Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Political Round Up Part II: PNM, Perception, Penny (and more)

 

In Part II of The Political Roundup for February we will turn our attention to national politics dealing mostly with the PNM internal elections.   We will explore Constitution Reform nationally and its significance to Tobago.   Additionally we will further explore the political maneuverings of Internal Self-Government.  

Rowley & Beckles

Let us begin with the internal elections of the PNM.  From the looks of it, when the PNM faithful votes in May Dr. Keith Rowley will keep his current post as Political Leader.  From the outside, the candidacy of Penelope Beckles-Robinson can be viewed as an attempt to strengthen the party and attract new members, but the discourse on social media (a good pulse of public opinion); the tide has turned against Beckles-Robinson and her candidacy is not welcomed.   The attacks against Beckles-Robinson on social media are telling but what percentage of these individuals are registered party members who will actually vote in the election is all that matters.    The party establishment for the most part will back Dr. Rowley the anointed candidate as they have always done with the next in line.  However, the ‘villianification’ of Beckles-Robinson also has the possibility to backfire on the party because the perception of ‘doing it to their own’ will only set up greater offensives moves by the PP and the type of campaign they will wage in 2015 to remain to government.   

While there will be enough time to write more on the internal elections of the PNM the next few months there will be interesting developments as it plays out.   Dr. Rowley will have to use this time to look prime ministerial and change perception for the floating vote. Perception of these ‘old school’ PNMites does not sit well with a large part of the population, and in politics, perception is a lot and it matters.     The victories in 2013 gave the party some momentum but the party has to also demonstrate that it is ready for government, has the capacity to unite the population and can secure a working constitutional majority in the Parliament.   Getting their hands on the treasury though important should be the least of their concerns because they will only set themselves up and their own words would be used against them.  Nevertheless, we will have enough time to explore this but let it be known, 2015 is going to be a fight and a very expensive general election.   

Let us now move on to the issue of Constitutional Reform.   This would be further addressed in greater detail but it must be included in this roundup.   The People’s Partnership will bring a Constitutional Reform Bill before the Parliament but we are not sure about its passage, it is doubtful. There will be tremendous opposition from the PNM, but this too can be a political trap for the PNM and a tactical strategy of the PP.  Some Opposition MPs have already went on the record stating that they will not support any constitutional changes, and this is a possible strategy to paint them as the status quo, the party of no change, (not even a Penny, (for the sake of picong).   The PP will use history and everything the PNM has said while ever in power to the present to shift the focus from its current record, allegations of perceived corruption and the mistakes of past four years. While Rowley has tried extensively to define himself as anti-corruption, standing up to Manning in 2009 against UDeCOTT, whether its passion or anger on Rowley’s part, the Opposition Leader has to clean up this image and show his capacity to engage and not outrage or instill fear in others.       

On the other hand, should the bill pass, the 2015 election will proceed as normal, but the government formed afterwards will not last an entire five years because of the pending changes in the constitution.   This will be done so there is no unfair advantages and to accommodate the electoral changes of the reform. 

What about Tobago?  

Tobago has to make itself a greater part of the national conversation in many matters but when it comes to Constitutional Reform many now believe a mistake was made on the part of the Commission.  During the consultation Chief Secretary Orville London suggested that the Commission take into consideration the on going debate on internal self-government.  The Commission obliged to the request and while it is an Independent Commission, during the time of the consultation it was strategic for the PP to tone it down and give some concessions after the defeat of the TOP in the January election.   

There was no direct engagement on the Tobago issue of internal self-government between the government and the Tobago House of Assembly during the latter half of 2013 and the Prime Minister did not bring it up.    Nevertheless, people were asking for clarity between the PNM in Tobago and the PNM in Trinidad because the PNM historically supported greater autonomy for Tobago.   Media reports from the Chief Secretary and the Opposition Leader showed that they were not on the same page, going as far back as April 2013 when London asked the Commission that Internal Self-Government should not collide with Constitution Reform.

