Own Goals and Pension Penalties

 

Marcelo stunned by his own goal...the first goal of WC 2014.

Marcelo stunned by his own goal…the first goal of WC 2014.

Sometimes the beauty of a goal is in its build up, not the scoring.

Last week, on June 14th to be precise, Express journalist Ria Taitt revealed that the Lower House (MPs) had just approved amendments to two bills giving themselves fat new pensions. The story took about 48 hours to really generate interest because it’s the middle of the first round of World Cup 2014 in Brasil. And soccer-mad TnT, caught up with the beautiful game, barely have time for Anil, weed stashes, prostitutes in hotel rooms, or Government programs that are funding criminals, far less to pay attention to debates in their Parliament. Oh, and we had a long holiday weekend. And Laventille and the Police/Army were at war.

The story in front of us is simple. The Parliament – both Government and Opposition – chose to amend two bills: Judges Salaries and Pension Bill and the Retiring Allowances: Legislators. Nothing weird here. Law making, legislation, bill amendments etc are the business of the Parliament, yes? So, it stands to reason that if changes have to be made to a law, it’s our legislators that should get in there and earn a salary, yeah?

Snapshot of what the old and new pensions look like. Infographic courtesy Trinidad Express.

Snapshot of what the old and new pensions look like. Infographic courtesy Trinidad Express.

By Saturday, Ms Taitt’s stories of fat pensions, stopped being simply an issue of “them MPs tiefing from the Treasury again, wha we go do boy? Aye, the match start yet?” and started being likened to Section 34. You remember that fiasco, right? A Bill proclaimed in the dead of night during our 50th Anniversary Independence celebrations? That had both Government and Opposition support in Parliament, but didn’t have Opposition support for the new declaration date?

By Saturday June 21st the swell of dissent had begun. Martin Daly SC and Reginald Dumas, former head of the public service, regular go-to advisors for the Trinidad Express, were out the blocks first. With Daly insisting that it was a breach of the Constitution, and that the integrity of judges – now reliant on MPs for their improved salaries – was in question; and Dumas questioning the adding of allowances to the calculation of pensionable emoluments and stating emphatically that there was no precedent for such.

But the real zinger that day came in the form of a public letter from Jackie Carr-Brown. In the letter Mrs Carr-Brown states:

These bills are unconstitutional. They pertain to the setting of compensation for judges, senators and MPs. The Government is not authorised to determine its own compensation, nor the compensation of the Judiciary.  

Only the independent, autonomous, Salaries Review Commission (SRC) which reports solely to the President, may make recommendations in this regard. In this way, the Constitution protects the country against executive abuse.

No democratic country in the world permits its legislators to determine their own compensation.  

Her statement couldn’t be clearer. Himself was passing Amendments to pay Himself and bypassing the enshrined Constitutional arrangements. The Salary Reviews Commission was being sidelined by the Government, and worse yet, the Opposition was supporting this! For $$$$$$$$$.

Two important details to note here: the SRC weirdly enough is in a position to determine its own salaries according to our Constitution and Jackie Carr-Brown is allegedly married to a member of the Salary Reviews Commission, hence her knowledge.

The Conundrum

Up until Sunday morning (June 22nd) the issues surrounding this latest issue seemed pretty clear cut to me:

1. MPs had bypassed the SRC to give themselves pensions especially since the were displeased with the salaries recommended by the SRC in November 2013.

2. MPs had done the unprecedented thing and added allowances to their pensionable emoluments. The burden of these new fat pensions would cripple the Treasury.

3. In determining the pensions of retired Judges, the Parliament had breached the Constitution by threatening the separation of powers, a pillar on which our democracy (such as it is) stands.

Then by Sunday afternoon, in the midst of my baked fish and callaloo, just as I was prepping for the USA vs Portugal game information starts pouring out of my phone. Damn you Google Search!

1. This issue of the Government amending Judges’ pensions isn’t new. Anand Ramlogan announced he was doing this since June 27th, 2013. Almost a year ago the AG is on record addressing this issue as one of the changes the PPG was bringing on board:

He said the Judges Pensions Act, which was enacted in 1962, and judges pensions have never been revised upward since then.

“The Government is seeking to increase the amount of pension paid to a retired judge from 1/360th to 1/300th. The amendment would also provide for a periodic revision of the pension paid to retired judges of the Supreme Court, as well as a more favourable computation of the pension paid to judges of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Furthermore, the amended bill will propose a recalculation of the pension of judges who have retired for more than ten years. 

If the SRC objected to this announcement by government then, I didn’t stumble upon any articles.

What is also noteworthy is that amending MPs pensions was not on the cards then at all. But somehow after the new salary recommendations made by the SRC November last year, it certainly got tabled quickly.

2. Several senior members of Government and even retired Judge, Zainool Hosein have insisted that the SRC, for at least two decades, has dragged its feet on reviewing salaries and compensation packages and has stated categorically it is not responsible for pensions. In yesterday’s Express retired Justice Zainool Hosein stated: “We are no longer in office. The pension is only payable to past office-holders and therefore the separation of powers is not an issue,” he said.
Hosein said in respect of the retired judges that SRC has consistently taken the position that the pension, of retired judges do not fall within their jurisdiction. “They took the view that that matter must be dealt with by Parliament,” he said. “Now it has been dealt with by Parliament, by both Government and Opposition (which agreed to it), and I am a little surprised that on a matter in which they (SRC) claim no jurisdiction they are reportedly expressing concerns,” he added.

According to Section 141(1) of the Constitution, the SRC, with the Approval of the President, can from time to time, review the salaries and other terms and conditions of services of the offices falling within its purview. I’m not a lawyer or legislator. I can’t even begin to tell you if those words mean pensions are covered. I can’t even say if those words mean that the SRC has jurisdiction over retired judges. What I do know is that apart from the SRC, there are specific Acts that address Judges’ Pensions and Legislator’s Pensions and the only people that can make changes to those acts don’t sit on the SRC….they sit in Parliament. Opposition and Cabinet.

I’d recommend reading the 98th Report of the Salaries Review Commission if only to see what the purpose of the Commission is and what kinds of salaries and allowances are paid to Presidents, Prime Ministers, Commissions and senior Public Servants.

