Tuesday, May 6, 2014


I've listened to reactions, understandably shocked, following the murder of Dana Seetahal. Here's my take on this whole thing:

For those who are equating her murder with the other 155 for the year, the only equivalence is that she is human with the same DNA. That is where it ends. The murder of Ms. Seetahal carries a strong symbolic message that there are no lines left to be crossed. She was a public official, a state prosecutor and a high ranking senior counsel. Her murder matters more because of the message it sends.

Secondly, I am completely disinterested in prayer and coming together and being patriotic or holding million dollar memorials for Ms. Seetahal. The fact of the matter is that this country is rotten from the top to the core. I don't care for public relations police briefings or an Attorney General who used her murder for self promotion a mere 2 hours after she was gunned down in cold blood. Everyone in this country knows that the problem is drugs. Everyone knows that the young boys from Laventille cannot finance it. Everyone knows of the corruption at the ports. Everyone knows. And that is the point. Don't insult my intelligence by telling me that you working on theories and no resources will be spared to catch her killers because I don't care about the ones who pulled the triggers. They are certainly not the ones from whom orders came. They are most probably not the ones who brought military grade weapons into the country. Where are the arrests and prosecution of these 'big fishes'? You know, the ones who actually have the financial whereitall to conduct the narco trade.

Thirdly, her murder is a further demonstration of systemic failure. Despite our 'wealth', this country is a failed state. State institutions do not work, from health to national security to education to finance. Transparency and accountability are nonexistent and those who call for it are treated (by whomever controls the treasury) as mischief makers. Our system and structure of governance is a failure. It is a failure because our government finances the trade. It is complicit in money laundering and drug running. And not because individual ministers are. It is because the state readily provides financing via URP/CEPEP contracts. The Ministry of Finance does not conduct audits of citizens who for some reason manage to live like kings and queens while declaring income like paupers. It is because the Security Apparatus cannot or will not control our borders or intelligently conduct investigations. How many times have there been drug busts with no arrests?

Finally, as I end this, and I refuse to call it a rant, here are some simple solutions to those in charge offered by me, free of charge.

1. Immediately close down URP/CEPEP and replace it with Unemployment Insurance not to exceed 100 weeks. In this way those who need some relief will get it, along with some time to make thenselves employable. It cuts out contractors and wastage. It identifies those in need and assists and trains people to enter the workforce.

2. CCTV everywhere. In ever major city, town, borough, state building and ports. If London can do it, we can more than afford to. The fear of being caught is almost as effective as being caught.

3. Complete tax and asset audits of very high net worth individuals to trace source of income. Either by the Ministry of Finance or the Financial Intelligence Unit. Jail is jail, whether they are taken down for drug running or tax evasion.

4. Complete overhaul of the Judicial system, including the abolition of nuisance laws and the implementation of a more efficient trial system. Rebuild from the ground up. New and modern buildings for our courts equipped with the relevant technology.

5. Zero tolerance for firearms. And I mean zero. No one should be allowed a firearm. Not businessmen, not civilians, not low ranking police officers and certainly not security guards. And if found with one, punishment should be onerous.

6. A properly called and executed state of emergency with assistance from international organizations. It is clear that we alone cannot handle our problems.

In the meantime, we remain a relatively wealthy, failed, narco state....well at least until the oil runs out...then we can remove wealthy from that description and see the kind of state we really are.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Democracy is the Worst....

'Democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all others'- Winston Churchill

The Chaguanas West bye election voting is winding down now. And the result is far from certain. What seems to be the only certain thing is that, come tomorrow, the new Member of Parliament will be filling a vacancy created by the forced resignation of Jack Warner on allegations of corruption.

What makes this election most remarkable is the unique groundswell of support for Mr. Warner, seeking reelection under the banner of his newly formed Independent Liberal Party. This seat is the strongest of all 41 constituencies. Mr. Warner won with 93% of the vote under a United National Congress ticket. The seat has been a consistent stronghold for the UNC, falling only to the People's National Movement in the boycotted 1971 General Election. This places this bye election into context. Polling in the lead up to the election has shown a lead for Mr. Warner from anywhere between 5% to 20%. A victory for Mr. Warner will signal a significant shift in the pattern of voting for this constituency and perhaps a reexamination of campaigning for Trinidad and Tobago.

A victory for Warner, however, should lead to introspection of our politics, our electorate an our representation. There can be no question that Mr. Warner has been an excellent representative for his constituency. One can argue that personal wealth and the resources of the state ably assisted him as a senior cabinet minister. However, this argument can also hold for many others who are viewed as less effective representatives and who are certainly not held in the cultish status as Warner.

There can also be no question that Mr. Warner has serious allegations to answer. He is the subject of an investigation by the American Internal Revenue Service (IRS). His fitness to hold office has been questioned from the day he was appointed a senior government minister following the elections of May 2010. There is no doubt that under different circumstances, Mr. Warner would have been forced to resign and not stand again for office. However, the lack of adequate constitutional reform has allowed Mr. Warner to seek a revalidation from the electorate itself. And this revalidation exercise may yet prove the undoing of a government which has not settled into governing, and which has been managing crisis after crisis.