A meeting in January convened by Chief Secretary Orville London brought together the leaders of the TOP (Ashworth Jack), the TPT (Hochoy Charles) and Neil Wilson, Chairman of the Tobago Council of the PNM and called for a for a ‘one voice approach.’   Plans to meet again in February fell through, as Ashworth Jack was not able to attend delaying the talks.  Jack expressed some skepticism after the first meeting, but a subsequent PNM meeting in John Dial as well as Ministry of Tobago Development meeting about Constitution Reform may have unsettled some nerves about this ‘one voice approach.’  

London’s consensus approach must be backed up my some genuine commitment from the PNM in Trinidad to support whatever gets laid in the Parliament.  London was quoted in the Tobago News;   “The ideal situation should be one where there is almost consensus before it does not matter who takes it to the Parliament.”   This sounds ideal, but politics is not the ideal world, it is the world in reality.    

The Commission was faulted for conceding to London’s request.    If Tobago’s autonomy was dealt with fully by the Commission the ball game would have turned out differently and while there is more to say about this, if the Opposition is showing no current support for Constitution Reform, if the Tobago question was included, it too would be squashed but we don’t know what will be the outcome after it is tabled in the Parliament.       

In Part III, we will deal with the TOP, the ILP, the Ministry of Tobago Development and other happenings as we conclude the Political Roundup for February.

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The Political Roundup: Smart Moves, BUT…..

In an effort to keep readers updated and to give you some analysis of the political happenings in Tobago (and Trinidad) last month I began a series entitled The Political Roundup.   The Roundup will continue monthly and will provide a careful analysis on the developments taking place within Tobago and by extension Trinidad.    This will be done in three parts because there is much to address.   

In January in Traffic Light Politics we gave an overview of the interesting 2013 political year.   In early February I wrote, The Political Callaloo of Internal Self-Government, which you might want to read to fully understand what went down in February.   Certainly we should mention with the Carnival season picking up pace till it winds down next week, access of information at times has been limited as media coverage devote a tremendous amount of time to covering the fetes etc.   However, developments are taking place.   

We had a reshuffle of a few THA Secretaries.   This was hailed as a relatively good move, if nothing else, for the stability in Division of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports.   The Division must make a full 180 degree turn and the new Secretary Cadette has supported a collaborative effort with Division of Community Development and Culture to hold a Tobago Music Festival.  In light of the cancellation of the National Music Festival, this was move is thumbs up and an overall good initiative with intentions to expand.    DEYAS must work simultaneously in fixing itself internally and turn towards efforts to support schools.   While we should not give them ‘a bly’ this year, and the exam is not yet written we are awaiting the outcome of SEA exams, which should provide evidence of the type of supports the schools needs to raise student achievement.   

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His Excellency President Anthony Carmona, the Honourable Orville London, Chief Secretary and Councillor Deon Isaac, Secretary Division of Settlement and Labour.

 

The elevation of Councillor Deon Isaac to the Secretary of Division of Settlement and Labour was also a wise decision.    Isaac proved his capacity as an Assistant Secretary in the Office of Chief Secretary and was instrumental in keeping the administration ‘close to the people’ in the spearheading the Public Interest Desk and the Face to Face monthly sessions.   A pragmatic approach towards housing and acceleration on delivery of units or lots to individuals to build their own should the focus of his new portfolio.    Furthermore, in regards to Labour, there should be some public education on the goals and objectives of this department.   Its policy objectives should be oriented towards improving productive outcomes within the THA.  Sounds pragmatic and common sense to me!  

During the month of March we will further explore policy frameworks as it relates to education and levels of productivity within the THA.    The current administration can count these two major moves as steps in the right direction, but when it comes to incomplete project, the grade goes down.   

The Shaw Park Roundabout and the Hospital Laundry are the latest of a string of incomplete and delayed projects.   The library is also delayed.   These are serious problems this administration must tackle with a greater sense of urgency.    If not it will be used against them in the 2015 general election and if there is nothing else this PNM needs more, it is a return of these two seats in the PNM.  That is the most the Tobago Council of the PNM can do to help the PNM take back the government from the ruling People’s Partnership.

In Parts II and III we will address the issue of Constitution Reform, Internal Self Government and the other players on the current political landscape, the TOP, the ILP, and the MDD.   We will also examine the interplay of national politics, the PNM internal elections and the objectives of the government to stay on power.   

