December 21, 2011 issue

Trinidad & Tobago

Unions turn protest 'heat' on

Meanwhile, govt's 5% gaining acceptance
Ancel Roget

By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo-Caribbean World

Port-of-Spain - Trinidad and Tobago's State of Emergency officially ended on December 5 and four days later trade unions were marching on the streets of Port-of-Spain. The unions were protesting the government's five percent increase offer for public sector wage negotiations.
The unions hit the streets with some relief after 107 days of not being able to engage in any protest action. They claimed the SoE had been deliberately called by the government to control their ability to converge and stage protest action.
Heading the protestors was Ancel Roget, president of the Oilfield Workers' Trade Union. Wearing yellow, maroon and green T-shirts, union members pounded the streets chanting slogans.

Michael Annisette
The promise was made that January 2012 would be the intensive, with many protests planned to take place nationwide
"January will be the hottest month this country has ever seen as the trade unions will not just be addressing the issue of the five percent wage offer, but the issue of injustice workers are faced with in this country," Roget said.
Roget said the SoE had served to unite the trade union movement and the working class, and that they would not be forgiving Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for calling what he described as a "failed" SoE.
Neither the blazing sun nor the pouring rain stopped the marchers. They chanted slogans and belted out songs of solidarity to the loud accompaniment of drums and horns.
However, despite the protests over the five percent, and the promise for an increase in its the intensity of the marches, over the weekend it was revealed that yet another union had accepted the government's offer.
News of the latest settlement came on Friday that the negotiating team of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers Trade Union, led by Michael Annisette, had accepted the five percent.
Annisette was among union leaders who repeatedly and publicly criticised president of the Public Services Association Watson Duke for accepting the government's deal.
In its wage and salaries negotiations offer to the union, the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago suggested two percent in the first year, one percent in the second year and another two percent for the third year of the 2008-2010 negotiation period. There would be the consolidation of the Cost of Living Allowance for the first year only.
The counter-offer repeated those annual percentages of two percent, one percent, two percent for the three year period, but called for the consolidation of COLA at the beginning of each year instead.
"The government has accepted the counter-offer," Transport Minister Devant Maharaj said. He stepped into the stalled negotiations during the height of a port shutdown last week.
Later, Annisette admitted that he settled for the same five percent over the three years of the negotiation period. However, he said his calculations provided a double COLA for the workers. The government accepted this "without even realising what they accepted," he said, adding: "Who catch who?"
Additionally, "I am proud to say that I outfoxed the government because there is a sting in the tail of that counter offer. Yes, there are elements of the five percent in it, but there's more to it than that."
He admitted: "Yes, the two, one, two still exists," he said, referring to the government's offer of two percent in the first year, one percent in the second year and another two percent in the third year.
"But by including our COLA, the percentage increases to anywhere between nine to 16 percent for workers," he said.
Annisette said his problem was that the SWWTU settlement was being compared to that of fellow trade union leader Duke.
"That is an unfair comparison. What Duke agreed to is nothing like what the SWWTU proposed," he said.
Last Friday evening, the management of the PATT and the SWWTU agreed to facilitate an interim payment to workers by the middle of this week. Work then resumed on the stalled port by the 11 pm shift that night.
Annisette blamed political grandstanding and government public relations for the leak of both sides of the proposals. He said he was also offended by the comparison to PSA president Duke, who accepted the government's offer in April.
Annisette said his proposal could actually open the door for other unions to follow, since he believed he got a "never before seen" issue settled.
As head of the National Trade Union Centre, Annisette's agreement may leave the other unions under the NATUC banner open to a similar settlement with the government.
Transport Minister Maharaj confirmed that the union's counter offer was verbally accepted and there was a "gentleman's agreement in good faith" with the union. That good faith agreement effectively closed off salary and wage negotiations for port workers.
"They (the government) asked me if they could go, and say I settled for the five percent and I tell them go ahead, cause I know what was coming. I know what my counter offer had in it," he said.
Colin Lucas, PATT's general manager, confirmed the agreement on the first year and said he expected negotiations on other non-cost and periphery items to resume this week.
A government source though confirmed it was pleased with the settlement. The source added that continuing negotiations were on "other issues, but the main cost item of salaries and wages was settled".
Former PSC chairman sues President
Nizam Mohammed