A loss for the UNC will be a second consecutive blow to the People's Partnership Government, coming on the heels of a 12-0 blowout of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP) by the PNM in the January 2013 House of Assembly election. It will be a blow to the Prime Minister directly, as a repudiation of her government's policies and the UNC candidate, Kadijah Ameen. Ir will be a blow to the Congress of the People which has called on many occasions for the head of Mr. Warner. It will successfully legitimise Mr. Warner as a serious political player with the potential to direct the outcome of a General Election.

But what of a success? What does it say about the electorate which will ignore the allegations dogging Mr. Warner and vote instead for the Dr. Jekyll version of effective representation? The fact is that one goes with the other. The commendable aspects of Mr. Warner is indeed betrayed by the less scrupulous ones. And there must be a great concern that our electorate is not discerning enough to examine the whole candidate and come to a conclusion that there is too much doubt to reelect Warner.

A win for the UNC will be phyrric. Nothing short of a massive landslide will be acceptable. A win by a small margin will indicate serious problems for the major party in the coalition. A win will also have Ms. Kadijah Ameen sworn in as the new MP for Chaguanas West. Ms. Ameen has not impressed with her campaign. The UNC has not allowed a mature discourse of the issues, as would be expected for a party in government. Being handed the safest seat in the country will propel Ms. Ameen to the public limelight but little else. Her credentials for serving as an MP has not been made clear.

As for the other candidates in the race, there seems little doubt that they will handily lose their deposits. This race is between two horses, neither of whom will inspire a greater confidence in the democratic process in Trinidad and Tobago. The time has come for serious and major constitutional reform on elections, recalls and financing. It is the one saving grace the the Congress of the People may have, lest they be condemned to forever being cannibalised by the UNC. Indeed, many will argue that there is already no difference between the UNC and the COP.

Democracy must be respected. But it must also be regulated if it is to remain credible. Today may yet be the day when an individual wins and democracy loses.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


After a prolonged and deliberate hiatus, I'm resuming my blogs for a number of reasons. The foremost is the simplest. I miss writing. The other reasons don't seem to matter now.

It's been three and a half years since I've graduated. I've settled into working in the Public Health Service. While I have no intentions of being permanent here, it is where I am at present, and so I not only make the best of it, but I aspire to make it better.

In my short stint thus far in the service, it is clear why doctors become frustrated and fed up. It is no wonder that they pack up seeking greener pastures. At the very basis is the clear lack of professionalism from those who seek to administer healthcare in Trinidad. Doctors, who are the ones ultimately responsible for the welfare of their patients are routinely disrespected, humiliated and forced to work in conditions akin to indentureship.

At the very outset, I contend that I speak for the vast majority of doctors who are dedicated and committed to their jobs and their patients. I acknowledge that there are those who are suboptimal, but that is a feature not unique to medicine. However, as a result of sensationalism generated by the media and the failure or inability of doctors to adequately address the clear misconceptions or outright lies published have rendered us at the mercy of a public who is poorly educated about what their expectations should be about the health system that they access. Doctors who work in the public hospitals have had their constitutional right to freedom of speech muted by the courts and the contracts which prohibit medical professionals from engaging with the media. This, despite the fact that they may come under direct attack with reputations at stake. Instead, it is left to the communications departments of the Regional Health Authorities (RHAs), to address these matters. Indeed, the personnel charged with this responsibility, while they may be advised medically, usually have no training or experience in working in a health related field.

The lack of respect transcends just the patients, however. There is a complete breakdown in the hierarchy of the delivery of healthcare in this country. Doctors are rendered impotent when directives for management are undermined by nursing staff who fail to execute the daily plans for patients or by attendants who refuse to do their jobs of transporting patients to and from various facilities within the hospital. (eg. from A&E to the ward or to get a simple X-Ray or CT Scan)The result of this is that doctors are therefore forced to do the jobs of the auxillary staff. 'So what?', you may be thinking. 'Doctors feel they do big to do them things?' Well firstly, doctors are not hired as nurses or attendants. But more importantly, when doctors are left to do the jobs not being done by those who have been hired to do them, the collective care of patients suffer. This is because there is now less time for doctors to manage the actual care of their patients since this time is wastefully spent on, for example, wheeling a patient to get an ultrasound.

There is a fine line between disrespect and humiliation, but it is distinct. And there has been, lately, what seems to be a concerted attempt to deliberately humiliate doctors. There is the vexing issue of the unilateral removal of a vehicle tax exemption usually granted to travelling officers by the Chief Personnel Officer. This, despite the fact that it is included in a legally binding contract that has been signed by doctors. This blatant attempt, coupled with the fact that no new collective agreement has been signed since 2008, only serve to accelerate the rate at which those with high aspirations and the means to escape, ultimately do. This is a blatant failure of the Medical Professionals Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MPATT) to seriously deal with issues directly affecting the conditions and compensation of the most important link in the health care chain.