3. The Pension amendment comes from a contributory fund. This means its impact on the Treasury is different. Whereas mid to lower range Public Servants depend entirely on the state to pay their pensions, gratuity and lump sums, Judges and MPs have to contribute a percentage of their salary towards their pension, and the State provides the rest. What I’m still unclear on is what the ratios are and how much it is going to cost the State. I’m also keeping in mind that Judges don’t pay taxes on their salaries at all and watching that reaaaaaaaaaal cockeyed.

4. With respect to the unprecedented nature of adding allowances to pensionable emoluments….it actually isn’t unprecedented. According to the Pensions Act Chapter 23:52: “”pensionable emoluments” in respect of service under the Government of Trinidad and Tobago includes salary, personal allowance, inducement allowance, house allowance or the estimated value of free quarters and any fees paid out of the Treasury by way of salary …”. This is in the Pensions Act of 1934 that has been amended as recently as 2010.

So herein lies the crux of the matter:

1. Does the SRC have oversight of pensions? And if so, why were pensions not covered in their 98th Report delivered in November 2013? Was it an oversight? Because for the sub-category of Pension in their report they simply point to whatever pertains in the relevant Acts of the Constitution.

2. Was the SRC stealthily bypassed by the Cabinet and the Opposition in the aftermath of substandard salary recommendations in 2013? Does this ability to bypass the SRC and instead amend Pensions point to a flaw in our Constitution? Is the SRC still a relevant institution?

3. What financial impact will these pension packages actually have on the Treasury? In short, how much more burden will our tax payers have to bear? Especially in light of 4 massive deficit budgets from Kamla, and the likelihood of a fifth such Budget in September.

4. Has separation of powers been breached and the Constitution subverted? If the judges are retired, does this make a difference? Will sitting Judges feel indebted to MPs now for improved pension plans in years to come and give them a bligh because of that?

5. Is the addition of allowances to pensionable emoluments really unprecedented? And since they aren’t,why do I feel as if the way in which these new pensions were calculated is going to give me indigestion and a tax burden that I can’t stomach?

We are roughly a year away from the 2015 election period. In the last 4 years we have experienced too many instances of the Government brutalizing the Constitution and the Treasury for its own ends. We have been subjected to massive budgets and squander mania from Kamla and her Small Goal Squad. Most recently we found out that through the LifeSport programme the Government is funding criminals, and taking out loans against the treasury to pay these criminals and soon wants another $32m to pay off debts incurred by this same programme that funds criminals. Did I mention this government is funding criminals? Now, in under a week, we learn that both sides of the Parliament, not pleased with the recent salary increases granted to them earlier this year, are now sorting out their retirement.

I can’t say it’s illegal. Not yet. The SRC has to clarify whether Pensions really fall under its purview. The Constitution’s language is too vague for me to say so convincingly. I’m hoping the Senate’s debate today throws light. What I can say is in light of the burden on our treasury and our numerous labour and employment issues this leaves a very bad taste in my mouth…..and I’m giving you, Keith Rowley, a devious cut eye on this one.

De Vice Cyah Done!

** No footballers were hurt, or red cards given, in the writing of this post.

 

 

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Performance and Personalities: The Campaign Against Rowley

conspiracy against rowleyEngineering dirt and flinging it into interesting patterns on the public wall aren’t anything remotely new to politics; and certainly not new to ours.

As early as 1961, our electoral process was plagued with ethnic tensions that led to questionable behavior. Rudy Capildeo, then leader of the DLP, overwhelmed by the tensions plaguing the elections, in a fiery call to arms in front of the Governor’s Residence in Port of Spain, announced to his supporters, “You will be called to arms. Wherever the PNM holds a meeting, you will have to break it up.” Throughout that election campaign there was the persistent rumor of a group of black men roaming the country looking for women to rape. Sound familiar? Echoes of Hulsie X?

In the course of the campaign, violence broke out and limited states of emergency had to be declared in St Augustine, Barataria,Caroni East and Chaguanas.

In the post-Williams era there was the infamous gun hoax created by ONR candidates Surujrattan Rambachan (Oropuche) and Unanan Persad (Caroni East). Rambachan and Persad claimed to be driving along Gaston-Johnson Street, Chaguanas, when shots were fired at their vehicle. Rambachan blamed the Panday-led ULF and accused the Prime Minister, George Chambers, of encouraging violence.  Shortly after reporting the incident to the police, and making much of the attack at political meetings in Diego Martin, it was discovered that the shooting was a hoax. Rambachan and Persad had shot bullets into their vehicle themselves and made a false report to the police. Neither was charged for wasting the Police’s time or discharging a fire arm. The Trinidad Guardian of November 3rd, 1981 carries the story. Feel free to check it out.

Between 1981 to the present, there have been numerous attempts at mud slinging, smear campaigns and conspiracies. During the May 2010 election campaign there was an alleged assassination attempt on the life of then Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Since then it seems assassination attempts on the PM, whether by tins of Matouk’s peas, random Muslims or ghosts are the order of the day. These attempts are meant to encourage empathy and sympathy for the Prime Minister. Look at this poor, beleaguered, hard working woman. Everybody wants to kill her, even canned food.

Two nights ago (June 5th, 2014), at a public meeting in San Juan, a rare thing happened: Camille Robinson-Regis revealed the details to a smear campaign by the UNC against Opposition Leader Keith Rowley in the midst of its very failed execution.

The emails revealed a group that comprises government ministers, the Canadian High Commissioner, the former UK ambassador, advisers to the PM, media and public relations specialists and everybody’s favorite Facebook racist:PEAnuts.

In an email dated Friday, May 16, 2014 12:02:25PM, sent from Rodney Charles to approximately 17 people, he says:

“We propose launching a full scale attack on Keith Rowley come the morning of May 19th 2014 ie the morning after his expected landslide victory. We absolutely need to bring down his polling ratings.”

Then on Saturday, May 31 2014 in an email whose subject is, “Make this Happen and everybody wins”, someone by the name of Roodal is enthusiastic and responds to an email sent to him by someone called Phillip Alexander by saying: “This is a great idea.” 

The idea Phillip Alexander has pitched to him is:

Every evening from six to seven on CNMG there could be a one hour show called “Equal Time” hosted by yours truly…”

conspiracy against rowley 2

Apart from the concept of the show, what struck me about the e-mail exchanges are the time stamps.

