Monthly Archives: August 2014

Independence Greetings Trinidad & Tobago

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We extend Independence greetings to our fellow citizens of Trinidad and Tobago as we celebrate 52 years a nation. We are a very unique nation filled with diverse people and this must be a model to the world demonstrating that we can live in sustained peace and shared prosperity.   As we celebrate 52 years let us pay tribute to the past and look towards a future with “boundless faith in our destiny,” and hope that every citizen, where ever in the world they reside feel proud of our national identity and our culture.

Trinidadians and Tobagonians have made their mark all across the world and despite the smallness of our geographic size and population we are a people with great ambition and great hopes.

We love freedom.   Our national anthem aptly declares this love of liberty from which our nation was forged. We are a people who preserve.   The fires of hope and prayer accurately describes trying times yet having a spirit of faith and resilience to confront future challenges as they present themselves as we continue to become.

Side by Side we stand is perhaps one aspect yet to be fully recognized that guarantees equality between both islands. While the politics of greater autonomy for Tobago still lingers above us it is our hope that this is accomplished sooner rather than later.   Our leaders should think about future generations and maintaining the continued unity between both islands.

“Here every creed and race finds an equal place.” This is the principle of equality that we must preserve.   This is the strength of our nation where we ascribe to the idea that our citizens despite their religious convictions and persuasions if any at all along with our diverse racial backgrounds can participate in national life without hindrance and pursue opportunities based on their abilities free from discrimination.

Holy Scriptures reminds us that it is good and pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity for there the Lord commands his blessings.   We are all each other’s brethren and it is with this spirit of unity that our nation will continue to be blessed.

May God continue to bless to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Happy Independence Day to all!

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Politically Bullying can lead to Political Violence: Watch Your Rhetoric!

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After two days of debate we are still await the vote in the Senate on the controversial Constitution Reform Bill 2014.   Only one vote is needed for passage of the Bill but the run-off has created much of an uproar.   While we support the bill its entirety our concern supersedes the political ramblings and babblings that have been verbalized thus far.

Specifically we are concerned about the political culture and level of discourse that takes place around politics.   Trinidad and Tobago’s current political culture is simply third world.   While the term “third world” is one that we are not fans of because we understand its historical construction after World War II by the United States and the destroyed but victorious European nations such as England and France.  We must evolve beyond this classification and movement towards development status begins with politics.

A debate of this nature is the highest form of debate that can take place within a country.   It has the citizenry engaged but we also consider the fact that these are not everyday conversations that people have.   The majority of the population understands the very basics of the bill but during the debate many who spoke against the bill raised logistically concerns about the run-off elections.   We will not address that here, but there were various times during the debate both in the House of Representative and the current debate in the Senate as well as the public discourse that took place over the past two weeks left some unsettling things which we will raise.

The posture of the Opposition in the manner in which they verbalize their “opposition” to the government must change. Everyone knows the opposition wants to become the government, while the government will do everything to keep the opposition the opposition – this is the nature of politics in Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere, first world countries and third world countries alike.   The Opposition claims it has supported over 93% of the legislation brought to the Parliament by the Government.   While this might be so, the tone of the Opposition does not suggest this.   They ought to reflect on this posture.

The stance and tone during this debate both inside and outside of Parliament suggests great unrest in the aftermath should there be passage of the bill. It appears that they are inciting their supporters to riots and political violence and this would be a very dark day for Trinidad and Tobago. Added to this are the existing racial overtones that already exist in our political culture.   This aspect of it is simply scary because the suggestive violence and incitement can possibly result in ethnic violence, if not ethnic cleansing, yes genocide. This is not a far stretch of imaginations running wild because if one should look to Rwanda 20 years ago where approximately 1 million people where slaughtered in 30 days, we hope that this is not the road we are heading down.  FYI, it was black people killing black people in Rwanda from different tribes, so the possibility of violence against another race is not far fetched.

The rhetoric must be toned down and further incitement of the population suggesting violence must be stopped.   It is disheartening.   We don’t know everything but we have witnessed with our eyes the aftermath of what happen in Rwanda and other places where politics went down to road of violence.   Even as we continue to listen to the debate as it winds down we must be mindful of the history we create by the tone of rhetoric and the aftermath of our words.

PNM Mutineers Wanted: Throw Your Captain Overboard or Court Martial Him

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Where to begin? The scandal now infamously known as emailgate has been brewing in the background for more than a year now. We do not intend to rehash the details of the allegations here, but they were of a very serious nature, which were brought forth by the Opposition Leader against the government. This took place on May 20th when Opposition Leader Keith Rowley brought a motion of no confidence in the government to the Parliament, which when voted on, the entire Opposition Bench disappeared and was soundly defeated.

