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Lowest common denominator; Shah muses over backlash to Max’s speech

Last week, at the opening of the new law term, two main speeches were delivered.

The first was a feature address by former President of the Republic and former principal of the UWI St Augustine campus, Professor Max Richards. The second was the customary speech by the Chief Justice, a kind of state-of-the-Judiciary report which, I submit, is a veritable regurgitation of judicial woes that can be re-read year after year with only minor changes to the text.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago president and UWI principal Max Richards. (Courtesy unctt.com)
Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago president and UWI principal Max Richards.
(Courtesy unctt.com)

In all that was said by these two eminent men, speeches that identified a wide range of issues that impact the society as a whole, the media—and through it every Tom, Dick and Beharrylal—pounced on two sentences in Max’s speech, tearing apart the ex-President for not knowing the difference between Debe and Penal, and for suggesting that the new UWI campus was difficult to access.

I agree that Max’s point about the accessibility of the Debe campus was inconsiderate. He ought to have known that the extension of the Solomon Hochoy Highway makes Debe easier to access than St Augustine, and be mindful of the reality that 50 percent or more of the students who attend the local university live in Central and South Trinidad.

In fact, even without the highway, and given that traffic jams are a daily feature on roads everywhere in the country, only the extremities of Trinidad—Toco, Mayaro and Cedros/Icacos—can be described as difficult to access.

So staff and students, having choices between St Augustine and Debe, or, for that matter, many of the UTT centres and campuses across the country, cannot complain about location. And if they did (to Max), he should have dismissed their concerns.

That said, it is incomprehensible how a geographical error and an academic dissention—I agree with him that the new campus should not be solely a law faculty, if that is in fact intended—exploded into the already agitated racial ants’ nest, which suggested that Max and those of his ilk were against “everything south of the Caroni river.”

Photo: Former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has criticised Max Richards' speech at the opening of the law term. (Courtesy Baltimore Post Examiner)
Photo: Former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has criticised Max Richards’ speech at the opening of the law term.
(Courtesy Baltimore Post Examiner)

It seems that in the aftermath of the general election, racial sensitivities have become all-pervasive and one stupid statement landed Max on top of the anthill.

No one has bothered to ask where Mrs Jean Ramjohn-Richards stands in the midst of the madness.

Nor, indeed, has there been any sober discussion on some other points he made. There is a perception that the UWI has sacrificed some of its independence on the altar of political  expediency. In my view, this decline, and that of the academic and student bodies as informed contributors to debates on important national issues, began from as far back as when Max was principal—certainly after the events of 1970.

And while I am not qualified to question the quality of the thousands of graduates churned out of that paper mill every year, I hear people who are better positioned complain about declining standards.

There are also concerns about the prime focuses of the university curricula in the face of the ever-evolving jobs market and the needs of the nation, what with taxpayers funding free tertiary education and meeting staff salaries as well.

Photo: The UWI Debe-Penal Campus. (Courtesy 103FM)
Photo: The UWI Debe-Penal Campus.
(Courtesy 103FM)

There is so much to discuss based on issues raised by the ex-President, yet all we cantankerous plebes can do is reduce the discussion to the lowest common denominator—race.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie also regurgitated—not meant to be offensive—some pertinent issues that both citizens and government need to address if the judicial factor in the wild crime equation is to help deliver us from the evil that is strangling the society.

He lamented low crime detection rates, inadequate evidence when matters come before the courts, and slow forensic analysis, all of which are outside the control of the judiciary.

Of interventions that can help, but which require support from the country’s legislators, eliminating preliminary enquires and jury trials top the list. These are fundamental to our judicial system, as is final appeal to the Privy Council instead of the Caribbean Court of Justice.

If, however, we choose to hold on to the vestiges of a colonialism that is long dead, we cannot point fingers at judicial officers who face mountainous obstacles in the form of thousands of cases—some so petty, they are funny—to attorneys who master the craft of never-ending litigation and trials that enrich themselves, to an un-implementable death penalty that must be the biggest joke on Death Row.

Photo: Chief Justice Ivor Archie.
Photo: Chief Justice Ivor Archie.

The CJ calls for “a little common sense” to prevail in matters such as restorative incarceration—to reduce recidivism—clogging the system with petty matters, like possession of two joints and so on.

I hope they heed his call.

For me, I see a society in which dollars dictate sense. Hence the reason we remain mired in manure that’s suffocating us.

