Articles on this Page
- 10/16/16--04:47: _SECURITY CONCERNS
- 10/22/16--22:48: _Guilty or not guilty?
- 10/29/16--22:13: _The Cazabon firestorm
- 11/06/16--02:30: _Red and Ready revised
- 11/12/16--20:47: _The Trump movement
- 11/19/16--20:44: _DEBATING THE MIXED ...
- 11/26/16--20:26: _UNDERSTANDING THE M...
- 12/03/16--19:13: _CLEAR POLITICAL SIG...
- 12/11/16--04:18: _INSIDE THE NUMBERS
- 12/18/16--00:09: _A PEACEFUL TRANSFER...
- 12/25/16--01:46: _THE FATCA DANCE
- 12/31/16--21:49: _MESSAGE FROM GRENADA
- 01/07/17--20:15: _TIME FOR A NEW PARA...
- 01/14/17--22:02: _HAS THE WILLIAMS MO...
- 01/21/17--20:06: _INFRINGING RIGHTS B...
- 01/29/17--02:43: _THE FATCA RESET
- 02/05/17--00:28: _FATCA AND THE JUDIC...
- 02/11/17--21:27: _THE CCJ COMPARISON
- 02/18/17--21:53: _THE THREE-FIFTHS MA...
- 02/26/17--00:34: _TRUMP AND ROWLEY
- 10/16/16--04:47: SECURITY CONCERNS
- 10/22/16--22:48: Guilty or not guilty?
- 10/29/16--22:13: The Cazabon firestorm
- 11/06/16--02:30: Red and Ready revised
- 11/12/16--20:47: The Trump movement
- 11/19/16--20:44: DEBATING THE MIXED SYSTEM
- 11/26/16--20:26: UNDERSTANDING THE MIXED SYSTEM
- 12/03/16--19:13: CLEAR POLITICAL SIGNALS
- 12/11/16--04:18: INSIDE THE NUMBERS
- 12/18/16--00:09: A PEACEFUL TRANSFER OF POWER?
- 12/25/16--01:46: THE FATCA DANCE
- 12/31/16--21:49: MESSAGE FROM GRENADA
- 01/07/17--20:15: TIME FOR A NEW PARADIGM?
- 01/14/17--22:02: HAS THE WILLIAMS MODEL FAILED?
- 01/21/17--20:06: INFRINGING RIGHTS BY TACTICS?
- 01/29/17--02:43: THE FATCA RESET
- 02/05/17--00:28: FATCA AND THE JUDICIARY
- 02/11/17--21:27: THE CCJ COMPARISON
- 02/18/17--21:53: THE THREE-FIFTHS MAJORITY
- 02/26/17--00:34: TRUMP AND ROWLEY
Just two Wednesdays ago, a press conference was held at the Office of the Prime Minister at which the Chief of Defence Staff and the acting Commissioner of Police named two former officers of the Defence Force who were held with a variety of guns and ammunition and several false number plates following a shooting incident in New Grant. This was a most disconcerting announcement about men who had high-level military training and who were now back in society.
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Rowley himself spoke about a betrayal by members of the Defence Force in a matter involving high-powered firearms and the minor children of a senior cabinet minister. Is there something in the protective services that the country needs to be concerned about?
On September 29, at the Office of the Prime Minister, a press briefing was held at which the Prime Minister revealed that he had received a 30-page document from President Carmona which summarised the discussion that was held in a meeting convened by the President that included the Minister of National Security, the Chief of Defence Staff, and the acting Commissioner of Police.
In that revelation, the Prime Minister highlighted the fact that all three had given their “consent” for the President to send a report to him about the meeting. The reality is that the Prime Minister felt that it was wrong for the President to have held such a meeting. However, by giving their “consent” to the President to write a report on the meeting, the other participants were all implicated in a meeting that the Prime Minister felt should never have been held.
Fast forward to last Tuesday, and Dr Roodal Moonilal revealed in the budget debate, under parliamentary privilege, some pictures of two minor children holding high-powered firearms allegedly taken somewhere in Trinidad. Dr Moonilal’s statement referred to the possibility of the minors being the children of a senior cabinet minister without calling names. One minister spoke about the possibility of photoshopping, while the Prime Minister and another minister stated for the record whose children they are and proceeded to launch a broadside attack on Dr Moonilal for raising the matter in Parliament. The Prime Minister spoke about a betrayal and a serious security breach by the security forces.
CNC3 television ran a story later that night in their 7 pm newscast that juxtaposed these minor children holding the high-powered firearms in the pictures that were circulated alongside another story with some other minor children in Maloney posing with firearms.
The common denominator in these pictures shown on CNC3 was the issue of minor children holding firearms. The argument about standards of what should and should not be raised in Parliament ought not to arise because no names were called when the pictures were first put forward. The fact that the response from the Government side was to confirm the identity of the children and condemn the revelation of the pictures itself is what validated the identity of those involved.
If there was a national security initiative to sensitise senior government ministers and their families to the need for training in the use of high-powered firearms, then that ought to have been left within the confines of wherever that activity took place. As to why pictures had to be taken of the event is a completely different story. Who authorised the taking of pictures at a secure location?
How did those pictures end up in the hands of a member of the Opposition in advance of the budget debate when no opposition member could normally gain access to those pictures in the first place.
The Prime Minister is of the view that someone operating in a classified security environment chose to leak the pictures and he has pointed his finger directly at the Defence Force. Dr Moonilal has challenged the Prime Minister’s allegation by saying that the pictures had apparently been taken by another family member of the cabinet minister and posted on Facebook before being taken down shortly after their posting. Whichever it is, this is highly embarrassing to the minister whose minor children are seen holding the high-powered firearms. Whether it was a leak or whether it was just very poor judgment if it was a family member who took those pictures and posted them on Facebook is worrying.
Whichever way we want to view this, it is apparent that the country must have cause for concern about national security given the collection of events that have taken place over the last couple of weeks on this front.
People who were discharged from the Defence Force being caught in alleged illegal activities must make one wonder about how military training is being used after discharge. A President who sends a report to the Prime Minister on a security meeting with the consent of the participants in the meeting cannot stand alone being accused of impropriety if the participants are implicated by their consent for a report of the meeting to be written. Minor children being exposed to firearms is a security concern whether in Maloney or wherever.
Last week, it was announced that Wade Charles, Dominic Pitilal, Asim Luqman, Andre Battersby and Leslie Daisley were to be returned home to Trinidad after being in detention in Venezuela since March 19, 2014.
These men had been the subject of intense diplomatic negotiations that started under the former People’s Partnership administration and those negotiations continued under the current PNM administration.
The announcement of their return last week was greeted with great celebration by their families. Attorney Nafeesa Mohammed was overjoyed at the outcome and proudly proclaimed on the CNC3 7 pm newscast last Sunday that there was only one person to thank for the return of these men and that was Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
However, by Monday there was a completely different story being put out by Minister of National Security Edmund Dillon to the effect that the men had, in fact, been convicted in a Venezuelan court of charges of non-gang related conspiracy and espionage. This was further supported on Tuesday evening by a release from the Office of the Attorney General which stated in part that the men “were subjected to a judicial process in the Courts of Venezuela in accordance with due process. These legal proceedings were recently completed and the individuals were found guilty of certain criminal offences and sentenced.”
This information completely changed the dynamic of what was supposed to be a triumphant release of these five men into a conviction and sentence for serious crimes. Notwithstanding this, Imam Umar Abdullah of the Islamic Front had another view.
Newsday reported on October 19 that he said he “was reliably informed that these five would be returning home innocent of all charges.”
According to the report, Abdullah had said he understood that National Security Minister Edmund Dillon said otherwise and he “will address that matter further, once the men return home.”
This has created a situation where the word of the National Security Minister and the Attorney General is not being accepted as the truth. Minister Dillon has said he is reporting what was given to him by the T&T Embassy in Caracas.
The men were sentenced to two years six months and 25 days which is the exact amount of time that the men had been detained in Venezuela. In other words, having been found guilty they were sentenced to the time served in custody.
As in all situations where there are people returning to the country who have been convicted overseas, Minister Dillon said they will be interrogated upon arrival. However, Saddiqua Pitilal, wife of one of the men, made it clear to Minister Dillon that he should “bat in his crease” and not even think about interrogating her husband without his attorney at his side.
This matter is a most peculiar one because one version of events is that the men were freed of all charges and they are being returned home by virtue of that acquittal. Then there is the official government version which states that the men were found guilty of the charges and are returning home as convicted felons. Which one is it?
These families have been waiting for more than two-and-a-half years to see their loved ones and it is absolutely imperative that the outcome be made crystal clear.
Attorney Nafeesa Mohammed was triumphant on Sunday night on the CNC3 news. However, nothing has been heard from her since then.
As an attorney she will know how serious this matter is and its likely impact on their lives.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, who was singled out by Nafeesa Mohammed for the highest praise in the context of his commitment given earlier this year during the visit of President Maduro to T&T, has not said anything on the matter. The impression that had been conveyed to the national population was that these men were being illegally held in Venezuela and it was necessary for the two governments to conclude an agreement for their release.
Nowhere was it ever communicated publicly that these men were facing charges for non-gang related conspiracy and espionage.
If that was the case, then the Government of T&T would have been trying to interfere in the judicial process in Venezuela which would have been highly inappropriate.
Were all of the parties to this matter aware of this reality and that a trial was actually pending? One did not get the impression from the way the matter was reported in the media that there was a judicial matter in the works. The impression created was always that this was an unlawful detention.
In the aftermath of the decision to have the men returned to Trinidad, will they be interrogated as returning felons, or will they be returning as freed men who were unlawfully detained?