On further examination, however, things begin to clear. The immediate past president of MPATT is now Chairperson of an RHA, a direct conflict of interest in any corporate circle. Another former president sits on the board of another RHA. This revolving door, aided and abetted by political connections and aspirations have enabled a scant few from within the very profession to augment the populist sentiment that it is acceptable to humiliate those who provide health care in very trying circumstances.

Finally, with the appointment of the latest Medical Chief of Staff, doctors have been threatened via memos and other intimidatory tactics that they should not claim their legitimately worked for overtime or compensatory days. In which other profession would this nonsense be condoned? This is in clear contravention of the contracts which we have signed. Instead, tactics which include merging non compatible departments in order to lessen overtime sessions or outrightly refusing to sign off on legitimately worked extra sessions have become pervasive. Compensatory days, which was a compromise in itself, so that doctors can be compensated for hours worked in lieu of cash, has been taken away, ultra vires the contracts which have been signed. And all this with the apparent consent of the employer.

The profession of medicine in this country has been and is continuing to be systematically undermined. Doctors cannot give priority to delivering the best health care to patients when all of the above bogeys are constantly being held over our heads. The final insult is the posturing by administrators who have little or no medical knowledge purporting to make medical decisions which they claim to be in the best interest in the public. This includes, but is not limited to the reversal of decisions made by qualified, sometimes even specialised health professionals. These decisions are usually populist in nature and have no basis whatever in proper and due medical practice. When the outcomes are then, predictably, disastrous, the blame is then placed squarely at the feet of doctors.

A friend of mine once pointed out to me that, in general, doctors come from the cream of the academic crop. We have usually strove for excellence from primary to secondary to tertiary levels. We have worked hard and fought through a multitude of obstacles to arrive at the point when we can be called doctors. A great majority enter the profession with that wide eyed innocence of seeking to make a difference. That personality doesn't change upon the conferring of a medical degree. The drive for excellence does not change. What changes are the extraneous, unnecessary challenges that we are forced to cope with, along with quasi qualified personnel who, for some reason wish to 'play' doctor, rather than letting actual doctors do their job in as least stressful and conducive environment as possible. The profession of medicine has been outsourced to the most obstructionist, egocentric and unqualified people. It makes for a worse health system and a sick, sick nation.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

52 Weeks Later

It's the one year anniversary of the coalition sweeping into power with an unprecedented popular mandate. They've been extensively analysed and polled, so there probably isn't any merit in rehashing the mantra of the last few weeks.

What is important is that we utilise an appropriate benchmark in order to assess this and any other government. These benchmarks will inevitably include direct comparisons to previous administrations as well as comparisons to a 'gold standard' of governance.

With respect to the comparison with the immediately preceding administration, I believe that there is no doubt that the current administration has not only shown but has also done many of the necessary things to bring about some degree of confidence back into the realm of good governance.

There are simple instances of line ministers and the Prime Minister making themselves available to be interviewed. There is the pleasing sight of high ranking cabinet ministers taking questions at the Post Cabinet Press Conference. There has been a restoration of Parliamentary oversight with the establishment of many Joint Select Committees, answering of questions posed to Ministers and even the sheer number of sittings that the Parliament has undertaken.

There has been an attempt to improve levels of transparency with the advertisements of numerous tenders for various projects. Whether or not this actually leads to any degree of improvement in the award of contracts is left to be seen, after the Mary King and NP debacles.

From a macro perspective, the Economy has been stabalised, reports of serious crimes have decreased while Agriculture has been given priority, despite the absolutely horrendous acts of bulldozing crops a few weeks ago. In addition there is a massive thrust in Trade and Industry and Foreign Affairs to position this country into a more competitive position and the Ministry of Energy has awarded new exploration contracts. The Ministry of Works has completed some outstanding PNM projects while undertaking some new initiatives.

However, this has all been marred by the events of the SIA, Mary King, Jack Warner and FIFA, Dookeran and Anil, Ramlogan and the Piano, the placement of ministers in capacities which clearly overwhelms them (Baptiste-Cornelis and Gopeesingh) and lately, the furor over the imminent award to a friend of the PM of an NP contract.

It is here that we must revert to the reasons why the current coalition is in power. A large part of their election was apathy toward the PNM and more specifically, Patrick Manning. Their campaign was hinged on the idea of new politics, better governance, increased transparency and less corruption. I am not one who believes that we have gotten exchange rather than change. However, there have been frustrating incidents. Incidents that make one wonder whether or not they realise that their election was something far more significant than a glossy campaign or rum and roti politics.

52 weeks later, each of the component entities of the Partnership seem intent on building their identities. The MSJ officially launched as a political party, while the COP has promoted their serialisation in the lead up to the 50th Anniversary of T&T's Independence. This, I believe, can only auger well for the strength of the coalition. It is high time however, that the component entities begin holding each other, especially the majority partner, accountable for actions.

As for the PNM, as has been the case with many parties shocked into opposition, there have been serious problems organising into a viable alternative administration. Significant steps have been taken, with the recent executive election and the consolidation of power around Dr. Rowley. Recently, however, the resurgence of a Manning faction has proved to somewhat discredit the idea that the PNM is a cohesive unitary party. This undermines their credibility when they seek to imply that the coalition of 5 is not a cohesive unit. There seems to be a misunderstanding that Cabinet cohesiveness and political cohesiveness are divergent. The PP is not a unitary party and as such, it is expected that divergent views are given at the level of the Executive of the individual parties. The same is not true of the current PNM, where divergence of views is tantamount to a direct assault on the authority of the Political Leader and the Whip.

