Category Archives: Governance

The Murder of the Keil’s: Connecting the dots and Uprooting Xenophobic Attitudes in Tobago



Tobago has unfortunately placed itself in the international spotlight.    The full-page headlines in many German and European newspapers over the past week that read, “HACKED TO DEATH,” is damaging to the island; there are no “ifs ands or buts” about it.  In fact, it is not the first time that foreigners have been the victims of brutal attacks and the internet is filled with information about the troubles that take place in tiny Tobago.   On their search for expectations of paradise and island living, they unfortunately met their deaths like the Keil’s or the Green’s, a UK couple currently suing the government who was assaulted a few years ago.  We strongly condemn these acts of violence.

When critical events of this nature happens on a small island it requires taking stock of where we are as a people, a society and ultimately a country.  These are not random acts of violence and while we don’t know the individual motives of various crimes because most times we cannot find the perpetrators; there comes a point when the society itself is the perpetrator and should bear some responsibility for these acts violence.  Clearly this collective responsibility is not distributed equally because at the end of the day, power is not distributed equally but as Tobagonians we must bear a cost, whether now or in the future.  In getting to the root causes of why there should be collective responsibility, the society becomes the perpetrator because of the perception and or reality of how foreigners are treated and this includes Trinidadians and even native Tobagonians who left and returned to the island.

Before we get into the heart of this commentary, I should make you aware of any bias.   I am Tobagonian by birth, American by nationality and I myself have received the “you not from here,” from some Tobagonians I have encountered during my times in Tobago.   I cannot say that I have been blatantly discriminated against, perhaps denied some opportunities based on my youthful appearance but the qualifications that accompany me which I don’t boast of is enough to be threat just by the fact I might think or ask a question or two.

Nevertheless, this is not about me but I have heard countless stories of Tobagonians who have lived abroad for many years and faced discrimination upon return.  In fact, I know of one nurse, who returned to England because what she experienced at the hospital.    The simple fact was her capacity, training and professionalism placed in a system where she went against the grain.  These stories are based on the experiences of individuals with direct connection to Tobago about that sense of “you not from here,” so I can only imagine what those without connection to Tobago may experience from some.

While I do not believe the majority of Tobagonians are suspicious of those they deem “outsiders” there is enough rhetoric in the society to suggest it is a problem.   I think it is normal for anyone from anywhere to ask themselves in their heads about the “presence of others” whether in their village, community, island, or country.   The majority of citizens would not plot or conspire to rob or murder others, much less talk out “wha dem ah do ya” or share hostile remarks that suggest “others” are not welcomed.     However, people hear remarks like these at times, and when they do hear them it suggests to them something about the society and the fact that they might be unwelcomed by some.   The majority of Tobagonians continue to be hospitable people, but hospitable people can also stay silent at things they should speak up for and this is the silent suffering in Tobago.  It is such a loud silence that we talk about it, we acknowledge it happens, but we never confront it and though as individuals we might be against it, we collective condone it because we do not collectively confront it.

Xenophobia has many synonyms, some of which includes (racism, nationalism, prejudice, racial intolerance and dislike for foreigners).  I am deliberately changing the rest this commentary to a Q&A format because in an effort to fully conceptualize why this is a serious problem that must be dealt with effectively and immediately the reader should do some inquiry (ask questions)

Q: Is Tobago a racist society?

A: Racism exists in all societies.  It is very difficult for a society to call itself racist, but understanding racism requires an understanding of power structures.   Not liking a person because of the color of their skin is prejudice, but it becomes racist when you are in a position to deny that person an opportunity of some sort. While Tobago is not a blatantly racist society like the apartheid state that existed in South Africa in the past or the United States that practiced legalized segregation, there are elements of racism that exists in Tobago like anywhere else.    It should be noted that Tobago is 95% black.    While race might not be a divisive problem within Tobago; it is a society based on class stratification (income inequality).

Q:  What is nationalism and how does it relate the Tobago?