This is a serious matter because it goes to the heart of whether or not they were guilty or not guilty.
One way or the other, the nation will have to be told.
The controversy that erupted last week over the 2017 portrayal by Brian MacFarlane of his Carnival band Cazabon: The Art of Living was most instructive. The section of the band called La Belle Dame and Garçon de la Maison, which showed a dark-skinned man in suspenders and trousers alongside an elegantly dressed Caucasian woman caused considerable disquiet.
The controversy ranged from criticisms by the family of the famed painter, Michel-Jean Cazabon, and Cazabon’s biographer, Geoffrey McLean, as well as Kafra Kambon. McLean expressed the view that the family felt they should have been consulted because of the negative connotations being expressed about the painter, while Kambon had no problem with the portrayal but was offended by the use of the hashtag #knowyourplace to accompany the photo caption for the costumes.
The works of Cazabon were recently given prominence by the personal attention of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to the purchase and repatriation of ten Cazabon paintings from auctions in London late last year.
In addressing the opening ceremony of the Cazabon Legacy Exhibition on August 20, Prime Minister Rowley expressed a wide range of views about the value of the Cazabon acquisitions to society. He said those who are uninterested in their past are not worthy of independence. He asked his audience to embrace the Cazabon paintings because they will help us to understand where we have come from and where we are as a people. He said he thought 95 per cent of schoolchildren would not know who Cazabon was and this was embarrassing.
He told the gathering his particular favourite was the painting about the Race Day in the Savannah because it captured the stratification in the society at the time. He expressed the hope the exposure of the society to the paintings of Cazabon could have some impact on behaviour in the society because he was concerned there was an outpouring of barbarism.
With those comments, Rowley raised the profile of the relevance of Cazabon to our society. Why Cazabon? Is there no one else in our historical past to whom Dr Rowley could also turn to evoke the consciousness in the society that he is yearning for?
The T&T Guardian reported on August 22 that “49 paintings depicting T&T’s iconic landscapes, nature, people and buildings were unveiled to guests. Some of the names in the collection include Old Woodbrook Estate, Pine House, House in Trinidad, East Indian Girl, Dry River, Port-of-Spain, River Scene and Maracas River.”
Cazabon lived during the period 1813 to 1888 and his scenes captured a wide diversity of urban and rural life at all strata in colonial Trinidad. He died ten years before the formal union of Trinidad and Tobago in 1898. He is very much a Trinidadian phenomenon in depicting Trinidadian life in the 19th century. He lived during the time of slavery and its abolition in 1834 and the start of Indian indentureship in 1845.
He captured that society through his paintings and MacFarlane was attempting to portray the society at the time of Cazabon by using his Carnival band for this purpose. In doing so, he evoked some emotions that clearly demonstrated he had stepped on many toes. He decided not to proceed with the section called La Belle Dame and Garçon de la Maison.
The offending section was an accurate period portrayal if one was limiting oneself to just the portrayal alone. However, Kambon’s observation about the hashtag #knowyourplace seemed to resonate with many people.
MacFarlane sought to use poetic licence with his production and walked into a firestorm. The reality is that the race and class structure Cazabon portrayed in his paintings captured a colonial Trinidad that has only changed to the extent that a large middle class has been created. However real power to dominate and control what society thinks, trades and speaks has not moved too far from the canvas of his day.
Kambon’s disquiet at the hastag #knowyourplace is indicative of a mindset of resistance that searches for equality, but urban elites of varied races and cultures and their colonial mindsets reinforce many inequalities of the past on the basis of their superior class status today. Many of the so-called nouveau riche elements who have acquired their wealth in the post-oil boom years still yearn for the validation of those in that class bracket who preceded them and with whom they now rub shoulders by virtue of their wealth.
Cazabon could not capture that because some of his subjects would not have been eligible for such prominence in his day. What MaFarlane did was to evoke an emotion that refused to accept a knowyourplace hashtag that recalled subservience.
The entire episode demonstrates how sensitive the society is to any discussion about race and class. The Rowley revival of Cazabon opened a vista for the continued portrayal of Cazabon. The poetic licence of MacFarlane opened a wound which led to his own editing of Cazabon.
Last Monday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley effected his second Cabinet reshuffle in the space of 13 months since taking office. On March 17 this year, he dismissed Marlene McDonald as Minister of Housing and Urban Development and last week he dismissed Nicole Olivierre as Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs as well as Ancil Antoine as Minister of Public Utilities.
All three dismissed by Rowley from his Cabinet to date are elected MPs. This has caused a growth in the number of backbenchers to four—McDonald, Antoine, and Olivierre have joined Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde. This must be a matter of some concern as the PNM amended its constitution in December 2012 to remove the veto power of the political leader over people to be chosen as candidates of the party.
There is an undercutting narrative that suggests Rowley still has an informal final say over candidates even though the formal-legal process has been altered to remove his veto. Whichever one it is, one has to presume that the PNM is following its new rules.
The controversy that led to the dismissal of McDonald earlier this year was well known to the PNM and came up during the screening process, yet the Central Executive of the party went ahead and approved her as the candidate for Port-of-Spain South and she won. Ancil Antoine (D’Abadie/O’Meara) and Nicole Olivierre (La Brea) were deemed to be suitable candidates to be put forward by the party after exhaustive screening exercises. The reality is that the party screening process is suitable for selecting a potential representative for a constituency and may not capture the essence of what is required for ministerial talent.
Only the Prime Minister can make a determination about ministerial talent which then becomes a matter of prime ministerial judgment alone. With three dismissals in his first 13 months, Rowley is off to a start that does not differ significantly from former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Another issue that must also be reviewed is the reduction in the number of defeated candidates originally brought into the Senate. Clarence Rambharat lost in Mayaro and was made Minister of Agriculture through the Senate, while Avinash Singh lost in Caroni Central and was made Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture. They were not touched in the reshuffle. However, the other two defeated candidates placed in the Senate, Hafeez Mohammed (Barataria/San Juan) and Sara Budhu (Caroni East) are both now gone. The former made way for Rohan Sinanan when he was exposed in an online scandal and resigned. Sinanan was sworn into office as a Senator on June 14 this year and Budhu’s appointment was revoked last week to make way for former San Fernando Mayor Kazim Hosein.
Sinanan and Hosein were made ministers last week. In the case of Hosein, Rowley was satisfying a call made last year by Imam Rasheed Karim of Ummah T&T who wrote to the Prime Minister asking for a Muslim to be included in the Cabinet. According to a report by Kalifa Clyne in the Guardian on September 23, 2015, Imam Karim told Clyne: “There is no reason a Muslim minister cannot be appointed. The PNM had Muslim candidates for the election and even if they did not win a seat, Clarence Rambharat did not win in Mayaro and was still appointed a minister.”
Rowley took care of that request in his reshuffle last week.
He also made a pivot to the Hindu community with his selection of Rohan Sinanan as a Cabinet minister. This rebalancing of the Cabinet, bearing in mind the status of Sinanan as a deputy leader of the PNM alongside the elevation of Hosein into the local government chair, had obvious political value in bringing diversity to the Cabinet which was not evident when ministers were sworn into office in September 2015.
With an increase in the number of government backbenchers in the House of Representatives to four with three ministerial dismissals to date, the number of senators serving as ministers has increased as well. There are now seven ministers in the Senate—Rambharat, Hosein, Sinanan, Khan, Gopee-Scoon, Baptiste-Primus and Moses—and one parliamentary secretary, Avinash Singh.
In the midst of all of this, there was an almost unnoticed promotion of Stuart Young from Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister to Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister.
This reshuffle comes at a time when the Government is about to face two elections, one in Trinidad and the other in Tobago, and after that there will be a very difficult economic period to endure. During the general election campaign of 2015, the clarion call of the PNM was that they were “red and ready” for government.
The initial analysis seems to suggest that some of that readiness did not immediately transmit itself into the Government and this reshuffle was necessary to kick start the process going forward.
At the time of writing, with the votes still being counted in many states, it is possible that for the fourth time in its history, the first past-the-post system may elect a United States President who has won the Electoral College and lost the popular vote to a rival candidate. It has happened with Rutherford B Hayes—1876, Benjamin Harrison—1888, and George W Bush—2000. In 1824 John Quincy Adams was elected with neither the Electoral College vote nor the popular vote as that election was decided in the House of Representatives.
Fast forward to 2016 and Donald Trump has already won enough votes to deliver the Electoral College to him. How did he do it? My own hypothesis has been that he drew support from two leaderless populist movements of angry voters, namely the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) party movement.
He became the voice of millions of people who were angry with the political and financial establishment and just wanted a change. Those voters were out there and during the primaries it was obvious that he was winning them in the Republican primaries and Bernie Sanders was winning them in the Democratic primaries.
Then came the shock release of Wikileaks emails in July that showed how Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were conspiring to deny Bernie Sanders his legitimate right to fairly compete for the Democratic nomination. Wasserman-Shultz resigned as chairman of the DNC.
The Bernie Sanders message that won him 22 states in the Democratic primaries was exactly where Trump went to create his movement. Just like Sanders, he attacked media corruption, Washington corruption, trade deals, Wall Street corruption, and then added his own attack on immigration and the rising costs of what he called “Obamacare”, and joined that with his anti-abortion position and his stout defence of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
The key to the Trump victory can be found in the “Rust Belt” states of Pennsylvania (20 votes), Ohio (18 votes), Michigan (16 votes), and Wisconsin (ten votes) which accounted for 64 Electoral College votes. This is where the working class lay unrepresented and could identify with either the Occupy Wall Street or TEA Party movements.
