Cabinets and Cupboards

Dr Keith Rowley poses for the cameras moments after casting his vote on September 7th, 2015. 

Dr Keith Rowley poses for the cameras moments after casting his vote on September 7th, 2015. 


In the space of one swearing-in ceremony we went from 31 to 23 Ministries, including the Office of the Prime Minister. The Treasury must be heaving a sigh of relief. But the country is abuzz in discussion and debate about what these changes and omissions will all mean. So, I've taken my blog out of its cupboard and dusting it off. Time to give the PNM a run for its money.

Elections 2015 came to an end last Monday (September 7th). It went for an hour longer than anticipated; and saw the UNC leadership and its support base descend into graceless and vicious behaviour that started off with Kamla Persad-Bissessar behaving like a spoilt and spiteful child:  grudging concession speeches, tantrums about state cars, petitions to nullify the electoral process and untruths about the popular vote figures. The UNC's support base doing them one better by kicking off a week of race and hate-filled diatribe all over social media platforms. Take a bow UNC membership and leadership, you have outdone yourselves. We should count ourselves lucky that Sat Maharaj and Brenda Gopeesingh had the good sense to offer far more tempered and positive congratulations to the incoming government.

The Cabinet was named on Friday, and the critics came out of their cupboards at the shot of the pistol; which is to be expected after five years of a corrupt, runaway government that was particularly abusive to its electorate. Team Rowley is under heavy scrutiny and they will have to get used to it. Some of the selections I understand, some of the selections left me with a semi-WTF face. But let's get into it.

The Cabinet/Ministerial portfolios are significantly fewer than the previous government's. Kamla gave us somewhere around 31 Ministries, with many of the most important ministries being held by Senators who had either lost their seats at the polls or outright never faced the polls at all. Since Senators are appointed and not elected officials it often seemed that their loyalty lay with Kamla and not the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. Rowley has trimmed that gargantuan Cabinet the UNC had down to 22 portfolios, exclusive of the office of the Prime Minister. Thus far only 4 senators - Clarence Rambharat, Dennis Moses, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and Paula Gopee-Scoon - hold ministerial portfolios, and one senator, Avinash Singh, is a Parliamentary Secretary. It is the leanest Cabinet the country has had in a decade.  Kudos to Dr Rowley for keeping that campaign promise. I expect Parliament Channel to become must-see TV, if only with the additions to the lower house.

Upper to Lower: Fmr PNM Senators Faris al Rawi and Stuart Young have now graduated to the Lower House. The population will be looking out for their informed debates and....well....#sweg (Photo courtesy Newsday's website).

Upper to Lower: Fmr PNM Senators Faris al Rawi and Stuart Young have now graduated to the Lower House. The population will be looking out for their informed debates and....well....#sweg (Photo courtesy Newsday's website).

It is clear that Rowley's policies as outlined on the campaign trail from as far back as the THA elections were going to guide his ministerial portfolios. Platform speeches rarely, if ever, addressed soft/social issues like the environment, gender, LGBT or arts and culture. The scope was always far more macro and developmental, with an insistence on re-setting the country's economic and administrative course first. Having listened keenly to what was being said for three years, the Ministries named didn't surprise me, thought some of the ministerial selections did.

Some of the areas Rowley and his team addressed in their platform speeches for the last three years were:

  • Revamp local government
  • Establish a Revenue Authority
  • Revamp agriculture and improve local food production
  • Clamp down on fiscal leakage and public spending
  • Return order to the energy sector (still our main source of income)
  • Develop rural areas
  • Set a robust legislative agenda that includes whistleblower protection laws
  • Revamp the TTPS and restore data and evidence-based policing
  • Rectify the illegal distribution of state homes and lands
  • Tackle the inequity and dispossession in black urban communities
  • Revamp education from the primary level upwards
  • Bring reform to the public sector

These are only a few. And the party's manifesto does a much better job at outlining their policies than I can. What for me was immediately clear throughout the campaign season is that Dr Rowley expects to spend this first five-year term cleaning up the mess that was made over the last five years and attempt to put the country and its economy in re-set mode. Which means he is in it for the long game and already planning for a PNM return to office. 

With the government in re-set and austerity mode, several areas that got themselves a letterhead, a budget and a building under Kamla have disappeared. Those areas are Gender,  Environment, Diversity and Integration, Multiculturalism and my absolute favourite, Church&Fete (ok, kidding, it wasn't exactly called church and fete, but you get the picture). Gender and Environment activists were immediately up in arms about the removal of named ministries. The removal of the other ministries caused not even a ripple.

Now get me clear here. I am a complete supporter of movements and policies that serve to enhance our quality of life, bring dignity to people's existence and sustain the planet we live on. What I do not support is having ministries for the sake of having a ministry. Or policies that are not data-driven with tangible ways to measure their success. 

Can we itemise in tangible ways the impact these ministries have had on the wider public? I'm not talking about hiring staff and providing funding for NGO projects. I'm asking can we get a breakdown of these NGOs and their projects and a metric of the impact these projects had? In terms of the environment have there been campaigns launched to educate the public about basics like recycling, upcycling, sustainable living, reduction in plastic use, adopting rivers and beaches? How widespread were they? What kind of budgets did they have? What were the measurements for success? Did we meet those measurements?

And I can easily ask the same of Gender. When the ministry was brought into being, how did its various line ministers and advisers go about determining the goals of the ministry and assessing its success? Was the detention of Cheryl Miller in a mental asylum one of the Ministry's goals? The silence from the ministry on the many attacks on female journalists by male Ministers, was that another measure of success? Listen, I could go on and on; but my point is simple, if the Treasury is meant to be shelling out money to support initiatives and programmes under new ministries, then these Ministries owe it to the population to show how we benefit from their presence. And I do not mean in dollars and cents only; but in improved quality of life. And thus far, I'm not feeling it.

All of that to say, that a letterhead and building doesn't impress me. Rather, I am looking forward to hearing about gender and environment policy driven by data and research; and seeing how these policies into Dr Rowley's vision for enhancing the entire country. This is where Camille Robinson-Regis' Ministry of Planning and Development becomes very important; because she is now in charge of providing data and metrics.

I've never felt that either of those areas should be treated as independent areas. Gender affects everything. The environment affects everything. So I am expecting to see the Ministries of Agriculture, Housing, Energy and Rural Development all spearheading environmental policies; and to see gender policy affecting all 22 of Rowley's ministries, as well as his Office. I want to see an end to the slutshaming of women across the board. I want to see an end to women being judged suitable for only specific tasks and receiving less remuneration. I want to feel safe walking the streets of my country regardless of the time of day. And I want the way we discuss women and their bodies to change. If that doesn't happen, then Dr Rowley has failed in those areas for me. And I will remind him that the buck stops with him.

Five years ago voters were convinced Kamla could run a country...five years later they question whether newly appointed Finance Minister Colm Imbert can plan a budget. 

Five years ago voters were convinced Kamla could run a country...five years later they question whether newly appointed Finance Minister Colm Imbert can plan a budget. 

As per the suitability or qualifications of the Ministers named, my response is: Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Figure it out.

Ministers have access to teams of advisers, I hope they use them. I do not expect them to know everything, but I do expect them to make data-driven decisions and policies....which leads me to Religion and Sex Ed in schools...but not tonight...tomorrow.

For now, we have a government. Let us keep a keen eye on them and hold them accountable.


Party Start for #BeatOut2015

The 2015 Trinidad and Tobago General Elections are finally here.


It has been a long and gruelling campaign filled with mudslinging, personal attacks and on some platforms the discussion of issues and policies. 


Today are the final national rallies for the two main parties, the People's National Movement and the United National Congress. Both parties are meeting at their traditional rally grounds of Eddie Hart and Aranguez Savannah respectively.  



This week just past featured many national and community motorcades and meetings. Stay tuned to here while we keep you up to date between now and the final result on the night of Sept 7th. 