Phillip Alexander sends his original message at 9:58 am on Sat 31st, May. Roodal responds at 11:23 am. And by 13:18:06, the emails have been sent to someone who has PNM sympathies. Chris Brown was right….these hoes aint loyal. Is this a case of surveillance and interception….or does the UNC ship have some major leaks in its very inner cabal?

If the final message forwarded came from Roodal’s email, who did he forward the messages to?

An election is constitutionally due by September 2015. The UNC/PP Govt has not a chance in hell of winning it, despite Kamla’s sustained popularity. There are simply too many scandals and missteps to sidestep during next year’s campaign.

Usually an incumbent party campaigns on its track record. Boasting about its achievements with regards to new legislation and infrastructure.

This Government has a dismal track record with legislation. From Section 34 to Soldier Bill, to DNA Bill to Dangerous Dogs, no one is happy with how inefficient a Cabinet filled with lawyers are at drafting legislation.  And in terms of infrastructural development, the SNC Lavallin fiasco colors one planned hospital and the Point Fortin and Debe to Mon Desir Highway routes are riddled with protests and accusations of corruption.

We need not even go back to their 7 Pillars of Sustained Development Manifesto to know that every promise made remains unfulfilled.

What is patently obvious is that they are extremely aware of their poor track record, but will stop at nothing to return to power.

Their strategies though, have not improved with time.

They include:

1. Circle the wagons of support around the leader and have the party base lash out in a wild, incoherent frenzy at anyone who dares to criticize her. Go to any of their support pages on FB – True Trinis Discussing Real Issues or even the UNC Group administered by Allan Karim. See what passes for debate and idea exchange there.

2. Raising the race bogey – a topic i intend to touch on in a later blog. Despite the numerous acts of race-baiting by Kamla herself and members of her government, her party has now started a campaign that seeks to paint the Opposition as racist. The hope is that their support base will continue to support them.

3. Target and smear the leader. In 2010 it was Manning. Manning’s Squandermania, Manning and Calder Hart, Manning and Juliana Pena, Manning and Duprey/CLICO, Manning  and the Guanapo Church, Manning’s secret love child, Manning, Manning, Manning. It’s simple really. You need to give the electorate a focus. A symbol of what they hate or resent about their governance. Because the UNC is now the government, the focus will be on Rowley and all of the secret racial tensions and fears will be played upon: a black man in power will mean suffering for Indians; blacks in charge will mean less access to resources, rape, violence; we can’t put back a black Prime Minister. Already the messages are there, subliminally and overtly. And unfortunately, most of our electorate  will make no effort to separate truth from fact and examine issues.

What needs to happen during this campaign year is that the focus must be kept solely on performance and track record. We, the electorate, must rise above the noise and examine the UNC/PPs track record from 2010 to whenever an election date is called; and we must examine the PNM’s track record, specifically Rowley’s achievements and skills, because Manning has been removed from all leadership positions and has stated he won’t be running in the next election.
Compare the track records of the two leaders before us: Keith and Kamla.

Let’s make 2015 about performance, not smear campaigns against personalities.

#DeViceCyahDone!

Banking on Bare Sat

The PM and the PM....

The PM and the PM….

Imagine you playing a high stakes game of politics, winner gets all, and the only card in your hand is Sat Maharaj?

That is pretty much the predicament in which Kamla and her government have found themselves.

Both Labour and Jack Warner have abandoned them: so the popular support and the deep coffers Warner (once) had have both disappeared.

The COP, we all know, is a dead and riderless horse. Its two choices for leadership are Ramadhar and Dookeran. Need I go on?

The numerous other civil society groups that sung Kamla praises and supported her have all but disappeared and several of them now march against her in very public rallies. In short, all of the public good will that Persad-Bissessar had garnered after beating Panday at internal elections has disappeared. Well, except Hazel Brown.

At this point the PP or UNC, whichever name it chooses to go into election 2015 with, is reliant on two groups: the criminal element and die hard UNC supporters.

Even with die-hard supporters Kamla has a hard road to travel. In spite of what the many Facebook UNC walls (all with the same fake profiles of PEA and Allan Karim) attempt to spin and say, even supporters of Kamla have grown fed up of her style of non-governance. Why else would you need to pull out your trump card of Maha Sabha religious leader, on Indian Arrival Day, in a predominantly Indian electoral seat unless…….Sat is your only trump card and things so bad, you need to rally your base?

Trouble in the heartland? Are folks disenchanted with your less than stellar record?

Let me quickly remind you of what Kamla campaigned for in 2010.
1. Good Governance, Transparency and accountability. The country still waiting.

2. An end to wastage of public monies and Squandermania. Have you read the last two Auditor General Reports on the spending of Public Monies? We are $30 billion dollars in debt. Yes. $30b.

3. An end to violent criminal activity and white collar crime. Two words: Dana Seetahal.

4. The right to recall MPs if they are underperforming. Cabinets shuffling and reshuffling and realigning every year, but no talk of the right of recall anymore. I wonder why?

Those are just four items from their very glossy and colorful 7 Pillars of Development. Remember that document?

The PNM votes that Kamla’s PP got in 2010 to sweep her to government have returned home. The marginal voters cussing themselves and avidly searching for reasons to vote in 2015, and this means pressure has to be put on Keith Rowley to show that his game is superior.

This leaves Kamla with her heartland. And that’s what? 15 seats? After winning 29 in 2010?

Then there is the other group. The criminal element. This is the one group we cannot underestimate. Abu Bakr of 1990 coup fame has often alluded to the role his organization, the Jamaat Al Muslimeen, has played in mobilizing votes for political parties.

As reports on the Life Sport Programme have shown, Kamla’s government has gotten very cozy with a group that has criminal shadows over it. As an electorate, we have to ask ourselves how many other groups like this is the UNC govt bankrolling and at what cost.

Today’s Guardian claims the Life Sport Programme is being audited a third time. As a result, payments from the programme are on hold.

If this is the only such programme under this government, expect frustration when “at-risk youth” from “depressed” communities cannot get their monies.

But I sincerely doubt Life Sport is the only programme doling out monies to criminal elements. The very same hand out syndrome Kamla lashed out at and despised in 2010, has become a key feature of her government. So, I expect a reporter to soon find another programme or slush fund in some remote corner of a Ministry that is bank rolling less than savory elements.

