and Silver Stars on the road.

Ferreira told me the story of Dixeland in the 1950s, tentatively venturing into the “Behind the Bridge” Carnival, advancing east along Park Street and Tokyo going west.

Fright and panic set in among the Dixieland panmen; but Destination Tokyo from John John shared the road equally with the “white boys”.

That was the 1950s and “we ent learn that lesson yet” from the panmen, that we have to share this place and the culture we have been creating for 500 hundred years.

That is one of the things I mean when I write about steel band and the music reflecting the best of our impulses.

In today’s steel band land, the social lines are crossed between steel band day along the Eastern Main Road in Laventille and on the Avenue in middle-class Woodbrook.

At the moment of 56 years of political Independence we have not yet learned how to infuse into the social, economic, and cultural aspects of our lives, the impulses, characteristics, and lessons of the steel band, and the music it produces to assist with the challenges we face.

I am not referring only to concerts, reinsertion of the steel band into the Carnival and creating space for panmen, arrangers, tuners, flag wavers, pan makers, pan pushers (there is still need for them notwithstanding motorised transport) “toute mounde.”

Those are but a few of the mechanisms to be used to have the pan and the music impact our lives. Utilised in such a manner, the pan, the music, the players, the arrangers bring joy to our lives.

Beyond the practical application of the steel band and its music, it impacts at the metaphysical and spiritual levels which we need to understand, experience and to allow it to impact the ethos of our existence.

I am neither student of metaphysics or spiritualist, but my rudimentary understanding of those two phenomena, coupled with my experience of steel band music in pan yards, on the streets, at the concert halls, along the “Drag” and elsewhere lead me to conclude that there is something ethereal, celestial, in the feeling of the steel band and the music, its ability to transport you to a higher place of understanding and being.

I have been observing how the young players, such as those in the St Margaret’s Youth band, and those in the big bands are “playing themselves” and instruments; how the younger arrangers are interpreting the music of the likes of Voice, Kes, and others of the present age, who are adding to the legacy of Kitchener, Sparrow, Blue Boy, Scrunter, and others of that generation.

Categories: News

Paradise or paradox?

Sun, 09/02/2018 - 03:30

“Trinidad is nice, Trinidad is a paradise.”—Brother Valentino,
Anthony Emrold Phillip

The celebration of the 56th anniversary of our Independence and the approaching 42nd anniversary as a Republic have prompted this reflection on who we are as Trinbagonians, and how we distinguish ourselves to the rest of the world in this era of globalised instantaneous communication and social media.

The melodious chorus of Brother Valentino’s calypso provokes images of palm trees waving in soft breezes along the sun-drenched stretches of sand that ring the coasts of our islands whose fun-loving natives rank high on the happiness index.

However, the bard was quick to dispel those images when he lyrically looked in the proverbial mirror to describe what he saw beneath the beauty of the islands’ skin.

Sadly, his words are even truer today. Trinidad is more paradox than paradise.

We are very good at identifying our societal problems. Yet, while we are good problem-finders, somehow sustained solutions seem to elude us, either because of poor implementation or deliberate rejection.

The Vision 2020 agenda is a case in point. This was a comprehensive plan to forge the development of a unique and noble national identity that would characterise and define us in the rest of the world.

However, this well-intentioned plan fell victim to a politically induced sudden death disorder, and sadly, its noble intent has all but passed out from the national stream of consciousness. 

So here we are, a nation adrift in a sea of nondescript identity, with its moral compass visibly broken, leaving some to wonder whether we have all been “zombied” into a cult of moral ambivalence.

There is an obvious increasing tolerance of undesirable behaviours in our country.

We have been unwittingly refining society’s moral slag, as if in a process of reversed refining where what is discarded is the valuable material.

We allow these behaviours to flourish to the point where with each successive generation they are becoming more entrenched in the psyche of our people.

This invasive moral pollution has desensitised us to our social impurities and our youth have come to believe “this is us” or worse, this is who they should be. We have already lost a generation to this trend, some may even say two, and we are on course for losing another.

How long can we continue to ignore the stench of moral decay? Is this really us? Are we seeking to match our happiness rating with equal ratings on disrespect and indiscipline?

Are we aspiring to be in the top ten on the social media verbal abuse and insensitivity index?

Do we want to be infamously known as the crime capital of the Caribbean and the corruption headquarters of the region? Hopefully not!

However, this is what we Trinis will be known for unless we stem the tide of negative behaviours that is flowing through the land. We need to turn on the heat in society’s furnace.

We must begin the task of separating and discarding the moral slag to yield the essence of a more commendatory national identity. To do otherwise would be to prompt another chorus line: Trinidad, it sucks. Trinidad is a paradox.

Trinbagonians, we must get serious and accept the responsibility which falls to every citizen.

From the captain to the cook, all on board the “SS T & T” must be willing participants in the much-needed agenda to pull our beloved country back from becoming a paradox and make it a paradise again, for our children’s sake. Happy anniversaries.

Dr Paula Mark is an independent consultant and teacher development specialist.


Categories: News

Lakshmi—the see through college

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 01:48

The Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, situated on the Eastern Main Road in St Augustine, at the northern entrance to the University of the West Indies, is unique, not only because it is the first Hindu college to be established in Trinidad, but also because of its history of failure and success.

Mrs Sonia Mahase-Persad, principal of Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, has written of this college:

“We share a great sense of pride in the astounding journey of success and achievements of the Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College since its inception in January 1964. Today, I have the honour to be at the helm of this noble institution and to continue to build on the foundation laid by administrators, staff, students and parents over the last five decades.

“Lakshmi is unique in the educational landscape since it was not only the first Hindu secondary school run by the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Board of Education; it was also the first all-girls Hindu college in the country. In 1964, when few Hindu girls accessed education as a result of various societal and cultural challenges, it was a visionary move to establish a secondary school of this nature.

“This institution has fulfilled an important role in providing a first-class education for thousands of young ladies who have gone on to make a meaningful contribution in all spheres and professions. Lakshmi girls can be found in the legal fraternity, medicine, engineering, education, journalism and other areas of higher learning.

“Over the years, the school has grown structurally and expanded its curricular offerings. The staff and student population have grown significantly and we have enjoyed outstanding academic success as can be seen in the numerous scholarships. Three consecutive President’s Medal winners plus we continue to receive regional awards and accolades.

“Indeed, we have progressed from the days of the “See Through College” (no doors and windows). In spite of its many challenges, it is fondly remembered by both staff and students. To all these pioneers we owe a debt of gratitude.”

Mrs Sharda Maharaj-Ramjattan, Vice Principal and recently promoted Principal of Parvati Girls’ Hindu College in Debe, South Trinidad, has also recorded her impressions of this unique educational institution:

“Change has brought our schools under scrutiny, whereby we must now cater to deliver a curriculum aligned to the changing external environment as well as harness the talents and varied abilities of our students.

