Trinidad & Tobago

NAR says Manning not humane with Caroni

Port-of-Spain — Lennox Sankersingh, political leader of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR), has accused the PNM government of not dealing with Caroni 1975 Ltd in a humane and productive way.

"The NAR states categorically that it agrees with the restructuring of Caroni (1975) Ltd. but it must be done but in a humane way," said Sankersingh last week.

Sankersingh believed that the current plan by the PNM government would upset the social balance, "as too many people would be displaced at the same time."

"Retrenching 9,000 workers can only lead to chaos," he commented.

Sankersingh cited this as a tragedy compounded by the fact that government had no alternative, concrete plans for creating other forms of employment for these people. The NAR leader also blamed the PNM for Caroni’s present situation.

He contended that during the oil boom they (PNM) had ignored the state owned company and allowed it to deteriorate.

Sankersingh then went on to condemn the PNM for creating another ‘DEWD system’ referring to the CECEP programme.

He contended that CECEP lacked accountability and had no planning in relation to the local government bodies.

Another serious danger of the programme was deemed to be the influx of party politics in community councils and local government bodies, which said Sankersingh, would lead to the overall destruction of local government.

Shifting to the topic of crime, no one was spared from blame. "We breed the criminals in many ways, just look at the prison system," he cried.

He called for prison reform, which he believed could not be truly addressed until our political system was overhauled.

"Governance is currently based on antagonism and such needs to be changed before crime can be reduced," he remarked.

Health Minister in search for Cuban doctors

Port-of-Spain — Health Minister Colm Imbert has left for Cuba to initiate discussions for the recruitment of doctors and nurses to take up local positions.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning announced at a People’s National Movement meeting at Couva on Saturday that Imbert will be part of a delegation led by Foreign Affairs Minister Knowlson Gift to hold discussions with the Cuban Government.

Manning said the objective is "to see whether and to what extent, Cuban medical personnel — who incidentally are world renowned — are available to the health services in Trinidad and Tobago, so we can provide a better service for all our people."

During a month-long impasse, which near crippled services at the major public hospitals earlier this year, Government had threatened to bring in Cuban doctors to fill positions vacated by local medical practitioners.

The Medical Practitioners Association strenuously objected the move and even wrote to Cuban president Fidel Castro informing him that any doctors coming here would be doing so as "scab labourers".

Dr Colin Furlonge, president of MPATT, said he had no comment to make in response to Manning’s announcement.

Manning, recalling "difficulty in medical services" during the month of January, said the PNM wants to make it clear that the Cuban initiative is not related specifically to that industrial impasse.

He said the move is part of the government’s strategy to continue to improve medical services in the country.

‘Run, Rahael, run!’

Govt minister takes to his heels after stormy Caroni meeting

By Sandra Chouthi

Special to Indo Caribbean World

Port-of-Spain — The government’s offer of voluntary separation of employment programme (VSEP) to thousands of workers of the unprofitable Caroni (1975) Ltd came to a head last week when Agriculture Minister John Rahael had to flee from angry sugar workers on March 13.

The next day, Rahael, a Syrian businessman, came in for heavy heckling from Opposition Members of Parliament when the Lower House met. "Run, Rahael, run, run in (your) Reeboks!" the MPs shouted to Rahael, laughing, as he rose to answer questions on the Order Paper.

Rahael answered his questions briefly and returned to his seat. Pointe-a-Pierre MP Gillian Lucky also had some choice words for Rahael. If he had listened, she said, he would not have had to run. "Unlike Forrest Gump," Lucky said, "he didn’t have crutches, but he had to run in his Reeboks." Rahael had met with the sugar workers at the Rudranath Capildeo Learning Resource Centre in McBean, Couva, but left hurriedly after the meeting turned into a shouting match.

The March 13 incident came on the heels of Couva South MP Kelvin Ramnath and Rudranath Indarsingh, president of the All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Trade Union, stating to the government that they could not guarantee its safety if its ministers were to find themselves in central Trinidad.

The government has offered VSEP to the company’s 9,000 workers. In published full-page newspaper advertisements, the company has stated that the actuarial firm of Bacon, Woodrow and de Souza conducted several actuarial reviews of its daily paid pension plans, and the most recent review showed that an injection of (Can) $81 million is required to fully fund pension payments to daily paid workers as they become due.

"In early January 2003, the government agreed to fund the deficit to the full extent as determined by the actuaries. This decision of Cabinet was communicated to all stakeholders," the February 23 ad stated.

The government’s public relations campaign on Caroni (1975) Ltd has been executed along the lines of the VSEP being part of its restructuring plans for the company. Rahael, speaking to members of the Pt Lisas Chamber of Commerce on March 13, said that the Caroni VSEP plan was good for central Trinidad. All viable agricultural and commercial lands owned by the State sugar producer will be distributed to employees as part of government’s drive to ensure that they reap the maximum benefits from accepting VSEP, Rahael said.