Trump’s campaign manager and chief strategist Kellyanne Conway identified the “Rust Belt” as the key to a Trump victory—together with North Carolina and Florida—and clearly advised her candidate to focus on those states.
Without those 64 Electoral College votes—of which he has 48 so far as Michigan is still being counted—he would not be heading to the White House. He was being criticised in the mainstream media for visiting those “Rust Belt” states as they constituted what was called the “blue firewall” around the Clinton victory and it was a waste of his time and resources, and he kept making a joke of it on the platform by saying that the mainstream media did not think that they (the voters) were worthy of a visit from him.
By the time it was too late for the Democrats to realise what was going on, Van Jones, on CNN’s State of the Union programme last Sunday, said: “There is a crack in the blue wall. It has to do with trade. This is a ghost of Bernie. There is a discontent with some Democratic voters over trade and some blame Hillary Clinton.”
That realisation came too late in the final days of the campaign. Furthermore, the opinion polls never picked it up and Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Centre for Politics admitted that they missed rural America in their methodology. Kellyanne Conway did not miss it and staked her reputation on the advice she was giving to Trump.
In the “Rust Belt”, Bernie Sanders defeated Clinton in the Wisconsin and Michigan primaries, even though the flawed polls predicted at the time that Clinton would win the Michigan primary, while Clinton won the Pennsylvania and Ohio primaries. That told a story that Bernie’s message was getting through to voters there. The Trump campaign made that a key pillar of their campaign once the DNC had orchestrated Sanders’ eventual defeat at the convention.
If Bernie Sanders was the Democratic candidate, one could speculate whether or not Trump would have won the “Rust Belt”.
The three debates did not matter as Clinton won all three and Trump won the presidency. The Republican establishment did Trump a huge favour by not supporting him as it made him more acceptable to working-class Democrats who felt that Clinton was not addressing their needs as much as Trump was with his “Drain the swamp in Washington” and anti-trade deal rhetoric against NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That is what they wanted to hear and he was the only one saying it.
On December 19, the Electoral College meets all across America in the state capitals to cast their votes. On January 6 the United States Senate will meet to count the Electoral College votes and certify the winner. On January 20 at 12 noon, the new President will take the oath of office.
The statement made by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that he plans to repeal the proportional representation provisions in the Municipal Corporations Act raises a fundamental issue of debate.
At a time when the first past-the-post system has displayed its biggest flaw on the world stage in relation to the election of the next United States President who won the Electoral College, but not the popular vote, in order to become the President on January 20 next, why would this country want to undo a reform that now allows that no vote will be wasted ever again in local government?
Proportional representation has had its critics over the years, but the introduction of that reform into local government in this country has removed the winner-take-all approach for the allocation of aldermen in local government corporations.
Before 2013, any political party that won a majority of seats in any corporation was entitled to nominate all of the aldermen in that council. With the introduction of proportional representation in 2013, political parties can only earn aldermen in any corporation if the votes of the electorate permit them to have those aldermen.
While it will take some time for people to understand any new electoral reform as a reform in its own right, it does guarantee that the votes of people who live in any corporation will be counted twice. Their votes will be counted as usual in the respective electoral districts where voters reside. After those councillors have been declared elected, the EBC will then tally the votes cast for each party in every corporation and then allocate the seats of the aldermen in each corporation to the political parties in proportion to the votes cast.
In order to win one of the four seats reserved for aldermen in each of the councils, a party will have to win at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in that corporation. The mathematical formula associated with the Hare method of proportional representation is the formula that was and will be used to do the calculations for the allocation of the seats for aldermen.
This has brought the highest possible level of legitimacy to local government since all positions in the councils are now filled on the basis of elections and not a combination of elections and the principle of nomination.
In many respects, the principle of nomination for the Senate and, prior to 2013, for the aldermen in local government councils was a holdover from the era of Crown Colony government when all positions in Legislative Councils were appointed by the governor in the name of the Crown.
T&T was very wedded to that idea, and apparently still is in many respects, which leads one to suspect that the desire to take the country backwards to that system in local government is where the energy for abolishing this reform is coming from.
Prime Minister Rowley spoke about the challenges faced by the PNM in having people quarrel about why they were not chosen as aldermen from the lists that are required to be supplied to the EBC on nomination day. Political parties can use the list of aldermen to defer the opportunities to serve in corporations for people who were not selected as candidates for the positions of councillor in any corporation. Very valuable talent can be preserved in the list of names that has to be provided that has as many names as there are elected councillor positions to be filled.
A political party will earn the right to extract as many as four names from their list if they win enough of the votes to do so and have reserves in the event of any future changes in membership among the ranks of the aldermen who belong to their party.
When Darryl Smith was elected as the MP for Diego Martin Central, he was required to resign his position as an alderman in the Diego Martin Regional Corporation. He was replaced by Sigler Jack whose name was on the unused portion of the list that had been submitted to the EBC by the PNM in 2013.
When Raymond Tim Kee resigned as mayor of Port-of-Spain and as an alderman on the Port-of-Spain City Corporation in February this year, he was replaced by Anthony Ferguson whose name was on the unused portion of the list that had been submitted by the PNM on nomination day in 2013.
The reality is that in both cases the system worked to keep both corporations stable at a time when resignations came from their ranks. The transparency came from the fact that any political party that is put in that position must only confine themselves to the names that they submitted on nomination day for the election in which those councillors and aldermen were intended to serve. The only way that there would be a deviation is if all the names on the respective lists were exhausted in which case, the political party whose alderman is to be replaced would then make a different nomination to fill their vacancy.
As the voters of Trinidad go to the polls tomorrow in the 14 local government corporations, they will once again be involved in voting in the only mixed system in the country. Many voters may not realise that their votes will count twice tomorrow.
There has been little public education about the mixed system of the first-past-the-post system for electing councillors and the proportional representation system for electing aldermen.
Local government corporations are the only public entities that are completely elected. Everyone is very familiar with the way that councillors are elected as that has been our tradition in the post-independence era. However, not everyone is familiar with the Hare method of proportional representation which is used for the allocation of aldermen.
Essentially what will happen after the councillors are declared elected is that the EBC will do a compilation of the total votes cast in each corporation for each party and then make allocations of aldermen to those parties based on the votes cast for each of them.
Each corporation has four aldermen, so it is obvious that for a party to qualify for one alderman it must earn at least 25 per cent of the total votes cast in that corporation.
So how will this work after the councillors are declared elected? Using the example cited in the Municipal Corporations Act, the formula would work this way in a corporation:
1. It is necessary to calculate the required quota that any party must earn in order to allocate one of the four positions of alderman to a party. This is done by dividing the total number of valid votes cast in the corporation by four. For example, if the total valid votes cast in a corporation was 25,916, that figure would be divided by four which is the number of positions of aldermen to be filled. Therefore, the quota which would be required to win one alderman in this case would be 25,916/4 which would yield a result of 6,479.
2. Having determined the quota, the votes earned by each party would then be divided by that quota. If for example, Party A earned 11,420 total valid votes, Party B earned 8,103 total valid votes, and Party C earned 6,483 total valid votes, then the allocations would be calculated as follows:
• Seat allocation for Party A—11,420/6,479 = 1.76
• Seat allocation for Party B —8,013/6,479 = 1.23
• Seat allocation for Party C —6,483/6,479 = 1.00
3. Having done the divisions, it is then necessary to eliminate all of the fractions which leaves the following allocations of aldermen to be made by the EBC:
• Allocation for Party A-1
• Allocation for Party B-1
• Allocation for Party C-1
4. These allocations only account for three seats. The number of vacant seats remaining to be allocated is one because only three seats were allocated from the divisions with only one more seat to be allocated.
5. The calculation of the allocation of the remaining vacant seat is then done on the basis of determining which party has the largest remainder of votes left after the quota is subtracted from their total valid vote in the corporation, which is done as follows—
(a) Multiply the quota by each party’s number of seats earned:
• Party A— 6,479 x 1 = 6,479
• Party B—6,479 x 1 = 6,479
• Party C—6,479 x 1 = 6,479
(b) Minus for each party from the total valid votes received from each party the figures under paragraph (a) above -
• Party A : 11,420-6,479 = 4,941
• Party B : 8,013-6,479 = 1,534
• Party C : 6,483-6,479 = 4
6. In allotting the remaining vacant seat, the party having the highest amount under paragraph (b) above (which is the largest remainder) will be allocated the remaining seat. That would mean that Party A with the largest remainder of 4,941 votes will be allocated the final alderman position, while Parties B and C will receive no allocation.
This methodology has introduced a new approach to electing our local government officials. Proportional representation has been fiercely resisted over the years ever since a mixed system was first recommended by the members of the Wooding Constitution Commission in 1974.
In many respects, the system introduced in 2013 was a replica of the mixed system that the Wooding Commission recommended for the national Parliament in 1974. The opposition to this was led by Dr Eric Williams in his eight-hour address to the House of Representatives in December 1974 when he opposed the Wooding Commission on this point and others.
In their first foray into proportional representation, the PNM earned 36 of the 56 aldermen for having contested all 14 corporations, while the UNC and COP that contested less corporations predictably earned less aldermen. The ILP was able to earn aldermen for the 100,000 votes that they got despite not controlling any corporations.
A mixed system, as an electoral reform, is better suited to our political culture that has only known the first-past-the-post system. Hopefully it will be kept.
At the time of writing, the preliminary results of last Monday’s local government elections were available with recounts taking place in some areas. The general consensus appears to be that there was a very low voter turnout. There may be various reasons for this, but it would be unsafe to speculate about why so many people did not vote.
