Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Dance of Deception

Allegations of corruption and poor governance will plague every government everywhere.   Nevertheless, we will still have government.   In Trinidad and Tobago, we have been dealing with the issue of the Life Sport Programme and the recent audit revealed serious mismanagement of the Programme.   In local dialect, “dey tief the money,” and that will be the narrative of some of the now terminated programme.   The courage of the Prime Minister to terminate Life Sport is commendable and her actions are demonstrating a rightness in leadership in a country that is hard to govern.

In regards to what she should do with Sport Minister Anil Roberts is an entirely different manner. Honestly, we like the Sport Minister not for his inability to give proper oversight to the Life Sport Programme, but for his big mouth and the fact that he is a loose cannon. Call him what you like and by no means this is funny, but Anil’s dilemma whether he stays or goes; he is not going to shut up, he is still a loose cannon, and it is just part of a political strategy to keep the PNM from talking about the future.   We will get back to this and why the PNM should be careful.

The reality is, the government is delivering, probably not as fast as some impatient citizens would like, or their personal expectations of what they expect the government to give them.   We want, but we don’t want to give, and there is little to no concept of personal sacrifice given for country.   Rather we operate on what we can get individually to enrich ourselves and that is what happened in Life Sport.

If and when the Prime Minister removes Anil Roberts from her cabinet for his mismanagement of the Life Sport Programme, which she should; this does not change the narrative of what the 2015 election will be about if the PNM continues to behave the way it does.

Let’s get this straight.   Life Sport stinks but it is poor political strategy to talk about it for the next ten months. The government has the next ten months to be the government, and calls for an early election is neither effective because it is simply not going to happen; it is foolish. We don’t know the outcome of 2015, the pot is still bubbling, but there is a segment of the population that will decide the election; so whether or not Anil resigns, the PP wants to PNM to be loud, angry and vex.   Unfortunately this is a trap the leadership appears to be consistently walking into and falling for.

The lack of self-control, self-discipline and simply poor communication is at the heart of a PNM that in the past four years they have not convinced those in the middle that they are the better alterative. Given that they have provided no plans but began an oral history that the country of Trinidad and Tobago began on May 24th 2010, they have effectively sought to wipe out the memory of nation for their stinker acts.   The older you are, the more sins your rack up but the sins of political parties aren’t forgiven, like those of humankind.   They have a record and this is why people continue to be skeptical of the PNM – their record is longer and stinker. Is this the election they want to have, or do they want to have an election on issues, on alternatives.

As we look around the world and see how world events are shaping up though we may be far might not be far from Gaza physically there might be some Gaza like conditions right here in Trinidad and overtime if we collect the data on the horrific crime rate in Trinidad, we can identify those who have been disproportionately affected.   Is this the election they want to have, or do they want to have an election on issues, on alternatives.

“It is a foolish dog that barks at flying bird.” I would advice the PNM to call a cease-fire.   They inflict more damage on themselves the moment they open their mouths.   This government has managed to lead the Opposition in a dance of deception, a political strategy so well crafted, that the supporters themselves of the PNM fuel it. They need a reality check.   Political aggressiveness will not work over a strategy of no alternative.

Sending the Life Sport audit to the DPP for examination of criminal wrongdoing was the only thing the Prime Minister could have done and terminating the program even better, but regrettably the lives it were intended to save.   So if Anil goes, or if he stays, there will be no early elections.   Why waste the next ten months attacking the government – it is exactly what the PP wants the PNM to do.

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Blindly Criminalizing Black Boys & Men: The Life Sport Narrative

tobagopolicyforum

How do you deal with the supposedly criminal elements in a society?   For the past month there has been much in the media about the Life Sport Programme.   So much so that the programme was removed from the Ministry of Sport and placed under the Ministry of National Security.   Additionally an audit is underway by the Ministry of Finance to bring some clarity or to bring to light any allegations of “wrong doing” in the Life Sport Programme.   We will address Life Sport from a perspective that is beyond the hype and analysis of the mainstream media and trying to bring all the connected pieces tonight in against the backdrop of the recent debate to censure Minster of Sport Anil Roberts.

According to Sport Minister Anil Roberts over 2000 young men (the majority of whom are “Afro-Trinidadians”) were enrolled in the Life Sport Programme all across the country.   He listed…

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24 Years On Borrowed Time: THIS IS ABU BAKR, Ah Bad!