“At Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, we are cognizant of the many changes taking place in our society and we are committed to adapting to best practices. We utilise the education system as a powerful mechanism to provide educational opportunities that will help students develop their fullest potential.

“Today, we live in a world of technological advancements where paper and pen have been replaced by Ipads, laptops, notebooks. Our children communicate by snapshots, tweets, texts and an evolving set of acronyms suited to their generation. Teachers have now been challenged to create new classrooms and adjust their pedagogical approach.

“Their traditional blackboard and chalk classrooms have now been replaced by technologically driven classrooms. New classroom initiatives emphasizing a child-centered approach, such as the flipped classroom concept, STEM and STEAM initiatives have been recognised as the way forward.

“At Lakshmi Girls’ we constantly seek ways to keep abreast of the many changes in the education system, society and our students. We acknowledge that despite the many advances in the economy and society, we still receive many students who are unable to fully utilize the opportunities afforded them because of being affected by social issues.

“We believe that every student is a valued member of our school community and we endorse a pastoral approach where interventions are put in place to assist and empower these students. We practice an inclusive approach to education ensuring that every student is given the best opportunity to develop to her fullest potential.

“At Lakshmi Girls’ we have created a climate hospitable to education in order that respect, safety, a cooperative spirit and other foundations of fruitful interactions will prevail. This is only possible because our belief in God and our commitment to strong Hindu beliefs and values.

“We must also recognise that developing the intellectual capabilities of our students is only part of the journey. If we are to truly improve our society, then we need to produce citizens who can positively reconstruct the decaying moral and social fabric of this country.

Categories: News

Independent of Petrotrin refinery—fallout

Sat, 09/01/2018 - 01:44

Dark clouds over Port-of- Spain’s Independence celebrations yesterday belied the traditional bright August 31 weatherpattern.

People lined Tragarete Road’s parade route admiring marching uniformed corps. By 11.30 am, showers descended—and further South, lay much darker skies.

Understandably. It would have been a melancholy holiday for those to be affected by Government’s plan to render Petrotrin, independent of refinery by October.

The Rowley PNM administration’s latest target for change—affecting 1700 of Petrotrin’s 5,000 workers— will create as much history as the Manning PNM’s 2003 closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd.

The latter holds bitter memories for some ex-workers still awaiting settlements; and those who believe Caroni could have launched T&T’s diversification, had intuition, interest and initiative been forthcoming That Government’s decided to “bite the bullet” on such an emotive issue as closing Petrotrin’s refinery, especially at mid term—despite unpopularity— takes political fortitude.

Government had a limited timeline by which to deal with Petrotrin, considering fallout and upcoming elections.

Whether public backlash will detract from projected benefit remains to unfold. Bitterness of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) on the issue was never more evident than in its leadership’s sarcastic “Old man…” remark pelted at Government on Tuesday.

Nor was it unexpected OWTU jefe Ancel Roget would vow to ensure Government closes its job if workers lose theirs.

The situation would be galling to OWTU which supported PNM’s thrust against the PP administration and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the PNM. The situation stands to shake T&T’s largest, most powerful union, not only financially, but regarding image and credibility—particularly Roget’s.

Ripple effects will trickle to the rest of the labour sector, hence swift solidarity.

PNM’s 2015 election manifesto and 2016 Budget didn’t mention Petrotrin.

But after effects of the oil price drop, the 2017 and 2018 Budgets sounded the alarm, particularly on company debt and loans of (US) $850m and (US) $750m, due next year and in 2022. Completion of the Lashley team’s review was ominously swift.

Though Government kept distance from the development—allowing Petrotrin’s Board to drop the blow—blistering reaction caused enough heat for adjustment.

Energy Minister Franklin Khan had to weigh in on the matter rather than having the public wait until Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s discourse tomorrow. Obvious misjudgement of a sensitive issue which can’t be contained because of the expanse of factors involved.

Khan, conceding effect on 3,000/2,500 families, spun the situation as potential to create opportunities for workers, as he claimed occurred in Central with Caroni’s closure.

T&T’s economy was however, different in 2003. Dollar value’s depreciated. What may have been possible then, may not be now, in the stagnated landscape where funds are guarded against becoming prey to high prices, more taxes or crime.

With collateral damage extending to supply companies, how far economic ripple effects reach, depends on how those affected reorganise/ re-tool and handle reserves/ assets. Government signals that the $1b-plus needed for workers’ termination benefits, may be borrowed— and taxpayers ultimately have to fund this—raises concerns on long term effect, and what repayment may require.

Transitioning to Petrotrin’s future fuel terminalling facility is still incomplete since Government hasn’t decided on fuel source.

The blow to workers in Opposition held areas—is however also a political boon to the UNC, now with a significant platform for battle.

Particularly since PNM held areas— La Brea, Point Fortin—would maintain Exploration/Production work.

Yesterday Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar extended public outreach attending several Independence events. UNC hold a planning retreat Tuesday on Parliament resumption and performance after three years in Opposition.

Government’s Petrotrin decision, pouring oil on assorted troubled waters locally, will feature in assessment of its performance on Friday’s third anniversary also. Rowley’s address will therefore have to offer more than figures on Petrotrin’s failures, “opportunity” spin or patriotism platitudes.

OWTU may not have intended Friday’s Rest/Reflection timeout with a message beyond critiquing Government performance, but the message will likely be stronger following refinery closure plans.

For Marabella residents’ lifetime alongside Petrotrin’s landmark “Cat” (Catalytic) Cracker, when its flame goes out in October, South’s skyline will be that much darker.

Categories: News

Place national interest first

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 23:45

Fellow citizens, on August 31st, 1962, Trinidad and Tobago shook off the reins of colonialism and dared to go it alone. To the tolling of bells, the Union Jack was lowered for the final time and the red, white and black hoisted to signal the birth of our nation.

In his Independence address, Dr Eric Williams, our nation’s first Prime Minister, charged the citizens of this land always to place first the national interest and cause. He further proclaimed amidst great country-wide expectations ‘You are on your own in a big world. You are nobody’s boss, and nobody is your boss.’ No longer were we attached by the umbilical cord to the metropole; we had secured the right to determine our own future - an exhilarating, if somewhat daunting prospect.

Since then, Trinidad and Tobago has enjoyed a relatively stable democracy, significant economic transformation and general improvement in the quality of life of its citizens. Recently though, challenging circumstances have arisen, brought on by rising levels of criminal activity and economic uncertainty. In that context and considering the continued role of the Privy Council in determining our affairs, our vulnerability as a Small Island Developing State to the vagaries of the world economy and the effects of climate change on our tiny island, among other concerns, the question need be posed: How independent are we?

It is a significant sign of maturity when a nation embarks on this most solemn of endeavours, charting the course to self-determination and taking full responsibility for the future of its citizenry but political separation from the United Kingdom was only the first step of our long journey of self-discovery.