Port-of-Spain - Former chairman of the Police Service Commission attorney Nizam Mohammed last Friday filed a lawsuit seeking to prove the decision of President George Maxwell Richards to revoke his appointment as PSC chairman was unconstitutional.
Mohammed contends that Richards acted as a result of political pressure, and gave Mohammed no chance to defend himself before he was fired. He wants the decision of Richards to be declared null and void.
The constitutional motion, in which the Attorney General is cited as the defendant, was filed in the San Fernando High Court last Friday.
Mohammed is being represented by Fyard Hosein, Ravi Mungalsingh, Faraaz Mohammed, Sasha Bridgemohansingh and Rishi Dass.
Mohammed outlined in the action that the PSC has the power to appoint persons to the position of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of Police, and to remove from office and discipline these persons. In addition, the PSC can hear and determine appeals brought from decisions of the Commissioner of Police as a result of disciplinary proceedings.
Mohammed submitted that the PSC is intended by the Constitution to be an autonomous body to insulate it against political influence.
Mohammed, who was appointed to the PSC on July 21, 2010, stated, in the suit, the events that led to his firing. He stated that on March 25 this year, he and the other four members of the PSC attended a meeting, in the Parliamentary Chamber, of the Joint Select Committee appointed to consider and report to the Parliament on Service Commissions.
The suit states that certain statements were made concerning the issue of ethnic composition of the top-most level of the Police Service and the Promotions Advisory Board of the Police Service.
Mohammed submitted that he made the statement in his capacity as PSC chairman under the cloak and protection of parliamentary privilege and was of the belief that the issue required mature and dispassionate discussion and consideration.
Mohammed contends he expressly stated to the JSC that he did not advocate affirmative action, but meritocracy.
Three days later, the Office of the Prime Minister issued a statement which stated, in part, that Mohammed "must be held accountable for his inflammatory and unwise statements".
The following day, Mohammed submitted, the Leader of the Opposition met with the President and urged Richards to revoke Mohammed's appointment for "acting irresponsibly".
On the same day, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar met with the President, after which the Prime Minister stated that it was now up to the Richards to act.
On April 1, Mohammed stated, he met President Richards, who informed him that he (Richards) had consulted with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and had received two letters from three members of the PSC, complaining about his chairmanship.
Mohammed claims he was told by President Richards that the reference to ethnic imbalance in the Police Service at the highest rank was outside the remit of the PSC and amounted to "irresponsibility".
Mohammed also stated, in court documents, he was told by the President that the complaints of the three members of the PSC meant that, in failing to hold the membership of the Commission together, he was "incompetent" within the meaning of Section 122A(1) (f) of the Constitution.
According to Section 122A(3) of the Constitution, the President shall, after consultation with the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition, terminate the appointment of a member of the PSC who fails to perform his duties in a responsible or timely manner, or demonstrates a lack of competence to perform his duties.
Mohammed claims he was given no reasonable opportunity to respond to the matters raised by Richards, or what was contained in the letters sent by members of the PSC.
Neither, said Mohammed, did he have an opportunity to provide Richards with a legal opinion so that Richards could consider whether the matters alleged against Mohammed fell within the constitutional grounds for termination.
On April 4, Mohammed stated, Government Information Services Ltd issued a media release, stating that his appointment as chairman of the PSC had been revoked, and he received a letter confirming the revocation.
Mohammed submitted that Section 38 (1) states the President shall not be answerable to any court for the performance of the functions of his office or for any act done by him in the performance of those functions.
However, Mohammed states, Section 38 (1) does not preclude the court from enquiring whether the President exercised his power of termination in contravention of Mohammed's right to due process and procedural fairness.
The matter is slated to be before Justice Judith Jones in 2012.


AG not appealing extradition matter

Port-of-Spain - Attorney General Anand Ramlogan has decided not to appeal the decision of a High Court judge to quash the extradition of businessmen Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Ferguson. He made the announcement Monday in a press release, mere minutes after the deadline for the State's appeal had lapsed.
In making the announcement, Ramlogan said after consultation with international extradition expert, James Lewis, QC, he felt an appeal would not "advance the ends of justice".
Ramlogan said: "One does not appeal for the sake of appealing. Although there may be certain aspect of the judgment which may be open for criticism, Lewis has advised that such criticisms may not provide grounds of appeal of sufficient gravity that would lead inexorably to an overturning of his decision."
He added: "I have come to the view that the ends of justice will be served by foregoing the exercise of the undoubted right of appeal and allowing the matters currently before the local courts to be proceeded with."
On November 7, Justice Ronnie Boodoosingh in a 57-page judgment quashed the extradition orders which were signed by Ramlogan last year for both businessmen.