 

The allegations were sent to the Director of Public Prosecution and the Integrity Commission to be further investigated and more than a year has elapsed. The Attorney General, seeking to clear his name, sued Google to release records of a series of alleged emails between himself, the Prime Minister and two other members of the Cabinet. Google released the documents, which point to the fact that the emails never existed on their servers or sent from the alleged account of the Attorney General and the Prime Minister.

 

It is clear that this is going to be a major story; it already was because of the serious allegations that involved the highest government officials in Trinidad and Tobago. It is highly unlikely and virtually impossible that Google was in cahoots with the government; therefore we must follow the narrative that the emails indeed were fake and their content fabricated by mere deduction.

 

The political fallout from this will be major. One does not have to try to get inside the mind of a man to bring to the Parliament the level of such accusation as alleged in the content of those emails.   Dr. Rowley supposedly held on to the emails for six months before he brought them to the Parliament. Who gave him the emails? Did they just show up? It is not a far stretch of the imagination of a rational thinking person that this person probably does not exist and perhaps a figment of Dr. Rowley’s imagination.

 

Whatever was conceived, concocted and eventually consumed by the population went down the lines of tribal party politics, but now we have some semblance of evidence that points towards some truth.   But in all reality we will never know the exact truth.   Logic however aids in truth deduction and with such serious allegations the burden proof lies on Dr. Rowley. Who would not seek to clear their name of such serious allegations especially when email records are easily accessible from a company like Google?

 

Dr. Rowley’s leadership is turning out to be disastrous to the electoral fortunes PNM and it will have a big impact on the 2015 General Election. Without or without Constitutional Reform and while the current government will face some losses, (they are not counting on the two Tobago seats); the script is already for the multiple pronged strategy to hold on to power.   The government knows they are capable of performance and delivery – it is their mantra. But they will highlight how they dealt with all their issues from Reshmi to Section 34 to Life Sport in a way of taking ownership.   That is their working strategy positioning the PM to lay out her government’s plans for another term.   They will engage in major groundwork in their constituencies because the turnout will matter will 2015 but the PM’s base is solidly behind her, so she will work the middle ground even more.

 

The 2015 election is going to be a defensive campaign for the PNM, but it would have been an easier campaign for the PNM had they had a better leader.   The leader has to defend himself and now with emailgate he will have way too much explaining to do for his actions. In defending, if not carefully scripted, the PPG will pounce on every word he says and will provoke him to response as part of their strategy, not against the PNM, against Rowley. Their campaign against the PNM will be one based on historical stewardship against their current mantra directed towards the young and the undecided floating vote.

 

The PNM would be better off with a new leader and I am sure they could have find that person in Penelope Beckles-Robinson.   She was open to having for forward conversation and would have been able lead the PNM in a direction where Kamla Persad-Bissessar has led her coalition, to match the government on policy ideas and change the tone of the PNM. If Penny led the PNM, they would have been able to have an offensive election against the PP while making the party attractive to court non aligned votes.   We will hear about emailgate from now until the 2015 election and this is not going to sit well for PNM when they can easily throw their captain overboard to save the party.

 

 

 

 

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T&T, No Need to Thank Me

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Former Prime Minister Patrick Manning said NO THANKS to the recommendation made by current Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar that he should receive the Order of Trinidad and Tobago, for his long-standing service to the Republic. Patrick Manning had a perfect opportunity to gracefully exit active political life and embrace a new status; that of statesman, but perhaps this was too much for Mr. Manning to bear – heavy is the head the head that wears the crown. Unfortunately for Mr. Manning, though this might just be a footnote in the historical narrative, his legacy whatever you think that is will always be tarnished by this act of rejection, one that was considered an act of goodwill.

 

Let us first address the political overtones from the recommendation to the rejection.     Kamla Persad-Bissessar is a politician, so anything she does, will have a political overtone. For the sake of argument imagine this: She wears a red dress to UNC Monday Night Forum. Even if she did, though unlikely as this may seem, the fact is because she is the PM, the symbolism of the color red and yellow – though it has nothing to do with anything, if she does it, people will talk about it and perhaps even imply political overtones – just by mere association.

 

In recommending Manning, political overtones will be implied; some described it as a cheap political stunt. Clearly, it would have shown the Prime Minister in a positive light, but the message it would have sent to the country required a shift in paradigm about leadership and legacy that Mr. Manning has not yet embraced and probably never will.

