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Updated: 1 hour 24 min ago

Wanted: A new Professionalism

14 hours 9 min ago

The recent resignations of prominent CEOs, committee members and professionals in organisations, over alleged misspent monies, ‘blatant lies’ and being ‘rogue entities’, is indeed alarming and of noticeable concern. As persons in the public interest, there were levelled accusations against them of breaches of contract, a lack of accountability, transparency and openness and a failure to follow proper rules and procedures.

These persons were seen by many as professionals. Within the culture of T&T, these ‘standards of behaviours’ may have been ignored by others who looked the other way, or accepted them as a norm in the society. Perhaps then, a new professionalism is needed, one that is able to maintain the public’s trust in what is done – one that emphasises shared values, morals and ethics and shared accountability?

On Sunday (July 1st), at our Annual Social of TTAP, Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists, the theme was: Service as a Professional. Our guest speaker, the Honourable Speaker of the House, Bridgid Annissette-George, stated that, ‘Being a professional was to have made a public commitment to a high standard of performance, to integrity, and to public service’. She quoted from an excerpt as said by his Holiness, Pope Paul VI: ‘It is imperative that no one…indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfil one’s obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organisations devoted to bettering the conditions of life.’ The Speaker further noted that ‘to be of service to others as a professional requires service above self…and was not the sole duty of psychologists but of all professionals who are citizens and residents of Trinidad and Tobago…as the primary duty of citizenship was the use of one’s specialised skills and training not only for one’s advancement but for the promotion of the common good’.

Mrs Annisette-George had admitted to the audience that this was a daunting topic for her, as it was the implied belief that professionals would be committed to serve others and not be self-serving. This is an erroneous belief. Many years ago, I differed in opinion with a principal whose school had the reputation of achieving many scholarships, but her interaction with parents and persons from different cultures and backgrounds was arrogant and derogatory, reducing many to tears. Back then, in my naivete, I had thought that persons of a particular standing in society were duty bound to be exemplars to us who were younger and looking up to them.

My mother was a professional and an exemplar. I grew up believing that the two went together, hand in hand. I know differently now. I have learnt that one can be a professional – with advanced degrees, smart attire and a company reputation – but he/she may not necessarily exude the traits that embody professionalism: the principles of respect for others; honesty and sincerity in one’s transactions; conduct which involves ethics, morals and standards; competence and mastery of job skills that inspire confidence and trust; and the most important one in my book – honouring any commitment that you have made to others.

This trait means getting the job done in a timely manner and taking responsibility for any mistakes that may have occurred along the way, without blaming others for your own tardiness or ‘passing the buck!’

The JSC committees who have been tightening the belt and calling professionals to accountability must be commended. In exploring the word profession, one meaning stated that ‘professions are groups which declare in a public way that their members promise to act in certain ways and that the society may discipline those who fail to do so’. Let the clarion call be sounded! A new professionalism is needed in T&T – an ideology that is not only pertinent to professional groups and structures but a shared social contract for all. Not only as a hidden curriculum but as a unifying set of beliefs and behaviours that inspire public trust and gives of service above self, for the promotion of the common good.

Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor is a clinical and educational psychologist and president of the T&T Association of Psychologists.

Categories: News

The IMF 2018 Visit: Fact vs Fiction

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 23:51

The period 2014-18 has been very challenging. GDP and government revenues took a substantial blow from the decline in energy prices and the gas production shortfall. Gas shortages started in late 2010. The effect on tax revenues was masked by buoyant energy prices and were revealed only with the 2014 energy prices fall. Gas production is now recovering due to the fiscal incentives. In the meantime, everything, except violent crime, has slowed.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has a bad reputation because its patients tend to be in the later stages of their illness and therefore have to take stronger medication, or suffer worse consequences. The 2018 Article IV concluding statement is therefore written in diplomatic language to encourage the patient to be more responsible. It identifies comforting facts but repeats some unpleasant truths.

The positives are that the “economy shows signs of improvement from the second half of 2017, with return to positive growth expected in 2018 following two years of recession.” Improvement in gas production had a positive impact on production in the downstream petrochemical sector. It affirmed that headline inflation was at historically low levels as a result of the decline in aggregate demand and that unemployment, although rising, was relatively low. It also noted that “Financial buffers remained substantial, with HSF and sinking-fund assets at 30 per cent of GDP and gross FX reserves at 9.4 months of imports at end-2017”.

The non-energy sector dampened the overall growth, reflecting weak activity in construction, financial services and trade; continued shortage of foreign exchange (FX) and slow implementation of public investment projects. (This contrasts sharply with Minister Imbert’s projections for the non-energy sector). The report noted that Government reduced expenditure considerably by cutting transfers and subsidies and its purchases of goods and services. Government debt (including Government guaranteed debt) had risen to 61% of GDP but this was below the self-imposed “soft target of 65%”.

The report projects that the economy will return to a modest growth path “as energy projects come on stream and the recovery takes hold in the non-energy sector.” Unsurprisingly, it expects natural gas production to lead growth, but that there will be continued challenges in the oil sector and that the non-energy sector will recover slowly stabilising growth in the medium term (3-7 years). Whilst both Government and the IMF agree that the economy will return to growth, they differ sharply on the rate of growth. The mid-term review projects growth of 2%, 2.2% and 2.5% for 2018-20. The IMF projections are at 50% lower for each year.

The report points out several risks to the recovery process, including lower energy prices, delays or disruptions in energy-related projects and output, pending completion of the oil and gas tax regime reform.

Delays in the implementation of the ongoing fiscal adjustment and persistence of forex shortages could weaken market confidence and drive up funding costs. Tightening financial conditions could stress balance sheets and undermine the non-energy sector’s capacity to import and produce. Rising US rates and further US-dollar appreciation could worsen competitiveness and pressure the currency.

The report spends a considerable time (approximately 25% of the statement) dealing with the issue of forex. It notes that the market continues to be out of balance with demand exceeding supply and that this will have a negative impact on the non-energy sector and any diversification effort. It expects further volatility in energy prices, arguing that the market should be brought into balance given the low inflation rate and Government expenditure either by providing the foreign exchange or changing the pricing. Without market stability, reserves will continue to decline.

The report notes the effort to manage spending and that the fiscal deficit has narrowed. It argued that containing expenditure should remain a priority, noting that transfers to utilities represent a “significant fiscal burden”. It also agreed with the Government’s efforts to make its expenditure more efficient and looked forward to the World Bank report on this area.

The revenue expenditure gap is substantial. Revenue from taxes in the 2017/18 budget is $38 billion whilst expenditure is $54 billion. The difference is met by selling assets or financing devices such as the National Investment Fund (NIF), which manages to convert a bond issue (a loan from the public) into “revenue” thus reducing the current year deficit. Higher energy prices only narrow the gap and real growth of 1 to 2% is insufficient to close this gap.

The report notes that maintaining the current policy puts the burden of adjustment on fiscal, monetary and structural policies. “This requires ample reserve/fiscal buffers and adjustments with larger growth effects. Country experiences suggest that preserving a peg regime can provide a helpful anchor for undiversified economies, but only with large financial buffers and credible fiscal adjustments under persistent shocks.” We have neither.

The report identifies two priorities; first completing the adjustment, while insulating the economy from future commodity swings; and creating an enabling environment for the non-energy sector to be an engine of growth through: improved FX access, business-friendly environment, diversification efforts, reduced crime, and growth-friendly, efficiency-enhancing public investments. These require leadership and management.


Mariano Browne

Categories: News

Let’s talk about sex

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 00:13

This weekend I posted the details of a sexual conversation that my husband and I had and true to form someone commented that some things are not for FB.

I have a few questions in response to this...

1. How do we determine what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate for social media and,

2. Why does talking publicly about sex in a non-perverted manner make us uncomfortable?

Those questions are for your own introspection. The next question is an answer to the question many of you have on your mind but aren’t brave enough to ask out loud.

Why would I post publicly something as intimate as a sexual conversation with my husband?

The answer is simple.

Somewhere along the road sex became dirty. Maybe it’s because we took something so powerful and we threw it around all over the place like it was worthless. We lost respect for its power and we created a bad stigma for it.

This is quite unfortunate because there are many Christian women who are struggling to properly please their husbands because society has made them feel dirty or sinful for being sexy.