For the first 52 weeks, I would agree with Mr. Imbert, who exhibited the most class I've seen of any politician in recent times when talking at a seminar hosted at UWI reflecting on the 1st year of the PP government. The government will get a passing grade; somewhere in the region of 6/10. There remains a lot of work to be done and many important manifesto promises to be fulfilled that requires the constitutional majority that they currently enjoy.

In the next year, I fervently hope that the PP address the structural aspects of governance, from a proper reshuffle of the cabinet to the laying and passing of legislation overhauling the constitution to better reflect the society that we live in and hope to build. This in addition to the developmental pillars that they themselves have set out and which would be the benchmark by which their governance would be judged. The 'gold standard' will be their ability to move T&T higher in the international indicators of development.

We cannot hope to achieve First World status with a Third World mentality. No more in our history is it more true than it is at the very present. Here's to a much better next 52 weeks.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

2011 Academy Awards Picks

So it's the annual season of Hollywood self-congratulation and the Academy Awards are less than 24 hours away. In the vein of lightheartedness, I'll post my picks for the awards in major categories. Just as a note, and for full disclosure, I have not seen the following movies which have been nominated for major awards: Winter's Bone, Animal Kingdom, Another Year.

Best Animated Feature:

Who should win: Toy Story 3
Who will win: Toy Story 3

Sorry all you Pixar haters, but you can count another golden statue in the pile for this flick which can evenly contend for th highest prize.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Who should win: The Social Network
Who will win: The Social Network

I was caught between The Social Network and True Grit for my pick, but in the end I gave the edge to The Social Network mainly because of how fast paced the movie was and the incredible effortlessness that the delivery of the script contributed to the success of the movie.

Best Original Screenplay:

Who should win: Inception
Who will win: The King's Speech

The creative genius of Nolan that went into the multi-layered Inception is second to none. However, Academy voters have been barraged with the Weinsteins' King's Speech and the Royal tale will get the undeserving nod come Oscar night.

Best Director:

Who should win: Christopher Nolan (Inception)- Not Nominated
Who will win: David Fincher (The Social Network)

For another year, Nolan is snubbed. The win will come for Fincher, previously nominated for Benjamin Button and strangely not nominated for Fight Club.

Best Supporting Actress:

Who should win: Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Who will win: Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)

He's gone completely mad! That's what you're probably saying. But, with Amy Adams also nominated and the Academy's penchant for honouring young actresses in this category, this will probably be one of the few upsets of the night.

Best Supporting Actor:

Who should win: Geoffery Rush (The King's Speech)
Who will win: Christian Bale (The Fighter)

Look, it's MY opinion alright! You can comment and give yours too. I just think that acting goes beyond the ability to morph oneself by gaining or losing weight. Bale's performance is great, but I personally think that Rush embodied the role of Lionel Logue and made him completely believable.

Best Actress:

Who should win: Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right)
Who will win: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

They both give convincing performances but again, in my opinion, Portman does more morphing by losing weight than acting. The real crime in this category is that Julianne Moore didn't get a nod.

Best Actor:

Who should win: Colin Firth (The King's Speech)
Who will win: Colin Firth (The King's Speech)

No contest. And the explanation for it is simply to look at the performance. Notable omission is Leonardo DiCaprio and no, not for Inception, but for Shutter Island, which was released in March and duly forgotten. His performance in that movie was at least better than Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, for which he got a nom.

Best Picture:

Who should win: Inception
Who will win: The Social Network

And you're thinking I've COMPLETELY lost it. Truthfully, I'm not that confident in The Social Network, but I gave it the edge over the King's Speech because of the nature of the story and the voters who actually make the decision. In any case, for yet another year, the best movie of the year won't win the Oscar.

After all is done tomorrow night, I think it's Inception that comes out on top with 5 or 6 awards, mainly in minor categories. Kings' Speech and Social Network should each pick up about 3.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In Defence of Dookeran: CLICO

I am under no illusions that the Leader of the Congress of the People, de facto Deputy Prime Minister and current Minister of Finance, Mr. Winston Dookeran is in need of my or anyone else’s defence when it comes to matters of the economy or his ministry. It is, therefore, not in this context that I endeavour to write about matters that fall under his purview and recent developments that seek to distract and detract from what has been, thus far a commendable performance in a difficult position.

Firstly, and since the matter preceded him, I will tackle the issue of CLICO who are calling for Mr. Dookeran’s head as per their payouts. More specifically, Mr. Peter Permell has been talking to anyone who cares to listen, and has, to an extent, successfully gotten quite a significant portion of the population to go along with his ludicrous claims. As per CLICO, and I will painfully stand corrected, if wrong, the Minister identified approximately 250,000 policyholders/depositors who were affected by the fall out of the failure of the insurance giant.