 

Service is service, and service to country is a personal sacrifice.   Politics is a different ball game, because regardless of political affiliation, all serve – but there is a thickness of skin required for politicians, especially in a place like Trinidad and Tobago – someone always cussing you.   So, service has nothing to do politics, it has to do with sacrifice and this is why Mr. Manning was being honored.

 

But he choose otherwise, toting political feelings after Mrs. Persad-Bissessar defeated him at the polls based on an election he called 2 years before constitutionally due.   No wonder we need fixed election dates.   No snap elections unless a no confidence motion is successfully. It would prevent us from bitter politicians whose life was mercifully speared by God and this government who paid for his medical treatments in the United States. But Mr. Manning’s actions might have more to down with the PNM than it has to do with “insulting” Kamla.

 

Had Mr. Manning accept this award, which he deserves for his service, the spotlight would have been taken off the current leader. Two “man” rat cannot live in the same hole. This would have left supporters in a tailspin because they would have congratulated Mr. Manning on his award. Under the PNM belief system, the PM does nothing right, so accepting this award would have confused a lot of people.

 

The recent breaking off Dr. Boe Sharma and Barry Garcia to form the PDA, the Penny factor or whatever is left of it after the internal election and Manning’s long silence and his known tumultuous relationship with Dr. Rowley is enough to signal all is not well in Baliser House.

 

Manning’s and Rowley’s relationship has not been publicly mended and the government uses every opportunity to remind us.   “Mr. Speaker, I see hate, I see bitterness, acrimony, etc, I see a man completely out of control, and when strongly opposed he becomes like a raging bull”. Putting stewardship aside and before his megalomaniac trip that cause his electoral defeat in 2010; on leadership alone Manning led the PNM better, both in government and post 1995 as Opposition than its current leadership.   The dynamics between Manning and Panday as PM and OL and vice-versa where policy positions were challenged is just one aspect of this difference, and this is credited to Manning’s leadership.

 

The lurking and living presence of Manning is unnerving to Keith Rowley. Manning cannot ever take back what he said about Keith Rowley and the humiliation of 2010 after the defeat leaves a gulf bigger than Paria between the two men.   They are both angry and bitter at each other; and in choosing not to accept to the award, it could either be a life vest that was thrown to Dr. Rowley (a non apology apology) or something even more sinister that would unfold in the next few months.

 

Manning could have received his award and begin to write an autobiography or his memoirs.   In seeking to politicize his rejection of the award he has left his legacy to fair game.   This puts the PNM in a defensive position and a relatively awkward position for Dr. Rowley if part of his strategy is to look beyond the Manning years.

 

His rejection was not act of selflessness. His rejection is a much bigger story than would have been his acceptance of the award. When the smoke clears it is the reaction of Manning that rules the narrative of this story but until he publicly states his intentions and publicly repair his relationship with Keith Rowley (if he is able to); Manning saw the spotlight shone on him and decided it should stay for more than 15 minutes and in doing so, tarnished over 40 years of parliamentary service.

 

 

 

Hello Helen and the 8 Independent Senators

We must respect the institutions responsible for our governance, two of which includes the House of Representatives and the Senate, collectively the Parliament. Today we will deal specifically with the Senate, an appointed not an elected body. Because these Senators are appointed and not directly elected by the people, it adds another dimension to the current and future debates of the Constitution Reform currently underway in the legislative process.
At the time of our Independence in 1962, we basically copied the Westminster/Whitehall system and our Senate is modeled after the British House of Lords. Fifty-two years later we are operating under the same system despite the evolution of the country and the slow changes in the wider political culture. The Prime Minister appoints Government Senators, the Opposition Leader appoints Opposition Senators, and the President appoints Independent Senators. That is how the Senate operates.
Some government Senators are Members of the Cabinet and this blurs the lines between the “separation of powers” but this concept does not truly exist in Westminster Parliamentary models, because the cabinet functions as the “executive”. In light of this, we will first address the three measures, which require only one Independent Senators as well as full support from the Government Senator to become law.
In all reality this history of Trinidad and Tobago is hanging in the balance of this one independent senator.

While we respect the law as it currently operates with regards to the Senate, this undue pressure highlights the need that our Senators should and welcome further initiatives that moves us closer to an elected Senate, as these ideas emerged out of the national consultations and the report produced by the by Commission.

