We all have soundtracks that mark our lives, some inexplicably. As a pre-teen, I heard a haunting song that I have never forgotten and which appears to be appropriate in today’s Trinidad and Tobago.
‘Sad movies always make me cry’ was one of the first songs on Billboard. It told of the sadness of betrayal when the beau of a young woman said to her that he had to work yet he went to the movie theatre with her best friend. She wept when she witnessed him kissing her best friend turned rival.
These lyrics aptly represent our condition as citizens; our leaders pretend to be at work, but are they? Or are their interests inimical to ours? Do they kiss up behind our backs?
On 26 April, it was reported that Justice Ricky Rahim found that there was a ‘lurking suspicion of agreement’ to rob us, the citizens, of almost TT$873 million!
The evidence showed that the CEO of a state enterprise, Seebalack Singh, and Namalco were engaged in ‘unlawful means conspiracy’ to inflate the contracts. Neither Singh nor Namalco’s CEO Naeem Ali testified in court.
Justice Rahim summed up: ‘No other intention is apparent on the evidence, and this remains the sole reasonable inference of intention to be drawn having regard to the fact that the sums claimed have since been shown to be much more than that which obtained under the original award, and which would have been reasonably claimable for new work even at new prices as set out.’
We should note that the then board retroactively clumsily attempted to cover up the egregious action.
Yet a particular media house focused on the money settlement for the work done by Namalco. It failed to highlight that the sum fraudulently sought and that it would have come from the taxpayers’ pocket! How can we beat corruption when the media perform this way?
The sum of money put into its proper context is equivalent to what the present administration reportedly borrowed in 2019 to fix 27 schools. Really? Where is the heart?
Justice James Aboud’s January 2021 ruling in the related case—‘Someone has to explain at the appropriate time in a way that is sensible how it is that these unusual patterns, oddities and inconsistencies can exist other than by collusion by contractors’—presaged the Rahim judgement. That case is about a separate $200 million accusation.
The nation was waiting for this shoe to drop. The media found it vital to give time and space to Dr Roodal Moonilal, one of the accused. Why?
But that coverage did not last long. There was no need since, as the saying goes, we know how to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
How could the Government Communication strategist hold the Justice Judith Jones-led Task Force’s report for five months and release it on the heels of this long-awaited, politically fraught civil case judgement?
The Jones report coverage obliterated any awareness of the Rahim judgement. The people’s victory was overcome by the ensuing grief of the Justice Jones report. The back-breaking work of the Judiciary was in vain.
‘[…] When he kissed her lips, I almost died…’
The Children’s Authority debacle is another example of half-baked work done by our politicians on behalf of the vulnerable. The Authority was doomed from the start.
In our country, child sexual abuse, the violation of children’s rights and the personal integrity of girls and boys, is deeply entrenched—it is a taboo subject and one of the most hidden crimes in our society (Walcott, 2012).
In the first nine months of operation, the Authority was overwhelmed by 4,158 reports. The system buckled under the load.
From the start, there was no heart for the battle. Mrs Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, chair of the Child Protection Programme, was fooled by the then administration into thinking that the community residences were being built.
A year before the law passed, the then Government promised her that the first one was being constructed in Piparo. She was disappointed that the law was passed without these residences having been built.
In April 2014, a 14-year-old child, Brandon Hargreaves, died from a fall off the roof at St Michael’s Home and there were reports of serious sexual malpractices by female staff members there.
In the aftermath, Minister Clifton de Couteau reported that Cabinet gave a one-off subvention to standardise all the homes but noted that money was a problem in securing competent staff. At that time, de Couteau also supported the establishment of a ‘children’s ombudsman’ for youngsters in care.
What happened after that?
Anand Ramlogan went to court as an advocate for children and their parents. Justice Frank Seepersad raised the question of this involvement, given his past role in piloting the Bill and the lack of the necessary infrastructure.
Ramlogan has denied that he had a role since he demitted office three months before the legislation was passed. In an initial judgement overturned by the Appeal Court, TT$2 million was awarded to a teenager.
The Appeal Court pointed to ‘institutional inertia’ in setting aside the vindicatory damages.
They commented, ‘The new Children Act and associated legislation as proclaimed were intended to avoid that situation. They were intended to provide, in respect of children, protection against detention in unsuitable accommodation.
‘That legislation was not applied in this case to provide protection for [the boy] against detention in unsuitable accommodation. His right to the protection of the law was thereby breached.’
That child, now a young man, requires a round-the-clock team of 12 nurses at the cost of TT$108,000 per month.
Unless Ayanna Webster-Roy was asleep, she could not have missed Faris Al Rawi’s parliamentary tirade about Ramlogan’s actions in the 2015 budget debate. Nor could she be unaware of the proceedings of the Joint Select Committee on child abuse. Her colleague, Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, chaired it.
The Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, Equality and Diversity (2016/2017) dealt thoroughly with the root causes of this dire situation. Fact: each caseworker in the Child and Family Services Unit has at least 280 cases.
UNICEF, in its contribution, identified that ‘policies often do not accommodate realistic funding to implement the intended activities… leaving activities unaccomplished…’
I remain speechless when I read Mr Hanif Benjamin’s account of his stewardship.
Our children are ‘sitting where they could not see them’.
Regarding the national blackout where Minister Marvin Gonzales could not identify a human problem, I reference Benjamin Franklin’s reported quote:
‘For want of a nail, the shoe was lost/For want of a shoe, the horse was lost/For want of a horse, the rider was lost/For want of a rider, the battle was lost/For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost/And all for the want of a horseshoe nail…’
The truth remains: ‘A little neglect may breed great mischief.’
Who was responsible for the untrimmed tree? Is it that the maintenance crews do not check on the paths of such vital transmission lines? Do our national security personnel not have satellite phones based on their scenario planning?
How many years after the invasion of our Parliament, it seems that Joseph Toney’s question ‘Who is your leader?’ is now unaddressable by the leaders of our nation.
‘[…] In the middle of the colour cartoons, I started to cry…’
Watson Duke announced his entry into Trinidad’s electoral politics amid the anguish. Targeting our depressed area of Laventille, he launched the effort at the Hyatt Hotel. Irony does not live here.
Will we soon have a telenovela, ‘Desperate Housewives of Laventille’? Stay tuned. Louis Lee Sing’s latrine lament may resurface in a Trump-like campaign of grievances.
‘[…] Politicians promise you heaven before elections and give you hell after…’
‘Sad movies always make me cry!’