I had to write this, for the sake of Malachi and others

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”  This is a quote by the one of the greatest individuals of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi.   My dog Malachi recently passed away.   Initially I thought he contracted some illness but I have come to the conclusion that Malachi was poisoned.   Furthermore, it has come to my understanding that several other dogs died on the hill where I lived whereby one person stated, “the whole hill reeked of dead dogs.”   Reading the paper this week a tourist wrote in about the plight of stray dogs in Tobago which prompted me to write about animal abuse and animal rights.

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Malachi, 2012-2014

Malachi was not a stray dog.   My sister and I found him when he was less than two weeks old.   He was in litter of five, all males and while it was difficult just to pick one, we choose the brown one and named him Malachi.   Like many dogs in Tobago, Malachi spent most of him time outside and was pretty much free to come and go as he pleased.    There were times when he came inside the house but for the most part he stayed outside sleeping on the gallery at nights or a few houses down the hill by my grandparents.   I took him to the beach and once after I threw him the water the avid swimmer came out and made his way to ‘Green Corner’ and was ‘missing’ for three days.  My cousin found him, I went to collect him and he was back at being a dog, chasing chickens, sometimes taking them out.    With dirt always on his nose, he was well on his way to becoming a hunting dog and several individuals asked me for him.

Many people take good care of their dogs, both hunters and those who have a dog for the sake of having a pet.   Hunters ensure that the dogs see the vet for vaccines and I was grateful when a team of vets came and spayed and neutered dogs to control the population.     Malachi was too young for this procedure when the vets came in August 2012.    Nevertheless there are many strays dogs or ‘bay dogs.’   These dogs do not have any ‘legitimate’ owners but many of them developed their own characters and found food wherever they could, many times from trash.  At times the plight of these dogs bothered me, the way they were treated by some people was simply cruel but household dogs were like family members to some.   My grandmother who was Malachi’s caretaker in my absence became very fond of him and in the past few weeks when he spending too much time away from home, she would leave home to go find him.

Recently the ‘dangerous dogs’ bill was debated in the Parliament, but what about the ‘dangerous people’ bill for those who deliberately abuse and kills these animals.  There are more dangerous people than there are dangerous dogs out there.  I sympathize with the family of those who were attacked and killed by dogs, but all dogs, even pit-bulls can be trained.   Many people have a natural fear of dogs but it is the responsibility of the own to properly train their dogs to prevent them from becoming dangerous to humans.  If a dog attacks and kills a human being the dog should be humanely put to sleep but there should be serious consequences for those who abuse and kill animals.

You might not love dogs but you have no right to kill them those dogs that do not belong to you.  I understand the differences in cultures in how we treat dogs but the abuse of animals is widespread worldwide.  My dog in NY spends a significant amount of time inside because of the weather in the winter but he sleeps outside all spring and summer in his kennel.

While much can be said about Gandhi’s quote that I am not going to get into, it has some relevance when we examine the situation. For one, if as individuals we treat our animals well; it speaks volumes of how we will treat our fellow human beings, especially children and the elderly – those who tend to be the most vulnerable in our society.   Likewise, if as individuals we treat our animals poorly; it speaks volumes of how we will treat our fellow human being, especially children and the elderly – those who tend to be the most vulnerable in our society.

While we cannot compare the life of a dog or cat to that of a human being, when someone makes a decision to poison innocent animals, it is rather troubling and disturbing.

Culture should be taught, not caught

In 2007 a colleague and I received a grant to study education at the primary and secondary school levels in several Caribbean Islands.  While in Jamaica we visited Edna Manley College and the person we met with shared with us the following, “Culture should be taught, not caught.”  This profound statement have since guided my own research interests because in all reality culture is everywhere but most times it is taken for granted.  

 

In Trinidad and Tobago we are currently in the peak season of one aspect of our culture – Carnival.  While Carnival is a great highlight of our culture there are so many other aspects of our culture that we shun or label taboo because it was not taught to us.