Independence has never been a static notion; it implies the constant working out of identity and purpose, sovereignty over one’s decisions and taking responsibility for one’s actions. When those decisions bear good fruit, we are entitled to pat ourselves on the back, but when they go wrong, as they often do, we must not lay blame at the feet of others. Our attitudes and the lens through which we view our roles as citizens must be firmly aligned to the needs of our country, which at this time in our history, appear more demanding than ever.

Every individual has an important role to play in nation-building as institutions merely facilitate the democratic process. The active participation of every citizen in the social, economic and political life of our nation is required to ensure that our children inherit a stable and prosperous country.

Our journey to maturity can only be accomplished if we are united, not only by a common goal but with agreement on how this can be achieved. Let us aspire together and achieve together as we press forward into the future, working to ensure that our carefully selected watchwords: Discipline, Production and Tolerance are incorporated into our daily lives.

We cannot afford to sit and wait for development to happen - we must shoulder the daily responsibility of being disciplined, caring and industrious in order to build Trinidad and Tobago into the great nation we know it can be. The privilege of having control over our affairs must be matched by determination to fulfil the vision of the many Trinbagonians who longed for and finally achieved our independence.

I am confident in the strength of our diversity, the oneness of our common ideals and the sufficiency and resolve of our people, to harness their considerable talents in the service of making Trinidad and Tobago a nation in which we can all take pride.

I wish the national community a safe, happy and enjoyable Independence Day.

President Paula-Mae Weekes

Categories: News

Where is the plan for Petrotrin’s transition?

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 06:38

On Tuesday 28th, Petrotrin’s chairman likened the company’s ailment to cancer. Patients suffering from a terminal illness (cancer or otherwise) are well advised to plan for their eventual demise. His statements provided no comfort or assurance that transitional and legacy arrangements have been adequately addressed.

It is common knowledge that Petrotrin has undertaken several unsuccessful projects over the past few years, thereby burdening the company’s operations and cash flow. A considerable amount of time, expertise and expense have been spent in defining, identifying, and ruminating on these problems. It was clear that action was required. One expected that any action would be guided by a well-articulated plan addressing the myriad of issues arising therefrom. Neither the press release nor press conference gave that confidence.

First, there is no easy way to break an egg; dealing with the OWTU was always going to be difficult. But there was an MOU which called for consultation. Chairman Espinet explains this away saying “…We were not going to go to them with a problem. We were going to go to them with a solution…” He also noted that action was required as Petrotrin is in a difficult situation and has a US$850 million ($5.7 billion TT) bullet payment coming due in August 2019.

This leads to a second concern. Surely the Petrotrin’s Board (and advisers) would be aware that the legal documentation for multimillion-dollar loans are detailed and seek to cover any eventuality including incidents of default and business cessation risk. As the country ought to have learned through the bitter CLF experience, default clauses are instantly triggered. Yesterday’s announcement of the refinery’s closure is such an eventuality and was reported by Bloomberg in real time sending a signal to lender/ creditors.

The announcement would have had the immediate effect not merely of triggering the loan due in 2019 (US$850 million) but also the loan due in 2020 (US$ 50 million). If Petrotrin could not pay US$850 million due in 2019, how it is going to pay US$1.6 billion today? International creditors/ suppliers will not have the forbearance Government did with CLF in delaying action. Has this been factored into the equation? Or has GORTT given assurances? If GORTT has given such assurances, it makes nonsense of the argument that $24 billion would be needed to keep Petrotrin open. What are the closure costs of severance pay and decommissioning for example?

What if local creditors or unpaid suppliers petition the court for winding up action on the ground of insolvency? If the company is insolvent (technically the Finance Minister has said this every time he says taxes have not been paid) the directors are exposed.

Third, how do we reconcile the statement that Petrotrin suffered losses for the last five years but reported profits last quarter? Was this an anomaly or evidence of turnaround capacity? No explanation has been forthcoming.

Other contingenciesto be addressed

 Fourth, Petrotrin has been close to an agreement with a reputed international contractor to remedy the structural engineering difficulties of the ultra-low sulphur diesel plant. Such discussions could not have been lightly undertaken and associated expenditure proposed unless business continuation was on the cards. So, what changed to lead to this precipitate announcement?

Fifth, the press release attributes the following statement to the chairman. “With the termination of the refining operations and the redesign of Exploration and Production, Petrotrin will now be able to independently finance all of its debt and become a sustainable business.” Really? Petrotrin has always been in exploration and production; how will a simple re-design make it profitable enough to finance all its debt and become a sustainable business? The statement begs belief. Production has been declining; there have been no new reserves found due to underinvestment and inadequate cash flow to fund new development. So how will a redesign make any difference? Where will the new resource to fund investment come from?

My sixth concern arose from the statement that the refinery would (could?) not be sold. This suggested that something would be and if so what?

Seventh, the transitional arrangements were glossed over or barely acknowledged. Inventory of diesel, gasoline, aviation, and other fuels are Petrotrin’s inventory and supplied ex-bond to NP et al. The bond needs upgrading and modern telemetry. How is this to be handled? Niquan’s GTL plant is supported by several sweetheart arrangements on Petrotrin’s site. Has it been given a discount and a monopoly too? What of the pricing arrangements for imported fuel and how will the tax arrangements at the pump change?

Eight, who or what is responsible for decommissioning the plant, pipelines and the dilapidated tank farm and the associated costs. And the environmental risks posed by deteriorating plant and pipelines? Who is responsible for these legacy and environmental issues?

The list is not exhaustive and there are other contingencies that ought to have been addressed. What of the economic and social ramifications? Leadership and management are critical if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes and repercussions of the Galicia fiasco. As Naipaul said, “The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.”

Categories: News

Charity and justice

Thu, 08/30/2018 - 06:36

On Wednesday September 5, the world will observe the International Day of Charity. The UN states: “Charity, like the notions of volunteerism and philanthropy, provides real social bonding and contributes to the creation of inclusive and more resilient societies. Charity can alleviate the worst effects of humanitarian crises, supplement public services in healthcare, education, housing, and child protection. It assists the advancement of culture, science, sports, and the protection of cultural and natural heritage. It also promotes the rights of the marginalized and underprivileged and spreads the message of humanity in conflict situations.”

In many ways we in T&T are a charitable people. We thank God for the hundreds of NGOs, CBOs, FBOs that are engaged in charitable work. Without their invaluable contribution, the plight of many of our citizens and those we support abroad would be even more dire. While we reflect on the importance of the virtue of charity, let’s remember the words of St Augustine: “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” Pope Pius XI’s words are also pertinent: “Charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into account … Let no one attempt with small gifts of charity to exempt himself from the great duties imposed by justice.”

Pope Francis constantly reminds us of our duties to engage both in spiritual and corporal works of mercy as well as works of social action (the promotion of justice). These are integral elements of the Christian way of life. He rightly said: “None of us can think we are exempt from concerns for the poor and for social justice…Jesus tells us what the ‘protocol’ is, on which we will be judged. It is the one we read in chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel.”=

Charity involves more than feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. We must also strive to address the root causes of injustice/social problems by being social justice advocates.

