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Letters page: Looking at Afra Raymond’s controversial JCC exit

Afra Raymond resigning from JCC is no trivial matter, yet it is surprising how social media comments, and corner talk are missing the heart of the issue.

The implications for the future of governance and transparency in Trinidad and Tobago is at serious risk when a reasonable request for transparency is met with considerable resistance and a call for an apology.

Photo: Former JCC president Afra Raymond.
Photo: Former JCC president Afra Raymond.

When the person calling for transparency is positioned as in the wrong, rather than the person in question being asked to clear their name, we have lost the plot. Too many people are afraid to speak truth to power because it is in our best interest to maintain good relations, rather than calling a spade a spade.

So the cycle continues and we get more of the same.

On Friday December 18, the Trinidad Guardian newspaper published an article describing events around Jearlean John and six other members of senior management being sent on administrative leave.

On December 23, Janine Mendes-Franco published a great summary of the recent incidents involving Afra Raymond, Noel Garcia and JCC on the website, Global Voices.

It might be coincidence that John replaced Noel Garcia as head of HDC. It might also be a coincidence that Garcia is now the Chair of UDECOTT.

It is also possible that Garcia and Raymond being involved in a bitter dispute over Mr Garcia never having stood before the commission of enquiry is also a coincidence.

It is this last coincidence that really brings our sanity into question.

Photo: HDC chairman Jearlean John. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: HDC chairman Jearlean John.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

These events signal that a struggle for power and position within the construction sector is brewing. These recent articles seem to suggest that within Trinidad and Tobago’s construction sector, there is a complex network of alleged corruption, collusion and a call for greater transparency between some of the heavy hitters: HDC, UDECOTT, JCC, former prime minister   Patrick Manning, Calder Hart, John and Raymond.

With the exception of the recent submission of The Whistleblower Proposals to Parliament, it is not a far stretch to make the claim that a serious approach to curbing corruption may be an activity for the distant future and not the present administration.

When I was a young athlete, I once had a bad game. I was slow to the ball and struggled to find my groove. My coach suggested that my fitness may not have been up to standard.

What my coach did not know was that I had broken up with my girlfriend the night before and had gotten very little sleep. Knowing that my coach had doubts about my fitness level, I sought to clear the air by voluntarily taking the fitness test at our next practice session.

In the case of Raymond and his “self-appointed role as guardian of the public conscience”, he is analogous to my coach. He and the JCC have traditionally been the watchdogs of the construction sector.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (second from left) greets JCC founder Emile Elias (far right) while then JCC president Afra Raymond (second from right) looks on.
Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (second from left) greets JCC founder Emile Elias (far right) while then JCC president Afra Raymond (second from right) looks on.

With his recent dismissal, it would seem that the new precedent within the construction sector is that instead of taking a fitness test, one can choose to fire their coach.

Fire the watchdog. Dismiss Afra Raymond.

In my world, when one wants to captain a team, the minimum requirement is being able to pass the fitness test. It is my understanding that when Dr Keith Rowley was accused of corruption, he voluntarily faced the commission of enquiry.

From my recollection, his lawyer fought for him to go before the commission.

In a world where logic applies, it might be assumed that Dr Rowley would expect the captains of his teams to also pass the minimum fitness test—in this case, the commission of enquiry.

When my fitness was in question, I volunteered to subject myself to a fitness test. I knew I was fit enough to play so I was not afraid of the test.

It would seem that in Trinidad and Tobago’s construction sector, it is perfectly acceptable to change the coach, referee or judge instead of demonstrating accountability and transparency.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gestures to supporters at Balisier House after the election results on September 7. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley gestures to supporters at Balisier House after the election results on September 7.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

The recent change in government buoyed many people into a state of cautious optimism. It is not surprising that the mood may have shifted to one that is less optimistic and more cautious.

If we are serious about increasing transparency and curbing corruption, then there are some very simple things we can do. The Prime Minister must have the political and economic will to ensure that all appointees pass the fitness test.

Instead we remain ridiculously sublime. Brown-nosing for our own opportunities to win contracts!