UNC Campaign manager is predicting a victory despite negative public reactionnto his vitrolic #NoRowleyCampaign.

UNC Campaign manager is predicting a victory despite negative public reactionnto his vitrolic #NoRowleyCampaign.

One of the electoral controversies featured this week was a call by former Senate President and attorney, Timothy Hamel-Smith, for citizens to spoil their electoral ballots instead of casting a vote for a political party. Trinidad and Tobago's voting ballot does not xurrently allow for a None Of The Above (NOTA) vote. The Elections and Boundaries Commission put rest to the idea of a valid NOTA vote and indicated that spoilt ballots go uncounted. Perhaps Hamel-Smith will seek to redress this through Constitutional reform via the Parliament.

A group calling itself TT Citizens for Democracy has post this flyer that falsely implies NOTA is a legal option in Teinidad and Tobago.

A group calling itself TT Citizens for Democracy has post this flyer that falsely implies NOTA is a legal option in Teinidad and Tobago.

Some finale meetings in and around the country saw record crowds in attendance. Such as Diego Martin North East's meeting at Maraval Junction. Sitting MP Colm Imbert asked his constituents to return him to office an 8th time.

High spirits at the Diego Martin North East Grand Finale in Maraval last evening.

High spirits at the Diego Martin North East Grand Finale in Maraval last evening.

Dog Eat Dog

Trinidad and Tobago is a weird place. We preach tolerance and practice racism daily. Hypocrisy and irony are easily two of our defining characteristics as a culture. Recently a debate raged on FB. It involved the use of stereotyping and racism against the Chinese immigrant community here. And to make things worse, the racist comments were validated by statements from the Minister of Health in the current government. Minister Khan's ignorant statements were further aided and abetted by some lazy members of traditional media.  I got the chance to talk to a young lady. She has Chinese parents, a lovely mind and a bruised spirit. She feels under represented, unempowered and overwhelmed. This is her story. In her words. She had a lot to say, so I've split Lily Kwok's story up. Part 2 will be posted on Saturday. Enjoy. 


1. I want you to explain to me what has you so damned hot and bothered on Facebook these days?


This first began with the incident of the 4 Chinese nationals who were involved in the stealing of the turtle eggs in June, 2015. I was absolutely flabbergasted that anyone thought they could steal turtle eggs. As someone who loves animals and enjoys turtle-watching, I was very upset at the situation. But you know what else also upset me? The racialized comments that followed after on social media. There is no doubt in my mind that what those men did was criminal and they should be dealt with by the law accordingly. However, instead of purely focusing on the criminality of the action and shaming the men for their wrong-doing, many comments diverged into racial stereotyping; assumptions that “Chinee people does eat anything”. Moreover, some comments went so far as to request that “all dem Chinee need to be sent back.”  I found this amusing considering that when pictures of people standing on leatherback turtles surface on social media, people rarely (if ever) involve “race” in admonishing the acts. Yes, these people get called everything from “moron” to “jackass”; but I doubt I have ever seen someone indicate whatever assumed race that the person appears to be, along with a request for that person to return anywhere, much less requests for their entire assumed ethnic group to return somewhere else.


However, those comments I saw with regards to the turtle egg incident are fairly tame in comparison to those that followed the CNC3 video with Dr. Fuad Khan. No one denies that a dog is being skinned in the video. That is indeed a fact. And yes, Chinese nationals were once again involved in such an act. That is indeed a fact. But you know what are not facts? That the preparation of the dog to be eaten is any way connected to a Chinese restaurant, that dog meat is being used as a substitute for other meat in Chinese restaurants, and that ALL Chinese people and people of Chinese ancestry eat dog. Yet, even though these are not hard, substantiated facts, many people have made extremely racist and xenophobic comments surrounding them. People have gone so far as to claim that Chinese people even eat foetuses. Do people really think that the World Health Organization or the United Nations, or any international human rights organization out there would allow Chinese people to eat foetuses? I’m pretty sure this would be a massive issue highlighted on a global scale if such a practice was indeed occurring. So yes, I have been hot and bothered on Facebook. Because instead of focusing on the real issue at hand, which is having a meaningful discussion on animal rights and protection in Trinidad and Tobago, we have devolved into using the situation as a platform to unearth deep-seated racism towards Chinese people and people of Chinese ancestry.



2. The "Chiney eating dog" stereotypes aren't new. Why did this particular issue piss you off so much?


This whole “dog meat” situation is a complex and nuanced one, and the discussion on it on social media has been neither that – complex nor nuanced. I personally see that the situation can be discussed via three different vantage points: 1. Moral 2. Cultural 3. Legal. Morally, is it right to eat a dog or cat? How do we decide which animals are worth eating and which are not? Rabbits are kept as pets in many countries, yet they are eaten elsewhere. At what point is it okay to eat an animal that is deemed a “pet”? Pigs are intelligent and have personalities. Is it okay to eat them, but not other animals? I feel like there is such a huge disconnect between what people eat and where their food comes from. Most of the meat we eat comes from animals who are mass-bred, treated inhumanely their entire lives, and then slaughtered in an inhumane manner. I am not saying that we must not eat meat, and I am not asking for everyone to become vegetarians. But I believe that we as a species must come into full understanding of what we are doing when we eat other animals, and that picking and choosing which animals to eat does not negate the fact that we are indeed doing is eating another species. For many, this is not a problem, and for others it is. This is a matter of individual choice. Culturally, people have been making arguments about the fact that Trinidadians eat iguana, manicou and so forth. We eat wild animals so much the government had to enact a two-year hunting ban to ensure these populations are continued.


I don’t think that Trinbagonians eating wild meat is a good reason to justify people of other ethnic backgrounds eating dog within the country. Just like how people of Chinese origin eating dog meat should not justify Trinidadians eating animals that could possibly go extinct. This is the most used argument I’ve seen on Facebook so far – that “we eat this” and “they eat that”, but the discussion is so much larger than this. Shifting into the legal perspective, if we as Trinbagonians do not condone the eating of dogs as a cultural practice in our country, then our energies need to be channeled towards forcing the government on providing proper animal protection laws in the country (something we are severely lacking) instead of verbally attacking the Chinese / Chinese-Trinidadian community. If you really cared about the protection of dogs and cats in this country, why are you not pressuring your government to enact legislation that will protect them? Instead, the discussion has been derailed into calling Chinese people “nasty” and asking them to return to China. How can we begin to have proper discourse on animal rights in this country, if we can’t even treat our own species with decency?


Yes, I know I have deviated from the main question, but I felt like it was very important to state what I just did. However, let me return to the issue of “Chiney eating dog”. Eating dog is a practice in China. But I feel like many people do not fully understand the practice, especially those people who are commenting. Dog eating is something that is mainly practised in the North of China, which is of course colder than the South. People eat dog in these colder regions due to the animal’s high fat and protein content, which keep people warm. This is very similar to the practice of eating seals and other mammals by the Inuit people, who also do it to keep warm. The Chinese diaspora, not only in Trinidad and Tobago, but the general western hemisphere is mainly comprised of persons from the South of China. There are bound to be people in the country of Chinese origin who have no qualms about eating dog. But there is also a large number of people who do not. So yes, eating dog is a practice in China. That is a fact. But no, not ALL Chinese persons and persons of Chinese ancestry eat dog. Claiming that they all do is a stereotype. Making these types of generalized statements are no different from assuming a particular ethnic group is prone to “committing crime” or “drinking rum”.


Such stereotypes can be dangerous; they lead to the sort of xenophobia and racism we have seen on social media and the perpetuation of a particular perception of an entire group of people. And such a negative perception can have dire consequences for people’s businesses / livelihoods and everyday lives. This is why I am so “pissed”. By assuming all Chinese people and people of Chinese ancestry eat dog and are, therefore, trying to dupe the general public into eating dog (which quite frankly makes no sense since it’s more economically effective and less time-consuming to buy chicken and other meat wholesale from local companies, like Arawak), people have become fearful of eating at Chinese establishments, or refuse to patronize because Chinese people are “nasty” and don’t deserve their money.