Consider now, that Kamla really only has two bases to rely on. And it is only one she can rally and call out to publicly…the party faithful. A group that  nurses great resentment towards the larger community. A group that at every turn is quick to point out that no one likes them because they are Indian, or Hindu or both. That they are oppressed and marginalized and persecuted because of their ethnic and religious identity….as if oppression, marginalization and persecution belongs to any one group here. This is the group Sat Maharaj represents, and this is why showering him with public accolades is important. She has to reassure this group she is still one of them, hasn’t forgotten them and needs them. If Sat were speak out against Kamla, consider what that would do to her chances at the polls next year in her heartland seats?

After running a slick PR campaign in 2010 that pretended to be about issues, Persad-Bissessar has gone back to basics and is going to run a race platform. In reassuring herself of her heartland base Kamla has resorted to reactivating the Race Bogey. We are back in 1961 all over again. Sat Maharaj remains one of the most polarizing and divisive individuals the country has produced. His racist comments are now being described by the PM as free speech. And the PM is yet to apologize for the many instances she has used race baiting and prejudiced comments on the campaign trail during last year’s 4 elections. When calypsonians and satirists practise the same freedom of speech I hope she is just as openminded.

It is now up to us, right thinking citizens, to reject race rhetoric and force the coming political campaigns to be about the glaring issues that are sinking us daily.

We in Full Dotish mode to 2015. It will get tense. It will be sticky.

All tied up

The Pantomime:

I think this is an important and engaging post from blogger Tillah Willah. Body confidence and different ideas of Beaty is something we struggle with in the Caribbean.

Originally posted on Tillah Willah:

All tied up

I’ve worn head ties all my life, experimenting with shapes and colours and not just on bad hair days, haha!
In my teen years I was often laughed at for my head ties (the laughers were always as black as me) another manifestation of my outsiderness. The sting of derisive laughter has worn off but I remember it and I know the fear that those who laughed were harbouring.
In Nigeria I submit myself to the superior head wrapping skills of women who are artists of the cloth. Actually there’s a kind of effortless sense of style and awareness of the body that I admired in women both in Naija and Ghana.
But the body confidence exists alongside a paradoxical loathing of dark skin and natural hair. It weirds me out that this self-schism exists and I’ve been thinking of the ways that this affects me as a black woman…

View original 69 more words

True Silk

Dana Seetahal (SC)

Dana Seetahal (SC)

If the assassination of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal is a wake up call to you…..then something wrong with you.

If a little boy being raped to death in a swimming pool at a birthday party wasn’t a wake up call then, Dana’s assassination can’t wake you up to nothing. You in denial long time and using your moral panic over this latest killing to soothe your general inertia.

Or, you could be a member of the cocooned and protected upper classes here who only get hysterical when they realize crime doesn’t just exist Behind D Bridge or along the distant edges of the East/West corridors in the Malabars and La Horquettas of their imaginations. And then, if you’re a member of that just awakened group….it must suck to be you: having all those resources and still can’t ward off death.

 

Seetahal’s gruesome and shocking death is a marker. The act, along with Hamilton Holder/O’Connor Street, will become a part of a macabre and grisly list of checkpoints that heralded our descent while we sat shell shocked and panicked waiting for someone else….not us….to take back our power in this country. It will join markers like the Scott Drug Report; the 1990 Coup and the subsequent court ruling in favor of the Muslimeen; it will join the rise of the Muslimeen as a group that was consistently awarded Government contracts as part of every sitting government’s secret crime initiative, whether PNM, UNC or PP; it will join the Crowne Plaza agreement; the illegal SoE; Section 34; EmailGate; Ish and Steve and a very long list of markers that all point to us descending in narco state fourth world hell.

You hear it on the lips of citizens all the time, “Here getting like Mexico”, “Here getting like Colombia”. We not getting folks, we reach. That is what Dana’s death means. Final destination point. When a State Prosecutor is murdered in cold blood like that, in a country that is already awash in drugs, arms and human trafficking and has a corrupt and compromised police force and government…know that we reach. We not heading to hell anymore. It is here. It takes only one high profile murder like that to happen and go unsolved and you know we have arrived. Trinidad now has two: Selwyn Richardson in the 90s and Dana Seetahal in the early decades of the 21st century.

This is not to minimize or negate the murders, assassinations and senseless killings of so many thousands of citizens in the last decades. But, let’s face it. As a member of the legal profession and the wealthier upper classes, a society assumes Ms Seetahal will be safer and more protected, for all manner of reasons. Her  assassination in an upscale residential/commercial neighborhood at midnight is meant to send a message. And I’d vouchsafe from the social media reactions yesterday: message received.

We woke up Sunday morning knowing in a very concrete way, maybe more so than before, that a message was being sent to the legal profession, journalists, columnists, activists, anyone bold enough to question the criminal and corruption status quo. Toe the blasted line…or this will be you.

In assassinating Dana, we are very aware that persons with strong Independent voices are under attack. Dana, to my knowledge, never verbally lashed out at any entity , political or otherwise. But, she was a rare thing, a lawyer, who took elitist, legal jargon and made it accessible to the layperson. I didn’t know Dana personally, I knew her through her columns and media commentary. Dana helped me to understand this country’s legal system, without me ever having to meet her or pay her a red cent. You can’t downplay her contribution to this country just for the value of her column. Few lawyers or intellectuals here have been as lucid, accessible and relevant as she has been. That’s what made Dana true silk. She had a fearsome legal mind, and instead of keeping it to herself and her clients for handsome fees, she made it available to all of us for the price of a newspaper…less if you read her articles online.

This Hit will be a success not just because Dana Seetahal has been silenced, but because the wider public will silence itself, retreat further indoors, put more useless security systems in place…not understanding that in growing quiet and retreating indoors, that’s how we gave criminals control of this place. They have fed on and continue to feed on our fear and insecurities. Our very predictable response to violence, from enslavement to now has never been overt; it has been passive aggression. So we will lead trapped lives and break more laws in an unconscious lashing out at all that is wrong around us: more child abuse, more road rage, more petty crimes and more silences and looking the other way when corruption happens because suppose we end up like Dana?