Of these, 225,000 are traditional policyholders, traditional the word used to describe people who invested their monies in an insurance product familiar to most, namely (i) a life insurance policy payable to a beneficiary upon the policyholder’s death and (ii) an annuity policy payable to the policyholder upon retirement OR if death of the policyholder precedes retirement, to his/her beneficiary. The Minister has been at pains to point out that these persons are fully covered, have nothing to worry about and their investments are secure.

The second tranche of approximately 25,000 claimants are, in fact, depositors, despite the label of ‘Policyholder’ that Permell has managed to successfully introduce via the formation of his group. These depositors invested into a product sold by CLICO, namely the Executive Flexible Premium Annuity (EFPA). Whether or not they were misled by the company and its agents is a separate matter. By the very sentiment of the Minister and the Governor of the Central Bank, these individuals and, in some cases, CORPORATIONS, invested in a non-traditional instrument. What Mr. Permell, in his many ventures to the media and histrionics at meetings, has failed to clearly explain to the public is the nature of these EFPAs. What was the attraction to these ‘Annuities’? Was it the interest rates of 12-14% in an environment that, at the time, was paying at best, 5-7%? If not, then what? And if yes, then the case for greed cannot be made any clearer.

In any case, of these 25,000 depositors, approximately 11,000 hold less than TT$75,000 in assets and will be completely covered by a one-off payment as laid out by Dookeran’s plan in the 2010/2011 Budget. This leaves 14,000 depositors whose claim on the Treasury is approximately TT$7 billion, an average of TT$500,000 per client (although a median figure would be more instructive). Every single one of these depositors will receive an initial payment of $75,000, a total of $1 billion this year. The remaining $6 billion will be paid over the next 20 years in equal payments ($300 million/year), at 0% interest (just about the same that you or I are currently receiving on bank deposits). The important thing to take away from this is that every single depositor would have had the majority of his/her initial capital preserved.

A 20-year bond is to be floated to finance this debt that the GORTT has decided to undertake. Permell has either chosen to remain ignorant of the terms of this bond or has taken a conscious decision to suppress the information surrounding this issue. Depositors have two options. (i) Accept an initial payment of $75,000 and cash in their bonds at 100% of their face value each year for the next 20 years; thereby receiving 100% of their capital back (at an average of 2011-2030 inflation-adjusted dollar values). In a hypothetical case of a depositor with $1 million, and assuming a generous adjusted average inflation/depreciation rate of 7% over the next 20 years, the depositor will be reimbursed the equivalent of $581,000 in terms of 2011 dollars. This represents a ‘haircut’ of approximately 42%. This ‘haircut’ will be greater or smaller, depending on the rate of inflation/deflation and appreciation/depreciation of the TT dollar.

The second option is the acceptance of an initial payment of $75,000 and the immediate cashing in of the 20 year bond. As with any bond being cashed in prior to its maturity date, there will be a discount attached to the face value. Mr. Dookeran has gone out of his way to interfere with the free market by negotiating with local banks to accept the first 5 years of the CLICO issue at approximately 92-95% of face value. The remaining 15 years, as generally agreed, will attract a discount of approximately 40-45% (that is, 55-60% of face value) Again, using our hypothetical depositor with $1 million to receive, he will receive a lump sum of $75,000.
Assuming the bond attracts a discount on the lower end for both the first 5 years and the remaining 15 years, the depositor will be reimbursed $212,750 for the first 5 years and a further $381,562.50 for a total of approximately $670,000; a haircut of 33%. Note well that this sum will be a lump sum ($75,000 from GORTT and $595,000 from the commercial bank to which the bond will be sold). If the bond is cashed in at the higher end, the payment would be in the region of $710,000, a 29% loss on capital. This lump sum will be obtained almost immediately from the date of the first payment, tentatively scheduled for March 2011 (as indicated by the MoF and Attorney General)

In addition to this, provisions have also been made for individuals to receive money where a case of need is made out. Provisions have also been put in place for credit unions, which had no business investing in these types of products in the first place and which recklessly and irresponsibly weighted their portfolio heavily in the EFPAs, to be paid greater sums.

All this flies in the face of the suggestion that the minister is being vindictive or that people will have to wait for 20 years to get ‘their money’. What it means is that these depositors will have to experience some loss on their initial investment, not a large price to pay in a situation where they would otherwise receive nothing. What Permell is strangely quiet about is the concept of personal responsibility when it comes to investment. CLICO was not, and is still not a state owned entity.

Where is the criticism for the directors of the company which essentially ran a Ponzi scheme on EFPA deposits? Where is the criticism for those investors who piled all their money into a single investment, regardless of whether or not it was deemed risky at first, or if it was approved by the Central Bank? The long and short of this sham story by Permell is that these depositors chased after fast money and lost. It is NOT the responsibility of the REGULATOR to reimburse losses. The REGULATOR is not a GUARANTOR. If there is a facility for guarantee of funds, such as the Statutory Fund, it is my understanding that CLICO is responsible for contributing to that fund. If said money was not deposited, it is not the responsibility or obligation of the Central Bank, the REGULATOR, to meet that commitment.