I will never post a picture in my lingerie because obviously, that’s taking it too far but I posted for the sole purpose of subtly letting my sisters in Christ know that once you have gone before God and said those vows, then you have free reign to be as sexual as you desire with your husband.

Christian marriages are not doing much better than secular marriages and our children are watching. They are seeing you living a boring life, void of any spice.

There is nothing better than having your husband love all of you, stretch marks and cellulite included. When your children watch their father embrace their mother even after she has lost her billboard worthy body, it says to them that they are more than their physical appearance. It says to them that a Godly man will continue to be in awe of them long after the youthful “perfections.”

I hear stories of couples where the sex life is suffering because the woman is embarrassed to get naked. Shame has crept in. On the flip side, I have heard of men that are unable to look at their wives that way yet they are addicted to porn. They are incapable because their wives are somehow only seen as the angelic woman that raises his kids. Again, this is because he has associated being sexy, with being bad or sinful.

So yes, I share my intimate moments on social media because I made a promise to God to use my life to glorify Him and if I am led to share something, then I share and trust that there is someone He needed to reach through me.

Wishing all the married couples out there a spice-filled week

Marsha L Walker

Categories: News

Rethinking local government

Wed, 07/18/2018 - 00:11

One of the remarkable things about the recently-concluded by-election campaigns in Barataria and Belmont East was the almost complete absence of discourse on the abundant possibilities of local government reform.

Such discussions would have included, but would not have been limited to, a much better deal for the men and women who are essentially on the job 24/7 even as they are compensated as if they provide mere part-time services to the municipalities.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for everything and the platform of a low-profile by-election campaign won’t necessarily take such a discussion very far. But what was disturbing was that the intervention of the political parties in injecting some semblance of a bigger picture on the hustings, appeared opportunistic and in the process belittled the day-to-day causes the six candidates were attempting to highlight.

Without doubt, the United National Congress will continue to gloat over its marginal triumph over the People’s National Movement in Barataria and the PNM its reduced but successful recapture of Belmont East.

But the context of continuing voter apathy hardly signals a genuine victory for the democratic process or the prestige of municipal governance. For, in the process, the electorate also appeared to ignore the bright, flashing lights on display.

In a local government context, a vector-breeding environment that has led to a high incidence of Dengue, Zika and Chikungunya is immensely more important to burgesses than whether official victimisation is occurring on the basis of religion or the length of time the Galleons Passage took to arrive in T&T—as bizarre as the latter circumstance might appear to be.

Past experience with downplaying the parochial, community issues on the hustings is that it has served to undermine the value of the significant contribution local government practitioners make toward enhancing the quality of life of communities.

These kinds of “national” campaigns also belie the high level of bipartisanship that exists in the corridors and chambers of the regional, borough and city corporations.

During national consultations on local government reform, an activity I had the opportunity to moderate in 2016, it was hard to tell one from the other, when it came to the political allegiances of the counsellors and aldermen who participated.

In fact, the base document around which the consultations was centred, emerged out of the work of no fewer than three ministers of local government from the two major parties—the PNM and the UNC—all proposing essentially the same process of devolving central government power and responsibility to local government; nuanced to accommodate political point-scoring of course.

I continue to hold that one of the main reasons why the parties hold essentially the same views on this matter is that central governments have been hopeless on the question of the “little things” that keep people safe and satisfied within their neighbourhoods and communities.

The UNC local government councillor on my neighbourhood Whatsapp group, for example, has worked alongside a representative of the PNM MP for some time now to help resolve community concerns minus the national level rage and partisan finger-pointing.

A reformed process would also enable local representatives to make the big things possible. However, this would require a level of magnanimity and cooperation witnessed every day at the local level, but almost completely absent in national politics.

It also requires that community representatives be nudged up the totem pole of influence and prestige. It is absolutely ridiculous, for example, that their compensation packages do not cater for the fact that theirs is a fulltime occupation.

Representatives of all political persuasions suffer this indignity. Yet, their party bosses, across the aisle, and who can make this possible, are not moved to jointly resolve this problem. It does not require an entire overhaul of the system to achieve this.

So, yes, both parties will continue to moan or to celebrate as they should, but the potential of an empowered system of local government should never be underestimated.

Categories: News

It’s business as usual

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 23:14

Saturday, July 7, was a good day. Like most football fans, I spent it glued to the television, watching with excitement as England and Croatia won their respective matches. They went on to face each other in last Wednesday’s semifinal round; more on that later.

The popularity of the “Three Lions” squad makes them a natural favourite… but Croatia? Why would I care about them? In all honesty, it wasn’t that I wanted them to win… it’s that I wanted Russia to lose.

I know that sounds petty and irrational, especially since it makes no sense to jeer the 23 members of a national team just because I don’t like the politics of the country they represent.

But hey...this is football, a sport whose fandom is known for being ridiculous. Little did I know, however, that such a negative attitude would come back to haunt me.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, I checked the online Guardian to learn that Adrian Colm Imbert, the son and namesake of our Finance Minister, had been the victim of a robbery on Friday night.

My first reaction was an exclamation of “HA”, which resounded in the silence and solitude of my study.

But no sooner had the single word left my lips that I was overcome by a eeling of shame.

Here I was, finding spiteful amusement at this lad’s encounter with crime simply because of his familial connection.

Out of curiosity to see how my fellow Trinbagonians would react, I shared the report on social media.

Unfortunately, the majority of comments weren’t very nice, and could be aptly summed up by the Trini parlance of, “It good for him.”

Colm Imbert is perhaps one of the least liked members of the Cabinet. His position as head of the Finance Ministry, especially as it’s during an economic slump, makes him a popular target of ridicule.

Jokes about his levying of new taxes are so numerous that it’s a veritable cottage industry.

But putting his performance aside, Mr Imbert is also his worst enemy when it comes to his public image. He tends to sound arrogant when addressing Parliament and is often disrespectful to members of the media.

Even his smile can be off-putting, as if he’s saying, “I can do whatever I want and you all just have to take it.”

His persona is the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with our elected officials—acting as if they’re above the very people they are meant to serve.

In a couple of my previous columns I’ve described the existence of a “political class”; individuals who enjoy taxpayer-funded privileges while failing to provide comparable services in return.

It’s how they receive ample salaries, free healthcare and police protection; whereas average Trinbagonains can barely make ends meet, can’t get adequate healthcare and are being preyed upon by criminal elements.

Adrian Imbert had his mobile phone stolen—A PHONE—and the police were able to recover it a few days later (in contrast, the perpetrators of the Chaguaramas shooting remain at-large).

The resulting criticism was so fervent that the head of corporate communications for the TTPS had to deny that his case was given preferential treatment.

Unfortunately, Minister Imbert made things worse when, in a text interview, he denied using his ministerial influence to expedite the investigation. Our malevolent “taxman” even had the audacity to chastise the public for victimising his son.

In a morbid way, we want our politicians to “feel our pain”; to come down from their ivory tower and see how average citizens have to live.

It’s an extreme position, but at the very least, we would like them to exchange their hubris for a little humility.

And, by the way, about last Wednesday’s game… Croatia, the team I didn’t really care about… well, they ended up beating England. And Russia, in the meantime, just went on with business as usual.

That’s the thing about giving in to negative emotions like animosity—it leaves you empty inside while life goes on.

Mr Imbert is thankful that his son escaped those phone-bandits unharmed. And could probably care less that some Trinbagonians are trying to harm his pride.

Ryan Hadeed

Categories: News


Mon, 07/16/2018 - 23:12

Despite protestations to the contrary from certain commentators, we do seem to have a problem with domestic violence. We not talking about murders, even though 52 women were killed last year, 43 in domestic violence incidents. Enchanting the term “incident”…..Yes sir, we had a bit of an “incident” down the road, “woman get she head smash in.” There also seems to have been a “bit of a spike” (another lovely word, bit), since the average for the preceding decade was 26 a year or as some would say, one every two weeks or so. Or so.

No, no, we not talking murder! We talking blows. Plain old-fashioned cuff in yuh face plus some kick and ting. Maybe a throat throttling or two. Some rape. Belt. Nothing too disfiguring. Despite what Roaring Lion said in 1933, “if you want to be happy and live a good life, never make a pretty woman your wife!”, you really don’t want a disfigured woman around, neighbours might talk.