I think people fail to recognize the economic repercussions of this. These Chinese restaurants buy local produce and local products to prepare food and sell at their establishments. It is not uncommon to see people of Chinese descent in the market buying christophene, cabbage, carrots and other vegetables from local farmers. They buy plastic and Styrofoam containers from local businesses; they sell Solo and other soft drinks that are locally made. Business has been very slow for many Chinese restaurants since the release of CNC3’s video. If business is slow, they, therefore, cannot continue to patronize other local establishments to continue their own. This is obviously not good news for farmers, food companies and other businesses, which are all part of the economics of food-selling in this country.


People are also under the assumption that “Chinese people don’t contribute to the economy because they send all their money back home.” Clearly, this must be an attack on “Chinese nationals” and not “local Chinese” who are found in every field in this country from medicine to the fashion industry. Regardless of that, however, that statement makes no sense at all. When people come to live in a country, they buy property to live on, they buy property to start businesses, they sell local products through their businesses, they themselves need to eat so they make food from vegetables and meat sold by other local businesses, they drive around in cars fueled by gas that they bought here, they pay for entertainment here. Do people really think that immigrant populations do not put any money back into the country in which they live?


I also find it amusing that we have a problem with immigrants working and living here, although the Trinbagonian diaspora is quite large and vibrant itself. We have so many Trinbagonians living and working in places like Toronto and New York, as well as various parts of the UK. It seems to be okay if we leave the country and make a life elsewhere, but other people shouldn’t be afforded the same opportunity within our own nation – a nation that boasts of diversity and ethnic harmony.



3. Tell me how you deal with ethnic stereotypes in general?


As a person growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, I’ve had to deal with ethnic stereotypes for a long time. People used to ask me if Chinese people only bathed once a week for instance. When I was younger, I didn’t do much about it.


Now, as an adult, I believe that the best way to deal with ethnic stereotypes is through education. I believe that many people are simply ignorant / unaware of the impact of the kind of stereotypes they perpetuate on people. In many cases, they are not intentionally being malicious or hateful. They just don’t know or realise what they are doing is racist or ethnocentric. It is, therefore, our duty to teach people otherwise. It is sad to say I think; but sometimes you have to remind someone of your own humanity and individuality. People often forget that the comments they make are targeted at another human being just like his / her self. Being angry and spiteful, as I’ve come to learn, is not going to change anything. To cultivate unity, harmony and love within our society we must first begin to show love ourselves.  


4. What is the group response or reaction, if you are aware of it, to this latest issue?


Many people are continuing to be xenophobic and racist with their comments on social media. Many people are turning this into a joke. Trinidad and Tobago loves “memes” – the lowest and easiest form of humour. However, it is to be expected. Yet even though the ugliness continues, there has also been a massive outpouring of support by many people. Other people have participated with their own placards and pictures; people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. People have sent many messages showing their solidarity to the cause. I know that I cannot change each single person’s mind on the issue. It is impossible. But I think we would be a much better society if the subjectively “good” people outweighed the “bad”. And thus far, I’d say Trinidad and Tobago has A LOT of “good” people.


Nevertheless, there is a particular “response” I’d like to address. Although there are some really horrible comments being posted online, I think these people posting them may not bother me as much as the people who are complacent or see the entire issue as a “non-issue”. There are some people who think this entire thing is frivolous, that the Chinese-Trinidadian community is “beating up too much”, that we are being carried away with our emotions, and that we are the ones who are in fact racist by virtue of pointing out the very evident racism on social media. These people have the right to have this opinion. But I do find it disconcerting. For a long time, the Chinese-Trinidadian community has been very muted on issues such as these. We have come to be deemed as passive and quiet. People think that we never stand up for anything with regards to our community. Yet now, even though we have finally said something, even this is a problem. It feels like a very lose-lose situation. I also do not understand how people think that being racist and xenophobic towards Chinese people and people of Chinese ancestry is “not a big problem”. It is part of a wider problem of general racism and xenophobia in the country. It is an issue currently impacting the businesses and livelihoods of many. As a minority group, it is too easy to have our problems cast aside as “non-issues”; to have our feelings of unfair treatment be invalidated; and to have our voices easily overshadowed by the majority.


I would also like to address another type of “response” to this issue. People have told me that they do not have a problem with Chinese-Trinidadians, “local Chinese”, and that they are more concerned with “Chinese nationals” and the recently immigrated “infiltrating” the island. How is this a proper criterion for deciding who we treat with respect and who we do not? Is citizenship how we decide who is worthy of racial slurs and who is not?  I identify as Chinese-Trinidadian or just Trinidadian because I was born, raised and educated here. Hence, the “I Am Trinidadian” on my placard. However, even if I was NOT Trinidadian, what gives anyone the right to treat me as subhuman scum? Is this the mentality we perpetuate on all foreigners in our country? We have Italians here, Venezuelans, Colombians, Syrians, and so many other people of different nationalities within the country working in the food industry, academia, construction, finance and so forth. Are they not to be all treated equally as your fellow Trinidadian? We must not mix up the legalities of immigration with how we should treat immigrants. The government has a duty to control and deal with immigration accordingly. You, as a person in a “callaloo country”, however, have no right to humiliate or dehumanize another human being on the basis of their “status” within the country. This “us” versus “them” mentality, perpetuated since the dawn of colonialism, is a little too old for 2015. 

Pimping the Pooja


In the last 5 years Indian Arrival Day (not Arrival Day) has become the official holiday for Sat Maharaj to mouth off, with open encouragement from the Prime Minister, and make offensive comments to the rest of the national community while acting as if only Indians of Hindu descent arrived here, ever.

In light of this auspicious holiday, Sat's comments this weekend, and an advert making the social media rounds, I feel compelled to write this piece.

The Pooja should not be pimped out for the purpose of politics. Not even by religious sects that think themselves the voice of orthodoxy.

In fact, no religion should be pimped out for the purpose of politics. Religion should at all times and in all instances remain a personal and private thing that you never wave in anyone's face: unless they ask nicely.

Unfortunately, this government and its supporters are desperate. So desperate that they have shifted from the quiet campaigning which we all know happens in religious houses and have made it an open and national thing.So desperate, that all pretence at inclusiveness and ethnic harmony are out the door.

So come June 2nd, Hanooman pooja is going to be pimped out to help Kamla regain office. I didn't say it, the pg 17 ad in the Trinidad Express did. Its purpose is to protect Kamla. From what, it didn't say. Maybe tins of peas? Fake assassination plots? Hyper/Hypo/Hyppa glycemia?

And frankly, to use a religious ritual in this way is disgusting. But no less disgusting than the disdain and contempt with which this government has treated the nation in the last five years with the constant missteps, coupled with the abuse of the Treasury and Constitution. Now, we have the flagrant use of religion in the political gayelle; with Ministers of State no less, endorsing and hosting said poojas.

The implied meanings are clear. This is a government for Hindu citizens. Temples that are openly promoting such poojas are also implying that their devotees operate with a hive mind. And their altars and congregations are politically aligned. Try and imagine any of the Churches here holding novenas, prayer services and mass for Dr Rowley's victory at the next elections? And having the temerity to advertise such openly? Imagine the uproar?
Have we forgotten our disgust at the Guanapo Church?
Have we gotten over the insult of Kamla handing over million to churches at Christmas time despite declining oil prices and massive deficit budgets?

Dynamic duo: Sat Maharaj and Kamla Persad-Bissessar

Dynamic duo: Sat Maharaj and Kamla Persad-Bissessar

Does the separation of Church and State mean anything at any level?