We don’t know how the Independent Senators will vote, but we are sure that they have paid attention to the debate. We value “independent” thought but they will have to cast a vote; while some might abstain, but abstaining in the Senate might be more an act of being coward instead of being courageous. It is in this space where the need for a Senate elected by the people of Trinidad and Tobago must be realized. Independent Senators are necessary in a Senate that is totally appointed, but not necessary in Senate that is elected by the people.

In our Senate, we can say that our Independent Senators represent the voice of reason on the surface, while those appointed by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader are expected to tow party lines. Independent Senators should have a wider perspective and a futuristic vision for the country and it is for this very reason why we should urge their support for this bill.

Regardless of how they vote some will be vilified, but this vilification will only be for a short duration – the larger question is who will stand on the right side of history because we are at a pivotal turning point and their vote on this bill will be remembered when their bones lie dry in the very ground or their ashes scattered about sacred shores.

Due to the fact that the all Senators are appointed, we must take that into consideration, one a vote of this nature. These measures, whether you agree with them or not came after national consultations. We knew it was coming but the shallow and reactionary political culture that some subscribe to in Trinidad and Tobago that creates mass public hysteria and bacchanal while adding nothing but noise prevents mass public civic education that will drive the development of the country.

Will the Independent Senators allow the status quo to remain?
While we continue to appeal for their independent thought in the Senate we urge them to look forward and consider the strength of the arguments presented for and against the bills.

Who will be the one to vote for the bill?

Who will abstain?

Who will vote no?

If nothing else, our nation is learning. We are learning about civic participation. Civic participation is more important to national development than political indoctrination.

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Monkey Nuts Party, the MNP

 

I would have never thought I would have written an article with the above title, but it represents something gone fundamentally wrong in the PNM camp. Under the leadership of Dr. Keith Rowley this party has completely lost it way and the vile and crass things that comes out of mouth of this aspiring prime minister. This is not visionary leadership; it is a demonstration of a man who is completely out of control (not my words, that of former PM Patrick Manning).

 

This is not even against the PNM as a whole, because I know there are many among them who are sane and display their intellectual capacity.   If you notice, as of late, the PM has been addressing, “Rowley’s PNM,” hinting to the idea that the Opposition bench which he leads in the four years has drifted away and the image of the party is getting to the point of being beyond repair.   This is not even about the “sins” of the PNM’s past; it is about what were we warned about by Patrick Manning about the behavior of Dr. Keith Rowley.

 

There is no doubt about it that the political culture of Trinidad and Tobago is going to a new level.   This is what happens when a nation is developing and key to that development is an elevated conversation.   We cannot use the cultural excuses and say its ‘picong,’ to deal with serious national issues. The debate over the past weeks about the Constitution was an informative exercise for political observers.   A conversation about the Constitution is perhaps the highest form of political conversation citizens can engage in so it was breath of fresh air when people were able to verbalize their thoughts about the bill, whether they supported it or not.

 

There are some issues of hypocrisy that must be clarified.   The three proposed measures are part of the PNM’s Constitution.   If it is good for you by mere deduction, it should be good the entire country. Next, you argue that it will destroy third parties; I am not quite sure about this but even that argument is faulty, because political parties want to win, who doesn’t, so why should a “major” care if it does (which it probably won’t) so this appears disingenuous. An effective Opposition would have engaged this bill differently and failure to do so plus the statement (monkey nuts) of the Opposition Leader has sidetracked their argument against the bill.

 

The best way I can illustrate what appears to be the problem within the PNM and its leadership is by using a Biblical reference. A certain ruler when to Jesus at night, his name was Nicodemus.   He was a Jewish politician in Israel and under the cover the darkness he sought out Jesus, the Rabbi – Master Teacher.   In summary, Jesus told him he must be “born again.”   It is not my attempt to get all religious on you, but in 2010 when Dr. Rowley became the leader of the PNM after the defeat of Patrick Manning he had a chance to reinvent the PNM, to write a new script for the party, to evolve with the changing politics, to elevate the conversation. He did reinvent the party; in fact, he flipped it, to the MNP, the Monkey Nuts Party.   This is Dr. Rowley’s PNM.

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Referendum before Run-Off

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We are going to try and provide some commentary on these issues before the debate that will take place on Monday but these aren’t meant to be legalistic arguments.   Some are simply policies we agree with or disagree with.   It includes some historical analysis had term limits been in place for previous prime ministers and how their legacy would have been viewed.   Some of it is political satire, just given the satirical nature of T&T politics and culture.   Some of it is an analysis of the strategy used on both sides. So here goes.