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The events of July 27, 1990 would not resonate with those citizens of Trinidad and Tobago under the age of 20 as much as the 9/11 events in the United States did. That event changed their world even though the attacks did not happen on their soil.   The 24th Anniversary of the attempted coup against the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago will be on Sunday but the solemnity in which this day will be remembered is missing.

 

While there is much to write about both events, 9/11 highlighted the violent nature of those who highjack religions (not only planes) and brand their action as a fight against Islam.     The current interpretations of July 27, 1990 will tend to follow the 9/11 narrative, specifically as it relates to the use of the term “terrorist,” “terrorism,” and the “radical Islamic” narrative. The way 9/11 was covered in the media and how terrorism is covered in the media has an effect on the understanding of July 27, 1990 to those who were alive and even for those who only know about it as a historical event.

 

There is a conundrum of issues when discussing July 27.   While most were probably mindful of the upcoming anniversary the national significance of this day has not been fully etched into our consciousness.   As young as I was back then and did not fully understand the implications of what happened that Friday, the recent and long overdue report about the attempted coup gave a good historical rendering for the events that unfolded. Furthermore, though it probably was not part of the vocabulary back in 1990, those events were an act of terrorism, which we can now understand because of the 9/11 effect.

 

With full respect to the religion of Islam and its more than one billion followers worldwide there is problem when anyone of any religion use religion as cover for their fundamental ranting and beliefs that they want to violently impose on others. Historically, religious wars were always present with humanity but the recent arrest of the member of the Carapo mosque should not be confused as an attack against Islam.  If they were under reasonable suspicion, place nor time of prayer should be a potential threat to national security to prevent their detainment.

 

The month of Ramadan is sacred for Muslims worldwide and everyone has the right to practice their religion.     No group hiding under the mask of religion, under suspicion for historical reasons and posing a threat to people of the Trinidad and Tobago should be trusted.   They cloak themselves in their radical and hostile version of Islam, tarnishing the beliefs of the majority of Muslims worldwide who practice their religion peacefully, many of whom are our neighbors, colleagues and friends.

 

Islam is also a diverse religion and you can find Muslims of every race and almost all ethnicities under the planet.   In Trinidad and Tobago, there is a significant following of black Muslims – those who consider themselves Jaamat, whose current Imam, Yasim Abu Bakr was the man responsible for the 1990 attempt coup.   Unfortunately he got away with it and from then on when the highest degree of treason was pardoned lawlessness became the new norm and the crime the new narrative.   The recent statements by Abu Bakr after the arrest of members of the Carapo mosque now diverts attention from the solemnity and reverence July 27 deserves when our democracy came under attack.

 

Before we are Muslims, Christians, Hindus or nothing religiously at all, we are first humans and second citizens of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.   The humans who are citizens of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago who subscribe to the Islamic faith must defend their religion against those who hide under it.   Abu Bakr cannot use your religion as a smoke screen for his intentions or that of any of his radical followers to hold the people and possibly the state under hostage. Stop making this about Islam when it is about politics and attempts to destabilize the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

 

We must not allow radical religious fanatics of any sort who misuse the solace that religion provide for some especially when we know that their past actions gives us enough evidence to know the intent of their potentially violent threats and statements.

 

Dr. Keith Rowley in New York: PNM International Forum

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First, I spent the day, in fact the last week praying for objectivity knowing that I will be writing a piece after hearing Dr. Keith Rowley who is currently in New York.   He spoke at a forum hosted by PNM International at Medgar Evers College and over 200 persons were present and Dr. Rowley was well received as well as his entourage, among them, MP Marlene McDonald and Rohan Sinanan, two Deputy Political Leaders of the PNM.

 

Dr. Harold Robinson chaired the meeting but the featured (and only) speaker of the evening was Dr. Keith Rowley.   At the end of the presentation, I told my colleague who accompanied me to the meeting and my “objective sounding board” that I would give him 7 points, then I changed it to 8 points out of 10 for everything he said; though I disagreed with 84 percent of what he said.   Clearly, Dr. Rowley had and audience that was more or less sympathetic with his cause, because present in the audience where those who were decked in red, the till ah deaders, and friends, some of who knew Dr. Rowley personally. Though not on script, he did not stick his foot in his mouth.