Just because the GORTT has extended a facility to these depositors does not mean that the Treasury should be used as a cash cow for these accounts. As was stated soon after the election, the CL Financial Group had a net liability of $20 Billion. This means that the group as a whole, of which CLICO is a 100% owned subsidiary is insolvent. There are NO net assets for anyone to receive. The assets which exist, as explained by the minister, are heavily leveraged or encumbered. As such, any monies being paid are as a result of an assessment by the ministry and the Central Bank as to an amount deemed sufficient to prevent contagion to the financial system. Rest assured, if this were a similarly private, smaller insurance company or financial institution; investors would be fending for themselves and holding empty hats.
It is noteworthy also, that despite the best efforts by Permell to misrepresent, both S&P and the IMF have approved of the way that the Minister has handled the situation; S&P even suggesting that the GORTT has been more than generous in handling the CLICO affair. What Permell has conveniently failed to mention is that the Sovereign Rating of ‘A’ is as a RESULT of the GORTT’s handling of the CLICO matter, not a license to sweeten the deal.

So Mr. Permell, it’s about time you came clean on this whole charade. Depositors, as rich or poor, young or old as they are, are lucky to be receiving anything in the first place. Admit that the only reason this came to a head was the order by the Minister to issue a stop on the payment of interest at the ridiculous rate in this fiscal environment. Admit that responsibility for this fiasco lays LEAST in the hands of the Central Bank and the former and present Ministers of Finance and MOST in the hands of the company’s directors and irresponsible investors. Accept responsibility for risks associated with your investments, something that you seem averse to, as evidenced, not only by this case, but also by the fallout from the closure of BWIA where investors, including yourself, are seeking to recoup a premium to the approximately $0.20 a share that the company was delisted at.

It is a sad and lamentable fact that many unsuspecting citizens were caught up in the failure of this institution, but it cannot be the responsibility of taxpayers and the treasury to pay for the irresponsible decisions by directors, shareholders and clients of a private company. The GORTT has a responsibility to ALL citizens, not just the 1% (14,000 clients) affected in this case who are claiming 17% ($7 billion) of projected 2010/2011 revenue. It is most interesting that despite the claims of the EFPA group and the delays in payment, that no legal action has been formally filed. Is it now that legal counsel has advised the group that this is a losing cause and there are absolutely no legs to stand on?

The lesson from this for everyone is that individuals need to be more careful and seek financial advice if they are not competent to make such decisions on their own. The Central Bank needs to review insurance companies to ensure that they comply with relevant laws. Finally, and most importantly, the AG needs to ensure that justice must not only be done but seen to be done with respect to the directors of companies who mismanage funds leaving individuals in dire straits while they are allowed to enjoy the fruits of their ill-obtained gains.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Partnership's New Year Resolutions

With New Years in the air, another arbitrary 365 days begin. And what better than to propose some resolutions to a government that has found itself on the end of some severe (rightly or wrongly) criticisms since assuming office?

I’ll start with my wish list on the legislative agenda.

Government must bring legislation to limit a Prime Minister to two terms in office, set fixed election dates and commence the institution of Local Government reform. These were clear points in their manifesto and they must go about doing it while their majority is largely intact and before there is a descent into political games regarding these very important variations to the Constitution. They must also deal with the outstanding legislation governing Property Taxes and reform of the Board of Inland Revenue. Finally, they must put forward a very clear policy on the Caribbean Court of Justice. Some decision must be made on whether we continue indefinitely with the Privy Council, adopt the CCJ or go it alone with a final appellate court.

On the social front, this government must begin the process of reviewing and removing legislation from the Masters and Servants Act to Equal Opportunity Legislation and the laws criminalizing homosexuality, abortion and prostitution. It cannot be acceptable that prisons are rampant with sexually transmitted diseases and the excuse given by the prisons authority is that homosexuality is illegal, so condoms cannot be distributed. It cannot be acceptable that civil rights are denied to selected portions of society because of a religious lobby. It cannot be acceptable that the same religious lobby prevents safe and effective health care to women in need of termination of pregnancies, for whatever reasons, the details of which can be expounded in legislation. It cannot be acceptable that brothels operate as freely as they do in the classified section of the newspaper, yet their workers are not given protection in terms of their employment or health.

Onto the Economy and Finance, it is my wish that government resolves to end the current crisis of confidence. There is a need to reign in inflation. This can only be done with the aid of the Ministries of Food Production, Trade and Industry and National Security. We must deal with the spiraling cost of local produce, which can be controlled by local measures. We must open our economy to more markets and set about lowering or removing tariffs which, while protecting out local manufacturers, also gives them monopolies, prevents them from improving efficiency and deprives local consumers of choice of product and competitive pricing. The ministry of National Security needs to be involved in stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the country, a trade, the size of which rivals that of the legal, onshore economy.

The Ministry must also seek to wipe out some of the liquidity in the system. This can be done by actively reviving the local Stock Exchange by initial public offerings for some of the more profitable government run institutions, including the Unit Trust Corporation, First Citizens’ Bank, the splitting up of NEL into its component parts (NGC, LNG, TRINGEN, TSTT and NFM) and offering each publicly. This move will allow a greater number of citizens to enjoy the success of a reviving economy, while allowing the government to raise money on the local market, interest free and for the small price of reduced (but still majority) ownership.

