In 2018, can Trinidad and Tobago pull it together?

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The TTWhistleblower begins this series with the hope of providing readers with fact, reality and also a bit of hope that despite the current reality in Trinidad and Tobago, our population still has what it takes to pull it through.

In this series, we look at the past year, expectations for 2018 and what the experts have to say about what’s wrong with where we are, where we should be trying to go, and what we need to do to get there.

Backward glance to the last year

The last year for Trinidad and Tobago was marked by no end of sorrow and loss for hundreds of families whose loved ones fell victim to murder and assault.

It was also a tumultuous year that saw political wrangling over seemingly ad-hoc fiscal policy decisions; an economy struggling under the weight of challenges and political ineptitude; growing unemployment; businesses shutting down; unprecedented flooding destruction; a collapsing seabridge; scandals involving Cabinet Ministers, and a nation desperately seeking a clear path out of instability.

The grace under fire that the majority of Trinidadians and Tobagonians have demonstrated by keeping hope that hardships would be short-lived is starting to run thin, especially with hundreds of thousands of families now being afraid to both leave and stay in their own homes after dark.

The Keith Rowley Administration’s conversation with the nation has been aloof, dispassionate and at times quick to deny, but slow to act.

Incompetence is becoming more apparent in the face of new scandals erupting at a more frequent pace than its first 18 months.

And the Prime Minister? Short on finesse and slow on the uptick with his comments to reporters on issues he should have complete control of, and he sounds as if he is using the same script since September 2015: “I had nothing to do with it me; it is all politics, and is the UNC fault.”

It’s the People’s National Movement (PNM) standard message to just about any and every national crisis, adopted too by some members of the Cabinet, such as Faris Al-Rawi, Stuart Young and Camille Robinson-Regis, all of whom have faced serious questions on their character and judgment.

But in spite of the Rowley Administration, what are the expectations of the population and what do the experts, the stakeholders, the leaders of community and religion have to say about the hope for 2018?

Expectations – Politics

Political expectations have not been helped by the Trinidad Guardian interview with the PNM’s Ashton Forde which stated: “Ashton Forde is commending Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for “holding the country together” despite challenging economic times.”

If this reality is the PNM’s version of holding things together, we must all collectively shudder at the thought of things falling apart!

What was a very telling sentiment in this interview was Forde’s statement that: “Government has been able to hold the country together and “make sure that public servants and other people don’t lose their jobs, although there has been some fallout in some areas with people who have contracts.”

Political folklore and persistent perception tell of a Public Service that has always been the domain of the PNM; but what of the rest of the nation? The working men and women fighting harder than everyone else to hold their families and communities together?

From the opposite side of the Parliamentary Chamber, Leader of the Opposition, Kamla Persad-Bissessar opined that the UNC was the only party that could restore stability to Trinidad and Tobago, rhetoric that might have been more convincing had her New Year Message not demonstrated that from Government to Opposition, the thinking has remained the same: “The UNC was fully prepared to provide the country with the “leadership, vision and plan” to move TT forward.”

Unless, in spite of the stark change in our reality since 2015, the UNC ‘plan’ remains the same, the question remains, what plan and how?

Expectations – Corruption

It would be safe to say that the population’s expectation of a coordinated and courageous fight against all levels of corruption stand low at this point. And there is no end of reasons why.

So far only one person in the original Rowley Cabinet has fallen on this particular sword, although she did in fact ‘try to get up.

As if saying, “what’s the big deal?”, the Keith Rowley PNM again tried to resurrect Marlene MacDonald as Minister of Public Utilities and after what could not have been a fulfilling tenure of barely 72 hours, she was again removed from the Cabinet because of attending the President’s House with a questionable character.

Notwithstanding the twice fired MP for Port of Spain South’s colourful tenure in the Rowley Administration, she was later defiantly confirmed as Deputy Political Leader of the PNM. It makes one wonder if another attempt will be made to bring her back to the Cabinet.

What we did not see was the dismissal of Camille Robinson-Regis who went into a bank with $143,800.00 in cash then provided a myriad excuses but no explanation. And she has since defied calls for a transparent fact-based explanation. And her Leader and Attorney General have strenuously defended her.

Robinson-Regis’s nephew, PNM defender Pearce Robinson might have made little comment of ‘Aunty Cam’, but was very clear when another PNM scandal erupted with the Sports Ministers being seen in an intimate exchange with a woman friend. Nephew Robinson condemned Daryl Smith.

But this might have been because it was not the first time a scandalous spotlight was shone on Smith, given his past with a $92,000 Magdalena Grand Beach Resort weekend accommodation tab.

While the Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi is quick to defend everyone and heap blame for everything including climate change (one might expect) on the previous People’s Partnership Administration, he went quiet after photos of his children posing with high-powered weapons surfaced.

Dr Rowley has also not escaped the direct spotlight, with his promise to facilitate Sandals Resort even before he became Prime Minister.

Such a promise tells the public that whatever the processes that existed to ensure that the investment would be careful measured against the benefits to Trinidad and Tobago, especially as he promised not even knowing whether the investment would become a cost to taxpayers.

“No Man’s Land” in Tobago has since been acquired by the Government, from the holdings CL Financial, and is intended for use by Sandals in its resort development. How is it that land has been bought for the project when it has not even gone the full gamut of procurement or tenders assessments?

‘Fake oil’ has also become part of the national vocabulary follow a scandal which erupted involving a friend of the Prime Minister.

In the TTWhistleblower on 21 December 2017, it was discussed that: “The fake oil scandal … Petrotrin overpaying A&V Drilling approximately $80 million for oil it did not receive. The company had the contract to supply oil to Petrotrin from the Catshill Field.

The company is owned by Haniff Nizam Baksh, and following an internal audit which proved the overpayment for oil that effectively did not exist, his daughter, Allyson Baksh, resigned from the Senate.

She was appointed a Senator in 2015.

In a wide-ranging television interview, which was subsequently reported in the Trinidad Express, Keith Rowley claimed that Haniff Nizam Baksh was his friend.”

In the second part of this series, the TTWhistleblower continues with a look at public management, confidence, economic and expert projections for this year.

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