Thursday, April 29, 2010

Election Primer A - Z: 'G' is for Guanapo Church Project

The above image of a church is harmless enough. White walls. Bell Tower. Pristine. Clean. Serene. The blue skies not for a moment betraying the dark clouds beneath. Dark clouds heavy with sinister motives, allegations of fraud, and questions - oh so many questions! - that would set this holy project far from the God it purports to honour and worship.

Is the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ Church under construction in Guanapo Heights a testament to God or an abomination in his sight?

An examination of the few details that have been disclosed to date, will only unearth even more questions. But to date, here are eleven things that we do know:

  1. The Church is being built by the admitted spiritual advisor to the Prime Minister, one Juliana Pena.
  2. Ms Pena is the same woman who caused none other than Benny Hinn to (get on the bandwagon and ) refer to the PM as a 'foolish man' (See Here: )
  3. The Church congregation numbers no more than 20 -30 persons.
  4. Neither Ms Pena nor any members of her church appear to have the means to finance such a project.
  5. It is a known fact that none other than the PM has visited the site on more than one occassion to date.
  6. The project cost is reported to be in the region of TT$30M.
  7. The parcel of land that the Church is being constructed on is in fact state lands that were realesed by Cabinet Note shortly before the 2007 General Elections.
  8. Calder Hart - the former Chairman of UdeCoTT / NIPDEC - engaged the services of a local design firm and if reports are true, insisted that it be done at no cost as it was for the Prime Minister.
  9. The project is being undertaken by Shanghai Construction and by chinese labourers. The same Shanghai Construction for the NAPA among other Government Projects. And the same Shanghai Construction who are in Trindad on a Government-to-Government arrangement.
  10. It is being alleged that the project is being undertaken at no cost as 'payback' for the Billions of Dollars in contracts that Shanghai Construction has been awarded previously.
  11. That Great Stranger to the Truth, the Prime Minister indicated in Parliament that he was aware that the reporters from the Trinidad Guardian who visited the Guanapo Congregation had had an epiphany and had given them one week to publicly proclaim this or that he would expose it to the nation. Neither an admission nor a proclamation has since been forthcoming.

The above aside, may other startling allegations have since come to light about the so called prophetess, her realtionship with people in power and her personal finances.

There is also the curious disavowing of Ms Pena acting in a diplomatic capacity after news of her visit to Zimbabwe were made public. (Click here: , and here:

Whatever good that may have once informed the decision to construct the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ has now been overshadowed by a web of kickbacks, fraud, deceit and misuse of power. Added to which, the myth of the separation of Church and State has been further eroded. And once again, we the taxpayer are left with many questions, few answers and zero accountability.

Are the many, excessive cost overruns on public projects for instance symptomatic of an informal machinery that has been put in place to routinely and systematically milk the public purse dry? Given the absence of political will and testicular fortitude, we may never truly know.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Election Primer A - Z: 'F' is for Flag

Before we begin, click here: for a bit of background on this story.

How can any right thinking individual approve $2M for the erection of a 60 x 36 national flag? How does one justify that kind of expenditure? Does logic call on a 'comparitive shopping' approach to this sort of project? Or does one close one's eyes and spend someone else's money?

A symbol of national pride? Or a grave mistake? You decide.

The fact remains that the Ministry of Sport (we assume with the blessing of the PM and Cabinet) approved $2M for this project. That sum has been further explained as follows:

  • The flag cost $18,112.15, VAT inclusive;

  • Foundation and installation works— $940,000;

  • Design and supply of monster flag pole— $932,400

  • Three additional flags— $54, 336.
Ironically, the flag in itself cost less than 1% of the total contract sum.

But here are some of the glaring questions:
  • What has similar flags (including the one erected at FireOne's compound in Macoya) cost elsewhere in the world?

  • Is it fair to place a price-tag on National Pride?

  • How is it that a company with no history of civil engeineering or construction works could have been awarded such a contract?

  • Why is it that on closer examination, the two other companies to tender appear to be nothing more than 'paper companies'?