On Works, Transport and the Environment, construction projects that are long overdue (highways, dams, drains and hospitals) are about to commence. There must be a drive also to clean and clear waterways, neglected for years and which have since silted up and become overgrown, some not even recognizable now as previously being waterways. There must be a concerted effort to ensure that the floods of 2010 become the part of history that the Minister wishes it to be. As a result, collaboration must be made with the ministry of the Environment (unfortunately annexed to Housing, which is in direct contradiction to the Manifesto, which promised a stand alone Environment ministry) for effective litter wardens, the commencement of a meaningful plastic, glass and metal recycling industry and facilities for disposal and recycling of appliances, cars and technology (computers, cell phones etc) waste. There must also be moves to shut down every single open dump in this country and replace them with sustainable, properly managed landfills.

The Minister of Transport must also now expedite the issuing of electronic number plates and licenses. There must be the introduction of speed guns to allow officers to control the lawlessness that currently applies on the nation’s roads. The law has to be revised, raising the speed limit on highways from the current ludicrous 80kmph and fines must also be given to those drivers who do not adhere to a minimum or maximum speed on designated lanes. Reform must also take place to allow one to pay tickets and fines at any commercial bank or government cashier using modern methods such as debit or credit cards, not the system of cash only in the district that the offence was committed as applies at present.

As for taxis and the soon to be legal, PH cars, take a suggestion from my father and similarly to New York City which has color coded vehicles for public transport, ensure that ALL cars for hire, whether P or H, are painted a brightly designated color. (yellow was his suggestion). In addition, implementation of the announced plans for water taxis to Chaguanas, Point Fortin and the supplemental service to Tobago, as well as a passenger port at Toco must be seen to occur sooner rather than later. These services are required, necessary even to a population that is quickly becoming less tolerant to public relations bells and whistles and who crave delivery of services which had been less than forthcoming from the previous administration.

The Ministry should also partner with the Ministry of National Security to overhaul the number plate system for government and emergency vehicles. Such vehicles should have special designation plates (eg. the Commissioner of Police should be driven in TTPS1, with all other vehicles of the police service following suit) as opposed to the current system where emergency or government vehicles are registered with private plates. This will facilitate the public in the quick identification of a government or emergency vehicle and can assist if problems arise as to which vehicle responded to an emergency.

On the issue of Health, it is vital that the current minister access all available professional advice. As someone who is not from the health sector, she needs to fully understand all aspects of a very broken system before she can go about attempting to fix it. It is my hope for the new year that the ministry achieves their goal of commencing the construction of various hospitals. There is need now for 24-hour Primary care (Health Centres) in order to reduce the strain on Tertiary Care (Hospitals). There is a need for review of CDAP, where wastage abounds.

The Ministry should also resolve in the new year to launch a massive public education campaign on the importance of patients’ compliance with health care advice and medications. There is need for massive promotion of preventative health care so that our system is not strained with the volume of chronic diseases as happens at present. There is need for expansion of services and proper employment practices so that health professionals are not turned away from serving in public institutions. In short, there is need for the reform or overhaul of the Regional Health Authorities, where too much duplication of services occur for a country of only 1.5 million.

The Ministry of National Security should also look to overhaul the police service. In order to mitigate complaints that police, fire or health officers were called but did not respond, a 9-1-1 type system should be instituted nationwide, with callers speaking to dispatchers who have information, via GPS fitted in every single vehicle of the protective service (Fire, Police, Ambulance). Dispatchers will then relay information to the nearest available patrol to respond to the emergency.

There needs to be a comprehensive plan for crime, especially one in the short term to stem the number of violent crimes currently being committed. The only real measure of crime is the number of murders, kidnappings, rapes, thefts, white collar corruption, volume of drugs shipped and transshipped etc etc. There therefore needs to be a dent in these statistics and that can only come about by enforcing current law, increasing detection and conviction rates and institution legislation that ensures that perpetrators feel the brunt of a working system.

These are just a few of the resolutions that the current administration, still riding high on goodwill and a majority to effect real change, should look toward so that come Jan 1, 2012, Trinidad and Tobago will truly be better off on all fronts than in 2011.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Reality of Perception

At the first sitting of Parliament after its Ceremonial Opening, Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, in outlining her case for the rejection of Neal Parker as Commissioner of Police of Trinidad and Tobago, stated that justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done. She is, of course, quite right in that statement, although it can also be successfully argued that justice must also be blind, whether or not it may be popular.

It is highly ironic, therefore, that no more than ten days after that statement was uttered, that Mrs. Persad Bissessar would choose to appoint Minister of Works and Transport Mr. Jack Warner (UNC) as Acting Prime Minister. In keeping with her statement that justice must be seen to be done, the logical choice for the position of Acting Prime Minister should be the leader of the Congress of the People, Minsiter of Finance Mr. Winston Dookeran.