As it happens, the police get more than 1,800 domestic violence (a much nicer word than “blows”) reports annually. About five a day.

In addition, according to the T&T Guardian of June 24, our Judiciary reported that more than 57,000 applications for protection orders have been made over the last two years. Fifty-seven thousand! I find that hard to believe. That’s over 150 applications a day and taking into account the number of holidays or days the courthouse cannot open because it rain or somebody gone on holiday or the A/C not working or the guard forget the key home, it must be higher?

Nah! Something wrong. Can anyone confirm? No one I know can.

But there does seem to be a problem. The 2018 National Women’s Health Survey of just over 1000 of our women, found that 30% of them had experienced physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime and 6% were still receiving blows to their body in the year prior to the information being collected.

In practical terms that means that in the 15 to 64 age bracket, over 100,000 women in T&T have experienced one or more acts of physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by their romantic other.

Approximately 11,000 are likely to still be in abusive relationships. This is in tune with world figures.

This is awful and no doubt our hard-working parliamentarians are working feverishly to correct these wrongs. Whilst all this activity is going on, what is happening to the children in these situations?

Well, female survivors (hah!) of domestic violence reported more behavioural problems for their children between the ages of 5 to 12. These included things such as the child becoming unusually quiet and withdrawn, the child becoming aggressive, nightmares, bedwetting and decreased school performance, eg, repeating.

We don’t know what the non-survivors (another lovely word for dead people) would have said.

Finally, it turns out that there is a relationship between experiencing or witnessing violence as a child and actually being beaten as an adult. Women who had experienced violence as children were far more likely to receive blows compared to women who had not. The more severe the lifetime physical domestic violence experienced by a woman, the greater the likelihood that this woman had witnessed violence against her mother at home as a child.

What goes around, comes around.

Categories: News

T&T a-calling Oistens again

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 23:23

Given the substantial capital investment, over $28 million and counting as reported in the news media, what precisely is the Government’s true intent for this much ado, multifaceted structure/structures, the new Carenage Fishing Centre? Aspects of wholesale fish marketing incorporated with retail fish vending, provision of facilities for fishermen and a recreational hub for constituents/visitors, spouted off ad nauseam, as per Oistens.

The question so too, among past politicians, as to why, with the multiplicity of international and regional organisations/institutions having the relevant expertise and copious technical information to inform domestic fish marketing, this wearisome fixation accorded Oistens?

Granted that it may be the best to date that the Caribbean has to offer, cognisance must be taken of the fact that Oistens is essentially a fish market in the fishing village of its namesake and in a country where 12% of GDP is attributed to tourism. Thus, its international promotion to attract visiting tourists to its weekend fish fry. In light of other critical areas in local fisheries that impinge on domestic fish marketing, Government’s trajectory in modernisation cannot strategically be based on the Oistens model.

The facilities become operational in a week’s time, so stated the Prime Minister and already prospective fish vendors have reportedly complained about slow sales, while others expressed concern pertaining to the affordability of vending stalls. Thinking feasibility, how high is the probability of consumers in and around Carenage bypassing chilled and frozen supermarket products in their vicinity and unsuspecting regulars, customarily exchanging cash for fish of questionable quality at L’anse Mitan roadside fish vendors, now loudly registering stubborn resistance to any move, any change? In the face of competition, what is the practicality of Government’s intervention to improve sanitary conditions at the L’anse Mitan fishing depot? And from where comes this new stream of customers who are willing to transit a mile or so further into Carenage to support fish vendors at these new facilities, in anticipation of higher quality fish and more than likely at higher prices?

In this regard, apart from improved sanitary conditions, have best fish handling practices been instilled in all fisherfolk, including the Carenage fishermen, geared at improving fish quality assurance to guarantee a higher quality consumer product? As for the provision of cold storage and its history of early abandonment at other fishing centres, does the Government intend to militate against the same eventuality by diligently committing to bearing its high maintenance costs? Given the crime situation, other than villagers ready to incorporate weekend fish fry into their familiar street corner entertainment, is security to be beefed up to encourage patronage in like manner to Oistens?

Government has identified the Caribbean Fisheries Training and Development Institute (CFTDI) in Chaguaramas to manage this new Carenage Fishing Centre. Having served in senior capacities at that institution, I can confidently state that the CFTDI does not have the capacity, experience or expertise to manage this new facility. The Government has therefore cast an added burden on the instituGORDONtion and its inadequate resources. Short of three months before the end of the financial year, 2017/2018, hopefully, with forward planning, increased funding was factored into the CFTDI’s budgetary allocations.

Management of Carenage’s new facilities demands stringent upkeep of sanitary standards, thus requiring regular inspections by relevant authorities. Moreover, it would be interesting as to whether a quick action plan has been devised to thwart wily fishermen hell-bent on re-establishing residences and dens of iniquity in storage lockers.

Granted the tourism thrust at Carenage, it would be in Government’s best interest to give consideration to what now transpires at the Port-of-Spain Central Market. Fresh fish marketing at the island’s main city market engenders realistic consumer/visitors’ expectations in respect of the provision of minimum infrastructural and sanitation facilities to stimulate consumption from local producers. Such basic logic is cast adrift at the PoSCM, where errant disregard for basics such as potable water and ice is the norm. Relevant authorities, namely the Port-of-Spain City Corporation, makes no pretext of regard for fish quality assurance, evidenced by apparent incompliance with any regulatory standards and presumption of enforcement disputable, notably irrelevant. A disaster in waiting in terms of food safety and risks posed to consumer health.

• Dr Ann Marie Jobity is a former Director of Fisheries

Categories: News

Skills for youth in the 21st Century

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 23:38

“World Youth Skills Day is calling on global communities to engage youth to identify types of investments needed to support youth skills development. Together we can all make a difference in youth and skill development and work towards creating a more sustainable future for all” (World Bank Group).

Today, Sunday, July 15, marks World Youth Skills Day. Is T&T equipping our youth with the knowledge, skills, competencies, values and attitudes they need to function effectively and APefficiently in the 21st Century? I don’t think so! I remember when I was studying for my Master’s Degree in Education in London, we discussed the issue of the “sabre-tooth” curriculum. In short, it referred to educators delivering a curriculum that did not meet the needs of today’s students. The sabre-tooth tiger is extinct, yet, the curriculum referred to on my course was “teaching” students how to catch these tigers!

I am sure that many of our educators don’t have the technological skills and competencies that our youth of today possess. I recall being amazed at the speed with which my three-year-old great-nephew in London could manoeuvre his iPad to find exactly which story or rhyme he wanted to access. And years ago, when I had to critique two presentations written in Spanish and was experiencing difficulties, as my Spanish is not up to scratch, my seven-year-old great-niece laughed saying: “Aunty Leela, haven’t you heard of Google translate?” Although the translation is not always correct, this tool helped me enormously.

Today there are many modern platforms with translation tools. As my sister told me then: “Today’s children are ‘wired’ differently.”

We live in an interconnected, technologically advanced world and many of us are experiencing difficulty keeping up with technology. God knows how many parents are unable to assist their children with their school work. This is why I agree with the late Prof John Spence, who rightly said that where there are gaps in parenting, the school must strive to fill those gaps. This is not to say that parents should abrogate their responsibilities, but inevitably, there may be areas where schools must “take up the slack.” How effective, for example, is ICT training in our schools? I understand that there are still a few places in T&T where internet access is limited. Can we level the playing field?

My friend’s daughter asked me to comment on her CV before she submits it to various companies, as she is seeking summer employment in London. She admits that she developed many of her amazing skills and competencies, for example, her digital literacy proficiency, outside of the school setting. Our youth need assistance in recording their skills and capacities in ways that will make their applications for jobs “stand out.”

It was Gandhi who said: “The future depends on what you do today.” What are we doing today to ensure that our education system is equipping our youth to meet the challenges of today’s fast-paced world?

Textbooks and “blackboards” are still the “staple diet” in many of our schools. Our education system continues to fail too many of our children, and yet, we keep teaching the “sabre-tooth curriculum.”