 

Since the Prime Minister introduced the three proposed amendments to the Constitution during a strategically and rather politically wise but rare August session, an interesting national conversation has emerged.   In fact for those of us interested in having a national conversation, our criticisms of proposed reforms will only serve to deepen the conversation.   The mistake made by the government is the fact that a referendum measure was not the first measure introduced.   This would have simply put the question to a yes or national vote.     The case would have been automatic for the run-off, showing the need for majority position instead of minority positions.   They had a perfect opportunity to make the case of consensus building much needed in the politics.   We urge them to consider a referendum amendment.

 

For us, term limits for the Prime Minister is simple and a majority (51%) of the country probably agrees with this measure. There is no need for a developing country like Trinidad and Tobago to have a Prime Minister holding on to power after 10 years.   After only serving for 5 years and despite his recent death, ANR Robinson would go down in history as one of the best Prime Ministers of Trinidad and Tobago in terms of his legacy.

 

Let’s talk about legacy a bit.

 

The silence of former Prime Minister Patrick Manning during this time of elevated national discussion is interesting.   Had Manning only served ten years, his legacy would have been seen in a different light, had he not gone done the dictatorial road in his later years?   Manning’s political legacy in his own regard is already written and can only be viewed in that of succession in that of Dr. Keith Rowley as political leader of the PNM but one must wonder what goes through the mind of Mr. Manning when he sees the state of the party he once led and how his words against Dr. Rowley has cornered him that the UNC strategists and propaganda machinery exploits.

 

Mr. Manning will most likely will stay silent, but if and when he speaks his words will be noted carefully because they have tremendous power – the power to brand.     If and when he opens his mouth, his criticism will have to be that of Kamla, and much stronger than his criticism of Dr. Rowley.   But this is a catch 22, we know whose side Manning is a thorn in, his mere presence, but if Manning criticizes Kamla, this is no good for Rowley and the PNM because we know what this government wants to make this election about and the PNM has taken the bait every step of way. The government is daring the PNM to make it a defensive election, and this is trap because if everyone has to defend their record, some people will have more to defend.   On the other hand, an election about the future puts the PNM into a tailspin and a scramble for a script that is never adhered to and appears to be invented on spot – in essence fabricated. Why weren’t the alternatives in Dr. Rowley 10 point constitution plans out in the public prior to this? Why was it a secret?

 

(Living and Dead PM reflects in someone’s dream)

 

If wasn’t for his health, we believe that Manning would have led a vigorous charge back, but he should take solace in the fact that people talk about better about us when we are dead, than when we are alive. Ask Robbie, but then again, he was the only man who took a bullet for country.   Then there is the doctor, Eric Williams, 56-81, at the helm for at least 25 years, till death did they part. The undisputed father of the nation, a mastermind politician with his interesting electoral strategies that kept him power.   The fact is you have to harness your fair share of the blame when you are at the helm, proportional at least. More time in office, more blame.   More time in the grave, and hopefully when everyone dies, your legacy can be repaired.   This is why no American today hates George Washington (and he owned slaves), no one alive knows him.

 

Chambers gets little blame – the fete is over. No one wants to remember the 33-3 defeat I brought about.   That overshadowed everything he did, or tried to do or could not be done, the money was running out.

 

Satire

 

Basdeo Panday can easily use his religion, he is a Hindu, he believes in reincarnation.   He has the rest of eternity to become PM again so he is not worried about his legacy, much less with term limits, he will just keep coming back coming back and back and back and back.

 

The Dynamics between the PM and the Opposition Leader

 

The dynamics between Panday and Manning as PM and Opposition Leader and vice-versa is a missing over the last four years where they challenged each other to elevate their policies.   Despite the adversarial nature of politics and debate, these men had a personal friendship, which at the end of the day was good for the nation.   This relationship simply does not exists between Kamla and Keith, but that this a different story.

 

Political Strategy

 

Bringing these amendments at this time, were an effective strategy and a smart politically move on behalf of the Prime Minister and the government.   This government has been plagued with scandal time and time again, but the PM has broken the mold in responding, but has effectively branded her partnership not with political parties in a coalition, but with people, with individual people.   She knows who hates her (politically), she has her base that loyally supports her, but she is likeable by many who have no fixed political affiliation.   It is this likeability factor that makes her transformational leader that Dr. Rowley has yet to project.   His base supports him, but it is the middle ground he struggles with which causes great doubt and skepticism to these voters who that Kamla woos because of the likeability factor.

 

People want to be confident that their parliamentarian regardless of which party is in power whether or not they voted for them.   It is in this delicate space that I understand the run-off, but the also the push back towards this measure, which will be our next piece, hopefully before the debate.

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