Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Invitation to a nightmare

Attending the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit in Cuba last week, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar made a formal offer to international leaders for the secretariat of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to be located here.

She suggested that it was in the interest of the international community to have the secretariat located in the Caribbean.

And she promised: “Trinidad and Tobago gives the undertaking to make available the necessary infrastructure for the efficient running of the secretariat.”

“Here we go again,” I said, as I read this statement. Then I tried to recall the line from David Rudder’s kaiso, “It must be something in de water that dem people in Whitehall does drink”.

First, let’s recall that, faced with the astounding homicide crime rate of 2014, the PM last month summoned her National Security Council, but then appeared locked away somewhere far, far away, as she asked: “What is happening here? What can we do to stop it?”

Recall, too, that this country’s infrastructure remains worse off because of the excesses of former prime minister Patrick Manning who spent some $1.2 billion to host US President Barack Obama and Latin American leaders then Commonwealth heads and the Queen in two lavish international conferences.

This revenue could have been used to touch the lives of thousands of citizens, and convert the 3,000 latrines which a former mayor said still exist in our capital, into flush toilets.

The PM’s offer to world leaders brought me back to the nagging question: what is it that makes people depart so far from reality once they assume political office? What is it that pushes politicians into such a place of misperception and irrationality and makes them such inauthentic people?

Back in the 1930s British political scientist, Harold Lasswell, in a study, helped us to understand that transformation. Lasswell said, “the mind of political man is essentially furnished with rationalisations of his own private and highly personal problems”.

A later study told us that politicians adopt attitudes which is their way of dealing with their inner difficulties. A recent study elaborated that politicians “learn and forget partisan material with speeds that favour their own partisan stands”.

Now along comes the current PM, buoyant with her personal ambitions, pledging to provide “the necessary infrastructure” for an international agency.

Last week a newspaper headline shouted that Port of Spain was covered with a “Cloud of shame”—probably the most appropriate evocation of a capital deliberately left forsaken and desolate, through the UNC-led Government’s supposed decentralisation policies.

So should her administration’s offer be accepted, one can expect, with great certainty, that the UN agency’s secretariat will be located —somewhere in central Trinidad or in the Penal/Debe catchment.

And what of the PM’s promise to world leaders to provide an “efficient” supporting infrastructure?

Observers will speculate that whenever the UN agency meets to deliberate it may consider the Petrotrin oil spill disaster, the potential dangers of smog and the Government’s hasty decision to close the Beetham dump.

But what of the state of our supporting intellectual capital? Turn to the numerous reports of persons in public office who have been discovered with questionable professional records and fraudulent academic qualifications.

Take for instance, Dr Allan Bachan, chairman of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), who was appointed by the PM to head the task force into the oil spill. According to the Express of October 14, 2013—he was a director of a company that was sued in a fraud case. The High Court instructed that the company repay $1.3 million with interest.

Justice Charmaine Pemberton concluded that Project Management Consultancy Services Ltd, which Dr Bachan registered in 1997, did not have a licence to operate as a financial institution under the Financial Institutions Act, and was the conduit through which funds were sanitised in the contending action.

Dr Bachan told the Express that the suit was not against him, in his individual capacity, but against the company. He resigned last March 22, and was appointed chairman of EMA on June 5.

The UNC-led Government has turned a blind eye to executives in the state enterprises with fraudulent qualifications, such as Omar Khan, who as chairman of T&TEC claimed to be an engineer with an EMBA degree; Dayanand Birju, who was appointed to the $63,000-a-month deputy general manager position at the Airports Authority, based on a fraudulent degree from the University of Massachusetts; Kurt Ajodha, the deputy chairman of the Airports Authority, also resigned because of fraudulent qualifications; Ishwar Jadoonanan was also forced to leave the $59,000-a-month position at PTSC because he submitted fraudulent certificates.

This story extends to many executives in other State-owned organisations.

Former president, Max Richards, as he departed office, reminded us that corruption is not new to the world, “but within recent times, the floodgates have opened, and there are sadly, too many instances of betrayal of trust”.

Yes, PM think global—but look at the smoke signals from the Beetham. There is a message there.

• Keith Subero, a former

Express news editor, has since followed a career in

communication and management