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Martin Daly: the media is insulting our intelligence on HDC scandal

The discovery that a large group of people benefitted from the exercise of ministerial and satellite power in their favour in what appears to be preferential circumstances should undoubtedly have attracted scrutiny from the media.

Photo: The Fidelis Heights HDC compound. (Copyright Trinidad Guardian)
Photo: The Fidelis Heights HDC compound.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

The fact that the benefit was the allocation of houses by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to members of a group or category, or their families, should have risen to an intense level of scrutiny. Probably a front page story or, alternatively, an indication on the front page that this bombshell was to be found inside.

Moreover such a story might have normally been pursued with the fervour invested in “scoops.”

The bombshell bursts loudly when, as is a fact, the members of the preferred group for State housing allocations are media workers including editorial staff and political reporters.

The story took a long time to appear, even though knowledge of the allocations was sufficiently widespread that, in this column some weeks ago, I was able to refer to a media housing list.

The story eventually appeared in the Trinidad Express last Sunday as part of “an investigative series into the allocation process at the HDC.” But nowhere else, despite the wide representation of employees of various media houses on the list.

Photo: Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and former Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal. (Courtesy Baltimore Post)
Photo: Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and former Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal.
(Courtesy Baltimore Post)

It was reported that: “in the past five years two former Government Ministers—(Dr Roodal) Moonilal and Jack Warner—and former HDC Chairman, Rabindra Moonan personally recommended that more than 70 media workers or their relatives be allocated houses.

“That list of media workers included a significant number of editorial staff, including senior political reporters from the newsrooms of Caribbean Communications Network (CCN), Guardian Media Limited (GML), WIN TV, Caribbean New Media Group as well as several radio stations.”

The report named some media personnel who have prominent by-lines and well known television faces. Further, just to be clear, in the ownership of the corporate names recited above are the three daily newspapers, namely Express, Guardian and Newsday and three mainstream television stations, namely, TV6, CNC3 and CNMG.

There are many curious features about the reporting—or lack of reporting—of these housing allocations.

The Express eventually bit the bullet and published the story. But, as foreshadowed above, placed it on page 8, without any front-page indication that this major occurrence was inside.

Photo: Trinidad Express editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder.
Photo: Trinidad Express editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder.

In addition, while it was important to seek the comment of the management of the various media entities whose employees participated in this high volume “Get Through” (GT: the Trini addition to the growing language of initialism), the report went to great lengths to provide wet blanket comments from editorial management.

Some of those editorial comments amounted to little more than insults to readers’ intelligence. And at least one of which was a blatant picking up for the favoured reporter, which smacked of collusion.

I am confident that any working journalist not interested in damping down this story for reasons of self interest or group interest would have pursued anyone else receiving a GT of this magnitude. And would have asked the beneficiaries to produce particulars of their applications and deeds or mortgages to verify that the purchase prices were consistent with this type of State benefit.

Surprisingly, there were no editorials on the subject of the potential for conflict of interest.

Perhaps, Asha Javeed—the reporter who was commendably able to penetrate the damping down—will do the needful, particularly in the light of the acknowledgement of The Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) that further investigation is required.

Photo: A reporter on the job.
Photo: A reporter on the job.

In its comments, unlike some of the media managers, MATT refrained from insulting our intelligence with platitudes.

Its position recorded on social media was: “The investigation suggests that these allocations were fast-tracked and that journalists might have received priority housing placement from state officials because of their professional influence within the media.

“The implications of this matter are far-reaching and affect the fundamental integrity of newsrooms and their duty to the public interest.”

MATT’s statement asserted that: “The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public. Credibility is the stock in trade of journalism.

“Conflicts of interest, real or perceived, are always damaging to the media houses involved and to the profession. It is certainly vital for the public interest to investigate the circumstances surrounding the allocation of houses to media personnel and to publicise any facts that evidence unethical conduct between state institutions and journalists.”