Even as we celebrate the achievements of the top 200 students who sat the SEA, I posit that what they had to endure was not the best strategy for organising a placement exercise in T&T. And then we have the trauma being experienced by the 2,595-plus students who scored less than 30 per cent—13.6 per cent of the 19,185 pupils who sat the exams this year. Let’s not play the blame game but put our heads together to address the many factors that lead to underachievement, as well as the obstacles that stand in the way of our young people’s creativity, innovation and lifelong learning.

I urge T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce to work with our Government to build capacity; ensuring that training programmes to prepare youth for life/the world of work include skills that are relevant to the labour market/future jobs. Let’s play our part to promote integral human development in T&T, that is, the development of each person and of each dimension of the person.

Each youth is a gift from God. He/she comes into this world with great potential. Our responsibility as adults is to invest in youth and to create conditions for them to realise their potential and to flourish.

Leela Ramdeen

Categories: News

When banks take advantage of power

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 23:36

Following his successful China trip, the Honourable Prime Minister broke the news that two Chinese banks were invited to establish operations locally, no doubt much to the relief of aggrieved banking consumers disgusted at what passes for banking in Trinbago.

However, when foreign banks enter new markets they employ local bankers to navigate their operations, showing them local practices, but sadly, therein lies the very foundation of consumers’ discontent with local banks.

Our over-esteemed bankers are visionless, puerile, haughty, narcissistic and destructive.

Two prominent foreign banks operating here and run by Trinidadian bankers are well acquainted with the level of quality service dispensed in their home countries, yet, driven solely by insatiable profit motives they shamelessly treat their own people with a level of gross indignity and total disrespect unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Customer service from local banks is as bad as management refuses to render even a scintilla of care or relief to the suffering masses whose pivotal combined savings propels local banking.

Claiming that their existing labyrinth of compliances are Central Bank’s directions, they voice no disgruntlement, nor petition their regulators on behalf of their customers’ utter frustrations, becoming silent cynical bankers of mistrust, perceiving and treating every single consumer as a money launderer, knowing in North America and Europe clients are welcomed and treated with respect when opening accounts, then sensibly monitored for laundering.

While banks are a necessary evil, they need not be calculatingly evil, and cognisant of this, Thomas Jefferson warned Americans: “I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.”

Banks, due to their much sought after commodity, take comfort in being powerful behemoths inevitably blinding themselves to the true tenets of banking, oblivious they exist solely on other people’s money, endowing in their parasitic advantages.

My earlier business mistakes were trusting my then bank directing me to convert operating capital to fixed deposits paying four per cent to collateralise overdrafts at 18 per cent.

When you write a bank about their arrogance and instead of communicating with a long-standing client, they instantly close all your accounts despite fund availability, spitefully bounce incoming cheques “account closed,” return preexisting balances, deliberately disable your merchant PoS system to malevolently incapacitate your business operations while reservedly ascribing “fit & proper” infallibility to themselves and pay attorneys to drag out and weaken a claimant, that is evil banking.

When a bank refuses to cash its customer cheques solely of their animus for the messenger, that is evil!

When banks continually operate two of 13 teller booths disregarding people suffering in line, that is pure evil!

Renowned TIME magazine referred to Trinidad banks as “Predators in paradise,” shocked at hefty usury fees associated with a particular project they funded.

The IMF reported in 2002 that “Trinidad banks do more to hurt rather than advance Trinidad’s economy.” Small business is the engine of any economy, yet “certain” businesses are waiting beyond six months just to be approved for its pivotal point-of-sale system accepting electronic payments.

While this payment terminal can be purchased for average US$300, local banks bereft of conscience lease merchants each terminal from $3,600 to $6,000 annually, then charge them a voracious five per cent processing fee when world average is two per cent.

And you’ll be utterly humiliated by the requirements to open business accounts wherein all directors have to be “approved” in a country grossly lacking an indispensable secondary financial market as in developed nations.

I am not optimistic about any new global bank knowing who will navigate it, who will continue their paradigm of shameful customer service and usury fees, no doubt taking advantage of the characteristically paralysing reluctance of Trinbagonians rising up and seriously challenging its banking abuses, recognising that the policies and practices of predatory banks are the root causes of many injustices they suffer in today’s society.

TREVOR HOSTEN is an entrepreneur and consumer’s advocate, and founder of Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) which petitioned Government for and obtained Trinidad’s Banking Ombudsman (now the FSO) and the Bankruptcy & Insolvency ACT of 2006.

Categories: News

Scope for girls in aviation

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 23:34

The Second Sex was once on the Papal Index of Forbidden Books. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” professed Simone de Beauvoir.

She argues that “humanity is male and man defines woman not herself but as relative to him.”

He is essential. She is incomplete. He imposes his will on the world whereas woman is doomed to inwardness. But every human life is an intimate interplay of immanence and transcendence.

Historically, however, women have been denied a transcendent role. The aviator Amelia Earhart remarked that for women: “...her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly.”

Today is World Youth Skills Day. According to the UN, youth are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and continuously exposed to lower quality jobs, greater labour market inequalities, and longer, more insecure school-to-work transitions.

Young women are even more likely to be unemployed and underpaid. That is why education and training are key determinants of success in the labour market.

But unfortunately, existing systems are failing to address Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.4, which calls for a substantial increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills.

In November 2017, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) convened the inaugural Next Generation of Aviation Professionals Global Summit in Montreal, Canada.

At this event, Dr Fang Liu, secretary-general of the ICAO, confirmed that her organisation had updated its forecasts for three key air transport professions: pilots, air traffic controllers, and aircraft technicians.

She revealed that 620,000 pilots will be needed by 2036, to fly the world’s 100-seat-and-larger aircraft. But even more important than this figure is the fact that no less than 80 per cent of these future aviators will be new pilots not yet flying today.

A similar story is playing out with respect to the future air traffic controllers, maintenance personnel, and other technicians needed.

These are just a few of literally hundreds of direct and indirect aviation-related career categories being impacted by current air transport growth and attrition factors.

These ICAO figures concretise the need for more and better skilled aviation personnel in the years to come, not only to increase the overall numbers but also to replace those who are retiring.

Dr Liu proposed three main solutions: (i) facilitating access to aviation training and education programmes which lead to dependable recruitment opportunities and shorter-term career advancement returns; (ii) shedding light on the full range of aviation professions including: information technology and cybersecurity specialists; specialists in unmanned aircraft systems and drones; baggage management specialists; airport managers and directors; and (iii) instilling greater aviation awareness in high school and younger students, and especially young girls, in addition to continuing work with the university-level and young professional demographics.

Attracting women to the industry is an important priority. Eight decades after Amelia Earhart’s failed solo flight, 29-year-old Shaesta Waiz, an Afghan refugee, became the youngest woman in history to accomplish a round-the-world solo flight in September 2017.

The Transport Storage and Communication sector, of which aviation is a part, has the potential to prioritise development of aviation services within this non-oil economic sector, in keeping with the diversification agenda of T&T. Two factors account for the role that an airport plays in air cargo operations.

First, the metropolitan area acts as an attractor of freight, linked to consumer market demand, high added value manufacturing activities and cold chain logistics (perishables, pharmaceuticals).

Second, there is the decision by freight forwarders to use an intermediary location within their network, which often spans continents. Airports such as Anchorage, Memphis, Louisville, Liege and Leipzig have almost the totality of the cargo they handle attributed to their connecting role.

Panama City is a hub that services two ranges—(i) the circum-Caribbean, via a hub-and-spoke network structure, and (ii) a latitudinal intermediacy, connecting medium and long haul destinations in the northern and southern hemispheres.

The time is ripe to encourage our girls to enter the aviation industry as air transport professions and for the former US Army Camden, Waller and Carlsen Air Bases to be revitalised inside a plan to become intermediary locations for cargo from selected “Lima Group” members like Chile, Canada, Colombia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Guyana.

Categories: News

The politics of legal dependence

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 23:32

The Caribbean Court of Justice performed with distinction for yet another seven-year term, while ten Caricom governments, which created and pledged to be part of the appellate jurisdiction of the court, submerged their populations in political “mamaguy”, and deepened our colonial, psychological dependence on British justice.

To date, only the governments of Barbados, Guyana, Belize, and Dominica have been confident enough to have the CCJ, comprising distinguished jurists of the Caribbean and experienced and expert of judges from the Commonwealth and elsewhere, inclusive of the Dutch Caribbean, replace the British Privy Council.