The dynamic duo: Sat Maharaj and Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

It is unfortunate that these are the messages that Kamla and her Small Goal Side continue to send out. They have had numerous opportunities to help Trinidad and Tobago move beyond polarised, race-fuelled politics; but each time they have been contented to play the race card and pander to their base. This weekend, Sat Maharaj, in front of a rapt audience, called for the capital to be moved from Port of Spain. Of course, Port of Spain is seen as as an urban space. In Trinidad urban space is code for black. In Sat's world, black is code for...well it isn't code anymore. In his world black is a bad thing. And power, any kind of power, even administrative power, sitting in any other hands but his own is problematic. One of his arguments, hopelessly flawed, is that Port of Spain has no temples or mosques.

The flaws reside on two levels. Temples and mosques are built where there is a membership. The centre of Port of Spain does not have a significant Hindu population. So no temples were built there. It makes perfect sense. However, there are mosques in the heart of the city, contrary to his claim; because Port of Spain has long been home to a thriving Black Muslim community. But Sat does not acknowledge Black Muslims. Queen Street, close to Piccadilly, if I am not mistaken, is where the mosque is located. The outlying areas of Port of Spain, the town of St James, have mosques and temples. Yet the faithful and the myopic lap this bullshit up. Much the same way they could be seen arguing on Facebook over the weekend for the word "Indian" to be a part of the holiday name. Totally ignoring how exclusive and polarising re-naming a holiday "Indian Arrival Day" can be when you have Chinese and Portuguese who were migrant labourers as well.

The truly sad part of all of this is this holiday, like many other ethno-specific holidays, could have been used to teach the population more about the various groups here. Not just about where they came from, but about what has been achieved and done here. We know so little about ourselves. Instead, the holiday is now used to re-write history inaccurately, pretend that Enslavement and Indenture are one and the same thing; and drive a wedge between Trinbagonians.

In all of this, I hope the pimps are handsomely rewarded. It would be a shame to be on the losing end twice.


Kamla and the Rule of Law

The self-styled national mother and grandmother playing the mas of goddess.

The self-styled national mother and grandmother playing the mas of goddess.

March 9th, 2015.

Tonight was the second instalment of #MondayNight4Rum. CNMG doesn't announce it as a political meeting. The station doesn't even say it is a paid broadcast. This essentially implies that our tax dollars are still paying for Kamla and Co. to run an elections campaign under the guise of state advertising. 

Elections 2015 have kicked off over a week now...and we have no date. The Prime Minister minces and teases. Then promises soon, but not yet. No date. Onstage she is occupying her many personas: Hindu Goddess, Beauty Queen, Senior Counsel, Karaoke Singer, Fragile Female and Drunken Master of Gutter Politics.

Five years ago when Manning announced that he had the date in his front pocket, the country was up in arms. Kamla and her Small Goal Side, used that anger to their advantage and promised two things: fixed election dates and limited prime ministerial terms. What the country eventually got was the Run-Off Bill whereby, with the help of Independent Senators Rolphe Balgobin, David Small and Dhaneshwar Mahabir, the Government side of our Parliament attempted to force half-baked constitutional amendments that we never agreed to down our throats. It wasn't the first time our Constitution was attacked to service the needs of the UNC.

But expect her to eventually call an early and quick election once she thinks her campaign has enough momentum to gain success in the marginals.

Her campaign right now consists of the usual: Box drains, empty repetitions of victory, more box drains, laptops, box drains, 2 bridges, 83 refurbished (not built as she claims, merely repaired) kindergartens and primary schools - and I suspect this is harped on because the PNM declared during its 2013 LGE campaign that its next education thrust is at the primary and early childhood level, boxdrains, race, demonise Keith Rowley, race, demonise David West, race, box drains, lights on recreations grounds, race, Rowley, stronger than ever.

That's been the gist of every speech on her platform for the last two weeks. She cannot talk about ReshmiGate, Jack Warner, the Flying Squad, the Ten Days Top Cop, Gopauls $$$$$, QuarryGate, LifeSport, PrisonGate, Room 201, BreastGate, MistressGate, MaryKingGate, ThereseGate, PartapGate, VasantGate, HowaiGate, GoingForGoldGate, SpeakerGate, CVsGate, NGCGate, OPVsGate, SoEGate, MurderRateGate, EastPoSGate, WitnessGate/WestGate, DanaGate and the blasted gate goes on. Oh...I forgot the world's most expensive HighwayGate...but let's move on.

Because of her numerous  missteps in office and the lack of progress to show after $350 billion dollars in spending, Kamla has to resort to the same UNC rhetoric of the last 20 years: The PNM is evil, you will eat the bread that the PNM devil knead, don't vote the PNM, black people will suffer you (referring to Indians in a general way).

A few repaired bridges, miles of box drains, 95,000 laptops without a learning management system or in some schools, electrical sockets and internet, and 83 refurbished schools do not even begin to account for $350 billion dollars. In fact, none of the wild claims on her political campaign can add up to that astronomical figure.

But I can assure you of one thing you won't hear Kamla Persad-Bissessar get into any in-depth discussion on during her campaign. It is the thing that is most pertinent to her tenure in government for the past five years....the rule of law.

A crucial read if you really want to understand what we have been experiencing by way of our governance and democracy.

A crucial read if you really want to understand what we have been experiencing by way of our governance and democracy.

The foundation of any modern democratic state is the rule of law. Not a set of laws. Not a court of law. Not even law books. But the fundamental and intrinsic belief that no member of the state is above or outside the boundaries of its established system of laws. 

The UNC Government, I've long since stopped calling them a Partnership, has flouted this rule from day 1. We know this because there are Hansard records that establish that from May 25th, this Government, through then Minister Jack Warner, began entering into agreements with OAS Constructuras for the billion-dollar highway. The construction of the Highway breached established rules and protocol. No proper EMA clearance, no Hydrology Report, all of which is detailed in the Armstrong Report. A report that we have forgotten. But the very existence of that report tells us that the first mega project of this government was illegal. A flouting of the laws. 

Section 34 remains, perhaps, as the most insulting example of how this government is capable, not of just flouting the rule of law, but of breaking it and re-shaping it to suit their friends and financiers.

So, why am I going on and on about this Rule of Law?

It's simple, for us to progress as a modern state, we must be absolutely certain that every member of our society abides by our laws, or faces the consequences of breaking them. If some people are more equal than others, we don't have a country, we have a pig sty.

If some people have to live by laws and other people live by bligh, we go from being a developing nation to a failed state. 

Already we have a collapsed government pretending it has legitimacy and should be taken seriously. A government that is hanging on only to be able to finish pay off its debt to its financiers. A government so corrupt and so blindly greedy it will destroy a nation, in order to save itself.

In my next post, I will continue to discuss the various layers to establishing a stronger democracy and how the UNCs last term in office has helped to dismantle all the progress we managed to make since Independence.

In the meantime, do some home-work and check out clientelism, patrimonial government and genetic altruism.





Beat Out 2015 Begins!

The memes have begun....

The memes have begun....

Several candidates made the rounds today (Sunday February 1st, 2015) on state and private radio stations; so clear your mind of any doubts, #BeatOut2015 has begun.

The UNC, not the People's Partnership (interpret what you like from that), is kicking off its Monday Night 4 Rum political meetings (my spelling) on February 2nd. Whilst the PNM, is in Marabella on Wednesday night from 7pm. 

I expect state television to be deployed to cover the UNC meetings whilst the PNM will stick with the formula that has worked well for it  since 2012, the I95.5 live broadcast, followed by a rebroadcast the next morning at 9 am. 

I'm going to make an effort to listen to as many platform meetings as I can and bring some analysis to the debate.

But, in my bid to blog on these matters, I am also going to start some discussions on issues of governance: citizenship, public monies and spending, the party financier, and our expectations of leadership are just some of the topics.

Follow me on Twitter at Pantomime1 or like the Facebook page The Pantomime.

See you on the trail!