I have no faith that the police going to really solve this crime. I aint mama guying myself. The first official response to Ms Seetahal’s murder was the AG…at 2 am he had a lucid statement prepared of how friendly he and Dana were, and how in the latest scandal involving him, she was actually in his corner, and, “I sorry Dana dead, but lemme take a selfie…” It was an extreme pappyshow on his part. A clear attempt at image management in the midst of what was clearly a national crisis. Then sometime after 2pm the PM roused herself fully to issue a bland cut and paste response from the government. Nothing to offer the victim’s family, or the shell shocked country consolation or hope. And then, by Sunday night, they were back in Media and PR mode. Whole television stations commandeered. Panels convened. Police press conferences, all over a background of National Security ads saying “Serious Crime is Down” despite the fact that we have 29 more murder in 2014 than we had in the corresponding period for 2013.

I expect that three or four bodies of victims of a murder will be discovered soon. Just like with the Selwyn Richardson murder. And whether we know it or not, those bodies would have belonged to Dana’s killers. It’s part of how here, a narco state, works. And the sooner we start noticing the patterns, the sooner we can either grow accustomed or fight back.

I’ve made the very conscious choice to keep fighting back. Dana’s assassination had me contemplative and sober yesterday, because I recognized immediately the threat to free speech and independent thinking this is for journalists, columnists, activists and bloggers like myself. But I’m not going to stop questioning this place and writing about the things that upset me. Dana’s Assassination is real….in fact, too real. We are in dangerous times. But silence and withdrawal has never been nor will ever be the cure for it.

This is it. This is it. This is it. She’s been hit….and Trinidad spread out on a wall bawling for the country it didn’t realize  it sat by and watched go.

#TrueSilk

#RIP

Sharma’s Karma

MP Chandresh Sharma at a recent cycling event.

MP Chandresh Sharma, in yellow shirt, at a recent cycling event.

If you are from South Trinidad, Pundit Chandresh Sharma isn’t a new name to you. And you’d also be very familiar with the numerous stories that fly around about infidelities, outside children and even less than kosher behavior in public office.None of the rumors particularly recent.

But let’s not dwell in the realm of rumors. Let’s deal with the tangible story that the Guardian, of all newspapers, spilled all over our laps this week. You may well question my skepticism of the Guardian. With Dr Hamid Ghany, politics lecturer and close colleague of the People’s Partnership, at the helm of their editorial decisions, it struck me as interesting that the newspaper would have scooped the Express on this particular story. Not that the Express didn’t carry the story early enough….they just didn’t have as much juicy details. And considering the flagrantly obvious modus operandi of the Guardian since Walk Out Wednesday 2013 that involves more govt friendly coverage, it intrigued that they had the better story.

But back to the main story. In 2010 it was woman power….remember that? Vaguely? I do. And ironically, or maybe justifiably, since Kamla’s tenure has done nothing to improve the lot of women, it seems that women are going to be the downfall of her govt. Last week it was Glen Ramadharsingh, the Hamper Man, breaching civil aviation rules, threatening a CAL flight attendant and grabbing at her breast in the process of issuing his threats. His excuse, fatigue….yes Glen, all tired men, small or grown, does reach out for tot tots.

This week we have an equally lurid scandal downing Sharma. Sacha Singh, his now ex-

Sacha Singh

Business woman and former girlfriend of MP Chandresh Sharma. She alleges that the MP slapped and knocked her down in a public fight.

girlfriend, forced a confrontation between Sharma and a woman with whom he allegedly had a relationship and a child. The child is now 12 years old, and the implications are that he has not met his responsibilities where the child is concerned.

You have to pause for a moment and understand the shame this must be causing the orthodox Hindu community and UNC supporters. For the orthodox Hindu community, it is knowing that a pundit, indeed, a self-proclaimed Brahmin (imagine in the Caribbean Brahmin and caste are still used), fell from such a great height. Theirs is a community known for publicly espousing strong family values and kin ship ties. Note I said publicly.

For UNC supporters it is something far more base. You see, much of their chatter on their walls centers around attributing particular traits to persons of African descent. In fact, to give you a brief glossary of terms for a UNC wall, PNM is a word that has little to do with a political party and everything to do with race and bigotry. So it’s not so much PNM policies that are ever discussed, but slurs that are tossed. So on a UNC wall when you see the word PNM it’s normally used euphemistically to mean black, criminal, worthless, poor, uneducated etc.

Generally, UNC supporters, people who described themselves as openminded, inclusive and intolerant of racism and corruption in 2010, spend most of their days defining the Afro-descended community of Trinidad and Tobago as ghetto rats, prone to violence, poor, always seeking handouts, deadbeat dads etc. So imagine the irony, when a government minister, who claims to be of the highest possible social caste in Hindu society, turns out to be a hitter of women, a philanderer and possibly (if the child is his) a dead beat dad? It kinda turns the myth sold to us about the wholesomeness of the Hindu community on its head. It makes us realize that dysfunction doesn’t belong to a race, it can happen in virtually any ethnic community and at all economic levels….because surely lack of money can’t be the reason he isn’t doing his duty? Right?

You see, MP Sharma, you hurt women, several women. The first of whom was your wife. I suspect if you have any daughters you have hurt and violated their trust as well. In not providing full disclosure to Ms Singh, you hurt her as well. And then, as a man, and alleged upstanding member of the community, you brought your office into disrepute by assaulting citizens of the country. It matters little if it is a public space or not. Hitting is a no no. And to not expect that one day one of these women would stand up to you, shows just how unintelligent you must be.

So when Sharma, in his resignation speech today talked about Karma, I smiled. Why? Because as a pundit he would know it only too well, and had he read his astrology charts, like Miss Cleo, he should have seen this coming.

Between Glen and Chan Kamla is now limping to elections 2015 like a cripple with a stone in he right shoe. It isn’t pretty. And no matter how much she tries to make these firings and resignations put her in the light of a strong leader they don’t. The constant abuse of women under her tenure tells me that she doesn’t have a gender policy and that the men under her don’t respect us. We have seen far too many young, articulate women bullied by this government: Asha Javeed, Denyse Renne, Anicka Gumbs Sandiford, the women of the Highway ReRoute Movement, and now, Ronelle Laidlow and Sacha Singh. In the midst of this, the feminists who loudly and proudly supported Kamla’s 2010 bid for office are deafeningly mute. I’m almost tempted to purchase iPhones for them so at least Siri can be their voice. Mind you, if we only so much as criticize Kamla’s wardrobe or lipstick choice, they have strong positions on that. But abuse and oppression of women? Not tonight. Let’s move on.