The excuses utilised to reject the CCJ as the final appellate court cover the nakedness of our existence as a dependent people: we are not yet ready; our judges are not qualified and experienced; the judges on the CCJ are not representative of the ethnicities and cultures of Caricom—there is need for a special dispensation to have Indo-Caribbean judges on the CCJ; the CCJ will be a hanging court; it will be subject to the political dictates of regional governments; conclusively, we as a colonial dependent people cannot trust ourselves to make final decisions about ourselves and our disputes.

Ironically, at the end of the recent Heads of Government meeting (a forum for independent Caribbean thinking about development) the prime ministers of Jamaica and St Lucia concluded that the CCJ is not a priority, economic development is. In addition to being a narrow-minded simplistic notion about the nature of economic and human development, the prime ministers were eight years behind Kamla Persad-Bissessar. She made a similar excuse in 2010. Holness and Chastenet could aim for a more original excuse.

The continuing baseless contention of the CCJ being dictated to by politicians had its opposite reflection recently in what has been described as the modern home of democracy, the USA. There, President Donald Trump all too obviously nominated his party’s judicial ideologue to the bench of the Supreme Court. Compare such a system to an independent regional public sector commission deciding on the judges to sit on the CCJ bench.

Distinguished Caribbean statesmen and jurists Ramphal, Patterson, Barnett, have responded in various ways to those concocted contentions. The response I like best is Sir Shridath’s warning that in the face of the British wanting to be rid of these colonies costing the British taxpayer time and money, Caricom countries could find themselves “loitering on the steps of the Privy Council,” long after the welcome has been withdrawn.

Only four non-Caribbean countries continue to depend on the PC: Is it that we in Caricom amount to no more than flotsam of history, without substance to be fashioned into an independent civilisation?

When is that right time? Fourteen years have passed since the formation of the court and more than 70 years have gone by since the original idea for the court was first articulated by attorneys general at Montego Bay.

The negative must, however, not prevent us from reflecting on the positives achieved by the CCJ over the seven-year tenure of Sir Dennis Byron and indeed over the 14-year existence of the court; the first seven led by the distinguished Michael de la Bastide.

The efficiency of the delivery of judgments–a three-month average for 50 per cent of cases before the court; the technological modernisation of the filing and research systems; the affordability of access to a final court; the several rulings of the CCJ against governments, inclusive of rulings favouring ordinary Caribbean citizens: the Shanique Myrie victory over the government of Barbados—maybe that is what got under the skin of Freundel Stuart; judicial training in a structured systematic manner for courts around the region; the quality of judgments delivered by the CCJ which are being referenced in courts in other parts of the world.

“I see the court as a major element of our human rights of equality. When I am with persons in England for example, I think that I am their equal in every sense, intellectually and morally, so why should their country and their final court be over me and my people. My right to be equal is more obvious if I have the right to be responsible for decisions over our disputes. It is a serious empowerment of ourselves to discharge decisions of self-governance and self-adjudication,” reflected Sir Dennis in a parting interview. He has done his part; what of our politicians?

Categories: News

Veto on steroids

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 23:31

In 2006, in piloting the Constitution Amendment Bill that changed the way the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police were to be appointed, then prime minister Patrick Manning had this to say about the replacement of the prime ministerial veto with a majority vote in the House of Representatives:

“What the legislation now before the House proposes, is that the prime ministerial veto disappears but that the name, as identified by the Police Service Commission, will itself come before the Parliament and also will be the subject of affirmative resolution. The difference between this one and the appointment of the members of the commission is that the police officer who is going to be the commissioner of police will be, in fact, a public servant and has no way of defending himself. In fact, whereas individuals can say, I do not wish to serve on the Police Service Commission and, therefore, I do not want to subscribe to that, a police officer who has served in the service and has legitimate aspirations to be commissioner of police really does not have available to him the option of saying, well, I am not going to subscribe to that process and submit myself to that level of scrutiny which could be abused. If he takes that position what, in fact, he does, he passes up the opportunity to serve the police service at the highest level. That option really is not one available to him and, therefore, this process too suffers from a disability. Again, however, Mr Speaker, we have decided in all the circumstances to go along with this process as identified in our discussions and we are prepared to give it a chance to work to see how in practice it will operate.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 15, 2006, p 9).

In responding to Prime Minister Manning on this subject of the removal of the prime ministerial veto, then leader of the Opposition, Basdeo Panday, had this to say:

“I have read certain criticisms on the removal of the veto, coming from wannabe politicians, that the Prime Minister still has the power of veto which he can exercise by his majority in Parliament. Firstly, to insist otherwise than a simple majority—that there be a special majority—would in effect be transferring that veto to the Opposition. The Opposition would now be able to veto the Commissioner of Police. I am talking about the positive resolution as opposed to the special majority. We decided against that because the Government has the responsibility to deal with crime and, therefore, it cannot put the responsibility to appoint the commissioner on the Opposition. They must be responsible at every turn. We thought that was a good suggestion; that insisting on a special majority was not the right thing to do.” (Hansard, House of Representatives, March 15, 2006, p 12).

In dissecting these two views about the removal of the prime ministerial veto for appointments to the offices of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police, it is clear that Manning was concerned about the inability of applicants for these positions to defend themselves against anything adverse being said about them in the Parliament.

On the other hand, Panday took the view that it was important to leave the confirmation of a Police Commissioner to a simple majority of the House of Representatives because he linked that to the responsibility of the Government of the day to be responsible for dealing with crime and that no opposition should be able to frustrate the will of a government on this issue.

After 12 years, the Prime Minister today, Dr Keith Rowley, is describing this process as a “veto on steroids.” It appears that the Government of today wants to have a second look at this constitutional amendment.

In light of the caveat expressed by the late prime minister Manning who said, back in 2006, “to give it a chance to work to see how in practice it will operate,” that is good.

In doing a review, one must appreciate that the Police Service Commission searches for an agency that will carry out the procedural human resources process for its consideration. The issues that have arisen recently have nothing to do with the debate and vote in the Parliament, but everything to do with the pre-parliamentary process for which the Police Service Commission is solely responsible.

Categories: News

Humans united in service

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 23:23

With my father, there is no family gathering when we shoot the breeze. Every moment bubbles over.

An army man to the core, who fought in three wars, an engineer who has both dodged landmines and laid them down, an avid reader of military history and philosophy, an author of eight books, a zumba and bridge addict, who annually climbs higher mountains (literally), his mind operates on a vast canvas.

He expects us to keep up. So when we gathered on a long table last week to celebrate my son’s birthday my father said that it’s too bad, the month of July already belonged to Caesar. My son would have to surpass Caesar to make his mark on the world.

And if we didn’t know that July is named Julius Caesar, Roman general, statesman, dictator, and historian who conquered half of Europe and ruled an Empire, then too bad. We were slackers not keeping up with the wide reading he has taught us is indispensable to this life. Underlying his thirst for knowledge rigorously passed to his children is the philosophy that humans are on this earth to help others. If we don’t, we are parasites.

It’s not good enough for his children and grandchildren to do well for themselves but what they do for the world. We are always falling short. But he had cut out our path clearly.

After the cake was cut, my father raised his glass saying, “Bertrand Russell, he believed borders based on race, religion, country, governments are all infantile. Thailand showed us that.”

My father was speaking of the international Tham Luang cave rescue effort that transfixed the world this month and brought us much needed benediction in this parched season where worldwide, inhumanity personified in the closed, racist, aggressive faces of leaders such as Theresa May, closing borders with Brexit while attempting to expel the Windrush generation of West Indians domiciled in the UK; of Trump who humiliates refugees without recognising his US’s role in creating them, and feeds the flames of bigotry and racism; of Kim Jong-un and other leaders who violate human rights.

It was as if the people of this world battered by inhumane leaders spontaneously demonstrated that we are made not of politics and barriers but of hearts. This example made us all want to be our best selves.

From the instant 12 boys aged 11-17, members of a Thai football team led by a 25-year-old coach were trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non, a cave in Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province on June 23 by flooding from rain, forcing them deeper into the cave, the world sprung into action.

It was as if all of human courage gathered together in that subterranean world with 1,000 people taking part in the rescue operation.