Charity alone will not build just societies; it will not transform society. You know the saying: “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you will feed him for life.” Creating a just society involves, inter alia, promoting authentic human development. Are we promoting the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that our people need to live as productive citizens in the 21st Century?

Mother Teresa was a model of charity, while Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a true advocate of social action—addressing unjust laws, policies, practices and political action. Mother Teresa rightly said: “What you can do, I can’t do, and what I can do, you can’t do, but together we can do something beautiful for God.” We need both kinds of advocates.

When we give money to the person begging on the streets, we are seeking to meet his/her immediate, short-term needs. We need to start asking the question: “Why are the poor poor?” They should not have to depend on our largesse.

We all have human rights and the economy should work for the benefit of all. The goods of the earth are there for all of us to share in but distributive justice remains a forlorn dream. We should consider the virtue of charity within the concepts of equity and equality. “No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!” (Pope Francis).

It is time to combat individuality, selfishness and indifference, and open our eyes to what it means to be people of faith. For Christians, to be Christ-like we need to act as He did. His mandate is clearly outlined in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Let’s show that we are true witnesses to Christ by the way we live and the example that we give. And let us anchor our social justice ministry in prayer.

On International Day of Charity, let us renew our resolve to do as Gandhi said and “BE the change” we “wish to see in the world”. Let us find new ways of standing in solidarity with those in need in our communities, for example: the homeless, indigent, elderly, lonely, sick, shut-ins. There are so many ways in which we can promote charity and justice.

Leela Ramdeen

Categories: News

Stop buying into US nonsense

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 23:55

The most popular parenting memes, blogs, and vlogs all seem to have one thing in common—they encourage parents to do what feels best for them.

What’s ironic about Caribbean parents following such advice, is the fact that the parents writing these blogs live in countries where it would be illegal to discipline in the way in which we “feel” it to be best practice.

These bloggers live in countries where child services WILL take your child if you consistently miss school. They will not be so lenient with parents that send children to school with no books, no food, and no bath.

So no, even these popular mom bloggers don’t parent the way that feels good to them. They live in countries where best practice is in fact law. These women are busy debating on whether to be gluten-free or not. They are not debating on whether daily shouting, licks or taking public transport alone is acceptable.

These mothers who feed you a false sense of comfort would be called in if the child started acting weird in school and cited seeing mommy and daddy fighting as the reason for the sudden change of behaviour.

Let’s stop being blind to what their acceptable parenting standard is versus ours. Of course, they can tell moms to mind their own business. They live in countries where the State is minding the business of everyone. Guess what, in sweet T&T, our children are BEGGING us to mind their business. Our women are begging us to mind their business for them.

The one thing that worked really well is the one thing we seem to have let go of quickly and that was the village raising the kid. We hold on to licks but we let go of the elderly neighbour speaking wisdom into you.

More than half of the children that are abused are done so at the hands of their own parents, so no, you cannot parent how you feel.

Your parenting decisions affect the society that I live in, so yes, it is my business and I will not apologise for making it such.

When you choose to spend on luxury items while your child goes hungry in school, that is my business because eventually that child will become an adult and come into my yard.

To think that the way you parent is your business, is to think selfishly. We live in a world full of people and we must raise our children to be contributing adults that aren’t hurtful to others.

The best athletes in the world have coaches. To think that giving birth gives you the certification to know how to parent is to be naive. Parenting like everything else takes hours of studies. Like business, sports, and trades, there are best practices based in years and years of studies done by professionals.

It is time we turn to them versus our own feelings. It is time we raise our game. Commit to learning and growing. Put our pride aside and be willing to hear that our way isn’t the best. Heck, our way may be downright wrong. It’s okay to have been wrong. It is not okay to shun the information and clench our fists at change.

Categories: News

A 6.9 for our 56

Tue, 08/28/2018 - 23:53

In some respects we dodged a potentially deadly bullet last week Tuesday when, for 90-plus seconds, one of the strongest earthquakes in our recorded history halted us in our typically frenetic tracks and sat us down for an important independence lesson.

To be sure, the seismologists advised that while this was not in fact “the big one” it was sufficient cause for contemplation of a possibly catastrophic event we would someday have to face all on our own. There will be no hovering, heavenly vessel to rescue the isolated or to stitch the fractured Los Iros farms. No net to catch the church buttresses. No magic metal plate to seal the bubbling mud in Hindustan and Piparo.

Indeed, such a sombre scenario comes in defiance of the doctrine of divine preference—though believers themselves frequently invoke the image of a dramatic eschaton to end it all. It is an irresistible metaphor on our condition in this season of our independence.

Dr Eric Williams had advised back in 1962 that we would thenceforth be on our own “in a big world, in which you are one of many nations, some small, some medium size, some large.”

When it comes to this, it sometimes does not appear that we have done very well; however conspicuous the trappings of apparent progress. We have long trashed the notion of sovereignty and the path we ought to have cleared to make our way in the world.

It is not today that geo-political quid pro quo is trumping the carving of an independent economic destiny, neither is it a novelty that we choose to ignore clear warning signs of various kinds. The Petrotrin tremors have repeatedly signalled the coming of the end of the game. The diversification challenge has long exhibited evidence of its absolute necessity. Yet, we seem to have ignored the peaks on the graph, the needles of the seismograph, the rumbles in the distance.

Last week, overcome by imminent sexagenarian nostalgia, I reviewed some old Radio 610 recordings with the voices of Lloyd Best and Dennis Pantin and their now 30-year-old views on the future of the T&T economy. This led me to think about the seismologists at the Seismic Research Centre at UWI who must have some of the most frustrating jobs in the world.

However much Joan Latchman, Richard Robertson et al put on a good show in the face of inadequate dedicated resources, we all heard you, professor, and a considerable deficit in public scientific awareness, there must be an agony fed by a sense of our collective neglect and negligence.

Thread after SRC social media thread, in the comments section, betrayed an unhealthy scepticism of science—and its reliance on data and evidence—and a preference for shadowy, alternative fact excavated from the depths of Google and YouTube, and gleaned from unsubstantiated, anonymous WhatsApp dispatches.

To what extent is this not the symptom of the greater malady? That magic and haphazard concoction can somehow turn away an overwhelming tide. That the public discourse and the big decisions can persist devoid of a requirement to sift out facts and mine the evidence.

Against such a backdrop, it is optimistic to believe that anything sensible can emerge, in the near future, out of our investigation of capital punishment, the universality of human rights, climate change, the decriminalising of narcotics–marijuana in particular —and the privileged role of organised religion in society.

The tectonic plates have shifted and continue to move from long-standing moorings. Today’s violence and disquiet and the rumblings of changed circumstance all signal that our 57th must not find us thinking that we have the right to remain as we are.