In 2013, there was the highest-ever turnout of voters in any local government elections. There were obvious declines in many areas which would have to be further analysed carefully when the final official results are declared.
However, in examining some early preliminary results it would appear that Trinidad has retained the status of a two-party state between the PNM and the UNC. The COP, ILP and MSJ failed to register anything significant in the areas where they contested.
Not long after the general election last year, former COP leader Prakash Ramadhar declared that there was no longer any People’s Partnership. That was confirmed for this local government election as the COP contested seats against the UNC and the PNM. The COP’s performance was unimpressive as a perusal of unofficial results in Curepe/Pasea, Kelly Village/Warrenville, La Florrisante/Lopinot, St Augustine South/Piarco/St Helena and Valsayn/St Joseph in the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation can confirm.
Another COP candidate in Les Efforts West/La Romain in the San Fernando City Corporation also performed far below 2013 levels when the party actually won that seat. The COP outcome this year was only in double digits and the PNM won the seat for the first time in 24 years.
One of the realities that emerged in the political contests last Monday was that the COP had been the beneficiary of UNC voters supporting them in areas where there were COP candidates as a result of the prior tactical avoidance strategy of being in a partnership.
The three-way contests last Monday confirmed this phenomenon when the data from 2013 is analysed alongside the preliminary results.
Another party that emerged to challenge the UNC, moreso than any other political party, was the National Solidarity Assembly which was linked to the All Trinidad Sugar Workers Union in Couva. Their performance was also sub-standard however, in one instance, they did make an impact on an outcome in the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation where the unofficial pre-recount tally was PNM-1,359, UNC-1,314 and NSA-78. With a 45-vote defeat for the UNC and 78 votes earned by the NSA, they did make the difference in that particular seat as the PNM won by a plurality and not a majority.
That opened the door to a 4-4 tie in elected councillors and the proportional representation allocation would appear to be 2-2, thereby giving the corporation an even split in its membership between the PNM and the UNC.
The amendment of the Municipal Corporations Act in 2013 abolished the winner-take-all system for aldermen and replaced it with proportional representation allocations based on the total votes cast for each party in the entire corporation.
There was never any tie-breaking system for the election of mayors, chairmen, etc, as the drawing of lots was previously applied to the winner-take-all system for electing aldermen.
Positions on all corporations are now completely elected, either on the first past-the-post system for councillors or the Hare method of proportional representation for aldermen.
If the electorate in Sangre Grande voted for a tie, then an opportunity arises for the PNM and the UNC to come together in a power-sharing/coalition arrangement for the benefit of the community, moreso than their respective parties. There was a clear signal from the electorate of Sangre Grande that they wanted an equally divided corporation.
Going the route of power-sharing and a coalition arrangement in the interest of the community will break the mould of the hegemonic dominance-driven model that has bedeviled our politics to the extent that the relationship between both major parties is akin to warfare without the weapons.
This is a major challenge for our political culture of political dominance and will, in fact, raise the profile of servant leadership to a new level so that those people elected as councillors or chosen by their parties as aldermen from their lists can now be validated in their service. Such validation will not come from their party identity, but rather from their election/selection to serve.
The tie can be broken by the application of what is known in political science terms as a consociational method that is based on accommodative political behaviour that searches for consensus, rather than division. Can our major political parties seek to try this method in Sangre Grande as a test case for other ways of governing besides the constant search for dominance and hegemony?
The welfare of the people of Sangre Grande is at stake because the result is what they voted for. Using the coalition method presents an opportunity, not for tactical and strategic political advantage, but rather for servant leadership. That will be the qualitative difference for the UNC, while for the PNM it will represent a complete overhaul of the way that the party has approached governance from inception.
The first thing that can be established inside the numbers of the local government elections is that the turnout was 34.3 per cent, which is the lowest since 1983. A deeper examination of the results shows that with the exception of the Sangre Grande corporation, the PNM suffered a decline from its 2013 numbers of seven per cent in Arima; 21 per cent in Diego Martin; 1.1 per cent in Point Fortin; 21.3 pert cent in Port-of-Spain; 20.6 per cent in San Fernando; 21.5 per cent in San Juan/Laventille; and 13.3 per cent in Tunapuna/Piarco.
On the other hand, the UNC saw increases over what it earned in 2013 of 55.6 per cent in Chaguanas; 17.8 per cent in Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo; 17.1 per cent in Mayaro/Rio Claro; 4.7 per cent in Penal/Debe; 21.6 per cent in Princes Town; and 13 per cent in Siparia.
In the Sangre Grande corporation, the PNM saw an increase of 5.8 per cent over its 2013 performance, and the UNC saw a 33.5 per cent increase over its 2013 performance. As a consequence of the increased voter support for the UNC, the Sangre Grande corporation ended in a tied 4-4 outcome among the councillors and that tie was extended to a 2-2 split among the aldermen when the proportional representation calculations were made.
The UNC regained much of its support from the collapse of the ILP voter base of 2013 when UNC votes were severely split at that time. This was seen in Chaguanas where the ILP contested this year and in the other corporations where the ILP did not contest, and the statistics show that many of the voters went back to the UNC in greater numbers than they did for the PNM.
The reason for identifying the performance of the PNM in those corporations controlled by the UNC is to highlight the fact that the party increased its share of the vote in those corporations, but by smaller amounts than the UNC.
The PNM increased its share by nine per cent in Chaguanas, 5.8 per cent in Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo, 9.3 per cent in Mayaro/Rio Claro, 24.1 per cent in Penal/Debe (in 2013 the PNM contested all but one of the seats in this corporation), 5.5 per cent in Princes Town, and 1.6 per cent in Siparia.
The latter case is quite interesting because in 2013 the PNM won the popular vote in Siparia, but did not win a majority of seats because of the first-past-the-post system. This time around, the UNC won both the popular vote and the majority of the seats.
The UNC did not contest all of the corporations in 2013, so its partners the COP and NJAC contested some of the corporations. In Arima, the UNC performance was down by 4.3 per cent in relation to the COP of 2013; in Diego Martin, the UNC was down by 19.5 per cent in relation to the COP of 2013; in Point Fortin, the UNC was up by 31.6 per cent over the NJAC performance of 2013; in Port-of-Spain, the UNC was down by 65.4 per cent in relation to the COP of 2013 (the UNC did not contest two seats on the Port-of-Spain corporation in 2016); in San Juan/Laventille, the UNC was up by 5.9 per cent of its performance in 2013; and, in Tunapuna/Piarco, the UNC was up by 27.1 per cent over the COP performance of 2013.
What all of these figures show is a re-emergence of a clear two-party system as none of the other parties made any significant showing. The collapse of the ILP provided the biggest boost to the fortunes of the UNC as many of their voters returned home to them, while the PNM also regained some of its former ILP voters which was a smaller number than the UNC.
The numbers also suggest that the UNC has a major task on its hands to make inroads into the north western part of Trinidad (Diego Martin, Port-of-Spain, and San Juan/Laventille) with the collapse of the COP. That decline started in 2011 when Winston Dookeran announced that he would not be seeking re-election as political leader of the COP. By the time the 2013 local government elections came around, the party had become a shadow of its former self based on those election results. By the time of the 2015 general election, the COP was not able to pull its weight in the People’s Partnership as it had done in 2010. After the general election, the then leader Prakash Ramadhar announced that there was no longer any partnership.
That created a situation whereby the UNC was the only former partner standing who could contest all of the seats across Trinidad. In many areas, the COP had previously had the benefit of UNC voters supporting it because of the tactical avoidance strategy of the partnership. Additionally, many former PNM voters who supported the COP may have returned to the PNM for the 2015 general election and simply stepped aside for this local government elections.
The challenges facing the two major parties are quite different. The PNM has to figure out why so many of their supporters in the corporations that they control stayed at home and what else must they do to expand their support. The UNC has regained its base and must now figure out how it can expand into places where it once had a coalition partner in the COP.
Tomorrow in the United States in the 50 state capitals and Washington, DC, the Electoral College will meet to choose the next President of the United States.
Writing in Federalist Paper Number 68 on March 12, 1788, one of the founding fathers of the American Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, had this to say:
“All these advantages will be happily combined in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each state shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such state in the national government, who shall assemble within the state and vote for some fit person as president. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government; and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the president. But as a majority of the votes might not always happen to centre on one man and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive, it is provided, that in such a contingency, the house of representatives shall select out of the candidates, who shall have the five highest numbers of votes, the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.”
Tomorrow, the 535 electors from the 50 states together with the three electors from Washington, DC, will enter upon a solemn duty which will complete the most important phase of the election that was held on November 8 instant. That is, those lists of electors who are pledged to either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, from each state, who earned the right to cast their ballots tomorrow based on the certified results of their respective states’ election day outcomes will determine who will become the next President.
It is expected that Donald Trump will earn 306 Electoral College votes and Hillary Clinton will earn 232 Electoral College votes (a majority of 270 is required). The national popular vote (which Hillary Clinton won) is not the deciding factor, but rather the outcome in each state individually which is translated into Electoral College votes. This is one of the flaws of the first-past-the-post system that has emerged for the whole world to see.
On November 9, Hillary Clinton made a concession speech in New York in which she said:
“Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don’t just respect that. We cherish it.”
However, since that time, there was a recount request made by the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Interestingly, the Clinton campaign aligned itself with this effort. Many have questioned why those three states were chosen. They account for 46 Electoral College votes collectively and constituted what the Clinton campaign had called the “blue firewall” that could not have been penetrated by the Trump campaign. Unfortunately for them, Trump broke that “blue firewall”.