A: Nationalism is an ideology about nationhood.   There are many forms of nationalism.  For example, patriotism includes displays of national colors, the flag, the feeling of pride one has for their country, and the duty one owes to country, like service in the military.    This is an accepted form of nationalism that people from all countries typically have.    This is what you see normally displayed during soccer matches during the World Cup or independence parades.  Nationalism in an extreme form gave rise to World War I, where these feelings erupted all over Europe and ultimately led to two world wars and the shaping of the modern world was we know it.  It is dangerous and deadly in its extreme form, especially when others factors are at work, such as militarism.  Interestedly, synonyms of nationalism includes (independence, autonomy, self-rule and self-government).    These concepts are important to Tobagonians and the turn on the inflamed political passions of people.

Q:  What is an example of “inflamed political passion” in the Tobago case?

A:  Tobago has an interesting political culture and elections typically arouse these inflamed political passions.   On a larger scope, politics in Trinidad and Tobago is masked in utterances of something locally known as “picong”.  When this is aligned with the political history which has a racial undertone given the historic voter bases of the main parties, some individuals cross the line and acts of racism are perpetuated, sometimes masked in utterances of ‘picong”.  A major example of this was the “Calcutta Ship” statement made by Hilton Sandy during the 2013 THA election. Despite the apology that was issued, this one statement has probably done more damage affecting the progress of what could have been accomplished between the THA and Central Government, despite the election results.  There was a communication breakdown between both entities and this hindered some progress.

Q: Why was the ‘Calcutta Ship’ an example of racial intolerance?   What is the real problem?

A: The Calcutta Ship statement whether it was deliberate or not, whether part of a campaign strategy or whether it just popped into the head of the individual who made the statement on a political platform, it played on the fears of many.  Tobagonians understand the concept of land and wealth, but unfortunately more than 85% of Tobagonians do not have deeds and titles to their lands, despite occupying these “family lands” for many years.   Almost every culture experience the conflict over land that takes places in families, tribes and nations over land and Tobago is no different.   The Calcutta Ship was the easiest way to galvanize support of an “us vs them” (the government – the Calcutta people) strategy to win the election, creating an “enemy” who will “take your land”.  Perhaps it was convenient, but we can only hope inflammatory statements of this nature cease to be a part of political discourse.

Q:  How does all this relate to the Kiel’s, the Greens and “a dislike for foreigners”?

A:  Xenophobia’s is the dislike for foreigners and this happens everywhere.  Tobago is not an isolated case neither is it the exception but the Keil’s were killed in Tobago and the Green’s were assaulted in Tobago, not elsewhere.  We are a tourist destination, domestically and internationally and while we cannot stop bad things from happening there is no need to suffer in collective silence; there is a need to speak up.   Hopefully in speaking up justice will prevail for the Keil’s, the Green’s and all those whose lives were tragically cut short by criminals occupying the Tobago space.    Additionally, in speaking up we should speak loud enough so that the world can hear us. This will require speech, language and discourse that shows we are ready to do business with the rest of the world.   Disliking foreigners and public usage of racist language even if masked in utterances of picong are things that do not belong in a society that seeks to develop itself.




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.


Tobago Carnival 2014, its a wrap: postmortem talks

While I was not in Tobago for Carnival 2014, social media comments and the morning call-in show on Radio Tambrin provides enough evidence to draw conclusions about what happened.   All this evidence is important and those in charge of Carnival should have a listening ear with hopes of improving the Carnival Season in the near future.

Approximately TTD$9 million was spent on Tobago’s Carnival in 2014.    While it is the expectation of many Tobagonians that the Tobago House of Assembly contribute significantly to the Carnival Season, it is also important that the people know where their monies go.    After a transfer of cash from the THA in such large proportions it is only right that the people know who benefits.   This adds to any government’s record of credibility, good governance, accountability and transparency.

There is little to no evidence that documents Tobago’s Carnival as a revenue-generating event Tobago House of Assembly.  What percentage of the investment is recuperated and put directly back into the coffers of the Assembly?  While individuals such as the food vendors, the lady selling souse, and the guy who owns a bar will make some money during the season especially on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, this is money coming directly from pockets of Tobagonians into these small business owners and entrepreneurs.