How many more women have to be attacked by this government before we get rid of them?

#BeatOut2015 Can’t Come Soon Enough!

 

What is a MATT?

One of the status updates that fuelled the public's response to claims of government interference at Guardian Media Limited.

One of the status updates that fuelled the public’s response to claims of government interference at Guardian Media Limited.

Editor in Chief Judy Raymond...giving it another try.

Editor in Chief Judy Raymond…giving it another try.

Today is the internal elections for the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago, the same organisation that was commandeered by Sheppard, Raymond, Hawkins, Mathur, Dowrich, Baldeosingh et al (i forgetting somebody in there I’m sure) months ago into telling the one version of GuardianGate.

Since Walkout Wednesday, as Sheila Rampersad has referred to it in news reports, the entire board has resigned. When you listen to the comments from members of the board, no clear picture emerges about what really went down that week. Sheppard, as then President of the organisation, has accepted full responsibility for what went down….but responsibility isn’t the same thing as transparency and accountability. And I am afraid as a member of the public, who has to rely on the media to get it right, MATT’s previous board is still very much in the wrong.

To the best of my knowledge to date there has been no explanation about who exactly took the decisions and gave the ok for those releases to have been sent out. Word is Ms Sheppard was on vacation leave when this entire thing began…so who called her into office? And when she “wrote” the press releases, or instructed someone to write the releases – see, we still don’t know for certain who wrote the relaases..everything is hinted at and alluded to – was she writing it with her Guardian employee cap on or her MATT cap?

If it was the MATT cap (which is what it should have been), who was she getting her info from, and what cause exactly was she lobbying for? You see, at the height of the scandal that week the impression the entire country…in fact region…had was that press freedom was under threat. And the public didn’t make the story up…it was brought to them via MATT press releases.

I have had several arguments with Guardian personnel about this issue, because I felt the then MATT board was extremely dishonest and disingenuous with the public and very irresponsible. The Board was quick to give us a particular side of a very salacious story…but not so quick at clearing up and ending the speculation.

Board members took a decision to run with a story, and then a day or two later the entire story they ran with and delivered to the public as factual was shot down as being false and misrepresenting the truth….and in all of it, the key players at the Guardian all happen to be MATT Board members…..from captain to cook!

In a serious country, with a serious media, the outgoing MATT Board would have had to submit a report upon leaving office. Instead, when questioned, Judy Raymond, at the heart of the shit-storm that was walk out Wednesday, directs queries to an editorial she wrote that answers none of the really salient questions about MATT’s role in the entire fiasco.

And for me that is my bone of contention. It is obvious to anyone who looked on that MATT, in the hands of Guardian Media Limited personnel, was used as a tool to tell one side of a story. Then when the shit began to swirl too thick and too fast, it was just as quickly discarded and the MATT Board hoped we would forget it was also made up primarily of Guardian reporters and editors.

The question that again begged itself at the end of this fiasco is, What is MATT?

Sometime in 2011, when the issue with Ian Alleyne using live footage of a rape occurred, I had asked Ms Raymond what was MATT.
You see, it isn’t a union, because it cannot assist with wage negotiations, or even improving conditions at a media house. It isn’t quite a watchdog group either, because it picks and chooses the media issues it speaks out on in random ways.

What I have been told is that MATT is an organisation of media workers; it doesn’t have a lawyer; it runs workshops for its members; it attempts to protect press freedom.

The new MATT board that is hopefully going to be voted in today has to work on defining itself. Having a clear vision and mission; properly articulated for itself and the public. It needs to establish a code of ethics for its members and a code of conduct as well. While I know individual media houses determine the standard of the stories they publish, MATT should seek to become a body that is similar to the Law Association and Medical Practitioner’s Association in terms of safeguarding its profession.

Because from where I stand, one of the prominent threats to a free and independent press at this moment are the employees themselves.

A (Pappy) Show of Force

handcuffs

 

You couldnt miss the news on Sunday. The local police force, having learned quickly from this government, have become masters of their own promotion.

So, many of us woke up Sunday, or returned from places of worship, or the market to hear that East Port of Spain was under lock down. After nearly a month of killings – much of it lost in the news coverage because we were so busy following Warner’s by-election Campaign , oh, sorry, I mean Chaguanas West’s – Trinidad and Tobago began to notice that east of George Street was heating up again: Duncan and Nelson were at war and you could bank on hearing about at least two murders a day coming from that area. The news media, getting their information from the police, never ventured beyond the formulaic description of “gang-related” killing. We didn’t know what were the names of the gangs, or if the gangs were even from East Port of Spain…but you see, that doesn’t matter. This is Trinidad, where the myth is that all criminals are black and all black people are criminals. So the details don’t matter, just the big picture.

Burkey Burke, one of the major captures this weekend...he was released a day later.

Burkey Burke, one of the major captures this weekend…he was released a day later.

And it was the big picture the Police service was interested in on Sunday. Radio and Internet news headlines blared it out 90 Arrested in East Port of Spain Raid! Yuh see, they finally get their act together and doing something! Twelve arrested during the week and now, look, a whole 90 in one Sunday morning!

The 300 (officers) literally descended onto Nelson and Duncan, and according to residents, few saw a search warrant. They simply looked on while doors were kicked down, possessions were strewn about and their loveds ones were carted away. Many on just suspicion…no evidence. Which is why today, just two days after the raid, 59 of the 90 arrested are back out on the streets. And all 12 men held for the murders last week are back home as well.

Kamla announcing SoEThese past 2 days have been like SoE 2011 deja vu for anyone who happens to be black, from an urban community, and possibly from a single parent home…worse yet if you have dread locks. It is the second time in two years we have had a spike in the murder  toll lead to either a full fledged State of Emergency, or similar conditions. In 2011 for 3.5 months we were treated to nightly images of mostly young black men from urban and semi-urban communities being tossed into the back of police vehicles and carted off on suspicion of being criminals. Given the features and traits these folks had in common you got a good sound message of precisely what this Government and the wider society thinks is a criminal. You had the AG and Minister of National Security on television further endorsing the stereotypes too. And at the end of it all, 8000 victims of the SoE were released and sent back to their homes. No violent crime solved, no white collar crime solved. Big and small fish swimming normal normal.

