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Letter to the Editor: Let them drink sorrel; ban alcohol at government functions

“If we’re serious about reducing the foreign exchange drain, why not temporarily ban the use of alcohol at all government functions and on all government premises including the Diplomatic Centre and President’s House?”

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted to Wired868 by Dennise Demming, the former TIDCO chairperson:

Photo: President Anthony Carmona (left) and his wife Reema Harrysingh-Carmona (centre) arrive in Buenos Aires for an international friendly between Trinidad and Tobago and Argentina in June 2014. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA)
Photo: President Anthony Carmona (left) and his wife Reema Harrysingh-Carmona (centre) arrive in Buenos Aires for an international friendly between Trinidad and Tobago and Argentina in June 2014.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA)

There was a time, not so long ago when the only juices you could enjoy at President’s House were sorrel juice, grapefruit juice, mauby, star apple juice and any juice that could be made using local fruits. I am told the fruits also came from the gardens on the premises.

That was a period when the office still held some awe and mystique.

Today, “the Hassanalis”—the late Noor Hassanali and his wife Zalayhar—are still spoken of in glowing tones as part of the good ole days. Because, while they were in office, the serving of home made juice at President’s House was seen as disruptive.

Fast forward to today and the Office has its own wine label at the expense of the citizens. There is inconsistency in the messaging here. On one hand we are saying that there is need for austerity while, on the other, we commission a private label wine for the President’s House.

The recent budget announced an increase in the sin taxes—meaning alcohol and tobacco—which is a good initiative. But if we are aiming to change the alcohol palette of the Trinbagonian, it didn’t go far enough.

Photo: Late former Trinidad and Tobago President Noor Hassanali. (Copyright Office of the President)
Photo: Late former Trinidad and Tobago President Noor Hassanali.
(Copyright Office of the President)

It should really have been a one hundred percent charge for all imported alcohol.

If we’re serious about reducing the foreign exchange drain, why not temporarily ban the use of alcohol at all government functions and on all government premises including the Diplomatic Centre and President’s House?

At least we could implement this tax while the country moves towards economic stability. An old saying comes to mind: “People do what you do and not what you say.”

There is a tremendous move to authenticity in today’s world and people are looking for behaviour which they can pattern. They do not respond to instruction.

If you want to call out the best of others you have to be the best you possible. If we want the population to understand the dire straights we are in, then our actions must be consistent.

The focus at the moment is on the Presidential label for his special wine but it is only a matter of time before someone leaks the bill for the Diplomat Centre and Household.

Photo: A glass of sorrel. (Copyright Caribbean and Co)
Photo: A glass of sorrel.
(Copyright Caribbean and Co)

About Dennise Demming

Dennise Demming
Dennise Demming is an Adjunct Faculty Member at UWI, Media and Communications Strategist, TEDxPOS organiser and co-licensee for TEDxPortofSpain and Chairman of the Board at TTTHTI. Dennise, who grew up in East POS, also has a Business MBA and B.Sc. in Political Science & Public Administration and Mass Communications from UWI.

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188 comments

  1. So stopping them from using funds to purchase drinking alco is gonna help in sending the foreign drain in the right direction? Of all the things we could cut back on this is seen as a serious option? I’m clearly still sleeping and I’m dreaming …..

  2. we they could drink local rum….like puncheon or vat. ent

  3. Okay world. There is a local distillery called House of Angostura which bottles a wide array of universally taste friendly spirits and sumptuous cocktails. So, government should buy local and serve locally brewed drinks at functions. Further, Angostura is a significant generator of foreign exchange to this country’s treasury. So…

  4. This is what politicians fight like dogs for to live it up!! And laugh at the voters when they are screaming Kamala!! Keith!!!! Umbert!!! Patrick!!!, Indian!! African!!!!

  5. Hassanali was the most conservative preso ever,u’d not dare defile by consuming alcohol at the palace; he saved our country $m.during his tenure. Maybe this policy shiuld be adoptet

  6. Taxpayers should not be responsible for any head of govt vacation and grocery expense we need to put legislation in place to do like the US and only pay for state functions not personal expensed that is what they are getting a salary for

  7. No or did it and he was a far better president

  8. Try blaming touching or grabbing a minister’s wife private parts on sorrel and see what happens . It also goes both ways eh , but the men paid the secure the families cant say anything when the misses pass and grab when no one is watching . LOL !