Photo: Trinidad Express senior political reporter Anna Ramdass was one of the high profiled recipients of a HDC house. Ramdass said she informed her editor that she received a Fidelis Heights unit while Express editor in chief Omatie Lyder said he was aware of it and "monitored" Ramdass' work.
Photo: Trinidad Express senior political reporter Anna Ramdass was one of the high profiled recipients of HDC housing on recommendation from People’s Partnership ministers.
Ramdass said she informed her editor that she received a Fidelis Heights unit while Express editor in chief Omatie Lyder said she was aware of it and “monitored” Ramdass’ work.

In my view the facts have revealed that the media were given a cookie jar and as an institution became uncharacteristically shy of displaying the cookie jar and its implications.

There is another important aspect to the media cookie jar revelation.

It is this: There have been bland comments about the exercise of ministerial “discretion.”  It must be clearly understood that the exercise of discretion has at its source a power from which the capacity to exercise a discretion derives.

I may treat with this issue further in due course.

 

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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81 comments

  1. Watch Dr. Moonilal is the man with a plan.

  2. The media probably views this as a non issue seeing that thos has been happening for the past sixteen yeats at least.
    It is disingenous to make it appear that it only happened during the past five years.
    This seemingly biased commentating trying to appear as unbiased appears to be a trademark of this goodly gentleman.

  3. The Media is INSULTING OUR INTELLIGENCE on MANY ISSUES !!!

  4. First time I’ve seen that MATT response under Curtis Williams. Very weak. To be kind.

  5. Thanks guys my only response is hmmm

  6. I call the last 2 generations of media professionals #ChildrenOfLenny…like Children of the Corn…

  7. Ahhh. Lenny the double-agent who testified to seeing Spy information which the PP then claimed never existed.
    And the same Lenny who sent an email to every manager in CCN attacking me for daring to make a revelation on Jack Warner when the PP was steaming towards the 2010 general election.
    Not surprised.

  8. I also wish to point out that at least one leading senior media person has in the past defended media slackness based on poor salaries. Should we also chalk this up to poor salaries and shrug? *looks at salary and steupses*

  9. Please remember to think this through everyone. Our country is not responsible for any of this (we really are a sweet bunch). It’s the people who assured us that they would manage our affairs competently, fairly and honestly who deceived us. Then they fixed things so we cannot get out of their trap.

  10. How come Daly not interested in d malcolm Jones 2 billion dollars fiasco including d freeing of this man by d attorney general. Isnt dat an insult to your intelligence. Sadistic. Ent!!!!! Is dat u did not get wuk from d pp govt

  11. Bribery is part and parcel of how business is conducted in T&T, no one is ineligible, from the top to the bottom, its our proud culture :)…..

  12. Is that the only thing that has “deafened his silence”?

  13. the big one coming to even out everything

  14. No surprises here! what intelligence are we speaking about? if citizens of T & T utilised their gray matter! T & T can never be in the present MESS!! It is all about you scratch my back and i will scratch your back!!! nothing more, nothing less!!! SMH.

  15. So you see Marlene did nothing wrong. Just like what every one else does to get housing. The lottery system is a sham. Trust me.

  16. Didn’t any really think that journalists were objective in their conduct?
    There is another angle that can be taken on this story.
    Sunity and Omatie have been anti-PP for various reasons – particularly personal ones for the former.

    Anna Ramdass is intimately associated with a former PNM ‘big-wig’. This story was a good avenue to ‘expose’ the PP and its perceived media friends while attempting to soften the blow on the media on a whole. It was a good tight rope act. How do you purge the media from the PP while strengthening the PNM’s influence?

    It worked…

    BTW: Why isn’t their a big fuss with what appears to be racist policies of the PNM? Anthony Garcia, in hinted that too many Indians were getting scholarships – without evidence to prove that, and there’s the revelation that SSA was being purged of Indians.

    Did Edmund Dillon investigate that claim to see if it were true? What action has he taken?
    Why wasn’t he ‘drilled’ on this?

    The PNM is perceived as anti-Indian, and their rants does not give the confidence that they are a Government for the whole of T&T.