Monique Roffey's Discovery of Caribbean Literature

It seems Columbussing - the act of discovering what is already there, that became fashionable in the 1400s - is STILL very much a thing; and European/Caucasian people "discovering" and appropriating the cultures of the Other, whether to boost their ego or some greater gain, isn't about to die anytime soon. Most recently in American pop culture there is the twerking Miley Cyrus and the rapper Iggy Azalea, who is Australian, but happens to sound like she's from a state in the 'Dirty South'. 

Here in the Caribbean we have our fair share of similar stories. Despite having achieved independence throughout the region (for the most part), spearheading revolutions and overthrowing dictatorial regimes, we just can't be left alone to wade through our issues and develop our space without the added ingredients of judgmental first world comparisons that don't take into consideration contextual issues, and worse, the role of their influence in our shortcomings. 

Poet and thinker, Vladimir Lucien, gives his analysis of a particular single story of Caribbean Literature being peddled by Trinidad-born British writer Monique Roffey. He writes:

Monique Roffey’s recent article on the Waterstones blog created quite a stir when it was posted and shared over various social media. The article was an echo of an essay Roffey had published in Wasafiri, Vol. 28 No. 2, in June 2013, entitled ‘New Writing from the Island of Trinidad’. This contentious one however was supposedly wider in scope, entitled ‘The New Wave of Caribbean Writers.’ In both articles, Roffey seems to be attempting to inform persons about not just who is writing or worth reading, but also on the trajectory that Trinidadian and Caribbean literature has taken to bring them both to what she thinks is a particularly auspicious and mature period.  Via e mail threads, facebook threads, private messages, there has been a lot of talk going around about the article on the blog. Many persons were displeased with it for a number of reasons, many of which were absolutely justified. What it did however is raise some very important questions for everyone involved, the surface of which has been scratched in discussions at regional literary festivals and other such gatherings. I watched the article hover over all these discussions around it, almost out of reach in a way, far off in Britain though in cyberspace... 

Read the rest of Vladimir Lucien's insights at this link:

Yes, Prime Minister...Wired868 Style

kamla and jack

I love British comedy. It's often hard to pick a favourite, but Yes Prime Minister is my favourite. Lucky me that my favourite online newsite, Wired686, decided to tackle PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar in a similar satirical fashion.

Here's a peek...

Scene: Office of the Prime Minister

(National Security Minister Jack Warner walks in and closes the door behind him)

National Security Minister Jack Warner: Yes, Prime Minister. The AG told me you wanted to see me?

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar: It is over, Jack. This FBI business is the last straw. Everyone is worried that it might affect their ability to get visas and invitations to those great US Embassy parties. You had your warning, eh. That’s it.

Warner: Kamla, I fully understand and I support you. I am only here to serve your government and I am ready to step aside.

Prime Minister: It is too late, Jack. Prakash told me that once I stand on higher ground, I won’t have to worry about your tsunami and… Wait. What did you say?

Warner: Kamla, you are the sharpest legal mind I have ever met. In the fullness of time, I know your decision today will be shown to have saved your party and your country.

Prime Minister: You really think so, Jack? You know I heard some of the boys were whispering behind my back ever since I got my “SC.” You believe they said Hafizool more qualified than me? They said at least he paid for his letters.

Warner: Let me tell you that not one of them has your vision. Not one!

Prime Minister: Yes… Well. How would you like us to do this? Would you prefer to resign?

Warner: You know best, Prime Minister. So, I think you should make the announcement about relieving me yourself.

You can read the rest here at Wired868...

Water and Powder

HD VS Blue

Allison Demas is a rainmaker. Demas, an attorney with extensive expertise in copyright laws and policy and new media, but clearly none in theatre, within the space of a week managed to make the old, tedious, almost irrelevant Dimanche Gras format that everyone agrees must be revamped, into something longed for and missed. What should have been an attractively packaged series of shows for Calypso Monarch, King and Queen of the Bands and Dimanche Gras became bungled, tedious tasteless versions of their former selves.

Carnival is festival theatre. The Dimanche Gras show is stage theatre attempting to domesticate festival theatre. And any dramatist can tell you that festival theatre has a mind of its own. It can be long, repetitive and very dependent on the mood of the audience. To attempt to domesticate it is to also de-nature it.

Ms Demas, like all the producers of the Dimanche Gras before her, has to make a decision. Is she doing a concert or staging a competition? And after making that decision she needs to accept that all theatre, indeed all stage shows,need conflict and tension to hold the audience’s attention and keep people coming back for more.

Historically the Dimanche Gras show relies on conflict. It is a kind of gayelle. People attend or tune in to see who will win the calypso crown, or who will have the best costume on parade. They want the competitive aspect of the show. They want victors and heroes to root for. To remove the competition aspect from Dimanche Gras is to take the juice and life out of the show. If you are going to remove the competition, then you have to make it a grand concert that is tight, well co-ordinated and filled with surprise acts that will leave the audience oohing, aahing and vowing to not miss next year’s. Like Alternative Concept, before it became Warm-Up-To-Fantastic-Friday –Machel-Monday.

Ms Demas has now stumbled into some treacherous waters. Her revamping of Carnival is now being viewed not as just a stumble by some Trinbagonians, but as a concerted attempt to destroy Carnival.

If Ms Demas wants an example of a concert that masquerades as a competition but really isn’t she need only look to Fantastic Friday. Soca Monarch is to Trinidad Carnival what WWF Wrestling is to the United States. If you didn’t know it was a pre-planned performance by now, then now you know.

Caribbean Prestige Promotion has my unstinting admiration for the magic trick it pulls off with Fantastic Friday.Not because Soca Monarch is well-produced, not because the performances are great; but because William Munro has figured out precisely how to inject needles into us and keep us coming back for more.

machel Ben Hur

Soca Monarch is the hottest debate in town. As soon as soca tunes are on the radio people are gauging and comparing. Who sounding good? Which songs are better suited to the Groovy or Power Categories. What will the stage performances look like? And in the last three years, who has a chance at beating Machel Montano. Remember when we were like that about Calypso?

In its 21 years of existence Soca Monarch has faced controversy after controversy, revamp after revamp and managed to sustain interest. And that is so because Munro understands good theatre.

2011-02-21-7-2A_Chutney_finals_1.20.2.11 (1)

Three years ago when interest in the show was again flagging because it was the same cycle of winners,Montano - the Boy we all love to hate - entered the competition, allegedly to improve the standards. His entrance into the competition coincided with the first prize money increasing to $2 million. Montano’s announcement that he was entering had many fans of the show claiming “Advantage”. And not to disappoint, Montano gave his winning Power song the same title. His apparent alignment with the current government also made the shows even juicier. Montano became both the hero and villain of the show. Would he win? If so, would the victory be fair? Was the judging rigged?

In the last three years we have had three battles play out before us: Montano vs the entire Soca fraternity; Montano vs Iwer (aka Soca Tote The Re-match) and now Montano vs Super Blue. Conflict, tension and juice!

The show’s popularity cannot be denied. The audience tends to number in the tens of thousands at the venue; those who don’t attend tune in on tv; and the diaspora gets online all anxious for reliable internet feed that two decades later we still cannot get right. Facebook and Twitter are hot with debate and commentary on everything from the punctuality of the start time, to vocals, to presentations. The show starts at roughly 9 pm and lasts until the very wee hours of the morning. This year it ended around 4 am. Soca Monarch is just as poorly produced as the Dimanche Gras and lasts just as long, we often “know” who the winner is going to be, yet we are thoroughly enthralled and engaged by it.

If Ms Demas was to pause a minute and consider this, she would see it’s not what she is taking out of the Dimanche Gras that is important, but rather what is she putting into it.

This year Munro introduced the element of Super Blue. The audience as ever accepted the premise of the show unquestioningly. They accepted Blue’s return wholesale. It became the comeback story of the season. Montano went from being both hero and villain of Soca Monarch to just plain villain. Here was Super Blue, the fallen hero, down on his luck, donning his battle gear for one last round in the Soca arena. Would the General of Soca teach the young Montano a lesson? Super Blue had a nostalgic crowd, willing to forget that they had once complained about the triteness of his music and the excessive use of “jump and wave” in his songs, now rooting spectacularly for him and speaking of“Ethel”, “Soca Baptist” and “Jab Molassie” in glowing terms.