  9. BUT WHEN HASSANALI WAS THERE
    NO ALCO WAS. SERVED

    ITS USED AS A SLIPWAY FUH CORRUPT DEALS
    REMAS PARDNER GETTING THE CONTRACT

  10. Juice Bars are the trend now…
    It will be good to get our local fruits and the farmers ah bligh….

  11. No need to ban. Make them pay like the rest of us. Just don’t use tax payer dollar to sponsor your/ their events… simple.

  12. Alcohol drink-up a lot of foreign exchange, and those who contribute to that should not participate in this conversation. Lets be a bit objective in our analysis, and use similar data from the former President.. alcohol bill vs alcohol bill….

  13. they tief mih idea…i want compensation…

  14. What is wrong with you people? The government heads are all saints.. only Kamla does drink

  15. At the Hilton Hotel in 2006 I made this call at the last local government consultations and there was silence in the room. Hmmmmm I wonder if we are becoming more aware of ourselves now. Or am I 10 years ahead of time?

  16. Allyuh want rowdy to drop down and dead or what???

  17. Great idea! …. Or run a cash bar at gov’t functions. Let the dignitaries pay for their own booze & caviar….and no refunds through state enterprise expense accounts.

  18. Alcohol flowed during the tenure of Prof. Maxwell Richards, despite the country experiencing a serious decline in revenues. In 2009, Ministries were asked to cut spending by PM Manning, even copying paper was difficult to get in a particular Ministry. One can remember the ‘winning President’ with glass in hand, enjoying his many parties.

    Yet where was the outcry? Where were the calls to cut alcoholic beverages? During the 1980s, this country experienced severe financial hardship, to the extent that we could not afford apples and grapes, yet up the time of Sir Ellis Clarke demiting Office on March 13, 1987, Scotch was the ‘order of the day’, yet no complaints.

    Consistency is important.

  19. I think they can make do with sorrel.

  20. They have to make sacrifices too like the rest of us…..good suggestion.

  21. Absolutely right. All elected officials and public figures should lead by example in all aspects…. Behavior in public, unnecessary use of escort vehicles and other privileges, and yes, belt tightening if you are asking the public to do the same, even if you can afford to do otherwise.

  22. A slightly different twist and I think Mrs Demming alluded to it. Why do we tell children they shouldn’t be drinking alcohol? But they see adults enjoying themselves with it. We know it as social drinking, so nothing wrong with it. But it sends a message of do as I say not as I do. And of course it is worse when people who are in public office doing what you tell a child not to do. Remember the front page picture after independence with Mrs Carmona with champagne? It was a big joke that when Robinson became president, that the bar came back because the Hassanalis were Muslim. Just saying…

  23. No alcohol was served during Mr. Hasanali tenure as president and no foreign heads of government complained as far as I’m aware, so why that large amount is being spent on such luxuries at a “tightening of belts” time is ludicrous. While some sector of the society have to make out with the little they have, The President projects a false image that “all’s well with the economy” as they sip thousand dollar wine, as though to say “To arse with all you, I in this for the perks” and you really want me and my household to respect that kind of asinine behavior?

  24. Use local fruits T&T is blessed with fruits. The extravagance by those in high office is because its’ not their money, but taxpayers. immoral and unethical behaviour by so many people in this country.

  25. Mayors Augustus, Mootoo, Achong and I, along with our wives, were invited to discussions and dinner by late Prez Hassanali and his wfe Zalayhar. After discussion on municipal affairs, we were treated to a sumptuous dinner, no meat, and juice made from passion fruit, which her excellency informed the wives, she grew at President’s House.

  26. Especially with the provisions in relation to breath analyser.

  27. Wherever there’s Alcohol served, expect dotish behaviour. They go hand in hand.

  28. Get in line: alcohol; non-alcohol.

  29. this is what I said or maybe White Oak

  30. Over 700,000 vehicles on the road continue to suffocate us via carbon monoxide emissions..I wish alcohol could have been a source of fuel for vehicles..