We will use the religion as an example to demonstrate why culture should be taught and not caught.  We must preface conversations about culture against the backdrop of history and the fact that islands likes Trinidad and Tobago, countries like the United States were the meeting places of the different culture whereby groups emerged as ‘dominant’.   This dominancy was based on race and the underpinnings of racism maintained these structures from colonial times onward.

I can vividly recall when I started asking questions about different religions in Trinidad and Tobago.  Given that Tobagonians are predominantly orientated towards Christianity, trips to Trinidad as a child gave me the opportunity to ask questions about Hindus and Muslims.   Are East Indians the only ones allowed to Hindus?   Why were Christians mostly black?   Why were Muslims both Black and East Indian?    Mommy carefully explained to me that I was mixing up race and religion.

In 2006, I became friends with a few people who were converts from Hinduism to Christianity and I was able to ask a few questions because I had no clue about Hinduism.   In 2010, I drove from New York to Florida to attend a Hindu wedding of a friend and it was my first time in Hindu temple.   Taking nothing for granted especially the need not to offend, I read up on etiquette, do’s and don’t but the pundit did an amazing job explaining all the rituals he performed during the ceremony.   In 2012 while in Trinidad at the Port of Spain market, I quickly made friends with a vendor and he invited me to Hindu wedding of his son.  While I was unable to attend it highlighted how friendly Trinibagonians can be even to complete strangers.

Our current Prime Minister the Honorable Kamla Persad-Bissessar has connections to both the Hindu and Spiritual Baptist faiths.   For some, this might be difficult to comprehend.   While I believe this is a personal choice (though I would love to ask her), it is not hard for me to comprehend because I took it on myself to learn about both the Hindu religion (or should I say culture, its more than a religion, its more of a lifestyle) and the Spiritual Baptist faith.    There are many similarities; the lota and the taria are just the beginning.  If we should examine the cosmology of the spectrum Spiritual Baptist faith, ‘India’ (spiritually) is a familiar ground in the discourse among practitioners.

photoTraveling in a car one day while in Tobago the issue of a national day of prayer became center stage of the conversation.   While I mostly listened, I disagreed with those who objected to the national day of prayer because the conversation revolved around the fact that Prime Minister was Hindu and she called a national day of prayer and the questions of the day was “who are we going to pray to?”

Normally I would not engage in conversations because I don’t discuss religion publicly, but it highlighted the fact that though we claim diversity we rarely engage each other on deep cultural levels such as religion.

I thought about the time my grandmother went to down to the Creek for the cremation a business man who made labels for her seasonings and she told us about it when she came back.   But still I ask: how much do we engage each other on these deep cultural levels?

I will take wild guess and assume that East Indians in greater numbers are converting to Christianity than Blacks are converting to Hinduism, if they are.   If you know of any, please let me know.

I deliberately choose the Hindu-Christian dynamic because we don’t know enough about each other religions and I believe that learning about it would dispel some of the assumptions and fears of things we don’t understand.

Religion is a matter of choice and individuals don’t choose to be born into the families they do and it is only natural that they adopt these practices of their parents until they can make a choice to do otherwise.

A few days ago I stumbled across a Facebook photo that I had to share.    It was a photo that depicted a Greek god besides a Yoruba Orisha.   Greeks gods have become a part of the mythology of Western Civilization while the Orisha are depicted as ‘evil’.   In our Trinibago minds we can easily find evidence of this aspect of racism.   Mention the word obeah and see where conversations go.    Often it is associated with Spiritual Baptist faith, the faith that was once illegal to practice in Trinidad and Tobago.

The argument here is Afro-Trinidadians and Tobagonians have lost a significant part of their own heritage because their ancestors were forced to convert to Christianity any religious practices deemed too “African” were labeled as evil, suppressed and declared illegal.    East Indians who came to Trinidad and Tobago under different circumstance though they experienced religious discrimination and while some converted there were periods where the Hindu community experienced a reawakening of Hinduism in Trinidad.