Despite Montano’s 30 years in the business, he was now seen, not as a veteran himself, but a greedy upstart. No one questioned when and how Super Blue managed to rehabilitate and come back. No one seemed perturbed that the promoters of Soca Monarch were also the management team behind Blue’s comeback and that building an entire Soca Monarch around the historic battle of Age vs Youth is classic theatre. Or that Munro has already developed his plot-line for Soca Monarch 2014: the Rematch!

If I were Ms Demas, bad as the production quality is, I’d look at the footage of Soca Monarch for the last three years and analyse the various battles that Munro constructed for us and take a page or two out of his playbook. Making a successful Carnival show goes beyond the realm of impressive resumes. You must also be aware of just how much mas you can make with a little water and powder.

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Degrees of Full Dotish

IT is the middle of Silly Season in Tobago, in a THA elections that has been hijacked by the Central Government and turned into a full blown circus. TOP and the UNC are using the creative genius of the mastermind behind the Tobago Great Fete to run its THA campaign and  this genius has helped to turn the THA Election into a proper monster. Coupled with Silly Season are three other very serious issues happening here in Trinidad that I'm sure the Government is hoping no one pays attention to.


Full Dotish 1: If you've never experienced Great Fete Weekend in Tobago count yourself fortunate. I had the misfortune once. I was 18 and in Tobago visiting relatives when my sister and I decided to head down to Store Bay to lime and swim. We went about midday and stayed until later afternoon and got caught in the start of a beach party that was part of the Great Fete weekend festivities. It was at 18, on a beach in Store Bay, that I saw how easily women can be molested and sexually assaulted for being dressed in swimsuits and present at a beach fete. The attitude of the men around was that women were at the fete for sex or at least foreplay. We left the beach before sunset and I have thereafter carefully avoided Great Fete weekend. It's frowned upon by many Tobagonians. They see it as just another event where rude Trinidadians invade their quiet island for more rum and revelry. But Sandbox Promotions has a good thing going at Crown Point and it generates revenue. I guess it must be on that basis that Sandbox has been given leeway to shape the TOP campaign. A campaign that now resembles a ghetto fete gone wrong. The Calcutta Ship ad, that is helping to promote the same racism that the TOP and UNC claim to be against has finally been pulled...and I feel that ad has backfired on them. Because while Sandbox might know how to throw a fete in Tobago, I'm yet to be convinced that Sandbox knows how to throw an election campaign and I will explain why. 

In an island as devoutly Protestant as Tobago, and suspicious of any practice that is Unorthodox, why on earth would you arrange for the PM who is both Hindu and Spiritual Baptist and rude to read at a pulpit. While that may be playing to a TOP audience, it's not likely to go off as well with many other residents of the island.
Using children to send a rude message to the THA Chief secretary is another No-No. Tobagonians still admire things like manners, class and respectability. Sandbox entertainment has introduced a level of crassness and vulgarity to an election campaign that is normally never this heated or hectic. TOP's response to Hilton Sandy's Calcutta Ship has only served to take the race talk up several notches and anger Tobagonians and Trinis alike. Now to add fuel to the fire Skippy Barrington Thomas has asked the Equal Opportunities Commission to 

Very Significant Half-Coolie

It must be sad being Jamal Mohammed, or being like anyone who thinks like Jamal Mohammed. I follow the writings of several columnists here who would be described as Indian and Male. I have for a long time hoped that from time to time...not every week...they would analyse the Indian male in this space. And i refer specifically to the Indian male because UWI has an entire institute dedicated towards studying the Indian female. I know most of the researchers very well.

Since these columnists have for the most part avoided writing about themselves directly, but reveal themselves in their writing regularly, I instead rely on Naipaul. He remains for me the most honest critic of this place. Yes he's got biases. Who doesn't? But at least he open about his biases too.

Own Goals and Pension Penalties

Marcelo stunned by his own goal...the first goal of WC 2014.

Sometimes the beauty of a goal is in its build up, not the scoring.

Last week, on June 14th to be precise, Express journalist Ria Taitt revealed that the Lower House (MPs) had just approved amendments to two bills giving themselves fat new pensions. The story took about 48 hours to really generate interest because it's the middle of the first round of World Cup 2014 in Brasil. And soccer-mad TnT, caught up with the beautiful game, barely have time for Anil, weed stashes, prostitutes in hotel rooms, or Government programs that are funding criminals, far less to pay attention to debates in their Parliament. Oh, and we had a long holiday weekend. And Laventille and the Police/Army were at war.

The story in front of us is simple. The Parliament - both Government and Opposition - chose to amend two bills: Judges Salaries and Pension Bill and the Retiring Allowances: Legislators. Nothing weird here. Law making, legislation, bill amendments etc are the business of the Parliament, yes? So, it stands to reason that if changes have to be made to a law, it's our legislators that should get in there and earn a salary, yeah?

Snapshot of what the old and new pensions look like. Infographic courtesy Trinidad Express.

By Saturday, Ms Taitt's stories of fat pensions, stopped being simply an issue of "them MPs tiefing from the Treasury again, wha we go do boy? Aye, the match start yet?" and started being likened to Section 34. You remember that fiasco, right? A Bill proclaimed in the dead of night during our 50th Anniversary Independence celebrations? That had both Government and Opposition support in Parliament, but didn't have Opposition support for the new declaration date?

By Saturday June 21st the swell of dissent had begun. Martin Daly SC and Reginald Dumas, former head of the public service, regular go-to advisors for the Trinidad Express, were out the blocks first. With Daly insisting that it was a breach of the Constitution, and that the integrity of judges - now reliant on MPs for their improved salaries - was in question; and Dumas questioning the adding of allowances to the calculation of pensionable emoluments and stating emphatically that there was no precedent for such.

But the real zinger that day came in the form of a public letter from Jackie Carr-Brown. In the letter Mrs Carr-Brown states:

These bills are unconstitutional. They pertain to the setting of compensation for judges, senators and MPs. The Government is not authorised to determine its own compensation, nor the compensation of the Judiciary.  

Only the independent, autonomous, Salaries Review Commission (SRC) which reports solely to the President, may make recommendations in this regard. In this way, the Constitution protects the country against executive abuse.

No democratic country in the world permits its legislators to determine their own compensation.  

Her statement couldn't be clearer. Himself was passing Amendments to pay Himself and bypassing the enshrined Constitutional arrangements. The Salary Reviews Commission was being sidelined by the Government, and worse yet, the Opposition was supporting this! For $$$$$$$$$.

Two important details to note here: the SRC weirdly enough is in a position to determine its own salaries according to our Constitution and Jackie Carr-Brown is allegedly married to a member of the Salary Reviews Commission, hence her knowledge.

The Conundrum

Up until Sunday morning (June 22nd) the issues surrounding this latest issue seemed pretty clear cut to me:

1. MPs had bypassed the SRC to give themselves pensions especially since the were displeased with the salaries recommended by the SRC in November 2013.

2. MPs had done the unprecedented thing and added allowances to their pensionable emoluments. The burden of these new fat pensions would cripple the Treasury.

3. In determining the pensions of retired Judges, the Parliament had breached the Constitution by threatening the separation of powers, a pillar on which our democracy (such as it is) stands.

Then by Sunday afternoon, in the midst of my baked fish and callaloo, just as I was prepping for the USA vs Portugal game information starts pouring out of my phone. Damn you Google Search!

1. This issue of the Government amending Judges' pensions isn't new. Anand Ramlogan announced he was doing this since June 27th, 2013. Almost a year ago the AG is on record addressing this issue as one of the changes the PPG was bringing on board:

He said the Judges Pensions Act, which was enacted in 1962, and judges pensions have never been revised upward since then.

