Category Archives: Rights & Freedoms

Outside looking in, or through the looking glass

Inquiring minds want to know:

1 – What are the economics of the proposed government-sponsored, Caribbean Airlines corporate/executive jet service?

2 – What are the current arrangements for government travel? Where do ministers et al go that requires the use of a jet leased from Guardian Holdings? How much does that arrangement cost? Why is it preferred to flying commercial services, either local or international?

3 – From Ria Tait’s Trinidad Express article on March 4 2008: “On allegations by Opposition Chief Whip Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj that CA received $350 million from the Government for the venture before Cabinet held discussions on the proposal last Thursday, Lok Jack said Caribbean Airlines did get money because “we had to begin negotiations and make downpayments”.” Caribbean Airlines had to make downpayments on an aircraft that hadn’t even been approved yet? Really?

4 – From the same article: “[Lok Jack] declined to say exactly how much money Government advanced to the airline or how much the service was estimated to cost on a monthly basis, saying that the airline was in a competitive situation.” Is anyone looking into this? We have a right to know how much our government is spending on this. And with whom, exactly, is CA “in a competitive situation” in the business of providing private jet travel to the government?

4 – Ibid: “Lok Jack said…the Government was “very interested” in being able to go on transatlantic trips and to travel African countries and therefore CA chose an aircraft which had the range to make such flights.” Why the focus on African countries? How much does a long-haul flight from Trinidad to Lagos (say) cost, in terms of fuel and wages for the pilots, etc? Are there no commercial alternatives?

5 – Ibid, but jumping around a bit: “[Lok Jack] confirmed statements in a Caribbean Airlines press release that Government would be underwriting the cost of the venture, eliminating “the commercial risk” to Caribbean Airlines.” Who owns Caribbean Airlines, exactly? What is the equity structure?

6 – In Juhel Browne’s Trinidad Express article on March 2 2008, Prime Minister Manning says a Caribbean Airlines jet service would be a cheaper air travel option for the State: “Right now, when some of us, when the Prime Minister travels in the region now, we do so by contracted private jet services. It costs a lot of money,” Manning said. Contracted jet services for regional jet travel? Seriously? Exactly how much is a lot of money? And again, why are commercial alternatives rejected?

7 – Who will have use of the services? Government only? Friends, family members, well-wishers? The Opposition? At what cost? Who pays what?

The relevant company insiders are fairly high-profile types who should be reasonably easy to track down. I’m tempted to make some calls.

Beyond politricks

When I grow up, I want to write like Michael Harris.

I discovered him quite by accident – trawling the (badly implemented but kudos for even having one) RSS feed of the Trinidad Express, lured by the headline “Party politics and the voice of the people.”

The man is a true-true political commentator, and an aphorist after mine own Oscar Wilde-loving heart:

In short, neither good governance nor good government is possible in the absence of politics and there is no politics without the voice of the people. (From Party politics and the voice of the people)

In all the essential areas of life each year seems to be a replicate of the previous year. It is as though we are locked in a time warp of helplessness in which all our yesterdays become our tomorrows. (From Solving the political paradox)

Since it is not necessary to engage in real politics outside the party there is no politics within the parties. People do not join those parties because they are inspired by a vision which they are committed to work towards. People join those parties in the hope of securing placement by means fair or corrupt. (From New politics and old paradigms)

(Here’s a Google search which indexes all his articles at the Trinidad Express)

These are the works of a political animal, in the true and Aristotelian sense of the term.The first episode – Solving the political paradox, cited above – of Mr Harris’s 2008 commentary for the newspaper ended thus:

In the midst of all of this neither government nor people have much time to devote to the fundamental questions of what kind of society we wish to live in and what system of governance shall we build?

Those questions are fundamental to political discourse, and to politics itself, but I have never heard them answered – or even addressed – by a modern Trinbagonian politician. (I welcome examples to the contrary.)

It was only because I’ve been reading these columns that I was not wholly disheartened by the subject of the latest post over at The Manicou Report – a Facebook group with the subtle title of Fuck the PNM.

Mani’s take on this 365-strong anti-PNM army – and there are similar Facebook groups dedicated to every major political party in Trinidad – is that it reinforces political tribalism.

Says he:

If the makers of the group are trying to propagate the same type of tribalism by setting people even firmer in their ways than they are now, then they are on the right track. But if they want to get people to think for themselves and change voting patterns, then an “F*** the PNM” group on Facebook couldn’t possible be the way to do it. You can’t woo people over to your side by insulting them – a point lost on some politicians.