What then happens to the TTD$9 million spent?   Money does not vanish into thin air; it is simply reallocated to finance something else after good and services were provided.   We know that some of the money would to things like prizes, equipment rental such as stages, sound, lighting, chairs and some to bandleaders to help them with costumes.   Those responsible for planning the season and dispensing public resources should account annually as to where the money goes but go beyond a financial report to a comprehensive report of the happenings of the entire season.     If we are to move beyond the ‘eat ah food’ mentality that has negatively plagued the island, the appropriate policies will be develop to ensure a carnival season we all can enjoy.

Such a report, if done correctly will highlight where the mistakes were made and make recommendations that will be implemented.    However, there is a need for individuals with competence that will examine what happened with ‘critical eyes’ and not ‘eyes for criticism.’  Tobago as a whole can benefit from this but all too often our judgments are clouded by party politics to the detriment of our overall society.

A significant portion of the population claims that they are excluded stating that their ideas are not welcomed at the table.  If any society intends to develop beyond its current capacity it must fully utilize its human resources, bringing critical minds to the table, to effectively plan and execute something of substance, worth and value.     No single idea is better than an idea that is built upon by others and thoroughly evaluated for faults before execution.

No one should ever question the loyal of Tobagonians to their island whether they reside in Tobago, Trinidad, New York, Miami, London or where ever they choose to live.   Our small population will have political differences but we must never allow this to delay or destroy the development agenda.     Our destinies are so intertwined that we should never allow divisions (not differences) to fester or allow a small group of people to dominate, creating an oligarchy as opposed to a democracy.

Lastly, a word on planning.   Effective planning takes time.  The planning for Carnival 2015 should begin tomorrow after one day of rest.    The Carnival fraternity must also do more and not wait on the THA to make funding moves.   They are ones who should be front and center leading the charge for a season that engages us culturally so a good time can be had by all.


Labour Policy Brief, (in less than 400 words)

Secretary of Settlements and Labour Councillor Deon Isaac made important policy statements during the 15th plenary session of the Tobago House of Assembly.    Acknowledging that labour policy in Tobago must catch up; Isaac began to make some exemplary connections between housing, poverty, labour and productivity.

He presented during a debate on poverty reduction linking the alignment of goals and benchmarks of the Comprehensive Economic Development Plan 2.0 (Adopted Assembly Policy, 2013-2015) to the goals of the Millennium Development Goals, a United Nation Development Program (UNDP) initiative.

Isaac addressed the importance of human capital development for the development of a Labour Policy for the Tobago House of Assembly.  The outcomes of the initiatives undertaken in this labour drive are aimed at improving productivity on the island.     Among the initiatives are an Industrial Relations Audit, which will produce data to inform policy and decision-making on labour matters.

A recruitment policy for contract workers is another initiative that we can expect Isaac to lead.     As we know, the Tobago House of Assembly provides employment for a substantial portion of the population.    A recruitment policy will lift the perception of ‘party’ patronage jobs and should employ global standards on non-discrimination in the workplace.

The Division of Settlements and Labour is the smallest division of the Tobago House of Assembly.   The Secretary suggested an integrated approach of the Department of Labour and called for it to be “more robust, more visible, and more proactive.”   To support this, widespread Human Resource training will be something that the THA would get the ball rolling on in the upcoming months.    The goal is to get this to filter down and across all Divisions within the THA to promote productivity of the government sector.

A final initiative expressed by Isaac was to bring the salaries of contract workers the across the THA to “symmetry and scale.”   This suggests that workers with similar contractual appointment will be paid on a similar wage as probably opposed that decision being left up the individual Divisions.

With Isaac at the reigns of DOSAL the Department of Labour will come into its own while gaining functionality.  He should continue to work on defining the Department, keep focus on an integrated approach aimed at improving productivity, provide a great deal of public education and make links to the development of a strong private sector.