  • Were proper tendering practices adhered to on this project?
In the end, this is as clear an example of 'spending gone mad' and a government unchecked as you will find anywhere. When one considers that there are so many priorities that could have taken precedent - including within the Ministry of Sports. There is no pride for instance in having hospitals without beds, police stations without vehicles and an education system that is failing its wards. To put it into perspective, two million dollars could have provided the following:

10 Police patrol vehicles
7 low income houses
20 teachers for a year
Food for 100 families for one year

2 life saving surgeries
1 dialysis machine

For an epilogue it should be noted that something has come as a result of the public outcry that this issue created and to date, the CEO of SportTT and his deputy have, in spite of their attempts to defend their decision, stepped down. Similarly, the line minister, Gary Hunt, has decided NOT to offer himself for re-election on May 24. Hopefully, his decision will also mean that he will no longer be the Minister of Sport should his party win the election. In spite of these moral victories however, calls for investigations have been largely ignored. And we will never know with exact certainty just how badly we've been hoodwinked.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Election Primer A - Z: 'E' is for Estate Management Business Development Corporation of T&T (EMBD)

I should perhaps start at the end of the last (known) Chapter and remind everyone that in the midst of allegations of mismanagement, financial inpropriety and sexual harrasment, the former CEO of the EMBD, Uthara Rao reisgned effective December 31, 2008.

As reported by the Trinidad Guardian on January 18, 2009 - the Chairman of the EMBD, Noel Garcia was reported as stating that Mr Rao's decision had come just weeks after the Board had sent him on leave 'pending investigation'. To date, nothing further has been communicated on the matter and Mr Rao remains 'free'.

Who exactly is Mr Rao?

Uthara Rao, a national of India, had controversial skirmishes while at EMBD. He faced allegations of sexual harassment of certain employees; the matters were settled out of court through the payment of some $200,000.

He also damned some nationals, especially Indo-Trinidadians, saying they could not speak proper English.

He also was involved in a public spat with his then line minister Christine Sahadeo.

Rao had faced criticisms from then Joint Select Committee members Mary King and Wade Mark.

With billions of dollars spent (apparently without oversight and accountability) between 2002 and 2009 on infrastructural development in the former Caroni Lands, it would appear that Mr Rao has been something of a 'khaki' Calder Hart (Khaki Hart?), who was allowed to do everything and anything as long as it resulted in the achievement of the ruling party's developmental goals. Similarly, he enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the PM.

And in spite of it being common knowledge that much of the reported works were exaggerated and with allegations of favouritism, inadequate roads, poor water and sewerage connections, sexual harrasment and even the existence of a $2M+ bank account / slush fund, Mr Rao has escaped all recourse.

Makes one wonder just how many similar cases exist under the present Government.

Its time to end the nonsense - on May 24, Stain yuh finger and take back yuh nation!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Election Primer A - Z: 'D' is for 'd Issues, duh!

Parliament may have been dissolved three weeks ago, but to date and as they have done for the past two and half years, the ruling party has chosen to ignore the issues that really matter at this time. Instead of trying to validate the faith and trust placed in the likes of Calder Hart - the PNM has chosen instead to focus on faulty lessons on the history of coalition governments.

Instead of trying to explain why it is that it appears unable to provide basic services for anyone beyond the rank and file of the party's inner circle (now did you think that Colm has to worry about water? Hazel about traffic? Martin about his personal security? Or Marlene about her health issues?) the party chooses to attempt to invoke fear in the minds of the electorate by falsely advising that any other party would do away with its social programmes.

Instead of apologizing for the runaway horse that is crime, we have Marlene critquing Kamla's fashion choices and Christine, Amery et al talking of bad marriages, frankenstein monsters, and disasters in waiting.

And instead of communicating its vision and its plans for the next parliamentary term, the PNM has chosen instead to devolve to desparate and unfounded personal attacks.

In spite of its own internal issues (the Rowley factor, the diminishing support of the Arab community, the disatisfaction of several contituency groups and the fact that Patrick Manning remains their biggest liability) the PNM has chosen to stray from a line rooted in accomplishment and forward planning and instead has chosen to go on the 'offensive' and has been quite offensive in what can only be termed baseless and deperate personal attacks on the leading members of the coalition.

Whereas the picong may be to the satisfaction of its own support base, the lack of issues and ideas being voiced on the campaign trail, will not result in the winning over of the hearts and minds of the swing voters and of the COP voters as Colm Imbert has asserted. And the truth remains that without such voters, the PNM stands little chance of winning any of the marginals on May 24.