 

I would admit that I am a political junkie (with the requisite academic qualifications); I like to watch it and observe it and write about it. I have seen Dr. Rowley on the political platform, debating in the Parliament (thanks to the Parliament Channel that streams online) and now in this town hall style meeting.

 

I have also seen Marlene McDonald’s (who gets an A plus for behavior in NY) behavior in the Parliament and Speaker Mark Wade frequently reprimands her, but it is often on the same equally low level as some members of the government and the cabinet.   The point is our parliamentarians behave very badly in the Honourable House of Parliament and which Dr. Rowley stated was the main problem in Trinidad and Tobago in the form of poor governance.

 

No one should ever question the patriotism of individuals who offer themselves up for public office and I would never do that of Dr. Rowley.   I believe that Dr. Rowley loves his country, his party, his family, and his God in no particular order.   I completely disagree with his style of politics and his style of leadership but after tonight’s meeting the fact that he articulated nothing new for Trinidad and Tobago; makes me still have reservations about electing him Prime Minister as well the overall attractiveness of the PNM.    I was not expecting my mind to change, but I was anticipating hearing something new, something articulated, something not heard before.

 

He presented a historical narrative starting in 2004 when the national budget was TTD$22 billion to 2010 when the budget stood at TTD$44 billion.     He claimed the then Opposition accused the government of spending too much money to develop the country. Among some of the other issues he listed for the 2010 ouster of the Manning led government were violent crime, drugs/gun trade and constitutional things such as the executive presidency – the “emperor” he stated.

 

Currently, with a national budget of TTD$60 billion, Dr. Rowley claimed that he is not seeing the development that is taking place in the country.   He then spoke on “make-work” programs (URP and CEPEP) in the “inner-city urban areas” aka (black) areas.   He stated, “politically these targets were always there,” hinting at an increase under the PP Government in spending for these programs, as well as mention of the “dependency syndrome” which have “become targets of others people.” This is loaded and this is where our politics divert, over these very urban people, the heart, life and soul of the PNM base.

 

Laventille, Sea Lots, Beetham, Diego Martin, East Port of Spain, Morvant, and the PMN strongholds from time immemorial, have sadly been neglected by the PNM. There is little evidence to show given the conditions that exist in these areas given the length of time the PNM has been in power in Trinidad and Tobago.

 

In supporting this the above statement, here is Dr. Rowley quoted in the Trinidad Guardian on October 25, 2011. “African youths are overachieving in the jails and underachieving in the classrooms. Blacks have an obligation to stop making excuses.   PNM ruled the country for 40 years and it is time they took responsibility for the mess made in our backyard.    Paternity test shows that the Laventille of Today is a PNM creation.”

 

I noticed the relative “aged” crowd at the meeting, many of whom I assumed were dual citizens of both Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the United States. I didn’t say anything about the relative age of the crowd but my colleague, (my objective sounding board) pointed it out to me. The crowd was predominantly Black Trinidadians, but perhaps the next forum (July 12th) in Queens would have a greater percentage of Indo-Trinidadians given the settling patterns of Trinidadian and Tobagonians immigrants in Brooklyn and Queens.   Those present represented a cross section of people across Trinidad and Tobago geographically speaking.

 

Now, given that Dr. Rowley was speaking to a crowd of immigrants, people who had to start at the very bottom of a country but making their marks of all kinds in the United States given the complexities of race and class; a nerve is pinched, at least mine is. Most of us at some point (or still is) were/are lumped in with “black urban poor” in American and despite our consciousness or unconsciousness about race and class – it was the immigrant drive that helped us get by in America because we still live and work among the black urban poor and daily we know that America is our adopted homeland.

 

The fact is when we look in the mirror we might see our successes and accomplishments (which we should be proud of) but when others see us, they see the black urban problem (all lumped together, only distinguished by accents, whether from Trinidad, Tobago, a Native Black New Yorker, someone from down south).   So when we look at Laventille today from far, from the United States, we see a people’s story we can closely identify with because in some sense it was placed upon us. That is what “others” see – the black urban dilemma, whether or not we are part of it.

 

So the crowd present probably has done well, doing well or getting by with their lives in the United States.   I am sure some have their homes in Trinidad and Tobago and they visit frequently and naturally have an interest in what is going on in their country.   I wish to remind them that though we might have gained some “status in the states” we all should remember why we left Trinidad and Tobago.   We must also ask ourselves that the opportunities provided for us in the United States the same are afforded to all the people of Trinidad and Tobago and more so the people who have been chronically underserved and marginalized.     Our people should have been on similar economic standing as all other groups in Trinidad and Tobago.   The PNM did not lift as they climb; and this is my problem and is should be an issue for every concerned citizen of Trinidad and Tobago living abroad.