This time around there was no official announcement of emergency conditions, no Kamla on tv nervously announcing from her kitchen that we under a limited state of nonsense, but the features were all there.

This weekend’s raid followed several months of the Minister of Housing, Roodal Moonila,l constantly alluding to residents of national housing units as criminals…specifically national housing units in black urban areas. Again…stereotypes from a Government Minister. You’d swear the Equal Opportunities Commission sleeping.

Moonilal has claimed that as Minister of Housing, with oversight for the Home Development Corporation, he is a landlord to thugs and criminals…which is why he needs his luxury Range Rover tricked out like he is the Commissioner of Police.

Then this week he made the comment that he was cracking down on migrants from Port of Spain to Central and South Trinidad. Anyone reading that article would be forgiven for thinking there was zoning in Trinidad and Tobago and that people from Port of Spain aren’t allowed to move and live in other areas. Moonilal should give up the Range Rover and get a cork hat, khaki suit and horse…..get his Boer act over and done with.

Aware that several arms of the state – Police and Govt – now looking patently bad, there are rumblings from the police that they may re-arrest some of the released persons. Almost as if Sunday was a dry-run and later this week will be the real deal. Let’s hope they have evidence this time and not a “feeling”.

The Prime Minister is returning to East Port of Spain on Wednesday. She may dissolve into tears again. Following her loss in popularity, coupled with this spike in crime, she must feel the need to do some serious PR and cajoling.

The irony is that every one is patently aware of why East Port of Spain is this way….a combination of neglect and total disrespect from regime after regime. But many of us don’t care. Once the crime not affecting us, is ok.

But briefly pandering to and then largely ignoring these areas has become a game…and if you were keeping score this weekend you’d realise that everyone is tied at a big fat zero…..except the ones that were murdered.

 

Full Dotish Mode in Overdrive!

Dr Sheila Rampersad, Ms Denyse Renne and Ms Anicka Gumbs-Sandiford respond!

Press statement re walkout of three journalists from the T&T Guardian

July 15, 2013

When we staged a Wednesday (July 10) walkout from the T&T Guardian newspaper, we were and remain clear on the issue: there was a significant threat to press freedom; that threat wore the garments of political interference and its dimensions included, importantly, the sidelining of the Editor in Chief (EIC), Ms Judy Raymond. We spoke publicly on the day of the walkout and Dr Sheila Rampersad spoke again on I95.5FM the morning after (Thursday July 11). A comment was solicited by and given to the Trinidad Express newspaper on the same day (Thursday July 11).
We have made no other public comment.
Following Ms Raymond’s statement published in the T&T Guardian on July 15, we have decided to break our dignified silence in the interest of our professional credibility and personal well-being. The confusion that has accumulated around this issue was not our creation and we wish to register our resentment that we have to again unravel the obfuscation and offer clarity to the public served by our vocation.
Critical to understanding the events leading up to the Wednesday walkout is a meeting that occurred on Tuesday (July 9) at 2.15 pm. That meeting was called following a day and a half of uncertainty, rumours and instability in the Guardian newsroom. It was called by Managing Director (MD) Gabriel Faria, jointly chaired by the EIC, and included daily editor Irving Ward, Photographic Editor Alva Viarruel, Features Editor Franka Philip, Business Editor Anthony Wilson, News Editor Robert Alonzo, Sports Editor Valentino Singh, head of the sub-editors Cordia Gibbs and Dr Sheila Rampersad.
At that meeting, we were told by the MD and EIC that they had both returned from a meeting at the ANSA McAl head office, that there were many concerns with what was perceived by the Guardian Media Ltd’s board of directors to be our biased news reporting, and that things had come to a head. Two examples were mentioned: the Sunday Guardian lead of July 7 which carried the headline “Millions Leaving T&T” and the T&T Guardian’s lead of July 4 under the headline “Rowley Escapes.”
In connection with the first, we asked, among other things, whether there had been complaints by the subject/s of the news report. The MD said no. The “Rowley Escapes” headline and stories, however, generated much debate between editors, who defended our representation of the story, and the MD. Flipping between pages one and three of that day’s paper, the MD said, essentially, that our coverage of the story was biased in favour of Dr Keith Rowley and Mr Colm Imbert and against the Privileges Committee. The MD said the board of directors was unanimous in that view.
The MD said the EIC had to go “offline.”
When asked how we were to proceed in an environment in which the EIC was “offline” for vague, undetermined reasons, and with increasing instability in the newsroom that would only be heightened by the EIC’s physical absence, we were told by the MD to tone the paper down.
We were told the EIC going “offline” to work on an editorial policy and the toning down of the paper in the interim comprised the best option available following the MD’s and the EIC’s meeting at head office. Someone asked what the other options were. There was silence, then the EIC said, “It’s either this or we both go.” “We” referred to the MD and the EIC. Someone’s name was mentioned as a potential replacement for the MD.
One editor asked whether we could meet with the GML board to dialogue; the MD said no, that was out of the question.
Later on Tuesday, editors were told by the EIC that someone was being sought to sit-in on the afternoon editors’ meeting which determined the news content of the next day’s paper. One person was approached by the MD; that individual requested time to consider. A short time later, another person was approached by the MD; that person sat-in on Tuesday afternoon’s editors’ meeting.
Uncertainty grew on Tuesday night during which Dr Rampersad and Ms Raymond exchanged a number of text messages relevant to fluid developments. The idea of a walkout, floating around since Monday, took shape on Tuesday night.
On walkout Wednesday, some editors arrived at the office with that idea (walkout), one aspect of which was to confer before walking out. The conference occurred. At that conference, two editors said they were unable to walk immediately because of pressing financial commitments. One of those two expressed deep solidarity with us, saying he was walking out in spirit but was sorry he was unable to do so in body. At no time did either of the two cite “tomorrow” as their reason for not walking out.
Exceptions to the walkout, therefore, were on the grounds of burdensome financial responsibilities and legal counsel.
Dr Rampersad’s mind was made up.
At the conference, the EIC suggested waiting until “tomorrow”, adding an hour or so later that her lawyer had advised her not to do anything drastic until she spoke to him. The EIC later left to see a lawyer on Duke Street. Notwithstanding this, Ms Raymond, on walkout Wednesday at 2.58 pm, texted Dr Rampersad saying, “I need to get out of here. Will be following you in matter of hours. Talk later. Thx for everything xx.”
After the walkout, at 5.56 pm Wednesday July 10, the EIC texted Dr Rampersad following Dr Rampersad’s immediate post-walkout interview on I95.5FM: “Heard interview. Great”.
At 6.25 pm on the same day, the EIC texted Dr Rampersad: “Now drafting resignation letter to show to lawyer”.
Following Dr Rampersad’s interview in I95.5FM on the morning of Thursday July 11 (the morning after the walkout), the EIC texted Dr Rampersad at 6.26 pm: “you talk like a boss this morning”.
Investigative reporters Ms Anika Gumbs-Sandiford and Ms Denyse Renne affirm that, contrary to the EIC’s statement in today’s Guardian, they were at no time asked, told or advised by the EIC to defer their resignations for 24 hours.
Ms Gumbs-Sandiford confirms that the EIC was in possession of her resignation letter since 1.44am on Wednesday July 10. Her resignation letter was e-mailed to the EIC with a note reading: “Just informing you that this will be forwarded to General Manager Mr Douglas Wilson at 9am. Talk to you soon.”