The recount strategy failed as Trump increased his margin by 131 in Wisconsin and the courts rejected the request for a recount in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Now comes another twist in the saga of the Electoral College with Christine Pelosi, daughter of Nancy Pelosi, leading a movement to have electors receive a national security briefing on whether or not Russia influenced voters to vote for Donald Trump in the election.
Once again, the Clinton campaign has aligned itself with this move. Former Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta, issued a statement last Monday in which he said:
“Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed.”
This curious twist again seems to undermine the concession speech made by Hillary Clinton on November 9 and now seeks to raise an issue of national security over which unnamed operatives in the CIA are reported to have told the Washington Post that Russia tried to help elect Trump. Both the FBI and the National Intelligence Agency intially did not share that view from these “unnamed sources” in the CIA quoted by the Washington Post.
Tomorrow, the electors will cast their ballots. If they deviate from the results of the election in their respective states to such an extent that when those votes are counted on January 6 in the Senate there is no majority for anyone, the final verdict will have to be delivered by the House of Representatives in which each state will be assigned one vote. As it stands now, the Republicans control 30 states and the Democrats control 20 states.
The greatest democracy in the world can still ensure that there will be a peaceful transfer of power, if there is any disruption tomorrow, so that its processes can continue to be held up as a prime example of how to transfer power even if the machinations of mankind and the media may try to disrupt it regardless of who one may have supported on election day.
The Republican Platform 2016 that was adopted at the Republican Convention in Cleveland last July stated the following at page 13 under the heading “The Fourth Amendment : Liberty and Privacy”: “The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the Foreign Bank and Asset Reporting Requirements result in government’s warrantless seizure of personal financial information without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
Americans overseas should enjoy the same rights as Americans residing in the United States, whose private financial information is not subject to disclosure to the government except as to interest earned.
The requirement for all banks around the world to provide detailed information to the IRS about American account holders outside the United States has resulted in banks refusing service to them.
Thus, FATCA not only allows “unreasonable search and seizures” but also threatens the ability of overseas Americans to lead normal lives.
We call for its repeal and for a change to residency-based taxation for US citizens overseas.
This clearly stated policy position in the Republican Party platform has had no airplay in the local media, while there has been a fair amount of dancing around the issue of FATCA on the local scene over the last few months and the legislation remains in limbo.
There has been no consideration given to the fact that at 12.00 noon EST on Friday January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will take the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States.
Will the Trump Treasury Department uphold or overturn the current policy position of the Obama Treasury Department on FATCA? That will be a function of many domestic and international policy considerations in Washington after January 20.
However, to act as though this political shift is not taking place will be foolhardy. President-elect Trump has already named former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin as his nominee to be his treasury secretary .
What his approach to FATCA will be is yet to be determined. It is possible that Mnuchin may be questioned about it when he attends his Senate confirmation hearings and that might provide the first clues.
Trump has not made any public pronouncements on the subject, but the Republican Party is committed to its repeal.
So far, much of the local media coverage has been about the disagreements between the Government and the Opposition over the handling of the bill.
The Government, through Finance Minister Colm Imbert, had initially promised to have a Joint Select Committee to review the bill which would have eased the parliamentary passage of the legislation considerably.
For some strange reason, Imbert’s public agreement to a Joint Select Committee last September has been overruled by others in the Government and he had to fall into line.
The American Chamber of Commerce, whose remit is principally to promote the interests of United States business opportunities and investment in this country, has decided to expand that remit to enter the political fray to voice opposition to a joint select committee.
They could have taken a cue from the Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago whose president, Anya Schnoor, basically said that she was not interested in the political strategies of the Government and the Opposition, but rather that they just get the bill passed.
Trinidad and Tobago is unique in this region for having its Bill of Rights modelled after the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960. As a consequence of that, any legislation that is likely to infringe human rights is subject to three checks and balances. This is the current reality with the FATCA legislation.
The first check and balance of the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960 model is that all such legislation must contain a confession on the face of the bill that overtly states that it is “inconsistent” with sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution.
The second one is that the bill requires a three-fifths majority in both Houses of Parliament.
The third one is that after the bill is passed it can be overturned by a judge on the ground that it is “not reasonably justifiable in a society that has a proper respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual.”
So far, we are at stage two of the checks and balances which requires a three-fifths majority in the House of Representatives which the Government does not have in its own right.
Twenty-six MPs are required to vote in favour of the bill for it to go to the Senate and the Government only has 23.
Putting aside the political controversies, the argument that this country will be penalised if it fails to enact the FATCA legislation does not take into account the third plank of checks and balances that relate to judicial oversight and the real possibility that a judge could overturn the FATCA legislation on the ground that it is “not reasonably justifiable”.
This particular judicial test has nothing to do with constitutionality, but rather with “reasonable justifiability” which is completely different.
Will the country be blacklisted by the US authorities if its independent judiciary were to strike down the law?
On November 24, 2016, there was a post-parliamentary referendum held in Grenada in accordance with the provisions of their Constitution that require that a referendum be held in order to amend certain sections of the Constitution.
Such a referendum can only be held after there has been a delay of three months between the first and second readings of a bill to amend the Constitution as well as such bills attaining a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament in order to qualify to be put before the electorate for a vote in a referendum.
Originally, the referendum was supposed to have been held on October 27, but was postponed for more stakeholder consultations and public education on the seven bills that were being laid before the population for their vote.
According to a release on September 26 by Dr Francis Alexis, chairman of the Grenada Constitution Reform Advisory Committee, the seven bills and their intent laid before the electorate were:
1. The Caribbean Court of Justice and other Justice-Related Matters Bill seeks to substitute the Caribbean Court of Justice (‘CCJ’) for the UK Privy Council as the final court of appeal for Grenada. It would have allegiance be sworn, no longer to the Queen, but to Grenada; and, among other things, put in place a Code of Conduct to promote integrity in public life.
2. The Elections and Boundaries Commission Bill intends to institute an independent Commission to conduct referendums; control elections; and supervise registration of voters.
3 The Ensuring the Appointment of Leader of the Opposition Bill seeks to ensure that there is always an Opposition Leader.
4. The Fixed Date for Elections Bill wants to enable Parliament to provide for a fixed date for general elections.
5. The Name of State Bill moves to change the name of the state from ‘Grenada’ to ‘Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique’.
6. The Rights and Freedoms Bill would increase the range of human rights; add a Chapter of Directive Principles to guide the discharge of public functions; and put in place a Chapter guaranteeing that men and women shall be entitled to equal rights.
7. The Term of Office of Prime Minister Bill proposes that any person who has served as Prime Minister for three consecutive parliamentary terms may not again be Prime Minister.”
A majority of Grenadians stayed away from the polls as only 32 per cent turned out to vote. All seven of the bills were defeated by varying margins as described below.
By a margin of 12,605 to 9,634, Grenadians voted to reject the CCJ becoming their final court of appeal and also to have their office holders continue to swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Her heirs and successors.
By a margin of 13,227 to 8,916, Grenadians rejected the idea of having an independent Elections and Boundaries Commission.
By a margin of 15,473 to 6,113, the Grenadian electorate rejected the idea of ensuring the appointment of a leader of the Opposition in cases where only one party wins all of the seats in the House of Representatives.
By a margin of 14,484 to 7,076, Grenadians voted against the idea of fixed dates for general elections.
By a margin of 12,426 to 9,681, the Grenadian electorate rejected the idea of changing the name of the state from Grenada to Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique.
By a margin of 16,355 to 5,069, Grenadians rejected the idea of equal rights for men and women.
By a margin of 15,278 to 5,390, Grenadians voted against the idea of a limit of three terms for anyone holding the office of Prime Minister.
These electoral outcomes in Grenada confirm that absolutely none of the revolutionary consciousness that pervaded Grenada between 1979 and 1983 when the People’s Revolutionary government was in power has survived the passage of time.
Many of the teenagers and young people of that era are now fully-grown adults who have not been swayed by any revolutionary fervour from their youth.
The T&T media have not given these results and their implications much airplay and so many people are not even aware that there was a referendum of such importance in Grenada.
One of the biggest controversies surrounded the equal rights bill as many people thought that the intent of the bill was to clear the way for same-sex marriages.
There is a message for Commonwealth Caribbean countries where the outcome of this referendum is concerned.
There is a lot of work for the CCJ to do if it is to endear itself to the Grenadian population.
After having two general elections produce results whereby there was no opposition (1999 and 2013), there was still no desire to have a mechanism where there could be a leader of the Opposition in such cases.
Fixed dates for elections and term limits for the Prime Minister were not deemed desirable.
There is very little prospect for constitutional reform in the region in cases where a referendum is required for such reform.
The Westminster-Whitehall model is here to stay for a long time to come.
The strike notice has been served, the battle lines have been drawn, and tomorrow we shall know whether the OWTU will go ahead with its strike action at Petrotrin if the Government fails to avert it.
What this matter has revealed is the possibility that the State may be held to ransom if it does not meaningfully address the wage demands of the OWTU on behalf of Petrotrin employees.
So far, the OWTU is playing the negotiations process by the book and the Government, as well as a variety of private sector umbrella organisations, are pleading with the union not to go through with the strike action. All of this must be understood in the deeper context of how we have arrived at this juncture in a broader philosophical sense.
In an address to a special convention of the PNM in November 1970 at which time the “Chaguaramas Declaration: Perspectives for the New Society” replaced the “People’s Charter” as the guiding philosophical document of the PNM, Dr Eric Williams had this to say in his address to the convention:
“The PNM Perspectives reject both liberal capitalism (with its concomitant of penetration and take-over of the economy by multi-national corporations) and the communist organization of the economy and the society. Instead, we follow the pattern that is being increasingly developed in developing countries of state participation in the economy, to the extent of up to 51 per cent in particular enterprises, to ensure that decision-making remains in local hands.”
