In Smoke and Mirrors, Demi Lovato doubts her lover and asks: “Now that I see you clearer, I wonder, was I really happy? Now that I see you clearer, was it just smoke and mirrors?”
An eighteenth century smartman is credited with the first use of a light projector to throw a beam of light onto a mirror which reflects off the mirror into a cloud of manufactured smoke. The smoke in turn scatters the beam to create an image.
Smoke and mirrors is described as ‘a classic technique in magical illusions that make an entity hover in an empty space’. The technique is intended to make those watching believe that something is being done or is true when it is not. However when the smoke clears, the truth comes out.
Two matters that have dominated the news cycle recently are full of false images.
In respect of one of those matters, we can already see clearer and know that we are not happy.
That one is the indemnity proposed to be given to the board of directors of the flagship National Gas Company (NGC) as a result of the questionable investment, which reportedly could be as much as TT$440 million to keep Train 1 of the Atlantic Liquified National Gas (Atlantic LNG) complex operational—even though there was no secure supply of gas available for Train 1 operations.
When the story of the NGC investment broke, the government’s evasive response took the form of projecting ‘sensitive negotiations’. In my view, this was an attempt to make us believe that it might not be true that there was no gas supply for Train 1 and the lack of gas supply might yet be resolved.
To that thin smoke was added the usual back-up smoke that the issue was opposition UNC-generated. From that ritualistic claim arose the unjustified innuendo that the established investigative journalist at the Trinidad Guardian, Curtis Williams, was peddling UNC and multi-national corporation propaganda.
The second matter concerns the manipulations of the appointment of a commissioner of police (CoP) consequent upon the expiry of the term of office of Gary Griffith and the keen interest in whether Griffith is likely to be re-appointed.
The Griffith story may be hotter and more intriguing than the intricacies of the grant of an indemnity to a board of directors. However, the NGC directors and management were responsible for the expenditure of many, many millions, which could have been used for Covid-19 relief grants to the many suffering citizens who are not sufficiently connected—either to the formal economy or to the partisan political system to get through with relief grants.
As indicated before, by being evasive and frequently substituting harsh rebuff for accountability, the government creates an information vacuum. Persons opposed politically to the government attempt to fill the vacuum but these politicians frequently have no material of their own.
Political opportunism cannot, or ought not, to diminish the credibility of a good piece of journalism.
Probably to the disappointment of some readers, I will leave the CoP appointment circus for now—except to say that it is usually fatal to promote your own popularity above that of incumbent political leadership.
Another failed NGC investment was revealed last week, but the disastrous Train 1 investment must be further highlighted in order to emphasise that all attempts to shoot the journalistic messenger were neutralised when, to his credit, the chairman of NGC, Mr Conrad Enill—as reported last Sunday—stepped forward and gave a radio interview.
Enill acknowledged that money was sunk into Train 1 even though there was no secure supply of gas to operate it. NGC decided to rely on excess gas that appeared to be available but was caught naked when that gas was taken up by the downstream producers to whom the gas was committed.
He also blew away the thin smoke screen of sensitive negotiations by exposing NGC’s lack of control or influence in negotiations between the government and the multi-national gas producers.
Enill’s honesty is commendable. The thrust of the journalist’s story that NGC took a gamble was correct.
Our weakening but still free media had an impressive two weeks.