50,000 kids benefit from PM's Christmas gifts
Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar

Port-of-Spain - More than 50,000 children nationwide have benefited from Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's 2011 Christmas toy distribution programme over the last few weeks — at no cost to the taxpayer.
Persad-Bissessar gave the figure and facts last week as she addressed hundreds of children and their parents from districts in North/West Trinidad and handed out gifts. It was the sixth stop in Persad- Bissessar's toy distribution drive which she embarked upon recently, going to various parts of the country, including Tobago. The event took place in blistering sunshine at the Jean Pierre Complex, Port-of-Spain. It attracted young and old from Opposition PNM constituencies—Belmont, Laventille, Basilon Street, Harpe Place, John John, the three Diego Martin constituencies and Duncan Street.
Scores of PTSC buses brought participants to the venue. Persad-Bissessar, addressing the gathering, said the toy project was not funded by taxpayers, but by corporate businesses. She said many people had been working on the project for months and help was voluntary. She particularly expressed thanks to the Siparia Women's Association and Siparia Men's Association. The toy distribution "drive" was a concept Persad-Bissessar started several years ago in her Siparia constituency when she was an Opposition MP. She has continued to expand it in the government to include children from all over Trinidad and Tobago. Speaking to the media while handing out teddy bears and other toys, Persad-Bissessar dispelled the perception that the Children's Life Fund was lacking in finances.
"Just a couple weeks ago Caribbean Airlines donated (US) $5 million to the fund — so there is money in it and more is coming in," she said.
Persad-Bissessar said 2012 would be a better year for children in Trinidad and Tobago. Apart from the Childrens' Life Fund, she reiterated that upgraded legislation to enact a Children's Authority to protect children would soon go before the Parliament.
"That legislation will be quite important for us," she said.


Pain-relief drugs beyond reach of cancer patients

Port-of-Spain – Cancer patients in Trinidad and Tobago are in dire need of special pain-relieving drugs, but pleas to the Health Ministry seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
However, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan says the responsibility now rests with Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Cumberbatch and the Food and Drugs Division.
Chairman and medical director of Vitas House Dr Jacqueline Pereira Sabga says there is a need for the policy surrounding the importation of drugs to be revised.
Vitas House, located on the grounds of the St James Infirmary, is a free hospice for the terminally ill cancer patient. The facility, which provides treatment to help relieve cancer-related symptoms (but not cure the disease) opened its doors in October 2008.
"Despite repeated meetings and letter-writing, there has been little or no initiative to rectify this most embarrassing and grievous situation where cancer patients, and to a larger extent the people of this country, are left in agony to bear not only an inefficient system, but a system that cannot facilitate the relief of pain," Pereira Sabga said.
"Patients are left with both emotional and physical pain and disease that a failing medical system cannot amend. This must be unacceptable."
Pereira Sabga said there have been several requests over the past four years for the government to expand the range and quantity of pain-relief medication imported into the country.
"On many occasions, the limited supply of pain medications is rapidly depleted and there are gaps where substandard regimes are hatched to attempt to keep patients relatively pain-free.
"In a health system that has at its disposal impressive anti-cancer medications that are in fact saving lives, we are failing to realise that as our patients live, their treatment may consist of long-term pain management.
"For those who are not as fortunate, we must also facilitate a death that is humane, dignified and pain-free."
Khan acknowledged the problem has been this way for some time. He said the issue was raised with him and he had promised to have the Food and Drugs Division address it.
"I have been trying my best over the past few months to organise the narcotic analgesic patches," Khan said.
"I believe in palliative care as well as care for the terminally ill. (But) what has been happening is that a lot of people believe that by giving terminally ill patients narcotic analgesics, they are in some way committing euthanasia, so they tend to hold back from giving out the narcotic analgesics.
"I am all for having them (Vitas House) bringing in the narcotic analgesic patches themselves. I agree with Dr Sabga that it has been very long in coming, so I could understand why she is frustrated."