What is equally offensive is the fact that the party continues to routinely skirt such issues as Rowley, Hart, Crime, Economic sustainability, Property Tax and Over-spending. And instead had relied heavily on baseless fears. "Take away what the PNM has given you"? What a crock of sh$#! Free healthcare and education were still here in 2001. Social programmes such as URP as well. Dollar for Dollar provided education opportunities for thousands between 1995 and 2001.

And as for the question marks being thrown up against the value of our currency and the gas subsidy consider this: The majority of the value of our currency has been lost during PNM adminsitrations, and the last Government to interfere with gas prices was the PNM two budgets ago.

I for one am curious as to how is it that Rowley could be deemed inapporpriate for Mr Manning's Cabinet and has endured allegations of his wajang behaviour as well as of financial inpropriety from Cleaver Woods to Cayman Islands, but has been found to appropriate and good enough for the people of Diego Martin West. Arent voters there the least bit concerned that they are in effect voting for a parliamentary back-bencher should the party be returned to power? Why hasnt the party moved to dispel / retract / spin all the allegations that have been made against Dr Rowley?

I have two things to say to Dr Rowley on this issue: Firstly, the Party needs you more than you need it at this time. Secondly, from where I sit, it is obvious that they are attmpting to ride you like the town jacka$$ only to cut you loose once the journey is over.

But I get ahead of myself. Even on the list of priorities this remains a small issue - dwarfed by wha people really want to hear about at this time: the Economy, Crime, Employment, Quality of living, Property Tax, Accountabilty in Public life, Education, Public Transport and the list goes on. Take note Mr PM, nobody gives rat's a$$ about your opinion on coalition governments or all your specualtive hearsay as to what is happening in the Opposition camp. And certainly even less about the history of crude prices and coalitions, and about the sweaters that Kamla is wearing. Get this in your head: this election is about D issues, duh!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Election Primer A to Z: 'C' is for Calder Hart, Chinese Contractors and CEPEP.

Let me begin by making it perfectly clear - I have no objection with what CEPEP was first initially started in order to accomplish ie Provide an opportunity for skills-based learning that can in turn be parlayed into sustainable employment opportunities. Great idea! Except for the fact that it has now devolved into a re-packaged URP. Care to dispute this fact? Then please tell me would-be ministers what the 'graduation' rate from the programme has been over the past seven years? And just how many sustainable jobs have been created? CEPEP is nothing but another teat for the underemployed to suckle from in T&T.

As for Mr Hart - Not only was this man provided with wide access to the public purse without the opportunity for Accountability and Oversight, he also enjoyed the confidence and support of the PM himself. And in spite of the Question Marks and in spite of the failed performances in a number of projects that fell under his purview (from the Lara Stadium to the Scarborough Hopital) the PM continued to support him blindly. In spite of the Commission Report there is probably little possibility of a Prosecution in this matter because of the huge expanses of time and opportunity that were provided to the parties to hide, destroy and / or correct their wrongs. But voters can still have the last word in this matter and get rid of the people who allowed this gross mishandling of the public purse to occur.

Lastly, the Chinese Contractors - and any other foreign contractors that may come to these shores. I would like to see that any future Government put in place the following 'VALUE ADDED' provisoes in all their contracts:

1) That foreign contractors must incorporate a susidiary in T&T. This will allow for contract disputes, OSHA claims and criminal legal proceedings to take place in this country should it ever come to that.

2) That foreign contractors be made to partner with local firms. This will provide the much-maligned industry access to improve the manner in which they operate and manage future projects.

3) Similarly, that there is a minimum proportion of skilled employment opportunities allocated to local labourers. As with 2) this will provide an opportunity to benefit from first world training and direction.

4) That we finally pay Architects the respect that they deserve in T&T. Local architects have been excluded from the lion's share of Public Contracts in the past decade. And why? Our architects are internationally trained and have proven themselves to be more than competent. Laird, Bynoe, Herrera, Chen, Franchesci, and Lewis are unsung giants of the industry. And only a trini architect can design a building that sufficiently reflects who we are and what we stand for as a people.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Election Primer A - Z: 'B' is for BWIA.