The earthquake came in time for our 56. We were not handed a six for a nine. This was the real deal.

Categories: News

Beyond Independence

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 23:57

Fifty-six years ago, Trinidad and Tobago moved from a position of powerlessness under British rule to one of empowerment, as our twin-island achieved independence. We were no longer dependent on a First World country to decide our fate. Since 1962, how much have we attained as we strive towards achieving economic, social and political stability? Are we proud of our accomplishments?

Britain and other countries such as Spain, France and Russia are First World countries who do not have an Independence Day. These countries have never been under any other nation’s rule, were not subjugated or stripped of their riches or had their peoples enslaved for economic gain. First World indeed! T&T continues to be titled with Third World status, presumably until we are deemed socially and economically ‘fit’ to join this merry band of thieves.

As I continue to muse on the word independence, I think of all of our bright young people who have migrated to richer climes in search of their pot of gold, seeking independence and preferring to contribute to and work in other global territories, rather than looking within their native country for meaning and purpose. Our political leaders, businesspeople and affluent citizens reinforce these myopic standards as they themselves emulate Eurocentric ideals of bigger houses, fancy cars, shopping in supermarkets overflowing with foreign goods, out of touch with the poverty and desperation that currently pervades some of our households.

3 Canal’s Everybody talking, nobody listening hints at those dedicated citizens who have toiled in the vineyards for decades, hoping to inform policy and telling their story to leaders who seem not to care or to hear—Dr David Bratt and his push for inclusivity for the disabled, David Abdulah for social justice issues, TTAP (Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists) for a trauma centre which may have helped those many persons who are still suffering from the psychological aftershocks of the recent earthquake, with symptoms of depressive episodes and bouts of crying and insomnia.

Every other person I meet seems to be traumatised by the events of last Tuesday. Where can they go for help?

Independence and its subtle variables of individualism and capitalist ideology of survival of the fittest has not been successful for the many in this country. The paradigm needs to be shifted. We need to move beyond independence to interdependence, that is, to a vision where people matter, where the ‘collective’ is more important than the negative self-focus of entitlement and accumulation of goods, this in the face of families living out of cars, or mothers living in outhouses with their babies.

Interdependence suggests pathways that foster social scripts where persons can depend on each other for their health and well-being, feeling safe as they interact with each other in their daily lives. These scripted patterns of engagement have to come from our leaders as they put more systems and more personnel in place to respond to the social and economic needs of the less fortunate, the elderly and the young, with minimal conflict and tension. Those who have served this country well—in all phases of life, especially in the arts—must be honoured without having to plead for monies or dying penniless on our streets. Feeling safe is a primary concern for many. If crime can’t solve, is a madman’s rant the only resolve?

Let us strive to make social harmony, feelings of respect and the well-being of our citizens, some of our goals beyond Independence. With boundless faith in our destiny, let us stand side by side with each other. May God bless our nation.

Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor is a Clinical and Educational Psychologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

Categories: News

After 56 years where are we?

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 23:54

With all the media emphasis on the Prime Minister’s last Cabinet reshuffle and the fallout from the distasteful “sari skit”, there were a couple of stories that managed to slip by with little notice. The first was the embarrassment incurred by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation when its president, David John-Williams, was publicly criticised by the US Embassy’s Chargé d’Affaires for the organisation’s failure to submit visa applications for the Girls’ Under-15 team. And the second was the decision by the Canadian city of Vaughan, a municipality located just north of Toronto, to cancel the permits for the August 4 Carnival Kingdom concert after the promoter didn’t adhere to local ordinances for an event that was held the night before.

While these are two totally different incidents, one even taking place in a foreign country, they do share something in common. They are examples of how the Trinbagonian penchant for ignoring rules and instructions isn’t tolerated by entities that take them very seriously.

It isn’t hard to imagine how similar scenarios would have played out here; after all… it happens all the time. Fetes, especially those associated with the Carnival season, go on with little concern to residents who live near or around the venue. The music is unreasonably loud, patrons park their cars wherever they please, and the revelry always goes past the shutdown time. Neither the police service nor the Environmental Management Authority can be called upon to take action. And the promoters, who probably live nowhere near the event, have the insensitive audacity to call this chaos and noise pollution “culture”. Then there’s the gruelling inefficiency of our government offices—everyone dreads having to face it. That’s when it pays to have “a link”… to know someone, or know someone who knows someone else, who can help you. Why go through the hassle of rushing to make an appointment and dealing with disgruntled employees when a contact on the inside can tend to you personally. That may mean greasing a palm or parting with a bottle of alcohol, but the result is avoiding the long lines and wait times and getting your business sorted out.

It’s ironic how Trinbagonians complain about corruption and inefficiency and yet won’t hesitate to take advantage of those same flaws when it benefits them. Who amongst us wants to be bothered by regulations and bureaucracy? Whether it’s getting approval for renovating your home, having to renew a driver’s permit, or using fireworks in a residential area. But the flip side to this mindset of banality is that it’s exercised at every level of our society; from public service offices, to state enterprises, all the way up to and including the government. Just look at any scandal or questionable act that has taken place in T&T over the last six months. It is apparent in each case that standard procedures weren’t followed.

As recent as two weeks ago (August 5), this paper published a story about overtime abuse in the police service. It included a list of irregularities that highlighted just how poorly the relevant paperwork had been filed; lacking official stamps, signatures and even legible names. Before that, in July, the CEO of the Youth Training and Employment Partnership Programme, Nigel Forgenie, was dismissed following an investigation into financial mismanagement. During his deposition before the Public Accounts Enterprises Committee, it was revealed that he authorised the purchase of a vehicle for personal use and even had his wife employed, both of which were clear violations of the standing rules.

And then, back in February, there was Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s disclosure to the Parliament that the Government had spent $2 million on MP Maxie Cuffie’s medical expenses, including treatment that he was receiving abroad. This cost, according to the stipulations of the Salaries Review Commission, should not have been covered by the state.

Unfortunately, citizens have accepted that this is simply the way things are. And that’s a shame… because it’s a mentality that contradicts any hope that things can change. Instead of instituting new plans or programmes, our leaders could better spend resources on ensuring that existing procedures are followed and that there’s transparency, accountability and consequences to go along with it. Those of the indicators of a properly functioning country. And after 56 years of independence, can Trinidad and Tobago lay claim to any of them?

Ryan Hadeed

Categories: News

The Power of Play

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 23:53

“They say children nowadays doh know how to behave? Well, I go prove dem wrong, stop that!” she said. “But is the parents…” I started, and stopped, as she agreed vigorously.

A smart, competent, common-sense mother. Good cook too! Her six-year-old stopped kicking the ball in the office and moved to her side.

Well, all he was trying to do was play and I had encouraged him, passing the ball to him in between weighing and examining his gorgeous breastfed baby brother.


Because play is one of the five critical things you can do to bring up children well. Breastfeed. Immunise. Read. Discipline. Play.

The least considered of these is play.