 

Most of the 200 people present at the meeting will not cast ballots in the 2015 General Election. The opportunity could have been used not to rehash the problems of the country but to present to a specific vision with details that supporters and well wishers could use to influence those who will cast votes back home.

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Should children be zoned? Should the “prestige school” label be eliminated?

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The Ministry of Education released the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) results on July 2n leaving some students and their families happy while some students and their families are sorely disappointed. The hurt and disappointment of the some were expressed on radio call in programs throughout the day and like many things in Trinidad and Tobago, race and/or class was highlighted in the dialogue.

The fact is everyone wants their children to go to the “prestige schools.”   Many parents spend significant amounts of monies, making the investments to provide additional lessons for their children. Certainly not every parent can afford this luxury and in now way we should pretend that the outcomes are equal because the inputs and abilities are different.   Nevertheless, we must always strive for equity to achieve better outcomes for the nation.

These two questions posed above are enough to polarize all of Trinidad and Tobago. How do you go about accomplishing such a feat? The fact that prestige schools exist reinforces the notion of a class-conscious society.   Certain schools are in certain places to keep certain people in certain places. On the opposite end are your government secondary schools and many of these schools are stigmatized just because of their location (we don’t have to name the schools); we just have to be conscious of their locations.

The annual sifting of children into secondary schools is a consequential life altering decision.   It is the beginning of creating networks, friendships and relationships that will extend way beyond the next five to seven years.   Who goes where matters?     This is rooted in the educational history of Trinidad and Tobago and if one sits down an examine the historic power structures present in Trinidad and Tobago (whether political or economic), there is enough evidence to prove that the secondary school children attend matters significantly.

We cannot get rid of these structures overnight but we must actively seek to mitigate their damaging effects.   For the sake of argument, let us examine the following.   What if in September all the children who were placed in three “prestige schools” were transferred to “government schools.” For example, we will take the all the first year students of Queens Royal College and transfer them to Mucurapo West Secondary and all the students for Mucurapo West to Queen’s Royal College.   We would do the same for those at two other prestige schools; let’s say Fatima and St. Anthony to two schools in “depressed areas.” Only the students are transferred, the name of the school however will be changed, but the staff at all the schools will remain the same.  This will be done over the course of several years and the outcome should be analyzed.

What will be the outcome of this social experiment?   We don’t know and will never know the results because it will never happen. This will be an annual vexing conversation but it is time that the Ministry of Education seriously consider reform measures to fix this problem and bring an end to this annual drama and the accusations of a corruption racket over the formerly Common Entrance Exam, and now the SEA.

There is simply not enough space for everyone to get their first place choice, much less, their 2nd, 3rd or 4th choice, resulting in students being zoned to local schools.   Then, we must also consider fairness.     Whether or not a racket is being run over the SEA with the placement of children in “prestige schools” if there are accusations, they should be investigated (a cliché) but a solution is required because if at the end of the day “everyone has an equal place” there must be alternatives to meet the needs of all children, regardless of their backgrounds.

The religious bodies whether Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, or Hindu have tight grips on education in Trinidad and Tobago and there are feeder primary schools for these well established “prestige schools,” most of which are governed by the religious bodies. The affiliation of schools under the same religious bodies, the interplay between the Ministry of Education and the SEA assessment causes a conundrum when everyone is trying to get in while government secondary schools are marginalized. Those in “depressed areas” are marginalized even more.

Where does this leave us?   Essentially, we have multiple school systems within the national school system but it looks like one big system.   It is not.   The Ministry of Education must now re-conceptualize how the government schools are designed and it must create a cadre of competitive specialized government schools to “rival” the established hegemony of the “prestige schools.”

This is about perception and stigma.   It is also about social class.   Wait a minute; it is about children, all of whom deserve the absolute best from the state. The complexities in our society reinforce social stratification and the SEA results and placements are just one example of its manifestation.

However, we should me mindful and remind all children that they should be grateful for being placed in secondary school even if it was not a school of their choice.   Once upon a time, when children failed the Common Entrance Exam, they had zero alternatives or their parents had to pay for them to attend secondary school.