“The Government is seeking to increase the amount of pension paid to a retired judge from 1/360th to 1/300th. The amendment would also provide for a periodic revision of the pension paid to retired judges of the Supreme Court, as well as a more favourable computation of the pension paid to judges of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Furthermore, the amended bill will propose a recalculation of the pension of judges who have retired for more than ten years. 

If the SRC objected to this announcement by government then, I didn't stumble upon any articles.

What is also noteworthy is that amending MPs pensions was not on the cards then at all. But somehow after the new salary recommendations made by the SRC November last year, it certainly got tabled quickly.

2. Several senior members of Government and even retired Judge, Zainool Hosein have insisted that the SRC, for at least two decades, has dragged its feet on reviewing salaries and compensation packages and has stated categorically it is not responsible for pensions. In yesterday's Express retired Justice Zainool Hosein stated: “We are no longer in office. The pension is only payable to past office-holders and therefore the separation of powers is not an issue,” he said.Hosein said in respect of the retired judges that SRC has consistently taken the position that the pension, of retired judges do not fall within their jurisdiction. “They took the view that that matter must be dealt with by Parliament,” he said. “Now it has been dealt with by Parliament, by both Government and Opposition (which agreed to it), and I am a little surprised that on a matter in which they (SRC) claim no jurisdiction they are reportedly expressing concerns,” he added.

According to Section 141(1) of the Constitution, the SRC, with the Approval of the President, can from time to time, review the salaries and other terms and conditions of services of the offices falling within its purview. I'm not a lawyer or legislator. I can't even begin to tell you if those words mean pensions are covered. I can't even say if those words mean that the SRC has jurisdiction over retired judges. What I do know is that apart from the SRC, there are specific Acts that address Judges' Pensions and Legislator's Pensions and the only people that can make changes to those acts don't sit on the SRC....they sit in Parliament. Opposition and Cabinet.

I'd recommend reading the 98th Report of the Salaries Review Commission if only to see what the purpose of the Commission is and what kinds of salaries and allowances are paid to Presidents, Prime Ministers, Commissions and senior Public Servants.

3. The Pension amendment comes from a contributory fund. This means its impact on the Treasury is different. Whereas mid to lower range Public Servants depend entirely on the state to pay their pensions, gratuity and lump sums, Judges and MPs have to contribute a percentage of their salary towards their pension, and the State provides the rest. What I'm still unclear on is what the ratios are and how much it is going to cost the State. I'm also keeping in mind that Judges don't pay taxes on their salaries at all and watching that reaaaaaaaaaal cockeyed.

4. With respect to the unprecedented nature of adding allowances to pensionable actually isn't unprecedented. According to the Pensions Act Chapter 23:52: ""pensionable emoluments" in respect of service under the Government of Trinidad and Tobago includes salary, personal allowance, inducement allowance, house allowance or the estimated value of free quarters and any fees paid out of the Treasury by way of salary ...". This is in the Pensions Act of 1934 that has been amended as recently as 2010.

So herein lies the crux of the matter:

1. Does the SRC have oversight of pensions? And if so, why were pensions not covered in their 98th Report delivered in November 2013? Was it an oversight? Because for the sub-category of Pension in their report they simply point to whatever pertains in the relevant Acts of the Constitution.

2. Was the SRC stealthily bypassed by the Cabinet and the Opposition in the aftermath of substandard salary recommendations in 2013? Does this ability to bypass the SRC and instead amend Pensions point to a flaw in our Constitution? Is the SRC still a relevant institution?

3. What financial impact will these pension packages actually have on the Treasury? In short, how much more burden will our tax payers have to bear? Especially in light of 4 massive deficit budgets from Kamla, and the likelihood of a fifth such Budget in September.

4. Has separation of powers been breached and the Constitution subverted? If the judges are retired, does this make a difference? Will sitting Judges feel indebted to MPs now for improved pension plans in years to come and give them a bligh because of that?

5. Is the addition of allowances to pensionable emoluments really unprecedented? And since they aren't,why do I feel as if the way in which these new pensions were calculated is going to give me indigestion and a tax burden that I can't stomach?

We are roughly a year away from the 2015 election period. In the last 4 years we have experienced too many instances of the Government brutalizing the Constitution and the Treasury for its own ends. We have been subjected to massive budgets and squander mania from Kamla and her Small Goal Squad. Most recently we found out that through the LifeSport programme the Government is funding criminals, and taking out loans against the treasury to pay these criminals and soon wants another $32m to pay off debts incurred by this same programme that funds criminals. Did I mention this government is funding criminals? Now, in under a week, we learn that both sides of the Parliament, not pleased with the recent salary increases granted to them earlier this year, are now sorting out their retirement.

I can't say it's illegal. Not yet. The SRC has to clarify whether Pensions really fall under its purview. The Constitution's language is too vague for me to say so convincingly. I'm hoping the Senate's debate today throws light. What I can say is in light of the burden on our treasury and our numerous labour and employment issues this leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.....and I'm giving you, Keith Rowley, a devious cut eye on this one.

De Vice Cyah Done!

** No footballers were hurt, or red cards given, in the writing of this post.

Performance and Personalities: The Campaign Against Rowley

conspiracy against rowleyEngineering dirt and flinging it into interesting patterns on the public wall aren't anything remotely new to politics; and certainly not new to ours. As early as 1961, our electoral process was plagued with ethnic tensions that led to questionable behavior. Rudy Capildeo, then leader of the DLP, overwhelmed by the tensions plaguing the elections, in a fiery call to arms in front of the Governor's Residence in Port of Spain, announced to his supporters, "You will be called to arms. Wherever the PNM holds a meeting, you will have to break it up." Throughout that election campaign there was the persistent rumor of a group of black men roaming the country looking for women to rape. Sound familiar? Echoes of Hulsie X?

In the course of the campaign, violence broke out and limited states of emergency had to be declared in St Augustine, Barataria,Caroni East and Chaguanas.

In the post-Williams era there was the infamous gun hoax created by ONR candidates Surujrattan Rambachan (Oropuche) and Unanan Persad (Caroni East). Rambachan and Persad claimed to be driving along Gaston-Johnson Street, Chaguanas, when shots were fired at their vehicle. Rambachan blamed the Panday-led ULF and accused the Prime Minister, George Chambers, of encouraging violence.  Shortly after reporting the incident to the police, and making much of the attack at political meetings in Diego Martin, it was discovered that the shooting was a hoax. Rambachan and Persad had shot bullets into their vehicle themselves and made a false report to the police. Neither was charged for wasting the Police's time or discharging a fire arm. The Trinidad Guardian of November 3rd, 1981 carries the story. Feel free to check it out.

Between 1981 to the present, there have been numerous attempts at mud slinging, smear campaigns and conspiracies. During the May 2010 election campaign there was an alleged assassination attempt on the life of then Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Since then it seems assassination attempts on the PM, whether by tins of Matouk's peas, random Muslims or ghosts are the order of the day. These attempts are meant to encourage empathy and sympathy for the Prime Minister. Look at this poor, beleaguered, hard working woman. Everybody wants to kill her, even canned food.

Two nights ago (June 5th, 2014), at a public meeting in San Juan, a rare thing happened: Camille Robinson-Regis revealed the details to a smear campaign by the UNC against Opposition Leader Keith Rowley in the midst of its very failed execution.

The emails revealed a group that comprises government ministers, the Canadian High Commissioner, the former UK ambassador, advisers to the PM, media and public relations specialists and everybody's favorite Facebook racist:PEAnuts.

In an email dated Friday, May 16, 2014 12:02:25PM, sent from Rodney Charles to approximately 17 people, he says:

"We propose launching a full scale attack on Keith Rowley come the morning of May 19th 2014 ie the morning after his expected landslide victory. We absolutely need to bring down his polling ratings."

Then on Saturday, May 31 2014 in an email whose subject is, "Make this Happen and everybody wins", someone by the name of Roodal is enthusiastic and responds to an email sent to him by someone called Phillip Alexander by saying: "This is a great idea." 