  17. Jumping the queue is not acceptable ….. These young journalists have been prostituting their profession…..

  18. Anyone who received an accommodation or housing and calls themselves a journalist, really shouldn’t. It’s all about credibility at the end of the day and they have none of it.

  19. Nothing is wrong if journalists join the queue like everyone else. It is jumping the line ahead of previous applicants that is wrong. Come on people use your brain not your……

  20. Boi!!! according to the saying is who ya know and more so who know you, what is so amazzzzing about this is nothing will come out of this T&T Sweet Yes.

  21. where the list of the 70. Please publish so we can put stories in perspective.

  22. Tjis is very very disturbing. The institutions that we trust to guard the guard are now seemingly in want of integrity

  23. 13 fucking years I apply for a house and up to fucking now HDC NEVER contacted me I going down there tomorrow.

  24. Ask Dale Enoch and Natalie Legore….. It’s much ado about nothing …….. No morals….

    • You see that one,head of a news room,talk show host who has opinions on everything,says he did not read enough to comment on weather the gymnast controversy has racial overtones. Wonder what he reads about?that is a #1 news story!!

  25. Why do we hide our heads in the sand.This is sweet T&T and without contact yuh dead.The privileged class can promote lofty ideals but for poor people the name of the game is contact,the system otherwise do not work.Tell me good sir am I debarred ftom accessing a state house becauseo of my profession or occupation,do we have any evidence Mr lawyer that there was bad behaviour,is there not a policy in respect to the allocation. perhaps a review of this system is required.Alternatively a lottery of bonna fide and qualyfing applicants in the various categories
    Please remember that jumbie hunting must be comducted with caution

  26. They want Marlene head for asking bout house for she common-law husband,one journalist say Rowley was bare-back for an interview,in time everything is being revealed

  27. Trinidad is nice…Trinidad is ah paradise!!

  28. You not fed up of me renting? Lol

  29. Earl Best

    “Ramdass said she informed her editor that she received a Fidelis Heights unit while Express editor in chief Omatie Lyder said she was aware of it and “monitored” Ramdass’ work.”

    Perhaps you understand now why the story was buried in mid-paper and not blurbed on the front page. And if the editor-in-chief did not make a telephone call or two before the story appeared, perhaps she got a call or two from her principals when it did appear.

    Who going to guard the guards, uh, Martin, who? People employed at the Express, the Guardian and Newsday all passed in the rush as did people at TV6, CNC3 and CNMG? If and when the list is made public, we are sure to find radio people too. So can we realistically expect the media to blow the whistle on themselves? You have a trough for them to feed at if and when they do?

    Remember when Jack Warner named the dishes at his Christmas party after high-profile journalists? Did the media in general boycott the party? Did we hear any loud chorus of disapproval from them? At any level? If Caesar’s wife worked in the media, it would be because she needed the recreation, not because she needed the job!

  30. PNM is d only problem in Trinidad

  31. My only question is this: WHERE IS KIRK WAITHE? Smh.

  32. Nobody is saying that, like other citizens, journalists cannot access HDC houses. However, if they obtain them without having applied like everyone else and/or have their applications accelerated, there may be conflicts of interest when they are reporting stories in which their benefator or his/her interests are participants.

    In most companies, there is a limit to the $ amount of any gift that an employee can accept with some companies in sensitive industries going so far as to say that no gifts of any nature can be accepted by their employees. Unfortunately journalism is an area where a gift can influence the slant of a story. That is what makes this story a STORY.

  33. Aren’t journalists citizens and taxpayers too? Why shoild they not have access to HDC housing? Their salaries aren’t very large anyway for private funding.

  34. When you gave cocoa in the sun you get tongue tied. Check out the people who staying quiet, see what they got. Aldo some who complaining about the PP, see what they got under the PNM. Shameful, greedy, corrupt Trinis.

  35. What a journalist should be doing now is checking all the HDC give-aways to determine who is living in the houses. There are so many stories about HDC houses being rented out so that if these give-aways were for financial benefit and not for the need of a house to live in, then that to me would be the bigger story.