Carib community gets more land from government

Port-of-Spain – The government's approval of 25 acres of land to recreate an Amerindian Heritage Village means that the local Carib community has finally found a place they could call home, after more than 40 years of lobbying.
Carib Queen Jennifer Cassar told the media last week that Cabinet's approval to increase the acreage of land from five percent, which was granted by the previous government, was "very welcome news."
Multiculturalism Minister, Winston Peters, announced the approval at a post-Cabinet press conference held at the Coco Reef Hotel in Tobago last Thursday.
"We have finally found a place we can call home," Cassar said, adding "our plans to showcase and keep our heritage alive will now come to fruition once the lands have been handed over."
Cassar was high in praise of Ricardo Bharath Hernandez, chief of the Santa Rosa First People's Community, popularly known as the Santa Rosa Carib Community — who, as a young man — began to lobby the government for lands to develop a heritage site. That was over 40 years ago.
"I must give kudos to the government for honouring their promise they made just over a year ago."
The Carib community is about 600 in Trinidad, and the Santa Rosa First People's Community, as an organisation, has a membership of over 100.
Hernandez said he saw the need for a place of pride with which the indigenous people could identify. "I'm just pleased that approval has finally been given for something more tangible. There were times when I felt very depressed when nothing was happening. I'm just happy we didn't give up."
Prior to approval being granted for five acres by the previous People's National Movement administration, Hernandez said, the community had sought 100 acres. The sum of money quoted for the community to survey 100 acres of land at the time was too much. The government then approved five acres.
When asked about the immediate plans for the land, which the community has identified along the Blanchisseuse Road, Cassar said that one of the first objectives will be to build a meeting place to plan the way forward. This meeting place will be built mainly of indigenous materials.
Another facility will be a guest house, which will include a blend of traditional and modern architectural designs. Also included in the plans is a cassava factory.
The Blanchisseuse Road was chosen, she said, because it includes a forested tract of land, which could be preserved for eco-tourism, and to develop a cassava farm.
The project, she said will be a social and economic venture, which while contributing to the economy through tourism, will preserve the Amerindian cultural heritage, including cuisine, art and craft. State agencies and some private sector entities, she said have already indicated a willingness to assist financially in the development of the heritage site.
She said, "We, too, have plans for fundraising activities."


Basdeo Panday destroying legacy says Rambachan
Port-of-Spain - By his own actions former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday will destroy his political legacy in the United National Congress, says Foreign Affairs Minister Surujrattan Rambachan. He was responding to the former political leader's decision to put up a slate to challenge Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar for leadership of the party.
Rambachan, who also signalled his intention to offer himself for re-election as deputy political leader in the election due next year, said Panday is "still smarting from defeat he got at the hands of Kamla Persad-Bissessar." At the time, Rambachan was at a hamper distribution exercise in his Tabaquite constituency.
Rambachan said Panday "seems to be caught up in the past." He said he believes the former prime minister still has a contribution to make to the party but he is not taking advantage of opportunities available to him.
"Mr Panday has a glorious opportunity to lend his political skills to the party and the country. But by his own actions he is destroying the legacy he could have built and left. I think it is most unfortunate," Rambachan said.
The Tabaquite MP dismissed Panday's announcement that he is putting together a slate to contest the election as one of "his antics". Said Rambachan: "Mr Panday is man of antics, one doesn't expect more or less from him."
Rambachan said the former UNC leader will have a tough battle on his hands as he will be facing a prime minister who garnered the most votes in the 2010 general election. He said Panday will not affect the party. "The UNC is a very strong party under the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar. The UNC was a party that did not have any possibility of winning any election under the leadership of Mr Panday. In fact, Mr Panday lost five general elections and a number of local government elections. With the advent of our leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar we won a constitutional majority in the Parliament," Rambachan declared.
He said he was not worried about any candidate that Panday offered on his slate to oppose him.
"That candidate has to get 10,384 votes first so I am not worried at all. Not at all," Rambachan declared confidently.
The hamper distribution was a joint initiative between Rambachan and Westmoorings-based, private tutor, Meiling Lee Wohing and pupils of her school. Wohing said it was the fifth year she and the students were delivering Christmas cheer in the Tabaquite constituency. She said the initiative was part of her approach to teaching the students to develop the community. Usually, she said, they deliver the hampers for distribution but this year they are personally delivering hampers to 62 families.
"When you come to the individual's home and you learn about their life they actually become the teachers and teach us things that we need to learn. So it becomes an exchange of ideas. So that we could continue to improve and being better people and being people who are aware of what it means to build communities within your country," she said.
A single mother of three, Kasiran Baby Ali, 51, of Happy Hill, Gasparillo, expressed gratitude for the gesture. Rambachan said he was touched by Ali's plight and her living conditions. He said he would ensure that the woman's house was wired so she would have electricity for Christmas.
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