Some 90 international divers, medics, engineers and military personnel worldwide, from Australia, the US, Europe, and Beijing joined 40 Thai divers in the perilous mission that involved diving in arduous conditions in fast-flowing waters, through four kilometres of jagged, dangerously narrow tunnels.

British divers, Richard Stanton and John Volanthen found the boys, and reassured them.

Saman Kunan, a 38-year-old former Thai SEAL, asphyxiated on July 5 while attempting to pass through a narrow passageway on his return to the cave entrance after delivering supplies of air to the interior.

Australian doctor anaesthetist and diving expert Dr Richard Harris abandoned his holiday, risked his own life, and dove into the cavern to look after the boys, monitoring their health, only emerging when all of them were out safely.

Hundreds more were outside the cave, nurses, farmers, parents caring for, cooking for the rescuers, the people who readily agreed to allow the some of the 35 million gallons of pumped out water to flood their village.

The young boys remained calm for 17 days in their damp cavern, nine without food, as their coach, 25-year-old Ekapol Chanthawong, apologised profusely and led them through guided meditation.

“In a hundred years from now, this event of heroism, sacrifice, patience, endurance, will show your grandchildren that humans are capable of being united in service,” my father said to my son, and raised his glass. No child anywhere could ask for a finer gift.

Categories: News

Lessons from World Cup

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 23:12

I personally would have preferred a “Belgium versus Croatia” final but the football Gods willed a “Croatia vs France” duel. There were many upsets during this World Cup tournament and it seemed that nations who had never won the title before all came prepared to fight and to take the trophy home.

On the other hand, Neymar has already gone rolling back to Brazil, Ronaldo diving back to Portugal’s waters and Messi along with Argentina all returned home early. Even the power-house Germany, who copped the title the last time around, went home before the end of the first round!

It seemed that the time had come for the underdogs to reign over established football leagues. However, France was the only nation of the old order to have survived to the end.

The countdown is definitely on as you read this article and only time will tell which country will be the 2018 FIFA World Cup champion.

Each fan, each person, each country would have learnt something on differing levels along the way. I looked in on a few events which really made me wonder whether T&T was a forward moving nation as other countries. The underdog teams, though lacking in experience, did not simply lose to the bigger names. Each underdog team which qualified for the World Cup delivered a sterling performance and did not cower under fear or refuse to fight their respective matches.

Why did T&T not qualify for this World Cup? Are we as a young footballing nation investing sufficiently and/or appropriately in achieving true international status? Are we moving forward with clear ‘goals’ in mind for the next World Cup in Qatar, 2022? We should take a page from these underdog teams and start manufacturing the right formula for success.

When Japan, in their bid to reach the final stages lost 3-2 to Belgium, they immediately shocked the rest of the world by their actions. It is reported that the Japanese team cleaned up their lockers and changing room and left a note thanking the host nation, Russia. It was further reported that the Japanese fans “had happily, autonomously, unpretentiously, humbly and meticulously cleaned up their stands…” Fans took their own garbage bags and cleaned up the stands.

Would that ever occur in T&T? My brothers and sisters at home litter our country as a matter of habit. If you tell someone that they have dropped some garbage on the floor, they would steups at you. Garbage is routinely thrown out of moving vehicles. People stare at you in your own moving vehicle as they are parked on the shoulder of the highway taking a ‘piss.’

In the job-place, you would not dare tell fellow employees to clean up their work area. If an employer circulated a memo to its employees that they needed to clean up before leaving work for the day, the trade unions of our beloved T&T would march around Port-of-Spain chanting hymns and slogans. How dare you unilaterally impose terms and conditions upon the working class? This is a return to slavery conditions.

Truth be told, if a company like TSTT or Petrotrin or even a Ministry was to impose some kind of clean-up policy in the workplace, the Industrial Court would be inundated with reports of industrial relations offences. If you reflect on this hypothesis, you would soon realise that sadly, I am not joking.

How is it that good habits are being inculcated in nations of hundreds of millions of people whilst our country of just over one million people cannot begin to reflect on our own behaviour. Is it because we like to drink and make merry in a nasty, ‘dutty’ yard? Why are we focused on which schools did not participate in a primary school chutney singing competition when we should be ingraining our kids with concepts of cleanliness being next to Godliness?

Let’s all take stock of the direction we are heading as crime and other ills plague our nation. The time is now or never! I am sure the players in tomorrow’s World Cup final encounter are saying the same thing but obviously in a different context. I end with the words of the World Cup 2018 theme song, “…One life, live it up cuz we got one life, one life live it up cuz you don’t get it twice…” (Nicky Jam, Will Smith, Era Istrefi).

Categories: News

Govt weaknesses, UNC’s Barataria bid

Fri, 07/13/2018 - 23:11

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley may have chortled at the quips which he delivered on Thursday. But he was also very serious in frankly admitting to weaknesses in the anti-crime fight and Government’s responsibilities on this.

When asked that day about the fact both his past and present Public Administration Ministers were and are ill, he quipped with a laugh, “All I could tell you is if I offer you a portfolio there - don’t accept it.”

If that Ministry’s duties have seen both past Minister Maxie Cuffie and present Minister Marlene McDonald falling ill – whether with pre-existing conditions or not – the situation indicates more than medical weaknesses among PNM’s team.

PNMites confirmed that a few weeks ago, Cuffie received doctors’ approval to return home by month-end, following recent neurosurgery. He’s completing therapy and will take up the post of Minister in Public

Administration on return. How much help he’ll be to McDonald with her medical issues remains ahead.

Her situation presents certain challenges for Government, particularly evident from muddled messaging on the matter from both her constituency’s releases – which seemed to want to protect information on her – and Government which communicated a more serious picture.

Credibility on Government’s image from the at-odds messaging is less an issue than McDonald’s health itself.

After admission to St Clair Medical Centre last Saturday - with bronchitis later found to be as severe as pneumonia - by Wednesday she’d indicated to Government she was being discharged, but was staying on to have fluid suctioned from her lungs and nebulizing (medication via mist).

She was discharged, home Thursday, speaking in strong voice – with ripe cough – watching reports on her illness. Yesterday there was Government silence on claims about her condition. She only said she was “tired.” McDonald’s sick leave includes next week.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar texted her get-well wishes. UNC MP Ganga Singh has hypoglycemia aids he bought for McDonald since her recent bout with that.

However, Government manages two ministers with health issues in the same ministry, more immediate challenge is Monday’s Belmont East and Barataria by-elections.

Government in a negative term seeking to hold two local government seats, one in an Opposition-held marginal constituency.

Opposition targetting Barataria to reinforce footing in a constituency it holds.

Each trying to improve political face.

Belmont electorate remains 3,237, as it was for 2016 Local Government polls when PNM won with 744 votes to UNC’s 49 (amid 34 per cent voter turnout).

Barataria has 10 fewer voters than its 2016 electorate of 10,217. PNM won the seat with 1,898 votes to UNC’s 1,506.

That Government is taking seriously UNC’s bid for Barataria was confirmed by Rowley’s letter issued Thursday night to “Dear Resident” (of Barataria).

Engineered to counter Persad-Bissessar’s recent lobby of Muslim voters, his 12-plus paragraphs stressed elections shouldn’t be decided on “religion, fear and misinformation.”

Persad-Bissessar tore up the letter at a meeting that same night.

PNM’s attempted to avoid making the polls a referendum on Rowley and Government’s performance, portraying the campaign as one of the local issues. But the fact PNM’s also campaigning on the basis of its recent 126-page “Never Again, Kamla!” booklet shows its employing general election tactics also.

PNMites walked Barataria endlessly, knowing residents by name. PNM’s poll last week showed a 15-16 point lead.

Secure with Belmont, they believe, it’s a question of whether UNC saves its deposit there. UNC whip David Lee admits, “Belmont’s a hard fight, but we expect more than the 49 votes of 2016.”

UNC’s Belmont campaigning was led by deputy Jearlean John. MPs Barry Padarath, Ganga Singh, Lee, Fazal Karim headed Barataria’s campaign.

Monday’s results will confirm the level of apathy in both areas, whether UNC’s traditional support outnumbers youth voters in Barataria and if its initial projection on the Muslim vote is accurate - or if this waned recently.

On Monday night, PNMites will await results at Balisier House while UNC gathers at each campaign office.