  31. agree with Ms demming, let foreigners taste our local wines

  32. Drunk with alcho or drunk with fame. As long as cameras there people will still show up.

  33. I am not necessarily in agreement with a ban….but i am very clear that foreign alcohol should not be served at government functions….and by functions i would suggest be based receptions for foreign dignitaries….wouldnt agree with govt sponsoring alcohol for employee functions or social functions

  34. What an awesome idea. Too bad it’s not about what we can do for our country but what our country can do for us. I would love to see our politicians setting the example but…well…you know.

  35. Nigel Noel, Amery Browne isn’t muslim… So I’m still not quite following your stance on this.
    This story was in 2008:
    “Citizens should reduce their Christmas spending on alcohol and cigarettes, much as the Social Development Ministry has cut alcohol from its Christmas party in its “belt tightening” plan, Social Development Minister Amery Browne said yesterday.”

    http://legacy.guardian.co.tt/archives/2008-12-05/news5.html

  36. This isn’t to say that the recent wine purchase was ok.

  37. Lasana Liburd – with all due respect, this is a nonsense. Let’s start with the premise that if we are serious, somebody else has to do something. Nothing will improve if we act as though no change or sacrifice is required of us to improve our situation.

    Secondly, banning alcohol from State functions won’t make any significant difference to our import bill. Consider the volume of alcohol we consume as a society at Carnival and Christmas time.

    The article should have talked about changing our consumption patterns. Bypass the KFC and Starbucks in favour of our local firms. Forget the apples and grapes. If we not willing to make those changes, we not serious about anything at all.

  38. Earl Best

    Ay, ay, ay! Hold up, hold up!

    Are you suggesting that the “we” who “are saying that there is need for austerity” are one and the same as the “we” who “commission a private label wine for the President’s House”? As far as I am aware, that commissioning took place unbeknownst to all but two or three of “we,” not including Auditor General Majid Ali and vlogger/blogger Rhoda Bharath.

    Allyuh real good, oui!

  39. I think moderation is the key here we’ve had past PM’s and Presidents who enjoyed and served alco…but now is not longtime….and certainly in the case of the current President’s House…the concept of “manage it accordingly” may not be achieveable unfortunately

  40. Sorry now saw Nigel’s query…..the reason was religious because they are Muslim. Instead of the alco they served a refreshing fruit drink made of five-finger which was grown on the grounds of President’s House, people used to complain sotto voce but drank it anyway as it was quite delicious. I believe that people who have the Treasury’s purse at their command can choose to make a difference with how that money is disposed, this is their chance to make a positive difference, think for a moment if the money saved on not buying alco for functions was consciously directed to the needy among us what a difference it would make, It’s not mandatory that guests at thesefunctions should be served, these functions are for a few hours anyway, how much scotch, wine or rum they want to drink, if the belt has to be tightened let it be done in a way that can really make a difference and let the drinkers stay home and drink, they should not be on the road anyway

  41. Mr Powers is given Rum and Whiskey bad named with his behavior

  42. I think saving money is more than just something to complain about. So I’m happy to disagree with you on that.

  43. Lasana Liburd its the norm (except as we have discussed in countries where alcohol is illegal). If we think that the PM/President is spending two much on hosting official functions then impose/reduce their budget for same and let it be better managed……..but a call for alcohol to be banned at official functions is just “finding something to complain about”

  44. Maybe I’m missing something. Why do you feel alcohol should be a staple at the PM and President’s House at taxpayers expense? That bit about being an economic benefit obviously doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

  45. Never will that ever happen! !! Them like too much alcho lol

  46. Maybe I am missing something but what’s the issue with alcohol being served at official functions hosted by the PM or President

  47. See .. NOTHING has happened .. he’s the President … he’ll stay there and keep enjoying the high lifestyle .. only in this country this BS is tolerated ..

  48. I do recall President Hassanali banning alcohol drinks @ president’s house during functions. So what’s the big fuss. …….p.s. I stand to be corrected .

  49. No matter what this woman never looks tidy.

  50. Mr. Hassanali was a devout,practicing Muslim, therefore there was no alcohol and no outcry. It can be done and will stimulate local industry.

  51. I agree. The Government and all other officials representing T & T should observe this one sacrifice.

  52. Does anyone have the facts. Everyone is speculating , looking baccanal. There is a lot of information that is not being shared to get picture of the situation. All else is “hair say”- ?