So culture should be taught and not left for chance.    First, it gives us an opportunity to examine our cultural practices and reason and rationale why we do the things we do.    Second, when culture is not left to chance our understandings of the cultural practices of others can be viewed equally with our own and not superior or inferior to others.   Lastly, when culture is taught and not left for chance we would not speculate and label the practices of others as evil but instead we can find similarities and engage each other from the vantage point of I don’t know, make me aware, without attempts to put down or even convert.

Did Carnival Loose its Soul?

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Last year was the first time that I came close to Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago.  My intention was to go to Trinidad last year while in Tobago, but that failed to materialize because I had to work.   I had zero expertise in Carnival and besides seeing some old mas in Roxborough more than 25 years ago; it was a totally new experience for me.   Luckily, the North East Sea Turtle (NEST), a local environmental group formed a band and I was quickly convinced to play mas with the group who was raising awareness about sea turtles and the effects of poaching.    So, from not know anything about Carnival I was reporting on Carnival from ‘inside the band’. While I had a good time in the hot sun that day, this article is not about that experience.   This article is about Carnival, the media, the messages communicated and its sociopolitical impact on the nation.  

First, I am not against Carnival.    The cultural arts are important to any nation.   The little mas I played with the turtle band makes me want to play mas again for an authentic experience that will happen ‘in timing’.    I was not much of calypso and soca fan but now being able to tell the difference, I appreciate the historical evolution of kaiso, calypso, soca, and chutney-soca.    I find value in the social and political commentary provided by calypsonians and I am hilariously entertained when political calypsos are sung during elections.  So then, what is my problem?

The front cover of the Daily Express on February 10, 2014 had the headline “Pregnant Children in danger, DEATH RISK, Doctors warns of teens going to backyards abortionist.”   The carefully selected picture featured Kerwin Du Bois surrounded by at least five women (See Picture Above).  I have some experience in selecting a cover story for a newspaper, with the number one goal in mind: it has to sell.    It is an editorial decision because the front page is what everyone sees before making the decision to buy the paper if one is not a daily reader.    

There are many telling questions that the front cover of this paper raises.    What messages are being communicated?  Obviously sex and we all know that sex sells.    In fact that entire front cover was about sex.   A value statement is also being communicated?   That is not for me to decide, but it is telling.   While the picture had nothing to do with the headline of ‘Pregnant Children’ there is a connection.   The message communicated by the telling photograph has a profound impact on the values of society.    Not only does it exploit women but the front cover alone tells of the place women have in our society despite the strides some have made in areas such as politics.   

By no means should we censure the media, but editors make deliberate decisions and the bottom line is important as opposed to teaching values, which in all reality is not their job.    As I further analyzed the front cover in its entirety, questions such as teenage pregnancy and abortion comes to mind.   Is there a connection to the front cover (or similar experiences) and the decisions of those who are unaware of these messages.   They become victims of what is perpetuated by such a front cover.   Furthermore, it raises the question of women and the ability or lack thereof to terminate a pregnancy.    While this is not about the value statement about abortion, the fact that women die when they seek back alley abortions is also telling, because women do not control of their reproductive rights.   

People should be able to have a good time during Carnival and many do, but if we should seriously analyze our society as it is in its present reality, Carnival has lost it soul.     I don’t know what Carnival was like ‘back in the days’ but I am confident from what I have heard that Carnival has lost its way and its effect on the overall culture should be carefully analyzed.    

 

House of ????? Name to be determined.

 

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I will admit it much of my weekend was spent binge watching House of Cards, season two, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.   When I ran out of episodes of the American version, I turned to the original British version starring Ian Richardson.   Immediately, I began to see the parallels that existed between the American Netflix series and its original version.  

I will also admit that much of my writing over the past two weeks have slowed down.   My cousin’s recent passing really shook me, but more so the slow news cycle and sometimes the general lack of information coming out from Tobago.   The three major daily newspapers do not provide reliable and consistent coverage of Tobago while the Tobago News prints only twice a week.  Additionally, the carnival season is in full swing and this has a major effect on the type of news one has access to.   Furthermore, I have been paying greater attention to my dissertation.   

So much to say, a combination of factors has slowed me down but let’s get into today’s topic.   I am still waiting on reports from the Constitutional Commission Reform that took place yesterday in Tobago and will soon reach out of some of my sources to see what actually went on, but today we will blur the lines between House of Cards and the politics taking place in Tobago (and Trinidad).  