Monday’s polls coincide with the targetted arrival date of the controversial Galleon’s Passage. Exactly who sails home politically – PNM or UNC – remains to unfold.

Categories: News

Choices well made

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 23:40

The Sangre Grande graduates of the CHOICES Adolescent Mothers Programme invited me to their 25th Anniversary Reunion on June 23 at the CHOICE Centre, Slinger Francisco Boulevard, Phase 4, La Horquetta.

Many years ago, Ms Florence Campbell-Gonzales, a former centre manager, introduced me to CHOICES and I was honoured to be in the company of the former trainees, because of their triumph over the challenges that are associated with teenage mothers.

The evening turned out to be quite an inspiration because of the way each of the young women offered moving testimonies about their life experiences and how they were tutored by their mentors.

I mention their mentors because I have to give them credit for their unheralded work.

Among the mentors present were members of the Child Welfare League (CWL), the NGO which launched and administered CHOICES.

I saw Ms Marjorie Baptiste, director, Ms Merle Gay, president of the CWL, Mrs Joanna Friday-Bartholomew, one of the early founders of CHOICES, Ms Gloria Merritt, programme coordinator, Ms Cheryl Guy, Food Prep tutor/technician, as well as Ms Florence Campbell-Gonzales.

Mrs Joanna Friday-Bartholomew explained that the Bernard van Leer Foundation, which was also involved with funding SERVOL and its Early Childhood Development Programme, approached the Child Welfare League in order to facilitate a programme for the children of adolescent mothers.

The foundation, headquartered in the Netherlands, was started in 1949 and has been involved in “developing and sharing knowledge about what works in early childhood development”.

The first CHOICES centre was launched at Sangre Grande in June 1994. La Horquetta, Laventille and Woodbrook came later. The young mothers received training in academic studies, child care and family life education, computer skills, garment construction, food preparation, catering, art and craft and home decoration.

The teenagers’ children were accommodated at the nurseries in each centre.

At the reunion, each of the mothers, now in their early thirties, credited CHOICES for training them to be competent parents as well as guiding them to lucrative jobs and even to owning their own businesses.

I heard great success stories from each of the graduates, in turn, particularly as they mentioned the growth and development of their children.

I took special note of Ms Keishel Joseph, who gave the Vote of Thanks and whose story was a reprise of her speech given in April at the 100th Anniversary of the Child Welfare League, on behalf of all CHOICES graduates.

Ms Joseph said her story began 20 years ago when she was just 16.

She told the gathering: “I was introduced to CHOICES at the early part of my pregnancy by Ms Baptiste. She was at the health centre at that time and they told her about me and she came and picked me up and took me to CHOICES.

Only to discover that there were other teens even younger than myself, so all the embarrassment and awkward feelings left, because in my mind here was my chance to make things right for myself and my baby.”

She added, “CHOICES offered us young ladies a second choice, a second home, an educational institution where we felt comfortable interacting without discrimination. Though many passed through the programme and got caught up pregnant again because of life challenges.

“At CHOICES we were introduced to spirituality, physical education, intellectual, cultural, emotional and social called Spices of Life not forgetting financial.

“In addition, we were exposed to various types of skill courses that we were able to earn an extra income … In some instances, some of us were able to write School Leaving and CXC exams.

“We had additional sessions about personal development, proper care for our babies and drama where we did short skits on how to handle some of our real-life situations.”

In a country which has lamented the large amount of teenage mothers CHOICES and its successful graduates need to be applauded.

Aiyegoro Ome

Categories: News

Encouraging the private sector

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 00:11

At the 2017 post-budget analysis of the T&T Chamber of Industry and commerce, Finance Minister Colm Imbert dismissed his hosts not having come for “sterile debate and academic discussion.” The Planning Minister and others have also spoken of the private sector’s propensity to import distribution. The Prime Minister at the PNM public meeting in Barataria on June 7, 2018, spoke scathingly of those calling for diversification concluding “Our diversification is to find the things we can do and just do them.”

The Trade and Industry Minister on a more conciliatory note, appealed to the business community on June 29 at a Union Club luncheon to get on board the country’s diversification strategy, noting that the Government could not do it alone. She also noted that there were a multitude of incentives in agriculture, tourism, and the creative sector that were not being accessed. She noted “The relationship has to be there. We certainly cannot do it without the private sector.” So, what is the problem?

To start with, there is no diversification strategy. (That deserves a separate article). Also, no business venture was ever started because the incentives were attractive or the interest rate low. The primary reason investors undertake new ventures is the profit motive. Incentives and rates are secondary and help to sweeten the deal. What matters most is confidence: confidence in the opportunity and that the business environment will remain stable. Businesses understand risk: what they do not want is uncertainty. And there are several factors which make the current environment uncertain. I will only identify four.

First, whilst the labour statistics show a low unemployment rate, many HR departments in the private sector complain of staffing vacancies and that the required experience and skill sets are not available at all levels. Even when those vacancies are filled, the turnover rate is high. Further, whilst T&T is a diverse society, applicants tend not to reflect that diversity. This is to be compared with the Energy Minister’s complaint that energy sector companies were not doing their job well as over 241 engineers applied for the six vacancies advertised. Similarly, the Minister of Health complained of a surplus of doctors whilst simultaneously recruiting medical staff externally.

The labour supply shortfall is a significant impediment to any business, especially the diversification effort. Is the education system structured correctly? Manpower planning has been ignored and there is no immigration policy that addresses this issue. Also, the demographic data indicate an impending crisis as both the labour participation rate and the birth rate have fallen. The NIB actuarial report indicates that labour availability will decline from 2020 onwards.
Poor rating for T&T in institutional capacity

Second, it is not sufficient to employ bodies. Productivity is a vital competitive driver in the international arena. To be productive, employees have to arrive at work in the right frame of mind, and on time. That requires a dependable transportation system to get them to work and their children to school safely. Therefore, organizational discipline is always under stress and productivity low.

Third, foreign exchange availability is a critical success factor. No business can survive without it. Since the decline in energy prices, demand for foreign exchange has outstripped supply leading to a continuous shortage. Since T&T officially operates a floating rate system, this ought to have led to an automatic rate adjustment, thus filtering out excess demand. Instead, the exchange rate has been maintained at an artificially low rate, thereby leading to a fall in reserves and rationing. No investor is going to start a new business venture requiring forex when availability, at the right time and in the right amount, is uncertain.

Fourth, personal security and safety in which to conduct business without fear is not be underestimated. The current national security environment does not reassure anyone. We cannot “find” a Commissioner of Police, nor develop an adequate process to do so. Meanwhile, the level of violent gun-related crime and murder is rising. And the spectre of kidnapping is ever present. As a result, some have emigrated; some have sent their children to school abroad. But your business is where your mind is. If your children are abroad, you will set up business there too and the children may never return. This is the human face of capital flight.

Commentators, ministers included, accuse the private sector of rent-seeking behaviour. It is paradoxical that the Government’s crown jewel, the National Gas company, is a distribution company as it depends on the upstream firms to produce the gas which it “aggregates” and distributes to the petrochemical sector. This state monopoly model is now outmoded with the upstreamers holding the upper hand. The real issue is that the Government’s policy stance encourages rent-seeking behaviour.

These are just a few highlights. There are other compelling issues. Government’s job is to facilitate; that means adequate transportation, health, security, education, and financial/exchange rate systems backed by appropriate policies.

The Global Competitiveness Index rates T&T poorly in institutional capacity. Leadership and management are required to get them all working in sync. They are not in sync now.

Mariano Brown

Categories: News

Who stands to benefit?

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 00:10

Before gaining fame as a Roman statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC) began his career as a lawyer.

His first major case was the defence of a man accused of patricide, the penalty of which was death and the forfeiture of property.

Throughout the trial, Cicero repeatedly asked “cui bono,” translated as “to whom is it a benefit,” which revealed that other people profited from the death of the client’s father, having purchased part of the confiscated inheritance.

It’s a simple question that can lead to incredible revelations, one that should precede any investigation into a government’s maleficence, especially when it involves the mishandling of state finances.

The MV Galleons Passage, the recently acquired ferry intended to service our country’s collapsed sea bridge, is steadily making its way towards Trinidad to undergo its final repairs and refit. At least that’s what acting Prime Minister Colm Imbert told the Parliament on June 20.