There was no response advising Ms Gumbs-Sandiford to defer her resignation. In fact, Ms Ramond responded at 7.30am via e-mail: “Thanks for letting me know, Anika. I am so sorry it has to come to this. Thanks for all your great work. All the best.”

At 8.20 am, having already agreed on the walkout the night before, the EIC texted Dr Rampersad: “Cd you call Anika & ask her not to send letter yet? GF on way to talk to Norman now, still hoping to save the day. If not, we’ll go together after that”.
Dr Rampersad responded: “It’s over.” Ms Raymond acknowledged that with a sad-face emoticon.
It is not an easy decision to share these items of correspondence but we feel certain we have no choice in the defence of our credibility and the truth. These messages and other correspondence quoted here, along with many more, remain in our possession as corroboration.
Between 8.20 am and sometime after 3 pm on walkout Wednesday, Ms Raymond had a surfeit of opportunities to dissuade Ms Gumbs-Sandiford and Ms Renne from walking out. Ms Raymond used none of these opportunities.
Ms Renne confirms that between 10 am and 11 am on walkout Wednesday, she met with Ms Raymond and told her: I have your back; I will be walking out with you. Ms Raymond’s response was, “Ok then, let me go and pack.”

Around 3pm, Ms Gumbs-Sandiford met with the EIC and informed her that she had submitted her resignation letter. She asked of the EIC whether the EIC had submitted hers. The EIC replied, “I am just waiting to speak to my attorney. I will submit it after.”

Ms Gumbs-Sandiford and Ms Renne confirm that they resigned in support of Ms Raymond knowing that if Ms Raymond went “offline,” very soon they would have also been sent “offline” given the number of protests that followed the investigative stories they wrote.

Our silence between Thursday morning and today is not to be interpreted as stupidity, cowardice, or belief in the convoluted spin generated by GML. We are clear that the issue at the start of last week was interference in the editorial processes and products and the suspension and/or potential dismissal of Ms Raymond. After our act of courage on Wednesday, the question became voluntary resignation by the EIC. Our walkout enabled that shift.
That there was dialogue between the EIC and management from Thursday July 11 was not inevitable; our walkout enabled that change. Contrary to reports from the Media Association of T&T, none of the three journalists who walked out is back on the job. None of us was contacted before or after the MATT news release was issued.
We remain unshakeable in our conviction that we took an honourable and principled position; we have no regrets.
The public will adjudicate on whether the confusion of the past few days can be accurately termed “misinformation,” “massive miscommunication” or, quite simply, lies.

Respectfully,
Dr Sheila Rampersad
Ms Anika Gumbs-Sandiford
Ms Denyse Renne

The three reporters wrote this in response to Editor in Chief, Judy Raymond’s article today.

The MATT Who Cried Wolf

Editor in Chief Judy Raymond...giving it another try.

Editor in Chief Judy Raymond…giving it another try.

Soooooo…all that fuss at GuardianGate….you know….about Government interference at the newspaper? And about Managing Directors and editors being fired and then reinstated and there being an impasse in the newsroom and reporters walking off the job etc etc…..it was a hoax.

Yes folks, we’re being told today by Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago, whose President is Suzanne Sheppard and Vice President is Judy Raymond….that ALLLLLL those press releases they sent out earlier in the week to keep us abreast of the situation in the Guardian newsroom….well they were mistaken.

So MATT, once again, is a tool, being absolutely abused by its executive. Nothing to see here folks…move along.

Take a read:

The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) seeks to correct previous erroneous information released specifically about the alleged resignation of the Managing Director of Guardian Media Gabriel Faria.
Further investigation into the matter has revealed that Managing Director Gabriel Faria and Sector Head David Inglefield have not resigned as previously reported by MATT. 
The impasse between the publishers of the Trinidad and Sunday Guardian newspapers and senior journalists has been reportedly resolved following discussions between the two parties. Apart from the resignation of Public Affairs Editor Dr Sheila Rampersad, the newsroom is now functioning as before with Judy Raymond as Editor in Chief. Investigative reporters Anika Gumbs and Denyse Renne, who were initially reported as having resigned, are on the job.
Managing Director Gabriel Faria and Sector Head David Inglefield have not resigned as previously reported
President of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) Suzanne Sheppard, who is the Business News Editor at the Trinidad Guardian, described the events of the last 24 hours which led to speculation of political pressure on journalists at the daily newspaper as case of a “massive miscommunication” between the publishers and journalists.
Sheppard said she is convinced, following discussions with senior executives, that the events of the past few days when Judy Raymond was asked to go temporarily “off-line” to review editorial standards in the newsroom had “nothing to do with political intervention”.
Sheppard said freedom of press issues were raised only due to an unfortunate combination of events that will be revealed in a press conference on Monday. 
Saturday 13th July 8.00am

And while you pick your jaw up off the floor…and realise that the MATT who cried wolf really just saw a canary….keep in mind these cryptic words from Judy Raymond, Guardian’s EIC last evening..”Don’t believe everything you read…”

Full Dotish….Full Dotisher….And More Full Dotish!