The reasons are clear. Firstly, Mrs. Persad Bissessar is Prime Minister on the basis of her party entering a coalition with other entities in the recently concluded General Election. The People’s Partership is essentially an amalgamation of the United National Congress, the Congress of the People and the Tobago Organisation of the People. The leadership council comprises Mrs. Persad Bissessar, Mr. Dookeran, Mr. Errol McLeod (MSJ), Mr. Makandal Daaga (NJAC) and Mr. Ashworth Jack (TOP). Only Persad Bissessar and Dookeran command any significant support in Parliament. It should therefore follow that the Acting Prime Minister should, on the basis of honouring the spirit of the coalition, be appointed from the leadership council.

For those who point out that the UNC overwhelms the COP 20-6 in terms of seats won, look no further than the United Kingdom, whose own elections, held a mere 18 days before ours, produced a hung Parliament. After forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, PM David Cameron appointed Mr. Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, as deputy Prime Minister, despite holding a margin of 320-54 in terms of seats in Parliament. This is a direct result of recognising the importance of the minority party’s role in the formation of the government and granting due respect to its supporters. It is the preservation of the perception of unity within the coalition.

Secondly, there arises the issue of the criteria for the selection of the Acting Prime Minister. The first criterion proferred was by the Attorney General, Mr. Anand Ramlogan (UNC). At the post cabinet news conference where Mr. Warner’s appointment was announced, Ramlogan sought to justify the appointment by stating that Warner, with over 18,000 votes, received the most votes by any single Member of Parliament in the recently concluded election. What Ramlogan conveniently overlooked was that Dookeran led a party that received over 100,000 votes. Who, therefore, has a greater mandate? Who is more justified in holding the position of Acting Prime Minister? Mr. Warner holds a major post in his own party as chairman and financier. However, in terms of the coalition itself, Mr. Warner is merely a Member of Parliament.

The other criterion offered was by the Minister of Sport, Mr. Anil Roberts (COP), who congratulated Persad Bissssar for appointing the Acting Prime Minister from amongst the elected members of the House of Representatives. This is a departure from her immediate predecessors who chose their deputies from the appointed Senate. One wonders, how, of her 28 members to choose, she arrived at the appointment of Mr Warner. Indeed, if the sole criterion is that the Acting PM should be a member of the House, it makes even MP #12 on the PNM bench, Mr. Manning, eligible for selection.

Finally, this entire issue boils down to perception. And this is where things are beginning to climax to a critical point for Persad Bissessar. The perception exists and is being perpetuated, that the UNC has simply used the COP to obtain government, and now, with a seemingly comfortable majority, counting the MSJ (1) and TOP (2), they are prepared to throw their major partner by the wayside, much like a rehashing of the NAR in the 1995-2000 administration. This again reared its head in the allocation of seats for the Local Government election, where the COP was initially, and obscenely, offered only 32 of the 134 local seats to contest; and in such an arrangement that they would be unable to obtain majority control of a single corporation. This, despite the COP’s stellar showing in the Diego Martin, Tunapuna, Arima, Point Fortin and San Fernando regions at the last General Election. This perception is reinforced with her appointment of Garvin Nicholas (UNC) as Press Secretary (essentially Minister of Information), despite her pronouncement that no unelected candidate would be handed a ministry. The People’s Partnership rode the wave of popularity into office by promising change. This is certainly not the change that people voted for when there is a continuation of bending of rules and redefining the meaning of ‘is’ in order to achieve a personal or political end. Where is the principle behind this appointment?

The crowning jewel in this increasing fiasco is the widely held perception that Persad Bissessar is merely a puppet to Warner. Dr. Rowley made mention of it in his campaign. Mr. Panday (B) has spoken ad nauseaum about it and now, with this appointment, and with one fell swoop, Persad Bissessar has confirmed in the minds of many that she is not acting appropriately in either of two ways: (i) independently as Prime Minister or (ii) in consultation with the other members of the Partnership Council.

This issue, ultimately, is not about Mr. Warner personally. Persad-Bissessar is the Prime Minister and, constitutionally, it is her prerogative to appoint whomever she wishes as Acting Prime Minister. However, she assumed that office by promising a leadership style that was divergent from the dictatorial and arrogant tendencies of her predecessors. She has just appointed a person to act as Prime Minister who was embroiled, rightly or not, in a great deal of controversy with respect to his dual portfolios as Cabinet Minister and Vice President of FIFA. Were the shoe on the other foot, I am quite sure much clamouring would be made by her about the arrogance of a Prime Minister to foister onto the population, a man who may not even be ethically grounded in holding his post as a Minister of Government.

Persad Bissessar must ensure that the decisions she takes are within the realm of acceptability by the majority of the people whom she asked support of a mere 5 weeks ago. Had Dookeran accompanied her on her trip to Jamaica as part of the governmental team, the issue would not have arisen. However, it must be a bitter pill for him, his party and his supporters to swallow, when come Thursday, he must sit at a Cabinet meeting chaired by Mr. Warner. And all for what? To feed the egos of a few and to protect their party from some imagined threat by another member of the Partnership? We are 41 days into this new government and already the foundation of confidence that many placed in this alliance has begun to waver.