Check out the definition of play in the COED.

“Engage in games or other activities for enjoyment rather than for a serious or practical purpose.” Bad, bad definition!

Gives you the idea that play is something that is insignificant. However mysterious and stupid play may seem to the adult, it is power for children.

Play is given little priority in T&T. Playgrounds and squares are being closed or taken over by drug addicts. Property developers and the politicians build expensive little boxes with as much little green space as possible.

And schools are starting to reduce time devoted to breaks so they can cram more useless information into little minds and produce more non-thinking citizens to vote more race.

Some schools actually do not want children running around because either teachers are “too tired” to oversee recess or afraid that they will be blamed when the poor children fall and scrape their itty bitty knees. 

There’s a wonderful quote from an article on a Ted Talk on kindergartens ( by a Japanese architect, Takaharu Tezuka, “children are supposed to be outside, so that is how we should treat them,” and “kids need small doses of danger…in this kind of situation they learn to help each other!”

Of course! Small doses of danger help them to become resistant to larger doses of danger, it’s another form of immunisation, of protection.

Small falls help to develop coordination and prevent larger falls. Unfortunately, as a good friend remarked on Saturday when one says play, too many parents think Toys ‘R’ Us. At least that’s gone now.

Or they think about those atrocious “educational games” advertised on the booby tube guaranteed to take your money and leave your children bored.

Or they believe that “play” means a scripted, organised, adult controlled series of activities. That is not play. Play is free. Play is unsupervised.

Play allows children to be themselves, to use their imaginations, to be inventive, to learn how to cooperate, to develop muscles and coordination and immunity from illnesses.

Above all, it gives children space to be themselves among their peers without being pulled and prodded and measured by adults with our hang-ups and biases and strange beliefs in spirits in the sky and green smoothies for weight loss.

When grown-ups interfere with play, they turn children into walking problems: out of control, aggressive, bullies or targets of bullies.

Despite all those crazy organised activities, they are fatter and lazier, still spending too much time indoors sitting in front of a screen massacring each other in computer games.

But what do you expect them to do with all their energy? Study for their never-ending exams like the 2019 SEA takers have done this August?

The problem of children not being allowed or encouraged to play is so serious that one country has actually legalised the child’s right to play. In 2010, Wales legislated that every Welsh local authority “must secure sufficient play opportunities in its area for children.”

Two weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics did something similar. The academy officially recommended that doctors begin writing prescriptions for play.

Imagine, I may soon have to prescribe play for children. In a tiny tropical island in the Caribbean! What a screwed up world you all have made for children.

Categories: News

Just a little respect

Mon, 08/27/2018 - 00:06

The earth in Greek mythology is personified as Gaia, the ancestral mother of all life. Despite their pre-eminent role in the human civilisation, women throughout the ages have sought recognition and acknowledgement in the face of male dominance which often threatens to obliterate their psychological well-being.

The use of female symbolism in political theatre made an appearance at the recent People’s National Movement’s (PNM) Family Day where a sari skit was performed. A woman was draped with a yellow sari which was then unravelled by men dressed in red Gorilla costumes. Now, some of our political and religious leaders have discovered their feminine side and seek to occupy the moral high ground. This sudden desire to condemn the use of female symbols in the political realm ignores the last two decades where female symbols, images and sexual innuendos have been used without hesitation by all across the political spectrum to excite and denigrate.

Basdeo Pandey ridiculed Hulsie Bhaggan when she dared to challenge his leadership by calling her “pancake face.”

As the 21st century rolled over, Kamla Persad-Bissessar in her double-entendre, declared, “The only pipe I know about is Mr Bissessar pipe!”

When Patrick Manning fired Dr Keith Rowley from his Cabinet, he deemed him a “wajang,” which means a promiscuous female.

Roodal Moonilal, while in government, described female anti-highway protesters being dragged away by the police like a “bag of aloo”. Jack Warner, being questioned by BBC’s Andrew Jennings about FIFA at the Piarco International Airport, remarked: “ask yuh mudder. Just before the 2015 election, Dr Rowley, reportedly in reference to Persad-Bissessar, stated, “And she could jump high, she could jump low, she could drink this, she could drink that, she could bark at meh dog, I go ignore she cat.”

Of course, Rowley then introduced “jammetry” into our political lexicon when remonstrating with Persad-Bissessar over the Petrotrin “fake oil” scandal. Rowley continued in similar vein when in Parliament he likened women to a golf course. “You got to groom her every day, otherwise it turns into a pasture,” he said then.

So why are we surprised today at a sari skit? This indignation which is resonating throughout society would appear to be tainted with an element of political convenience.

Today in the many developing countries, women are proudly exhibiting their uniqueness and confidence in their feminine side.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, recently returned to work being the first elected world leader to take maternity leave and only the second, after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, to have a child while occupying the highest political office in a country. Clarke Gayford, the partner of Arden, has been tasked with the responsibility of being the ‘stay at home” dad.

In Canada, the world looked on and applauded as footage of a Canadian minister breastfeeding her son in parliament went viral. Karina Gould then eloquently stated, “No shame in breastfeeding! Baby’s gotta eat & I had votes”.

Women are now also storming the bastion of male political power in the Caribbean. In 2018, Trinidad and Tobago had its first female President and Barbados its first female Prime Minister. In the often misogynistic political culture of the Caribbean, when strong women rise to the top they can expect an agenda of distraction which attempts to shift focus from their ability to their perceived sexual orientation as both Paula-Mae Weekes and Mia Mottley have already experienced.

The world, particularly the developed world, is embracing the role of women in political and business leadership. In the political realm on June 7, 2018, a new Spanish government was sworn in with 11 women out of 17 Cabinet ministers appointed. While on the business front, there was a quiet announcement on August 6, 2018, that the CEO of Pepsi, Indra Nooyi, was retiring after 12 years at the helm, leaving a legacy of a 78% rise in share prices during her tenure.

A generation of women has strived to give to their daughters a new foundation. According to Nooyi,“Even though my mother didn’t work and didn’t go to college, she lived a life vicariously through her daughters.

So she gave us that confidence to be whatever we wanted to be. That was an incredibly formative experience in my youth.”

Today in Trinidad and Tobago, we are still struggling to provide hope for women to rise to the top and not be besmirched on the altar of political expediency. Wearing yellow saris to protest is political theatre to grab fleeting headlines. The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, has left Gaia and has ascended to the sala da concerti of Saint Peter. Her anthem of 1967, Respect, still resonates powerfully, particularly in the Caribbean “A little respect (just a little bit), I get tired (just a little bit), Keep on tryin’ (just a little bit), You’re runnin’ out of foolin’ (just a little bit), And I ain’t lyin’ (just a little bit).”

Dr Rajendra Ramlogan is a professor of commercial and environmental law at The University of the West Indies.