That was the philosophical paradigm that Williams and the PNM adopted in 1970 in the aftermath of the Black Power uprising earlier that year. Indeed, that has been the philosophical guideline that has been adopted by successive governments and has led to boom-and-bust cycles in our economic development as a country.
That model brought great prosperity in the 1970s and early 1980s and then collapsed by the mid-1980s and the neo-conservative philosophy of IMF structural adjustment policies saved the country from economic peril by the early 1990s.
There was a resumption of that model in the first decade of this millennium with new state enterprises being added once more to the payroll of the State as the oil-gas boom took place. Once again, rising expectations were fuelled by rising revenues as well.
For the second time in our economic history, the country is facing economic peril because of declining oil and gas revenues and the inability of the State to meet its commitments to its employees. Are we on the doorstep of another neo-conservative structural adjustment programme to save the country again?
The reality is that the trade unions in this country have held firm to the Williams model and have upheld its ideological intent. The private sector-led umbrella organisations seem to have gone along with it and have not adopted an ideological position more closely aligned with capitalism and the free market. In many respects, they have been ideologically neutral seemingly almost afraid to articulate a more profound solution to the problem at hand.
The problem at hand is whether the Williams model of 1970 is still relevant today or is there the need for a change more than 46 years after it was advanced as a reform of the first plan of 1956.
The trade unions have held firmly to the Williams model and to its core values. The private sector has failed to clearly articulate a free market approach and an embrace of privatization as their ideological position. Instead, they have become reactionary by calling the unions reckless and irresponsible.
The Government is unable to uphold the values of the Chaguaramas Declaration by trying to say that they are not hostile to the union, on the one hand, and yet they are ready to take action to break the effect of the strike, on the other.
The reason why the OWTU is as strong as it is on this issue is because of their firm ideological belief and commitment to their cause, while the private sector is bereft of any philosophical conviction on the free market and privatization as the opposing argument. The Government is the middle-man here seeking to react to the situation, while being reluctant to dismantle the Williams model.
If it continues this way, the entry of neo-conservative structural adjustment policies administered by the IMF will be both the outcome of the crisis and also the saviour of the country once again at great pain.
Williams’ pursuit of state capitalism cannot work if the State is unable to generate enough revenue to keep the model going. The private sector is afraid of its own shadow on capitalism and the free market, the unions know exactly what they are doing and the Government, which has been in dialogue with the IMF, is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
If the private sector could offer an ideological alternative solution, the country might actually have something substantial to debate. Failure to do so leaves them crying wolf about recklessness and irresponsibility when a new paradigm is needed.
Having listened to Prime Minister Rowley’s address last Wednesday, one had to wonder whether the perilous nature of the finances of Petrotrin described by him were an expression of the failure of the Williams model that I highlighted in my column last Sunday when I quoted Eric Williams’ November 1970 speech to the PNM convention that adopted a new development paradigm for the country.
At that time Williams said:
“The PNM perspectives reject both liberal capitalism (with its concomitant of penetration and takeover of the economy by multinational corporations) and the communist organisation of the economy and the society. Instead, we follow the pattern that is being increasingly developed in developing countries of state participation in the economy, to the extent of up to 51 per cent in particular enterprises, to ensure that decision-making remains in local hands.”
The Williams concept of state capitalism stood in stark contrast to the policies of democratic socialism that were pursued by Michael Manley in Jamaica between 1972 and 1980 and those of co-operative socialism that were pursued by Forbes Burnham in Guyana between 1968 and 1985.
The Williams model can only work if the State has high levels of revenues. Prime Minister Rowley curiously, yet honestly, outlined two major loans taken by Petrotrin in 2007 and 2009 which have had an adverse impact on the fortunes of the company. He went further to suggest that the offer of 0-0-0 that was made in 2013 for the period 2011-2014/15 was done at a time when the price of oil on the world market was over US$100 per barrel and that the 0-0-0 offer today is based on lower oil revenues.
The reality is that the company had compromised finances well before 2013 and its financial future was insecure at that time, just as it is today. The political effect of 0-0-0 is highly unpopular, but mismanagement of the company would leave it in a position where it cannot make any offer above zero.
To say that 0-0-0 in 2013 was irresponsible and that 0-0-0 today is highly responsible does not fly. In both instances, the company was not in a healthy financial condition regardless of the price of oil. The comparison with 14 per cent in other sectors of the economy is made on the basis that somehow that was irresponsible, while at an earlier time in 2011 there were protests about the then government seeking to apply a five-per-cent cap (which was deemed to be wicked).
The bare essentials are that the State can no longer afford to maintain the Williams model of majority state participation in the economy. We had to turn to neo-conservative structural adjustment policies to bail out the economy when we got into trouble in the 1980s. There is a case for privatisation of Petrotrin that is emerging because the Prime Minister has stated that the company is a ward of the State.
The harsh reality is that the State can no longer afford to maintain all of the state enterprises that are losing money in these hard times. The fiscal discipline that emerged out of the structural adjustment period between 1988 and 1991 may have been politically devastating for the NAR government at the time, but it saved the country.
We are at that exact point once again. The only difference is that we have not entered into a structural adjustment programme as yet. Before we do so, the government has to make the bold political decision that it will make that policy shift.
What is holding that back is the MOU that was signed between the Joint Trade Union Movement and the PNM in August 2015. Instead of moving forward with what needs to be done, the argument from the Labour minister is that we need to reduce our expectations from the national pie and take less than had been taken before.
The Government is at an ideological crossroads whereby some would prefer privatisation and divestment now rather than the slower process of dialogue with the unions to wean the state off the heavy burden that it currently faces and that it cannot honour.
Which one will it be? Privatisation to reduce the burden on the taxpayer and reorganise the economy or deferred gratification by reduced wage agreements for the state to honour down the road in the hope of better fortunes.
The country can no longer afford to mind Petrotrin and other loss-making state enterprises that are a burden to the taxpayer who must now face increased taxes to pay for all of this. The expenditure side of the budget will be greatly reduced and the temptation to dip into the Heritage and Stabilization Fund can be averted.
The political fallout of making such a move will be the greatest suppressant for such government action as the JTUM and other unions will not take kindly to the alteration of the Williams model. That is where the political difficulty will come for the PNM because it will mean having to admit that the Williams model has failed which will come with a price.
Last week, during the consideration of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Bill 2016, the Attorney General sought the removal of the Preamble to the bill as well as the certificate that confirmed that Parliament was being asked to enact the legislation by a three-fifths majority because it was deemed to be infringing certain human rights provisions in sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution.
This has created a firestorm of controversy with the Attorney General saying that he is prepared to take the risk to expose the bill to possible legal action in court. On the other side of the equation, the Opposition has argued that the manner in which the Parliament was blindsided by this decision of the Attorney General at the committee stage of the bill raised red flags about legislating by tactics and infringing human rights in the process.
In order to understand this controversy, it is important to appreciate how T&T came to have the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960 as its model human rights.
Firstly, T&T is the only Commonwealth Caribbean country with the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960 in its Constitution.
This came about through proposals advanced by the Bar Association of T&T at the Queen’s Hall conference over the period 25-27 April, 1962. The President of the Bar Association at that time, Mr (later Sir) Hugh Wooding made a plea for the adoption of the Canadian Bill of Rights, suitably amended, to replace the model of the European Convention on Human Rights that was included in the Draft Constitution for T&T’s Independence.
Mr Wooding said, inter alia:
“Surely if we find that the principle or the form or the contents of the Canadian Bill of Rights is such as can be acceptable generally, we can adapt it to circumstances. We can surely adapt the thing as at the present time this Draft Constitution has taken a number of its provisions from precedents which have gone before. We have adapted things, amended them, added certain things, deleted certain things, and in the same way we can take the Canadian Bill of Rights and adapt them to suit us, and I do not see why we should be limited to choosing the Canadian Bill of Rights as it is or refusing to consider it altogether.
I put forward, on behalf of the Bar Association, that it should be taken as a model, and it should be used as a means whereby we can help to shape our thinking in the matter, modifying it to the extent that may be necessary, and remembering also that this Canadian Bill of Rights is something which came into existence in 1960 and forms no part of the Constitution of Canada.”
The proposals advanced by Mr Wooding and the Bar Association of T&T were considered by the Cabinet, together with other proposals made at the meeting. The chairman of the Queen’s Hall Conference made the following statement at the commencement of the proceedings on Friday April 27, 1962:
“I am happy to be in a position to inform you, on the authority of the Cabinet, that your written comments and your suggestions made in this Hall have received preliminary consideration. Further detailed consideration will of course be given to them but already certain decisions have been taken. These decisions are that at the Joint Select Committee to begin on Monday the Government representatives will propose :…..(c) the substitution for Chapter II of a Bill of Rights along the lines of the Canadian Bill of Rights with appropriate modifications including the introduction of safeguards. (Applause).”
This model was retained when T&T became a republic in 1976.
What we also have to understand is that the model comes with three levels of safeguards which are (i) an admission to Parliament that the bill will be inconsistent with the human rights provisions in the Constitution; (ii) a special three-fifths majority is required in both Houses of Parliament; and, (iii) after the bill is passed, it can be challenged in court on the ground that it is not reasonably justifiable in a society that has a proper respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual.