  53. No way…we love alcohol at government functions…its what governs our constitution….our stupid laws

  54. Why temporary ? I’ve been calling for a total ban on alcohol at the Diplomatic Centre and President’s House

  55. Temporary ban on Alcohol at Govt functions yuh say ?
    Well start bottling up on TNT home grown Sorrel in readiness for the Presidential Seal .

  56. Sorry can’t condone 100% duty on liquor tongue in cheek or otherwise. As for all the talk about creating norms know this I embrace our rum drinking carnival mentality culture. Rather than sticking our heads in the sand and being hypocritical about who we are I say let we find ways to be efficient and productive about it and let it be a value adder in economic terms. How we do so is a whole other discussion but for now I going to take a sip.

    • Hahaha. I won’t accept a 100% duty at all. That will be leaving alcohol as a rich man’s pastime. But I do feel that politicians don’t need alcohol to entertain.
      My only compromise there would be local alcohol.

  57. Deborah John what was the reason behind the Hassanali’s not serving alcohol whilst Mr Hassanali was President?

  58. So kamla won’t be invited then

  59. And they had two terms it wont be a radical or unheard of move

  60. I believe when Mr Nope Hasanali was president there was no alcohol at state functions he hosted. That maybe subject to correction but that is what I was told.

  61. The Hassanalis did not serve alcohol at functions

  62. Lovely sentiment. But that would never fly! Like Vernal said politicians and presidents have become very used to champagne and caviar literally. Some of them wouldn’t drink Johnny unless it blue or gold.

  63. The operative word is ” If “.
    Ms Dennise Demming. Sorry to disappoint you but we are not serious about stemming the outflow of foreign exchange. Between October 2015 and October 2016 we have put more than 30000 vehicles on the road again .
    The president ( I refuse to put a capital p on purpose ) tells me that he needs to import presidential house wine. He could have commissioned a local fruit wine, but no, he ordered wine from Italy.
    The store shelves are full of imported products of every description and there is no end in sight of our binge behaviour.
    Ms Demming, dream on. As Sparrow sang : ” we like it so “.

  64. What will the President do with is presidential label wine? ??

  65. Hahahaha yuh want dem to dead

  66. I making good local wine and it drinking very good better just like imported so start ordering from me and give me a sale ent they say support local IS this just for ordinary people to buy Local

  67. So you will have them drink babash instead then!?

  68. Great idea! They always looking to save money so why not.

  69. I don’t think that her suggestion is plausible (I do not know if the Hassanali’s didn’t serve alcohol for religious reasons) but it is expected that a function held at the office/residence of the Head Of State would have alcoholic beverages.

    Also I am sure that Ms Demming of all people knows the theory that tobacco is considered an elastic product and demand does not reduce with increases in price.

    • Because something is usually done isn’t a reason to keep doing it. The people have to adjust all the time, whether it is the speed gun or a new tax.
      I think the officials would survive.

    • Lasana Liburd whilst I agree with you in theory our economy is not at the point where we cannot afford to serve alcohol at functions held under the auspices of the President or PM, I think that anyone advocating same is just being mischievous.

    • Wow. Don’t stop there Nigel. Explain how our economy needs alcohol at government functions at taxpayers’ expense…

    • Now I think you are being mischievous as that is not what I said. Our head of state hosts officials both local and foreign countries and there are certains “norms” that go with those occassions. My point is our economy is not at the point where we cannot afford to have alcoholic beverages at these functions.

    • So Nigel, you think a Head of State would walk out of a function in Saudi Arabia or India because rum isn’t on the menu?
      You really believe there is a standardised taste where these things go? And that dignitaries are insulted if there is no liquor?

    • It is against the Law in Saudi Arabia to consume alcohol (not so sure about your reference to India) so it is not the same thing. My understanding of the point Ms Demming was making was that if we expect “ordinary citizens” to cut-back then so should persons in high office. In concept I agree with her point………but as I said there are certain norms that go along with hosting functions and the serving of wine is one of them.