The idea for this came when I started watching the original British version of House of Cards.    Given that the American version focuses solely on Washington and the British on the Westminster Parliament, the comparison and now my attempted application of this fictitious series to the politics of Tobago (and Trinidad) as the Constitution Reform advocates a hybrid model between Washington and Westminster.   

First, is the name of the series ‘House of Cards.’  We have two options here.  We can go with ‘House of Ass’ (no pun intended, but laugh anyway) or the ‘House of Bly’ a play off local dialect, given that a ‘bly’ is a favor, which the local population can easily relate when coming to politics.  I welcome other suggestions, but the two frontrunners are a play off the House of Assembly. 

Second, we must consider characters and plots. Who will play Francis?  Who will play Claire?  What about Zoe?  Clearly, this is where this series strays from both the originals.   The executive producer must consider the cultural differences that will make the show really unique.   A major decision must be made here as because if we focus primarily on Tobago we limit ourselves to the amount of characters, but including the parliament of Trinidad and Tobago will no doubt diversify the storylines and add some colorful characters.   

Perhaps we can use the ‘Internal Self-Government’ storyline to include the Tobago aspect but make a conscious decision that allows it to be one of the major storylines.  In the meantime, here are some storylines that we can possibly explore: 

  1. Emailgate
  2. Cocaine Juice
  3. Internal Elections in the different political parties
  4. Oil Spills & Dump Fires
  5. Section 34
  6. Parliamentary Privilege:  Parliamentarians behaving bad
  7. Show & Tell: Why do we come here every fourth Thursday?
  8. How to win an election? Picong Style
  9. Turf Wars
  10. Peace in Pretoria

I say let’s start a casting call; we might be really on to something here.    So there you have it, when news is lacking you find the parallels, identify the story lines, and turn it into fiction.      

Breaking the Silence about Child Sexual Abuse in Tobago

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Speak Up, Speak Out

Children in every society must be protected.   For far too long we have turned blind eyes to the issue of sexual abuse against children.   When news of the recent incident broke many people took to social media to condemn the allegations but confirmed the fact that abuses of this nature against children and teenagers girls have been going on for decades.    Victims courageously spoke out and people began relating stories of their knowledge of these horrendous crimes against children.

The alleged actions of this individual should be condemned to the highest level.   The size of our population no doubt has an effect on reporting these incidents but even worse are the cover ups of allegations of this nature committed by prominent people who are still active in the society.  The fact is, this cuts deep, but gone are the days when we allow our collective hypocrisy, which easily masks itself in religious piety to be an excuse providing a safe haven for pedophiles and rapists.       We can no longer sanitize this issue and it must be called for what it is, and the perpetrators must be called by what they are.

The allegations of these incidents at the Scarborough Seventh Day Adventist Primary School should not be viewed as an isolated incident.   They should not leave our attention focusing purely on schools, but the wider society, because some men within the society are likely to do the same.   In all reality, if someone in a position of trust, a professional and spiritual capacity within the school and the church, what is to be said of the ordinary adult males who choose to engage in inappropriate relationships with children?

Prior to the arrest of this principal, the issue to teenage pregnancy was dominant in the national media.   No data was provided for Tobago in the Minister of Education Report during a question raised to him by Independent Senator Dr. Victor Wheeler.    Where are the numbers for Tobago? Can anyone give an account of how many teenage pregnancies occurred in Tobago? There has to be at least one for the past four years.   The Division of Health and Social Services must have access to this information.  It is the responsibility of those in authority to provide this data.

There is a legal difference when consenting adults engage in a sexual relationship and cases where a minor (child, of either gender) is involved.  Gender neutrality is important, because the same law is broken if the adult was female and minor a male, though historical, this is less likely to happen.

At the forefront of all the current rage, the stories of the victims must never be silenced. The children who came forward are brave and courageous.    These children have spoken for their generation but also generations gone who voices were suppressed and for those to come who should never experience the harm of sexual abuse.

At the end of the day, this must be about protecting the welfare of children.

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