Like a corporate raider in the night the PNM came back into power with its sights firmly locked on the national carrier and the old adage about the sum of the parts being worth more than the whole buzzing in their ears louder than an old refrigerator.
In his previous incarnation as Prime Minister, Patrick Manning attempted to privatize BWIA and a minority stake in the national airline was offered up for sale to the public and much of its assets went on sale as a result of 'restructuring'. (In fact one bright idea was to sell its fleet of planes and to LEASE THEM BACK at above market rates!).
Now in his second coming, the Manning Adminstration not only betrayed the TRUST of its minority shareholders but of a proud nation on the whole by disbanding BWIA altogether and reforming it as Caribbean Airlines.
Not only did they 'dispose' of the airline's assets, the PNM practically gave away the highly prized slots at Heathrow in England (This one hurts whenever I think of it). To add further insult - former BWIA employees are still awaiting word on their pensions. Some even on their VSEP. And minority shareholders to date have found little recourse from the GORTT or the courts.
And while the new airline has struggled (we assume - given the state of the industry internationally) to register legitimate (we assume - given the penchant for the Government to put subsidies through as unusual income whenever Financial Statements are prepared and laid in Parliament) profits, its ex-employees, shareholders, and pensioners are still waiting. And the airline faces a fresh new challenge in that its Code-Sharing agreement with British Airways will soon expire and in the challenge of an arrogant Government for it to 'purchase' Air Jamaica.
But in Sweet T&T its so easy to forget when we are not the ones affected.
Time to grow a pair everyone and VOTE DEM OUT!
Postscript: It would appear that CAL / GORTT will now sink $300M into the operations of Air Jamaica. In exchange for which we will gain access to routes that we already have and also have the distinct pleasure of the Jamaican government owning one-sixth of OUR national airline. Great negotiating guys!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Election Primer A to Z: 'A' is for Airport

'A' is for Airport, & more specifically the Airport Enquiry on which millions of dollars were spent and no report to date. One has to assume that the Commision of Enquiry found little or else the PM would have used any adverse findings to nail his own mother to a cross. After three years of waiting, a copy was finally leaked to media and contained no smoking guns. Another waste of tax-payer dollars on hyperbole & speculation? And another reminder that we have incompetent blowhards in charge of the Treasury.

Airport should also remind us about the recently constructed Private Hangar at Piarco (It cost you, the taxpayer, $200M and was constructed in six weeks with no parliamentary approval or oversight), the Project Pride fiasco (yeah Mrs Manning you really thought that 'Breakfasses' would make us forget that), and of course, the paving fiasco where $130M was spent to lay a new tarmac at Piarco and it was subsequently found to be sub-standard. In spite of Minister Imbert's promises the contractor was never made to pay- in fact he 'won' the contract to correct the works a few weeks later and at a considerably higher sum than he was paid the first time. Must be great being a contractor in T&T - provided the PM approves of you of course!
Its time to wake up and TAKE BACK the Government!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Lion won.......

Anyone familiar with former trade unionist / prime minister / leader of the opposition Basdeo Panday would be familiar with an oft-used (by him) expression regarding a fight between a lion and himself. As the silver fox would often opine: 'Should you ever see me in a fight with a lion, feel sorry for the lion!'

Yesterday, marked the end of an era in local politics as Mr Panday opted to withdraw his name from consideration for the upcoming national polls. His move, effectively brings thirty four years of unbroken parliamentary service to an end.

Mr Panday's withdrawal from the national political scene has been long in coming and fraught with every type of misstep and misspeak that one would expect of an old-school leader who has suddenly lost the support of his base and his relevance in a changing world. Be it the yet unresolved corruption matter, the arrogant and almost flippant disposal of political allies, or even his last post-election speech - there are many reasons to dislike Mr Panday. It is therefore almost befitting that he has been replaced by his former devotee, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, but not without first inflicting as much damage that a wounded lion could.

Still, the future looks bright. Hopefully, in time, history will be kind to his legacy. Until then, it would be best if he accepted his defeat like a man and stepped aside. There is a great air of hope hanging over Trinidad & Tobago. And in the words of well put placard: "IF ON JANUARY 24 KAMLA BEAT A LION THEN ON MAY 24 SHE WILL SURELY BEAT A JACKASS".