  36. I could really care less about who slams whom over unethical behavior because in order to act unethically one must first divorce one’s self from their sense of shame.
    I imagine that those media workers who did accept HDC houses are reading Daly’s column from the comfort of those houses as we speak, so whats the point?

    • Hahaha. All we can do is point fingers in this mad house Vernal. Don’t take that from us.

    • It’s like getting excited when you see a house fire, but you have no bucket with which to carry water to put it out.
      Is best you stand up and watch quietly.

    • Lol. We are making noise in the hope that somebody has a bucket they don’t mind putting to use!

    • Hope is the leading cause of disappointment.
      Yuh must be careful!

    • That’s the crux of the matter. Ppl don’t seem to have a personal sense of responsibility, ethics or integrity. We do things without thinking or looking at the bigger picture. We expect someone to keep looking over our shoulder to monitor us, and without that, we seem helpless to function in an ethical fashion. If we had laws and policies in place to nip such in the bud, we would not be in this positiin. I hope in light of these reveleations that the PS can provide info on how many were granted houses at minister’s discretion from inception of HDC.

    • Consciousness and awareness is all we can spread until someone takes the lead to make something happen Vernal – tongue in cheek though you may be, it’s a dangerous game you are playing with telling the people what and how to react to whatever is happening…freedom belongs to all, even to you with your ideas on what one should or shouldn’t do without a bucket of water for the fire… don’t tell us to keep calm and carry on…not taking that

  37. As a media worker if there is truth to this a few things should happen. 1 The units be taken back. 2 Their names published and they dismissed. 3 Those involved should be prosecuted for issuing and receiving a bride or inducement. Just my penny.

    • so you’re saying that no media worker should ever benefit from public housing?

      no, I think the response must be more nuanced.

      First, only those whose houses were NOT allocated in the general lottery should be identified. Where houses were recommended by the Minister(s) or Chairman of HDC, those should only be the instances of concern. These instances should also trigger a response from the Integrity Commission, because such a high volume of targeted recommendations suggests a practice which is contra the IPLA.

      Second, we should consider the houses where the valuation of the property varied significantly from the price that it was acquired for. That would suggest that the nature of the gift demonstrated wilful attempt to coerce. At this point, if anything is untoward, the correct price for the unit should be recovered…either by a civil suit against the media worker…or the politician.

      Third, there should be an assessment of apparent bias in their body of work, before and after allocation of the unit. A media worker is also entitled to their political opinion/ bias…it should be instructive where those biases changed…especially if the change coincided with the allocation of a unit. Where these concerns emerge, it is up to the media house to determine if they would penalise the employee. Consider, not everyone would have a code of ethics as part of the employment framework, and to act outside of one would be legitimate grounds to claim wrongful dismissal….

    • We both saying the same thing just you gave details. Yes that are entitled. I think that the time has come for consequences for actions, I think as a nation we have had enough lies and half truths, in all areas.

    • Also Kwesi Prescod look at the mortgage rates of these houses. I am sure they are all mortgaged at ttmf at very preferential rates

  38. When I read it last week, I thought to myself something had to be wrong here. It’s as if a non-monetary bribe was given and accepted. Maybe that’s why some of the media personnel are always one sided and or politically tainted. Now those who received state housing can always argue that as citizens of TT, they are entitled to receipt of it. The issue is how they went about enquiring it.

  39. But this is a rather serious revalation. … and I believe MATT should further investigate and all the names of those who received gifts and houses be published. ..thus the public would know who to take with a pinch of salt..

  40. People seem to forget that our politicians come from the wider society. Its not the politicians alone that are corrupt, but the wider society.

    People only have an issue with favouritism and nepotism when they are the ones not benefitting.

  41. He makes good points. How come Sunity Maharaj and Shelia Rampersad haven’t commented on it?

  42. The country isn’t what it is because there’s a sector that’s untainted with corruption and/or unethical behaviour…

  43. Not surprised. It was clear during the run up to the last election who was eating ah food.

  44. Eat ah food Journalism.
    He who pays the Piper, calls the tune