About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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23 comments

  1. At least something was questioned…there are other things which should be questioned too unfortunately…

  2. Jamaica does have a campus of UWI in Monetgo Bay …
    that being said,,,
    I feel disgusted that I should have to defend the placement of a UWI campus in Debe …

    The hatred of the north dominant/PNM/ Africans for the southern UNC/Indians is disgusting …

    PNM racists, have their bairns clouded with gobar, they walk around telling everyone how they have Indian freinds and they are not racists …

    but just talk to one, and they way they defend,defend, defend, marginalization, inequity and racism, is disgusting ..

    and never mind you can easily shoot down their facile and flimsy arguments using solid empirical evidence and facts …
    they just call you a racist and stick their heads in the sand ignoring your information, happy to continue being ignorant racists for the rest of their lives …

    and also making sure to lie to each subsequent generation to raise more racists …

    the PNM and the north MUST continue control the public purse and not give anything to Indians and the south ..
    Such as it has always been , and such as it shall continue to be …

    GREAT is the PNM
    (not a book of Eric, will and PNMite, read, cuz Eric is a liar and a Indian loving racist . 90% of the crap PNM racist Africans believe to be true can be debunked by simply reading Williams)

  3. Or attend a good all inclusive

  4. Max should have just taken his premium drink and shut up like he had done for so many years before…

  5. Maybe it’s bad form to bring it up here but hasn’t a former principal of The UWI just been elected to the nation’s parliament on the ticket of a party which was not the one to which he belonged? Last five years my foot! The UWI’s independence has been compromised for years and the sooner we understand that the better for us all. Ghany has been lecturing there for years, the PNM’s Lovell lectures there, Bissram lectures there, Ryan lectures there, etc., etc.. These fellows are all careful to mute if not to completely silence their political proclivities?

  6. I remember the principal shutting down a planned student guild meeting with Dr. Rowley. A heavy hand came down with no reasonable explanation for the interference. The independence of the university administration was called into question.

    • check you facts..

      Sankat is PNM ..

      the current guild president is a member of the PNM, and he was trying to use Guild money to host a forum where only the leader of the PNM was invited …

      the PNM biased Principle , did the RIGHT thing and stopped the meeting …
      he put the University before his party …

  7. Wouldn’t say they’re that bad though, it’s the court system that works for that.

  8. “…attorneys who master the craft of never-ending litigation…”

    So succint but yet oh so significant.

  9. Excellent article by writer as usual

  10. I was now getting into the article, and it suddenly ended…..

  11. Ive kept deliberately quiet on this issue because of my work commitments. I will say this, it would have behooved Max to be even more forthcoming. Up until the UNC won power the plan to expand the law faculty was centred on lands in St Augustine. All of the consultations and strategic plans pointed to that. Access to the law library etc all hinged on proximity to HWLS. Then a change in govt occurred and suddenly the Faculty was being moved in isolation to Debe. It doesnt take a phd in tertiary education to figure out that academic isolation is a bad thing. To make Max’s comments be about geography and race is to ignore that the initial plan to move the faculty was about money and contracts that used the pillars of geography and race as a convenient smokescreen.

    • And as per the perceived taint of the UWI…from Janitor to Principal. The place reeks of political interference. In hiring persons for advertised positions their perceived political affiliation is openly discussed as part of the screening process. Openly.

    • So sad. Sunity Maharaj wrote an article similar to your comments in the Sunday Trinidad Express today.

    • I havent read the Express yet for the day. I could go on for threads about how tainted the UWI has become. But it disturbs me greatly that folks would automatically assume that putting one faculty in isolation was a good thing. And view that as development and good pedagogy. And Sankat AGREED to it. What does that tell you about his decision-making as a principal? The UWI has also never held Indira Rampersad or Hamid Ghany accountable for the flawed analysis they have peddled on behalf of this govt for the last 5 years. It is embarassing and disgusting the way in which academia has prostituted itself.

      • Max was principal when the PNM Government paid to build Aurthur Lok Jack ?

        and the donkey choose not to bray about independence and political interference back then

        ent ?

    • I thought academia was prostituting itself long enough before the last 5 years though. ‘This govt’ is also just newly elected so I presume you mean ‘this govt for the last 5 years’ to mean Kamla’s.

    • you have also deliberately kept quiet on the Issue of the PNM moving UTT’s head campus from Debe to Omera …