These are critical to ensure that human rights are not infringed by Parliament without checks and balances. What happened last Tuesday in the Marriage Bill was that the Government made a split decision to decide that the bill was suddenly deemed to be no longer infringing human rights and, tactically, the certificate and the preamble to the bill were removed and it was converted to a simple majority bill.
This precedent is dangerous, because in future, if there are any items of legislation that infringe human rights, this Government appears to want to avoid consultation with the Opposition in order to step on those rights and force any affected party to spend their money to go to court to challenge it.
This is ominous and it will also be costly to the taxpayer in the long run. This approach should be stopped now.
Last week, it was revealed that Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar wrote to then president-elect Donald trump on January 13 to inquire about the position of his incoming administration on the issue of FATCA.
The letter appeared to be a response to (i) the request that she made of Prime Minister Rowley in correspondence sent to him at the beginning of the year for him to do so having regard to the change in Washington and (ii) the rejection of this position by Finance Minister Colm Imbert in Parliament on January 6.
The letter was copied to Steven Mnuchin (treasury secretary nominee), Mick Mulvaney (director of Office of Management and Budget nominee), Reince Priebus (incoming White House chief of staff), Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Representative Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), outgoing US Ambassador John Estrada, and T&T Ambassador in Washington, Anthony Phillips-Spencer.
The letter is very timely as the Joint Select Committee of Parliament is currently addressing the FATCA legislation, while on January 20, Donald Trump became President of the United States bringing with him the reality that there is likely to be a change of policy on FATCA.
In my column on Christmas Day, I highlighted the fact that the Republican Platform 2016 adopted at the Republican Convention in Cleveland last July stated the following at page 13 under the heading “The Fourth Amendment : Liberty and Privacy”:
“The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the Foreign Bank and Asset Reporting Requirements result in government’s warrantless seizure of personal financial information without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.
Americans overseas should enjoy the same rights as Americans residing in the United States, whose private financial information is not subject to disclosure to the government except as to interest earned. The requirement for all banks around the world to provide detailed information to the IRS about American account holders outside the United States has resulted in banks refusing service to them. Thus, FATCA not only allows ‘unreasonable search and seizures’ but also threatens the ability of overseas Americans to lead normal lives.
We call for its repeal and for a change to residency-based taxation for US citizens overseas.”
FATCA is not a stand-alone piece of legislation as it was included in the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act as Title V of that Act (Public Law 111-147, March 18, 2010). It was simply inserted into the legislation and never received the usual floor debate, was never voted out of committee as a free-standing bill, no amendments were offered, no cost-benefit analysis was done, and it was not drafted in the usual legislative manner.
One of the people copied on Persad-Bissessar’s letter was Reince Priebus who is now the White House chief of staff. Prior to taking up this job, he was Chairman of the Republican National Committee. On July 17, 2015, he issued the following statement on FATCA in response to a lawsuit filed by a group called Republicans Overseas Action (ROA) against FATCA:
“FATCA violates several of the constitutional rights and protections afforded to overseas Americans. Without these protections, Americans abroad are subject to arbitrary discrimination by foreign banks. By filing this suit, ROA is boldly speaking up for the financial rights of Americans around the world. If successful, their lawsuit will provide expats with both immediate injunctive relief as well as the security of knowing that the Treasury department is unable to enforce these crippling provisions.”
Priebus has the ear of the President and runs the White House. It is absolutely imperative that the Parliament of T&T get some indication from Washington about the approach of the Trump administration to FATCA before legislation violating human rights is enacted here.
In the Journal Tax Notes International Vol. 69, No. 6, Feb. 11, 2013 Prof Allison Christians of Mc Gill University in an article entitled “The Dubious Legal Pedigree of IGAs (And Why It Matters)” said this in the abstract:
“When Congress enacted the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act in 2010, it made no mention of any internationally-agreed alternative to its enforcement, and Congress has made no authorization since then for the president to override FATCA’s statutory provisions by international agreement. Yet due to difficulties in implementing FATCA, Treasury has entered into several ‘intergovernmental’ agreements (IGAs) to essentially bypass the hurdles, even going so far as to draft model IGAs with the intent of streamlining their enactment globally. This column examines the nature of these agreements and concludes that their legal pedigree is tenuous as a constitutional matter.”
Why is there so little critical thinking on this locally? Why is everyone being led to believe that the “Big Stick” policy of the Obama Treasury Department that threatened us with 30 per cent banking penalties will be the same for the Trump Treasury Department? The Platform of the Republican Party is anti-FATCA.
This FATCA legislation is likely to become redundant with an executive order to disable all IGAs worldwide. So why the big rush here in the face of a FATCA reset? Is there another reason behind infringement of human rights and data protection?
The explanatory notes accompanying the The Tax Information Exchange Agreements Bill, 2016, read, in part, as follows:
“This bill seeks to implement certain tax information exchange agreements entered into between Trinidad and Tobago and other States. The bill contains thirty sections and may affect the rights of individuals to private life guaranteed by section 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. As such the bill requires a three-fifths majority voting for passage in Parliament in accordance with section 13 of the Constitution.”
The bill explicitly states at Section 2 as follows: “This act is inconsistent with sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution” which confirms that it infringes fundamental human rights and freedoms. Two Sundays ago, I highlighted the fact that T&T is the only country in the Commonwealth Caribbean that has adopted the model of the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960 for its human rights chapter in its Constitution.
This clearly sets us apart for the enactment of FATCA legislation to comply with United States law. It must be noted that FATCA is not a free-standing act, but rather an insertion into the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE) (Public Law 111-147, March 18, 2010).
The overall effect of non-compliance by states around the world is that they may be subject to severe banking penalties. This has been cast in T&T in many ways that range from the comments of the former US ambassador to this country publicly talking about people having “cocoa in the sun” to “what is the opposition afraid of”.
The Office of the Prime Minister recently threatened the population with the possibility of economic inconvenience in their lives if Parliament does not comply with this US law. The OPM alert called for citizens to contact their MPs and tell them to support the legislation.
It is unfortunate that this twist has occurred because citizens are being asked to surrender their rights and their sovereignty because of the fear of the “Big Stick” of the United States. Using the United States as a convenience for carrying out a local political agenda is unfair.
The real issue that should be probed is that T&T has no guarantee that it will still not be subject to the US “Big Stick” even if it passes this law. That is because of the complete provisions of Section 13(1) of our Constitution which say as follows:
“An act to which this section applies may expressly declare that it shall have effect even though inconsistent with sections 4 and 5 and, if any such act does so declare, it shall have effect accordingly unless the act is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a society that has a proper respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual.”
Section 13(2) makes provision for such a bill to be passed by a three-fifths majority in both Houses of Parliament. The bottom line here is that even though the proposed legislation makes a public confession at the outset that it is knowingly infringing your human rights and that in doing so, it requires a three-fifths majority, the reality is that the will of the parliamentarians can be overturned by a judge on the ground that such legislation is deemed to be “not reasonably justifiable in a society that has a proper respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual”.
What will happen to T&T if its independent judiciary from the High Court to the Privy Council were to overturn the FATCA legislation that is currently before the Parliament?
Are we going to bully our judiciary and tell them to just bypass the human rights implications in the same way as parliamentarians are being told to “just pass the dam bill”? As I have said before, there is an amazing lack of critical thinking on the implications of FATCA for T&T and the approach that is being adopted is that we have to live in fear of the American “Big Stick”. Why ?
While the political changes are taking place in Washington, DC, T&T does not have to go off to the races to complete this FATCA bill because the directive of the Obama Treasury Department may not be the same directive to be applied by the Trump Treasury Department. We should demonstrate some political awareness before we surrender a part of our national sovereignty to the United States.
The nominee for the position of secretary of the Treasury in the Trump administration, Steve Mnuchin, has had his nomination advanced out of the Senate Finance Committee to the floor of the Senate for a vote very soon. The nominee for the position of director of the Office of Management and Budget is following closely behind him. These two nominations are likely to be approved shortly by the Senate. Can we wait just a bit longer to know whether enforcement (as opposed to repeal) will or will not be on the cards for FATCA from the US end?
The issue of the CCJ emerged following a symposium hosted by the Law Association two Saturdays ago. According to a Guardian report on February 7, 2017:
“Retired Indian Supreme Court Justice Bellur Srikrishna expressed surprise that after 54 years of independence, T&T had still not managed to dispose of the far-off Privy Council in favour of a regional court that already has the backing of all Caricom states, at least in its original jurisdiction on disputes related to the Treaty of Chaguaramas. ‘No sovereign country can allow its judicial decisions to be subject to review by a court of another sovereign country,’ said Srikrishna. ‘This is a democratic republic. You have been independent (over) 50 years. I am surprised that 50 years it has taken. In India we did it in two.’”
The sentiments expressed by Justice Srikrishna are based on India only having experienced a two-year hiatus before they replaced the Privy Council with their own Supreme Court. Indeed, the Indian Constituent Assembly abolished the jurisdiction of the Privy Council in India in September 1949, which came into force in October 1949. By December 1949, the last appeal to the Privy Council from India had been completed.
On the face of it, there seems to be a logical argument to be followed. What is missing is that Indian independence came after a protracted period of struggle between Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress and the British Government. T&T had no such period of struggle involving the fiercest resistance that non-violent civil disobedience could offer.
Instead, the guiding philosophy for T&T was to mimic the British Constitution as was publicly stated by Eric Williams in his address to an audience in Woodford Square on July 19, 1955. The actual statement made by Williams was:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I suggest to you that the time has come when the British Constitution, suitably modified, can be applied to Trinidad and Tobago. After all, if the British Constitution is good enough for Great Britain, it should be good enough for Trinidad and Tobago.”