The idea Phillip Alexander has pitched to him is:

Every evening from six to seven on CNMG there could be a one hour show called "Equal Time" hosted by yours truly..."

conspiracy against rowley 2

Apart from the concept of the show, what struck me about the e-mail exchanges are the time stamps.

Phillip Alexander sends his original message at 9:58 am on Sat 31st, May. Roodal responds at 11:23 am. And by 13:18:06, the emails have been sent to someone who has PNM sympathies. Chris Brown was right....these hoes aint loyal. Is this a case of surveillance and interception....or does the UNC ship have some major leaks in its very inner cabal?

If the final message forwarded came from Roodal's email, who did he forward the messages to?

An election is constitutionally due by September 2015. The UNC/PP Govt has not a chance in hell of winning it, despite Kamla's sustained popularity. There are simply too many scandals and missteps to sidestep during next year's campaign.

Usually an incumbent party campaigns on its track record. Boasting about its achievements with regards to new legislation and infrastructure.

This Government has a dismal track record with legislation. From Section 34 to Soldier Bill, to DNA Bill to Dangerous Dogs, no one is happy with how inefficient a Cabinet filled with lawyers are at drafting legislation.  And in terms of infrastructural development, the SNC Lavallin fiasco colors one planned hospital and the Point Fortin and Debe to Mon Desir Highway routes are riddled with protests and accusations of corruption.

We need not even go back to their 7 Pillars of Sustained Development Manifesto to know that every promise made remains unfulfilled.

What is patently obvious is that they are extremely aware of their poor track record, but will stop at nothing to return to power.

Their strategies though, have not improved with time.

They include:

1. Circle the wagons of support around the leader and have the party base lash out in a wild, incoherent frenzy at anyone who dares to criticize her. Go to any of their support pages on FB - True Trinis Discussing Real Issues or even the UNC Group administered by Allan Karim. See what passes for debate and idea exchange there.

2. Raising the race bogey - a topic i intend to touch on in a later blog. Despite the numerous acts of race-baiting by Kamla herself and members of her government, her party has now started a campaign that seeks to paint the Opposition as racist. The hope is that their support base will continue to support them.

3. Target and smear the leader. In 2010 it was Manning. Manning's Squandermania, Manning and Calder Hart, Manning and Juliana Pena, Manning and Duprey/CLICO, Manning  and the Guanapo Church, Manning's secret love child, Manning, Manning, Manning. It's simple really. You need to give the electorate a focus. A symbol of what they hate or resent about their governance. Because the UNC is now the government, the focus will be on Rowley and all of the secret racial tensions and fears will be played upon: a black man in power will mean suffering for Indians; blacks in charge will mean less access to resources, rape, violence; we can't put back a black Prime Minister. Already the messages are there, subliminally and overtly. And unfortunately, most of our electorate  will make no effort to separate truth from fact and examine issues.

What needs to happen during this campaign year is that the focus must be kept solely on performance and track record. We, the electorate, must rise above the noise and examine the UNC/PPs track record from 2010 to whenever an election date is called; and we must examine the PNM's track record, specifically Rowley's achievements and skills, because Manning has been removed from all leadership positions and has stated he won't be running in the next election. Compare the track records of the two leaders before us: Keith and Kamla.

Let's make 2015 about performance, not smear campaigns against personalities.


Banking on Bare Sat

The PM and the PM.... Imagine you playing a high stakes game of politics, winner gets all, and the only card in your hand is Sat Maharaj?

That is pretty much the predicament in which Kamla and her government have found themselves.

Both Labour and Jack Warner have abandoned them: so the popular support and the deep coffers Warner (once) had have both disappeared.

The COP, we all know, is a dead and riderless horse. Its two choices for leadership are Ramadhar and Dookeran. Need I go on?

The numerous other civil society groups that sung Kamla praises and supported her have all but disappeared and several of them now march against her in very public rallies. In short, all of the public good will that Persad-Bissessar had garnered after beating Panday at internal elections has disappeared. Well, except Hazel Brown.

At this point the PP or UNC, whichever name it chooses to go into election 2015 with, is reliant on two groups: the criminal element and die hard UNC supporters.

Even with die-hard supporters Kamla has a hard road to travel. In spite of what the many Facebook UNC walls (all with the same fake profiles of PEA and Allan Karim) attempt to spin and say, even supporters of Kamla have grown fed up of her style of non-governance. Why else would you need to pull out your trump card of Maha Sabha religious leader, on Indian Arrival Day, in a predominantly Indian electoral seat unless.......Sat is your only trump card and things so bad, you need to rally your base?

Trouble in the heartland? Are folks disenchanted with your less than stellar record?

Let me quickly remind you of what Kamla campaigned for in 2010. 1. Good Governance, Transparency and accountability. The country still waiting.

2. An end to wastage of public monies and Squandermania. Have you read the last two Auditor General Reports on the spending of Public Monies? We are $30 billion dollars in debt. Yes. $30b.

3. An end to violent criminal activity and white collar crime. Two words: Dana Seetahal.

4. The right to recall MPs if they are underperforming. Cabinets shuffling and reshuffling and realigning every year, but no talk of the right of recall anymore. I wonder why?

Those are just four items from their very glossy and colorful 7 Pillars of Development. Remember that document?

The PNM votes that Kamla's PP got in 2010 to sweep her to government have returned home. The marginal voters cussing themselves and avidly searching for reasons to vote in 2015, and this means pressure has to be put on Keith Rowley to show that his game is superior.

This leaves Kamla with her heartland. And that's what? 15 seats? After winning 29 in 2010?

Then there is the other group. The criminal element. This is the one group we cannot underestimate. Abu Bakr of 1990 coup fame has often alluded to the role his organization, the Jamaat Al Muslimeen, has played in mobilizing votes for political parties.

As reports on the Life Sport Programme have shown, Kamla's government has gotten very cozy with a group that has criminal shadows over it. As an electorate, we have to ask ourselves how many other groups like this is the UNC govt bankrolling and at what cost.

Today's Guardian claims the Life Sport Programme is being audited a third time. As a result, payments from the programme are on hold.

If this is the only such programme under this government, expect frustration when "at-risk youth" from "depressed" communities cannot get their monies.

But I sincerely doubt Life Sport is the only programme doling out monies to criminal elements. The very same hand out syndrome Kamla lashed out at and despised in 2010, has become a key feature of her government. So, I expect a reporter to soon find another programme or slush fund in some remote corner of a Ministry that is bank rolling less than savory elements.

Consider now, that Kamla really only has two bases to rely on. And it is only one she can rally and call out to publicly...the party faithful. A group that  nurses great resentment towards the larger community. A group that at every turn is quick to point out that no one likes them because they are Indian, or Hindu or both. That they are oppressed and marginalized and persecuted because of their ethnic and religious if oppression, marginalization and persecution belongs to any one group here. This is the group Sat Maharaj represents, and this is why showering him with public accolades is important. She has to reassure this group she is still one of them, hasn't forgotten them and needs them. If Sat were speak out against Kamla, consider what that would do to her chances at the polls next year in her heartland seats?

After running a slick PR campaign in 2010 that pretended to be about issues, Persad-Bissessar has gone back to basics and is going to run a race platform. In reassuring herself of her heartland base Kamla has resorted to reactivating the Race Bogey. We are back in 1961 all over again. Sat Maharaj remains one of the most polarizing and divisive individuals the country has produced. His racist comments are now being described by the PM as free speech. And the PM is yet to apologize for the many instances she has used race baiting and prejudiced comments on the campaign trail during last year's 4 elections. When calypsonians and satirists practise the same freedom of speech I hope she is just as openminded.

It is now up to us, right thinking citizens, to reject race rhetoric and force the coming political campaigns to be about the glaring issues that are sinking us daily.

We in Full Dotish mode to 2015. It will get tense. It will be sticky.