Dr Rajendra Ramlogan

Categories: News

Social media and campaign finance reform

Sun, 08/26/2018 - 03:09

The right to report social media campaigning that a citizen believes to be unlawful and misleading is now under consideration by a Westminster Parliamentary Committee. The approach recommended is to make amendments to the corpus of electoral law.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies, and data privacy for individuals. Just as the Financial Conduct Authority which oversees the conduct of financial institutions, consumer protection, market integrity, competition, and relevant prudential issues is funded by a levy imposed on the banking sector, it is proposed that a similar levy on social media and technology giants would allow the ICO to attract talent and to monitor misinformation. This is in harmony with the Electoral Commission’s suggestion that all electronic campaigning should have easily accessible digital imprint requirements, including who is legally responsible for the spending and who has sponsored specific campaigning material.

The committee wants the state to table proposals for an educational levy on social media companies that will finance a comprehensive educational framework that will make Digital Literacy the fourth pillar of education, alongside reading, (r)iting and (r)ithmetic. The levy will also be used to roll out a unified public awareness initiative that will set the context of social media content, explain to citizens their rights over their data, as well as set out ways in which people can interact with political campaigning on social media. Many of these measures are coupled to campaign finance and allegations of attempts to influence elections through social media.

Furthermore, it urges Whitehall to review the existing rules surrounding political work during elections and referenda, including: increasing the length of the regulated period; definitions of what constitutes political campaigning and absolute transparency of online political campaigning; a category introduced for digital spending on campaigns; and reducing the time for spending returns to be sent to the Electoral Commission. It is envisaged that the Electoral Commission will establish a code for advertising through social media during election periods.

It also urges the commission to propose more stringent requirements for hefty donors to demonstrate the source of their funds, and backs its suggestion of a change in the rules covering political spending sothat limits are put on the amount of money an individual can donate. Other recommendations include a public register for political advertising and a ban on micro-targeted political advertising.

It is also suggested that the Government consider whether the Advertising Standards Agency could regulate digital advertising to establish clear legal liability for the tech companies to act against harmful and illegal content on their platform including content that has been referred to them for takedown by their users, and other content that should have been easy for the tech companies to identify for themselves. In these cases, failure to act on behalf of the tech companies could leave them open to legal proceedings launched either by a public regulator, and/or by individuals or organisations who have suffered as a result of this content being freely disseminated on a social media platform.

Another suggestion is that the Government consider establishing a digital Atlantic Charter as a new mechanism to reassure users that their digital privacy rights are guaranteed after Brexit. The committee also suggests the Government avoids using the term ‘fake news’—and instead puts forward an agreed definition of the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ and that tech companies be subject to security and algorithmic auditing. The committee also floats the idea that the Competition and Markets Authority considers conducting an audit of the operation of the advertising market on social media given the risk of fake accounts leading to ad fraud.

Additionally, a requirement for tech companies to make full disclosure of targeting used as part of advert transparency to launder ‘dark ads’ away. The committee suggests that the UK’s Defamation Act 2013 means social media companies have a duty to publish and to follow transparent rules—arguing that the act has provisions which state that if a user is defamed on social media, and the offending individual cannot be identified, the liability rests with the platform. The committee is especially damning of platforms being used to spread hate and fuel violence against ethnic minorities disseminated through fake accounts leading to ethnic cleansing.

In 2016 the Government of T&T hosted a forum on Campaign Finance Reform. The UK Anti-Corruption Adviser to David Cameron, Sir Eric Pickles, and two representatives from the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Tres-Ann Kremer and Lisa Klein provided advice on boosting technical capacity, drafting legislation, and enforcement on campaign finance.

Categories: News

A learning moment

Sun, 08/26/2018 - 03:06

Last week the society was jolted in more ways than one. After 56 years of independence we came to the realisation that many of us are indeed ignorant about the beliefs and culture of many other citizens. In many respects, the whole “sari skit” episode and its aftermath revealed degrees of ignorance at the highest levels of government which were blamed on a faulty education system.|

When people complained that they felt disrespected, it was portrayed as seeking to promote divisiveness and regarded as foolishness. Why? Well, we got our answer in the realm of ignorance. For all these years the Hindu community has been misunderstood purely because they have a different value system and beliefs from others in the society can now be understood today because it has been ignorance lurking as the culprit that that has divided our society all along.

The fact that there are people in this society who have a different sociology and anthropology should not be any surprise to anyone. The fact that that ignorance has led to their core beliefs and values being ridiculed on the altar of being different so “they” are the problem was all unravelled in a skit at a family day under the premise of undressing a woman to prove a point about political hegemony.

Never mind that undressing the woman was an act of violence in its own right, the apology ended up being confined to the religious and ethnic domain and the broader gender sensitivity was ignored as well as the portrayal of certain men in animal costumes was not addressed.

One little piece of “fun” has, fortunately, turned into a major learning moment for our society. We have struggled to find a “one-size-fits-all” theory to put ethnic, religious, and other differences to bed so that “all ah we could be one”. The skit showed that there is still a deep-seated desire to advance the cause of political hegemony over and above the cause of political unity. The reality is that we are all one national family with different beliefs, values, and traditions however, the problem is acceptance of diversity on an equal plane across the board.

The Indian members of the Government were taunted about being asked what they thought of the skit. Really? No one ever heard from them during the movement of the controversy from foolishness to ignorance. What was significant was that there was no post-Cabinet media briefing two Thursdays ago. Why? Were there divisions in the discussions around the table?
In addressing the ignorance of the story of Draupadi in The Mahabharata there was a learning moment. Those who enacted the “sari skit” found a way to express their political hegemony by completely undressing the woman at the centre of their attention to reveal the rise of the PNM over the UNC in the Tabaquite constituency.

That was the fake version. Because the real story of Draupadi is that when she was being undressed she prayed to Lord Krishna to protect her modesty and the unravelling of her sari never ended and she won in the end.

The deeper psychological issue being exposed here is that when “fun” skits are being researched for presentation at a political family day event, there should be greater sensitivity to what is being intended. It is true that this is politics and anything goes. Sometimes, that approach causes setbacks from what was intended, like in this instance.

A division arose in the executive of the PNM constituency group in Tabaquite. The chairman and the vice chairman had different perspectives on the event based on reporting by Gail Alexander in the Guardian on Saturday, August 18, at page A6. The chairman was not inclined to apologise at that stage and the vice chairman apologised in his personal capacity.

It was clear that there was growing division in the ranks of the party and later that night came the apology from the Prime Minister himself. So where are we now? There is a realisation that ignorance was the culprit on the religious front. The stereotyping of the Afro-male and the violence against women angles remain unanswered perhaps waiting for another day when they can be addressed.

It is now time to celebrate independence. Hopefully, the shortcomings in our education system identified by the Prime Minister will be addressed through curriculum review.

Categories: News

Time for some seismic shift at Petrotrin

Sun, 08/26/2018 - 03:05

Last Tuesday, T&T shook with a powerful earthquake, making many of us fear for our lives. Thankfully, despite some material damage, no lives were lost.