That statement by Williams stands in stark contrast to the struggles of Gandhi and his supporters to get Britain out of India and to set up a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution. The differences could not be more obvious because India wanted to move away from the British Raj, while T&T wanted to embrace it.
India attained its independence after protracted struggle on August, 15, 1947, and the Constituent Assembly had already set about the task of drafting a constitution. In September 1947, the British West Indies were involved in a meeting at Montego Bay, Jamaica, that had been convened by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Arthur Creech Jones, to discuss the way forward for a possible Federation of the West Indies.
Indian independence and Federation of the British West Indian colonies were miles apart both literally and figuratively. However, the significance of both cannot be lost on the reader primarily because India had emerged out of a period of protracted struggle against the British, while the West Indies were toying with the idea of how to have a better relationship with Britain. The Federation was formed in 1958 and the original intention of the British Government was to grant independence to it and to that end, a conference was held in London in 1961 to discuss federal independence.
The issue of individual independence arose out of the opposition to the idea of federal independence by the Jamaica Labour Party and Alexander Bustamante. This forced a referendum on the subject in Jamaica in September 1961 in which there was victory for the idea of secession by Jamaica from the Federation.
There was no independence movement in T&T because the plan was to become independent as part of a West Indian federation and not as an individual country. By January 1962, Eric Williams had announced that T&T was now going to seek its own independence rather than to continue in a federation of the remaining nine territories after the departure of Jamaica.
What Justice Srikrishna would have missed in his comparison as to why T&T has taken so long to join the CCJ and leave the Privy Council just like India is the fact that India fought and struggled for its independence. T&T had independence handed to it almost immediately in August 1962 following the demise of the Federation in April 1962. There was no struggle and no mass movement that wanted to separate from the British.
Eric Williams’ philosophy was to have the British Constitution “suitably modified” as our model. Indeed, when the opportunity arose to amend the Constitution in the 1971-76 Parliament in which the PNM had won all of the seats after a no-vote campaign, Williams chose to retain the Privy Council rather than to abolish it.
In comparing the two countries, it must be accepted that India left the Privy Council by political wish, while T&T kept it by political wish.
The recent statement by the Attorney General that the requirement for a three-fifths majority in certain legislation has made him tired of the way that the Opposition has handled such legislation in this Parliament is very disturbing.
The Constitution has built-in checks and balances for any occasion when Parliament seeks to legislate in a manner that will cause it to infringe fundamental human rights and freedoms.
As I indicated in my column on January 22 last, at the Queen’s Hall Conference on the independence constitution in April 1962, the then president of the Bar Association of T&T, Hugh Wooding, advanced a proposal for T&T to adopt the Canadian Bill of Rights 1960 as the model for its chapter on fundamental human rights and freedoms.
The Eric Williams Cabinet accepted the proposal and removed the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 model and replaced it with the Canadian model, suitably modified.
That decision was implemented in the final draft for the independence Constitution and ushered into our system of government the need for special majority legislation, outside of any constitutional amendment, if ever Parliament were to consider any legislation that sought to infringe human rights and freedoms.
The three-fifths majority in both Houses of Parliament was smaller than the special majorities required for amendment of the Constitution. By doing this, T&T had accepted a version of consensus government that no other Commonwealth Caribbean country would ever adopt. In terms of the Senate there was always a fixed formula that would require any government to seek the votes of senators other than those on the Government side because there is no built-in government majority there.
However, in the House of Representatives, if the Government fails to win a three-fifths majority of the seats at the polls, then it has to engage in consensus dialogue with the Opposition in order to enact legislation that infringes human rights. It cannot apply single-party hegemony to such a situation that it did not earn because the will of the electorate denied them such a majority.
The first time that any government ever faced such a situation was in the 1991-95 Parliament where the PNM won 21 out of the 36 seats.
On May 19, 1992, Mr Justice Aeneas Wills overturned the Maxi Taxi Act 1979 on the ground that it did not have the preamble and the certificate for a three-fifths majority and was therefore unconstitutional among other issues relating to property, etc.
The Parliament was required to urgently enact legislation in order to ensure that the country’s maxi-taxis could continue to operate legally. The PNM did not have a three-fifths majority in its own right and so it had to negotiate with the Opposition in the House of Representatives. The bill was passed in the Senate on May 28, 1992, with the Opposition abstaining, but there were enough independent senators to permit its passage.
When the bill went to the House of Representatives the following day, there was interesting debate between the Government and the Opposition. However, there was an adjournment based on prime minister Manning’s desire to negotiate with the opposition. The next day, the bill passed in a sitting that lasted only 25 minutes because of the overnight agreement and concessions made on all sides.
Prime minister Manning and attorney general Keith Sobion were able to solve an issue in 1992 that required consensus with the Opposition by not applying the single-party dominance model that is being expressed by the PNM today.
The recent decision to strip the Marriage Bill of its three-fifths majority requirement and the recent statements of the Attorney General with regard to future legislation that may involve infringements of human rights without the three-fifths majority are deeply disturbing and at variance with past PNM administrations that did not have a three-fifths majority.
When your party does not earn a three-fifths majority, it is necessary to have consensus governance with the Opposition under the constitutionally-grounded rules of engagement for infringing human rights that were agreed at Queen’s Hall and Marlborough House in 1962 and reinforced in 1976 when we became a republic.
The Hugh Wooding-led Bar Association in 1962 introduced these constitutional rules of engagement. The Reginald Armour-led Law Association of today has decided to reserve its position on the Attorney General’s recent statements until it sees something tangible put into the public domain.
They need to ensure that they do not lose sight of the long-standing traditions of the bar that are at stake here both in terms of the Wooding legacy and the societal need for human rights protection. If they surrender in the face of such a threat, then the society will lose a powerful voice that could protect it.
No Attorney General, faced with the need to uphold these enshrined constitutional protections because their party did not win a three-fifths majority at the polls, has ever publicly complained about the need to employ abandonment of these checks and balances in order to advance the legislative agenda of their government.
The fate of the Maxi Taxi Act 1979 is instructive.
Last Sunday, President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Keith Rowley to have a discussion. The release from the Office of the Prime Minister was particularly opaque, while the Washington Post provided more details. What the local release did not say was that Prime Minister Rowley had been invited to Washington to visit President Trump. As to why that particular detail was omitted is not known, but it has certainly drawn a fair amount of attention.
There was also a story in the Guyana Guardian by Denis Adonis that suggested that a lobbyist may have arranged the call.
Whichever way it happened, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders revealed to the US media that the topics of terrorism and foreign fighters for Isis were discussed between the two last Sunday. University of Alberta Prof of International Relations, Andy Knight, had speculated with local media that that might have been the nature of the call and it turned out he was right.
Given the nature of the election campaign and the fact that Trump ran on the issue of eliminating what he called “radical Islamic terrorism”, there is no doubt that he will be very concerned about the rate of radicalisation of potential Isis fighters coming out of this country. That is so because for a small twin-island nation that rate far exceeds any other in this hemisphere.
Illegal immigrants might have been another topic that they may have spoken about, but that is an old topic as the Obama administration had a record number of deportations under its belt. However, those deportations are likely to increase during the Trump administration based on his crackdown on sanctuary cities in the USA that harbour illegal immigrants in protecting them from the federal authorities.
The withdrawal of federal funding from these cities may see a change in policy and that has already started with Miami recently throwing in the towel, while others like New York and Chicago are still seeking to uphold their sanctuary status.
This column is being written before the Fatca debate in the House of Representatives. One does not know whether the issue of Fatca came up. It was an issue about which the Leader of the Opposition, Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar, had asked Rowley to write Trump to determine his position on the matter. When it was clear that Rowley would not do so, she took it upon herself to write to then President-elect Trump to inquire about his likely intended approach to the subject seeing that the Republican Party election platform called for its repeal.
As someone whose vote on the issue together with her colleagues would have determined whether or not the measure would have been passed, there was clear relevance in her writing to seek guidance on the issue.
In addressing the UWI community at the Regional Headquarters in Jamaica last July 20, Rowley told the gathering “…God forbid that certain other people get their hands on authority in our hemisphere…” Whoever he may have been referring to back in July may or may not have been forbidden by God to get their hands on authority in our hemisphere. Hopefully he was not speaking about then candidate Donald Trump because that is who has their hands on authority in our hemisphere now. And that is who Rowley has to work with for the next four years as President of the United States.
The direction of the Trump administration will move America away from a model of global governance in a borderless environment to one of putting America first. This was made crystal clear in President Trump’s inauguration address. He also made clear that the United States does not want to dictate to other countries how they should live.
The Trump doctrine will see the United States paying more attention to its national and domestic agenda as part of rebuilding its borders, economy and security. How that will square with some of the key markers of American foreign policy in this hemisphere is yet to be seen. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 that placed emphasis on the United States not tolerating the intervention of foreign powers in the hemisphere may yet be recalibrated to address the issue of Isis and its global reach into our hemisphere, with T&T being a flashpoint in that recalibration.
President Theodore Roosevelt spoke about Big Stick diplomacy in 1904 and so was born the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in which the United States assigned to itself an international police power to justify its correction of what it saw as wrongdoing in the Hemisphere.
It is possible that a Trump administration may seek to play such a role, in a revised way, in this hemisphere if Isis is regarded as the main threat to United States interests in the region. Seeing that the Roosevelt Corollary emerged just after the Venezuelan Crisis of 1902-1903 and the European naval blockade of Venezuela, one wonders whether the prospect of another Venezuelan crisis may bring about a revival of that policy position of Theodore Roosevelt by President Trump in a revised format.