    • Nigel, we can create our own norms. In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, it is illegal. And other countries, like India–perhaps–it might run against their culture.
      A foreign head of state is happy to experience a bit of your culture. And, to be honest, sorrel is more charming than scotch which they can have anywhere.
      I thought you had something more substantial than “that is what they are accustomed to”. In some countries, the president keeps his shoes on. At others, he takes them off.
      They will live. And unless it is Trump, they won’t be put off by that.
      Unless you’re an alcoholic, you’re never insulted that the player you are a guest at for a few hours at best doesn’t serve alcohol.

    • Lasana do you think that our economy is at the point where we cannot afford to have alcohol at official functions hosted by the PM or President?

    • I think those two things are not even remotely linked to each other. And I’ve been to loads of functions without alcohol and thought nothing of it. (Granted that I’m not a head of state).

    • Nigel, you might be forgetting that no alcohol was served at President’s House for five years or however long Hassanali occupied that office.
      So you can test your theory by proving that this impacted negatively on our company and visiting heads of state during that period complained or refused to do business with us.
      Otherwise you are on shaky ground.

    • It was two terms. A full decade. Imagine that. Successive governments kept that non-alcoholic wrecking ball of our economy… ?

    • Lasana you forced me to go back and reread Ms Demming’s letter, wasn’t her premise that if we want to reduce the demand for foreign exchange then we should stop serving imported alcohol at official functions?

      My point was that our economy isn’t at the point that such measures are necessary. In my humble opinion there is a direct link

    • I am assuming that the Hassanali’s did it for religious reasons and not economic ones (but I have no clue)

    • The point isn’t why they did it Nigel. It has to be whether or not it impacted on us economically as you suggested it would.

    • Lasana i feel that we are spinning top in mud, ……….would there be less demand for foreign exchange if imported wines were served at the President’s and PM’s house…….yes, does our current economic situation warrant it…….No……..lets agree to disagree………

  70. Agree .Ban it and all the over indulgence for a while . The indigenous people I work with ..Santa Rosa First People’s have wonderful events without ‘alco’ the tradition of Babel ..can be discarded .

  71. I do not drink Alcohol ?, BUT WHY?! NO ONE WILL ATTEND??? THE FUNCTIONS!

  72. Sorrel ?….you trying to kill somebody… You don’t see what the president wife does be wearing?..that chick stay lit…..? ?

  73. Austerity starts at the top….

  74. Proverbs 20..

    Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

  75. This is an easy ban to make. Those who are truly interested in the function will attend regardless.

  76. That’s crazy talk.
    Some political parties entire ideology was influenced by and reliant upon the presence and promise of copious amounts of alcohol.
    And how then would we nominate presidents?
    Carmona imports it, Max used tuh vomit it outside stoosh fete!

  77. How about government officials, ministers, public servants returning from any official travel are NOT entitled to any duty free purchases!!!

  78. This is Rum Country. Has to be a joke.

  79. That’s a damn good idea and if they want alcohol have a cash only bar no credit

  80. That has already been done for government Ministries and agencies. We can’t use funds to purchase alcohol for staff functions.

  81. Follow the Hassanali model. It’s that simple.

  82. State enterprises started last Christmas; it would be a remarkable gesture from President House

  83. Modesty. I wonder if the Carmona’s even remember this word exists in the English language.

  84. Agreed. Given the amount of money we are talking about being spent on one household on alcohol alone-more than minimum wage workers earn in a year-and up to now I have not heard how many official functions were hosted, then certainly if this is done, it would save taxpayers. As for bill being leaked, there was an article a while ago about unpaid grocery bill at Hilo/Massy for President’s house, but can’t find the article as I am not sure if it was a weekly newspaper. And yes, the Hassanalis saved the country a lot in their 8 years in office.

  85. Taxes have been increased on alcohol and cigarettes in the 2017 budget. If tax payers in their private capacity have decided to stop drinking hard stuff or smoking cigarettes why should they pay the increased taxes for others.

    • Taxes on cigarettes don’t stop people from smoking. Here in the US, some cities and states, institutions, have raised taxes on cigarettes, or stopped selling cigarettes, and people still smoke. NY cigarettes are $12/box, and you don’t get half packs in the US. People in NY still smoke. CVS Pharmacy, has stopped the sale of cigarettes at ALL it’s locations across the country. People still smoke.

  86. Ha ha. Govt productivity will further go down