This coming Tuesday, T&T’s most totemic company may be heading towards a much more welcome major shake-up. On that day, Petrotrin’s board will be sharing with the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union leadership its plans for the company’s future.

We need a major shake-up at Petrotrin if we are to have a national oil company at all. After all, Petrotrin is bloated, inefficient, up its neck with debt, and without money to invest in new capital projects. It’s unviable as a going concern without radical improvements.

OWTU’s members are planning prayers by the PM’s residence. Prayers, indeed, may be a good idea, but not perhaps for the same reasons as OWTU’s. We must all pray that Petrotrin’s board will put forward difficult but essential reforms. Including much needed reductions in how much it spends on its workforce.

We must also pray that OWTU’s leadership, especially its president, Mr Ancil Roget, will behave in a sober, measured, and sensible way, for the sake of its membership and, more importantly, for the sake of the nation.

Disagreement is natural. Good industrial relations include vigorous debate, as long as it is based on a genuine attempt to reach the best possible outcome for all. But good industrial relations also include a sense of realism.

When a trade union sits down with a company’s leadership, it must be aware of how the business is performing and the likely outcome to long-term employment if action is not taken. It’s the knee-jerk reaction of having tantrums whilst ignoring the real world that left us already without a steel plant. We can’t afford to lose a refinery for the same reason.

We must all face the situation we are in. What was supposed to be a symbol of an independent, proud, and successful T&T, our state-owned oil company became a reflection of everything that’s wrong in our land.

It became an extension of the political world, used as a populist tool for the Government of the day. It ignored good management practice for the convenience of avoiding any confrontation with the OWTU, as if doing so would be a betrayal of labour leaders of the past who, effectively, also started the fight for self-rule. Ironically, in reality they betrayed our former labour leaders by making the largest T&T state-owned business a failure and an embarrassment.

On Tuesday, Mr Roget will have a historical and unique moment to side with common sense and the good of the nation (and, by definition, the good of his membership). He can go down in history as the man who helped save a national symbol. More than that, as the man who helped turned a national symbol into a world leader.

Or he can go down in history as the man who sank any chance of us having a viable and thriving national oil company, even if that meant some short-term pain for his members.

In Venezuela, fatefully wrong decisions were made about its state-owned oil company, PDVSA, for short-term gains by the Chavez regime. The result: a moribund company, producing considerably less than it used to and with decaying infrastructure beyond salvation.

In neighbouring Colombia, state-owned Ecopetrol is run as a proper company, and it is bringing more and more profit to the Government through efficient management. In the second quarter of this year alone, it generated USD 1.17 billion in net profit, and announced plans to invest between USD 3.5 and 4 billion to increase its production.

Here, Petrotrin has been struggling to cover its costs and doesn’t have the money to make new capital investments. Between PDVSA and Ecopetrol, we pray Mr Roget—like us—will choose the Ecopetrol path.

The odds, though, are not good. As news emerged of the meeting called by Petrotrin for Tuesday, rumours started swirling around T&T of lock outs, army intervention, and other absurdities.

We sincerely hope—and pray—that no one linked to the union is directly or indirectly linked to these rumours designed to destabilise the country and generate further damage to our already difficult situation.

That would have been well below the belt.

Let’s pray, then. And, if you are of no religious disposition, let’s hope that Mr Roget will pause and listen carefully to Petrotrin’s plans. And offer truly helpful suggestions, aimed at making Petrotrin the best this land can offer. We live in hope.

Categories: News

Prime ministers, end cricket WI thuggery

Sun, 08/26/2018 - 03:04

Prime ministers of the independent nations, which comprise the West Indies, you now have an unavoidable rendezvous with your responsibility to the people of the region to save our historical identity as the West Indies cricket team.

Prime ministers, you cannot allow a few usurpers in the persons of Dave Cameron and the members of the board who administer that great legacy (one of our most cherished) of West Indies cricket to unilaterally strip the region and this cultural creation of its identity for the fast foods nomenclature, “Windies”.

It cannot be, prime ministers, that you have allowed this maverick organisation led by men who clearly have no sense of history and identity, to outwit and wrestle you into a position of surrender. This is a reminder, prime ministers, that you once promised our cricketing nation to remove these charlatans from their perch; to professionalise the administration of West Indies cricket to allow for the re-invigoration of our glorious tradition in the game.

This note is a reminder that when elected, you took on the responsibility not only to achieve economic growth, quality political governance, but also, prime ministers, you campaigned to protect and nurture the culture that has been created by generations of West Indians.

This pledge is not only to your people located in the various West Indian territories, but also to the Diaspora of millions. They may have relocated physically, but they carry their “West Indianess” with them. Just view how they gather in their numbers in Miami from different parts of the US when the cricket culture (CPL T20) is on display, to absorb and share bits and pieces of themselves with their kinfolk.

The mandate given to you, prime ministers, is far greater than that secured by the cricket board. The power you have, prime ministers—that which you are failing to exercise—falls within and “beyond the boundary”. Prime ministers, if you fail to intervene meaningfully and prevent this cricket board from wandering further into a land not soaked with the historical efforts of our ancestors, you too will be responsible for the obliteration of that historical name: the West Indies Cricket Team and all that it has stood for over the last 90-plus years.

But the responsibility to the West Indian nation does not end with governments. The national cricket boards of the constituent members of the regional board, who never consulted with their membership on this change of name, must be forced by their memberships to account.

A special note to a West Indian cricket attorney, deeply concerned with this undermining of this great West Indian inheritance, Dr Claude Denbow, you must give to the region and the game which I know nourished you from a boy into manhood, the benefit of your legal wisdom to sweep Cameron and his CWI into the Caribbean Sea.

To the cricket writers, commentators, and sports journalists, you too have the capacity, the technology, and the responsibility to stimulate the thinking of your readers, listeners, and viewers to action on this most fundamental of issues.

To the cricket legends, you owe it to yourselves and those of your colleagues who passed the baton, to raise your voices against this attempt to eviscerate this heritage.

Hanging on this bold and unlovely usurpation is the larger question of democratic governance in the West Indian political culture. We must consciously transform how our peoples are governed on a daily basis by governments and all our institutions political, economic, and social.

Approximately 60 years ago, cricket administration broke new ground in initiating the democratisation of the West Indies by placing a black man, Frank Worrell, as captain of a West Indian cricket team to tour Australia. That appointment, made against the then current, shattered the notion that black people were not responsible enough, not intellectually capable of, and were not endowed with the skill and human capacity to lead a West Indian team, especially to a major cricketing nation such as Australia.

Not too long ago, the colonial boards were dismissed; Cameron is emerging as the new governor.

The cricket culture has to lead; it has to assist in the disintegration of the strongman governance model exercised by every leader who believes that his/her election and or selection gives him/her the power and authority to dominate without reference to anyone.

Those who remain quiet will have to account to future generations.

Categories: News