About Keita Demming

Keita Demming
Keita Demming holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. His podcast Disruptive Conversations is an effort to unpack how people who are working to disrupt a sector or system think. Dr Demming has worked internationally and in a variety of sectors within the field of social innovation. He also holds the license for TEDxPortofSpain.

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20 comments

  1. The PNM Govt is setting itself up for massive spending in the construction sector for projects in housing (for voter padding), and such things as the Rapid Rail and Toco/Tobago jetties; all of which are not necessary at this time and will cost much more than what can be earned from them.
    The major beneficiaries will be the construction ‘bosses’. Who are these people? PNM affiliates.
    Afra Raymond and Jerlean John are gone. In comes in Emile Elias (to Chair TSTT), Andre Monteil (HMB), Noel Garcia et al. Do you see the pattern? The Board based in West Moorings had five years to plan, now they are executing said plan with haste….while the PNM puppets sing “we red and ready.” And ” the UNC corrupt, lock them up” Don’t let partisan politics blind you.

    The PNM persons in the know can tell you who the person in charge of voter padding in last PNM administrations was, and where he is now.

    We are all being ‘put in place.’

  2. Sad day. ..keep being the person that you are afra…

  3. This is what I do not want happen.Afra is one of our sharpest minds and has educated us on so many related issues..He must not stop.

  4. The PNM has decided to take billions and spend (not invest) in the home construction sector. This means that the financial beneficiaries will be Construction companies – presumably, friends, families and financiers of the PNM. There will be no monetary income (arguably) to the State.
    Who will benefit from this housing project? The UNC? The PNM.

    They are merging TTMF with the HMB of which Andre Monteil – Mr. PNM ‘bigwig’ has a significant role and influence in the latter. This means that the PNM will control who gets a mortgage and where there are placed. This may be voter padding at a sophisticated level.

    Afra Raymond is gone… do the math.

    Note, while the UNC engaged in corrupt practices, they did not introduce it to this country. Don’t be blind or fooled by intense propaganda. We are all being ‘put in place’ for the play.

    BTW, take away the school books from children, say that you are saving 190 million and spend it on houses. Really?

  5. How many times have I been told by my so called moral and law abiding friends that I must stay quiet on controversial issues ….
    How many times have I been told it’s better to remain quiet…. let issues slide…. Don’t make waves ….
    If you don’t stand up, you will great there seriously and talented

  6. The politics behind the entire scene is bigger than Afra Raymond, or Jearlean John, I suspect. I wonder if there isn’t an underground mafia running the construction sector, among others, in TnT. While ppl may be quick to suggest that persons are probably innocent if you choose to subject urself to investigation to clear your name…these so-called investigations invariably end inconclusively, or no further action is taken (at IC, CoEs, even High Court). So what’s the harm in putting yourself forward to be subjected to external proof of innocence-the odds are that you would succeed and keep a clear name and reputation. As an eg (not saying she is guilty, but an eg to illustrate situation), I read where Marlene McDonald asked Jearlean John (who would directly report to the Minister) to enquire into question into which current Minister bought a house/cash. Now, I suspect Mr. Raymond would have probably said something on the issue if he were still at the JCC. Probably he is better off if he is no longer at the JCC, than to have to resort to brown-nosing/censoring the issues under duress for raising a hornet’s nest when raising issues of national importance.

  7. Two questions/comments: (1)If Afra is so good at speaking truth to power, why has he been so silent since his replacement?
    (2) Why do you, Keita, think that it is enough to indicate where the dots are and leave it up to the readers to join them? I, for one, would have been very grateful if you had joined the dots – at least some of them – for us.

  8. But who’s brown-nosing and who’s condoning the behaviour?

  9. Too many people are afraid to speak the truth…too many people would like the truth to be be what they think. People are too busy scoring points rather than seeing the reality

  10. If you are not upset then you have not been paying attention paraphrase from Afra Raymond.

  11. I plan to speak on it again. Once the fireworks die down.

  12. Rhoda spoke at length on the implications of this development which seems to have slipped under our collective outrage radar. It is certainly cause for concern.