The story has since changed and the public was informed last Friday (July 6) that the vessel was still docked in Cuba, awaiting an inspection team from Trinidad to sign off on the work before it departs. This confusion is sounding eerily familiar.

Remember the Ocean Flower II? That buoyant bastion of “bawbawl” was also plagued with a litany of mechanical problems. And it was only after it arrived in our waters that it was deemed unfit for use. So it’s left to be seen what destiny has in store for the Galleons Passage. By the way…speaking of the Ocean Flower…whatever became of the “Mouttet Report”?

My first column for 2018 was a tongue-in-cheek collection of “preon what we could expect over the course of the coming year. Number three on the list was the public fiasco of the Ocean Flower. I pessimistically stated that “…the truth surrounding this scandal will vanish into obscurity and no one will be held accountable.”

Well, it seems that I was right. It’s been almost ten months since the Mouttet Report was delivered to the Prime Minister and it has never been made public. Despite all the chaos that followed in its wake, the details pertaining to the acquisition of the Ocean Flower II remain largely a mystery.

Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised. Ours is a country where it’s common practice for those in power to claim ignorance and plausible deniability when it comes to allegations of corruption.

But the question we should have asked and should be asking still, is in the spirit of “cui bono”—who stood to benefit from the leasing of the Ocean Flower II? And should we be concerned that a similar situation is at work with purchase of the Galleons Passage?

To the credit of some of our local journalists, they did scrutinise the weak link in the whole affair, ie, the Bridgemans Services Group, going so far as to visit their foreign-based offices. What they found was a company that didn’t seem to exist, the first real sign that things weren’t “floating” right. And how did things eventually turn out? Bridgemans Services disappeared, their ferry disappeared, and apparently, so did the Mouttet Report. So we never did find out who benefited from the arrangement. Now a new ferry lies just over the horizon…and along with its glaring mechanical problems is a possible red flag.

According to La Patilla (The Watermelon), a Spanish news website based out of Venezuela, the Galleons Passage was formerly known as the Doña Mercedes, which belonged to a Venezuelan shipping company.

Considering that our mutual governments are entangled in negotiations, it’s not far-fetched to wonder if that’s the reason why Nidco was able to purchase the ferry at half its estimated value. And if that be the case, is there to be a “quid pro quo” in return?

Regarding Cicero’s first case, his defence of “cui bono” won him an acquittal. And just as his client’s life was at stake, so too is the integrity of this PNM Government. They must be called upon to answer the same question. Because when we ask, “Who stands to benefit from the purchase of the Galleons Passage?” Chances are the answer isn’t the citizenry of T&T.

Ryan Hadeed

Categories: News

Do you believe?

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 00:42

I recently did a talk at a graduation, in which I was very candid. I guess that’s nothing new—Candid, that’s me. I asked parents to go home and do introspection. Introspection guided by the following questions:

• Do you believe in what you’re telling your kids?

• Would you follow you?

• Are you your child’s hero?

• Can they look at your life and confidently say, “I want THAT life?”

How many of us stayed in school, got a decent job and followed the status quo only to find out that “my life is kinda boring”? Or even worse, how many of us after getting super certified, are sitting in an office just to earn an income so the bills can be paid? The job doesn’t even have anything to do with the years of schooling, but we must do it because we take what we can get?

How many of us are telling our children to dream big and be anything they want to be while we sit and take what we can get? Do we really believe in the words coming out of our mouths? Or are we saying them like parrots on sticks? Are our words just another product of the production line we’ve gotten ourselves into?

Truth is, I respect the parent that says, “Don’t be like me, you are better than I am.” At least they’re starting off with honesty. But even those parents, are they stepping back and moving out of the way so that their kids can truly soar?

If your child showed real potential from an early age to be a soca star (barring your value system), would you encourage it? Or would you follow the production line and urge them to follow a more traditional aka boring and unfulfilling path?

The key to success is not wrapped up in the choice of industry. There are poor lawyers, poor accountants, and poor doctors. Success lies in being the very best in the industry and holistic lifelong success lies in being fulfilled emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and financially. That kind of success isn’t limited to any one industry, but rather in realising your God-given purpose. Each of us were born with a gift, something we do better than anyone else with ease. It consumes our mind, we get excited by the thought of it, and we are energized when we do it. When we use our gift to lead our career path chances of success will be much greater.

Top that gifting with good old-fashioned work ethic, discipline, and all the general attitudes that are needed for success and you’ve got yourself a game changer. You’ve got yourself a kid that’s gonna be written down in history.

But first, you’ve got to believe that YOU gave birth to such a kid. You’ve got to believe that the child in front of you was made for something big. The child in front of you was not made to be another invisible member of the production line.

They were born with a big purpose. Help them to figure it out and then go chase after it together.

Marsha L Walker

Categories: News

The cake and the candle

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 00:39

Believe it or not, through Sunday’s World Cup Finals, the continuing murderous violence and the onset of the hurricane season, there are two local government by-elections (“bye-elections” as used by the Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) is also correct, as far as I am concerned) to be held next Monday.

These two elections became necessary when two local government representatives died last year. Pernell Bruno, People’s National Movement (PNM) councillor in the electoral district of Barataria–which is in the San Juan/Laventille Regional Corporation–died in July, and PNM Belmont East councillor Darryl Rajpaul, from the City of Port-of-Spain, passed away in November.

Local government polls are not always the most exciting public events–by-elections in particular. People who support political organisations probably wonder, in the end, whether the cake is sometimes worth the candle.

The more astute, though, keep an eye on these quickly passing parades for important cues into the actual political temperature in the areas in which they matter most.

Here are communities that lean on local government to deliver everything from waste management, infrastructure support, planning, emergency services at times of disaster, and fulfilment of a variety of daily needs the corresponding MPs do not have as part of their terms of reference. Serious political organisations, claiming a national base, do not abstain from such contests, in my humble view.

I remember covering the local government by-election in 1989 in the Guaico-Cumuto district in Sangre Grande and witnessing firm evidence that the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) was in terminal decline when Ramdeen “John Agitation” Ramjattan won the seat on behalf of an emerging United National Congress (UNC). He was the young party’s first candidate in any election. The 1991 general election demolition of the NAR was therefore, to some, no real surprise.

The political accommodation, comprising the founding NAR parties, had also by contrast performed creditably when the 1983 local government elections came around and tested the political waters in the face of a flailing PNM. This served as an important precursor to the 33-3 1986 general election victory for the NAR.

Municipal elections have also notoriously reflected voter apathy outside of general election seasons when political largesse is more abundantly on display and the stakes are thought to be much higher.

This is why the main parties have not usually invested substantial political capital in such campaigns. Who really cares? One notable exception was the 2013 local government elections with a record turnout of 43.6 per cent and which was dominated, albeit marginally, by the PNM despite the UNC-led administration’s hold on parliament. This occurred despite then prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s high-profile presence throughout the campaign.

Close election watchers could on hindsight have easily joined the dots to the 2015 electoral loss by the UNC.

Enter Barataria and Belmont East 2018. Though Belmont East has staged barely-remarkable contests over the years, the Barataria seat has always tended to be problematic for ruling administrations. In 2013, for example, Bruno won on a minority vote of 49.3 per cent while a combined UNC (32.59n per cent)/ILP (17.87 per cent) could have taken the seat.

Then, in 2016, a recount was demanded after Bruno won again by under 400 votes in a two-way encounter with the UNC’s Vijay Mahabir. The overall island-wide voter turnout was barely 34 per cent.

Today, almost three years into the Dr Keith Rowley administration, the temperature can again be taken in several ways.

The first would be by way of voter turnout–anything less than the 2016 turnout should tell all involved something about their relevance when it comes to brass tacks. The second would be the unique barometer Barataria has turned out to be over the years.

In 1983, even with the tide turning away from the PNM, the NAR won the El Socorro West/Barataria seat by just over 300 votes.

On Tuesday morning, therefore, just under 14,000 voters in both districts combined have the opportunity to relay to the rest of the country, in relatively-instructive terms, what the prospects for the main combatants are likely to be next time the big bell is rung.

All involved downplay this at their own peril. This cake, history has proven, is well worth the however dimly-lit candle.

Categories: News