I would take his analysis a step further. The “party politics” in T&T is what gives rise to such self-defeating factionalism. This group is just a Web2.0 representation of the discussions taking place in rum shops, on street corners and in expensive coffee shops on university campuses.It is time for some new conversations, for discourse that dares to be more than a rehash of the same old same old.

Michael Harris has kicked things off in fine fashion. Who’s next?

This old house

Trinidad’s internet elite have a new rallying cry: Save the Boissiere House.

There’s even a Facebook group and an online petition devoted to the cause, so you know they mean business.

Boissiere House, located at 12 Queen’s Park West in Port of Spain, is one of the last remnants of a dying breed: a beautiful piece of creole “gingerbread” architecture, characterised by intricate and elegant fretwork.

The house is being offered for sale – asking price US$10m – but as Nicholas Laughlin points out (via Newsday):

Any private buyer willing to pay that will almost certainly bulldoze it and build an office block or posh condominiums to recoup their investment.

He’s right, of course.

And since Boissiere House does not enjoy the status of a heritage site, said property developer would be immune from legal challenge.

And if this old house is destroyed, it would not be the first time art, architecture and history would have been sacrificed to progress, and not least in this country.

I am a big believer in conserving and celebrating Trinidad’s architectural heritage, and I’m not just referring to landmarks like Boissiere. Because all over Trinidad – from Aripita Avenue to Vistabella – beautiful old houses languish in disrepair, or are broken down in order to construct office blocks or social housing.

Land in this country is not yet so scarce as to make such destruction anything but wanton; and our contempt for our built enviornment reeks of nouveau riche incivility.

Architecture matters. Consider Jeremy Taylor’s recent post over at Notes from Port of Spain, in which he declaims the the “dirty concrete” of the Central Bank, and the “ramshackle dockfront.”

Says he:

The buildings are dramatically out of scale and out of style with the rest of the city, and they speak of money, power, and facelessness, a truly ominous combination. They say that someone in this mad little island aspires to make us like Miami or New York by building skyscrapers; someone has the wild idea that development can be represented by size.

And have you really looked at the architecture of these buildings? It is so bad, so impersonal and anonymous, that truly these buildings could be set down in any city in the world, and it really wouldn’t matter which. There is not a shred of Caribbean in them, not the faintest echo of Trinidadian-ness: no awareness of a tropical, almost equatorial climate, no thought of energy saving, no anxiety about the sea rising and spilling over the waterfront.

They are just big, blank, anonymous, unimaginative, uncreative. In a word, gross. Without taste, without elegance, without grace. Just big. Just expensive.

Exactly. As architect Rudlynne Roberts told Newsday:

The worth of [Boissiere] is in its architecture. Its method of construction, design and layout tells us how people lived during that time.

And more than that, the building is beautiful – unlike the unrelenting concrete monoliths local developers and government seem to equate with progress.

Nicholas Laughlin wants to “persuade the government that the Boissiere House is a crucial and irreplaceable part of our national heritage, that it must be bought by the state, restored, and put to appropriate public use.”

He also offers a list of practical suggestions, including:

– Tell people the Boissiere House is in danger.
– Forward this blog post to everyone you know who might be concerned.
– If you have a blog, write your own post there, or link to this.
– Write a letter to the editor.
– If you work in the media, try to get your newspaper or station to run a story.
– If you own a camera, stop by 12 Queen’s Park West, take some photos, post them online, or just forward them to friends.
– If you know someone in the Ministry of Culture, tell them you’re concerned and ask them to speak to their superior about saving the Boissiere House.
– Call Town and Country and urge them not to give planning permission for a new building on this site.
– Call the National Trust and ask what you can do to help.
– If you know a politician of any party on any level, tell them you’re concerned and ask them to talk to their party leadership.
– Read about the history of the house in Olga Mavrogordato’s book Voices in the Street, or John Newel Lewis’s book Ajoupa, and share this with others.
– Come to the event we’re planning at Alice Yard next week Friday to discuss why this and other historic buildings are worth preserving.
– Email me (my address is in the sidebar to the right) and tell me you’d like to be on a mailing list to hear about further efforts. A website is on its way, also an online petition.
– If you know a member of the Boissiere family that owns the house, ask them to consider putting a no-demolition clause in the sale contract, or to negotiate with the government to arrive at a reasonable sale price that might make it easier to save the building.
– And if you are a multi-millionaire property developer, consider doing something truly enlightened: buy the house, pay to have it restored, put it to some use that will not damage its fabric.
– Finally: ask yourself if you’d be willing to stand in the hot sun with a placard, if it comes to that.

It may well come to that.