Part of the public relations has been to carry radio ads about different aspects of the plan - VSEP, land distribution and psychological and financial counselling and retraining for those who might be affected by the changes.

The Basdeo Panday-led United National Congress, now in Opposition, has been urging sugar workers to "take to the streets to fight government’s decision to shut down the Brechin Castle sugar factory", which is located in Couva. "We must take to the streets and fight back," declared Wade Mark on February 21 at a public meeting at Gasparillo Junction. "They want to become millionaires through our sweat and blood," Mark shouted. "The fight back starts tonight. We are not prepared to be second-class citizens."

Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal told sugar workers that they will never see government’s promise of land. He accused the People’s National Movement government of being on a warpath and of wanting to destroy sugar workers’ communities, family and their children’s future.

More than 1,000 Caroni workers took to the streets on February 6 when they marched outside Whitehall, the Office of the Prime Minister, wearing red jerseys and carrying cane stalks.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning refused to meet with the protesting workers. "Some of this thing might be politically inspired," Manning said. Explaining why neither he nor any of his ministers went out to meet with them, Manning said: "There was nothing new that could have been added today by going out except to add some kerosene to the fire, which we didn’t intend to do."

Caroni has always operated at a loss. A March 9 newspaper ad stated that the company has for decades relied on its shareholder, the government, to support its operations financially.

"Increased dependence on the shareholder to fund operating deficits and developments in the international sugar markets have dictated that Caroni restructure its operations, becoming more productive and efficient in its operating methods so as to bring about financial viability."

Planning and Development Minister Dr Keith Rowley stated on March 8 at a public meeting in St Augustine that Caroni (1975) Ltd is owing the State more than (Can) $.5 billion; the Water and Sewerage Authority (Can) $5 million, First Citizens Bank (Can) $8.8 million and the National Gas Company (Can) $17 million.

"That has to stop for the benefit of all the people of Trinidad and Tobago," Rowley said. "That Republic of Caroni Ltd, which they want you to believe is different from anything else in this country, can disregard the law and the government just pays. We are saying that is coming to an end and order will return to Caroni Ltd."

Alert out for Al Qaeda

man with T&T passport

Port-of-Spain — The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) last week launched a hunt for a suspected Al Qaeda operative who was said to be holding a Trinidad and Tobago passport and who might be planning an attack on the US

The FBI issued a "be on the lookout" alert for Adnan G El Shukrijumah, 27, who was born in Saudi Arabia and who, it said, might try to enter the US with a Saudi, Canadian or Trinidad and Tobago passport.

"El Shukrijumah is possibly involved with Al Qaeda terrorist activities and, if true, poses a serious threat to US citizens and interests worldwide," the FBI said.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who is chairman of the National Security Council, said last night he was unaware of the FBI request for information on El Shukrijumah’s whereabouts.

"I know nothing of it," a surprised Manning told the media.

When told that El Shukrijumah was thought to have a Trinidad and Tobago passport, among others, Manning said: "A Trinidadian passport? That has not been drawn to my attention at all."

The acting Minister of National Security, Franklin Khan, also said he was "unaware" of the matter.

El-Shukrijumah was recently using the alias Jaafaral al-Tayyar, and the FBI bulletin said word of his plans was based on information obtained from recently captured Al Qaeda operatives.

"The United States has information indicating he may be involved in Al Qaeda and may pose an imminent threat to US interests at home or overseas," the bulletin said.

The suspect is said to have pilot training and may already be in the US planning a "major attack", senior counter-terrorism officials told NBC News. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said authorities feared the man could be "another Mohammed Atta".

The officials who spoke with NBC News said El-Shukrijumah was known to have been in the US since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, living for a time in Miami. The officials said they had no specific information about what El-Shukrijuman, nicknamed "Jaafaral the Pilot", might be planning, but they said his pilot training raised the possibility that he might be planning an airborne attack similar to that carried out by Atta, the ringleader of the 19 Al Qaeda hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks.

Word of the investigation of the possible threat came three days after the Homeland Security Department raised the national terrorist threat assessment to "orange" — the second-highest level on the five-tier alert scheme — out of concern that war with Iraq could trigger terrorist attacks against US interests at home or abroad.

Now kidnappings spread to children

Port-of-Spain — Police Commissioner Hilton Guy last week noted that "kidnappings were spreading and not focussed to one category". He stated this at a media brief last week at the Ministry of National Security at Abercromby Street, Port of Spain.

Guy gave the example of Micha Bernard who was kidnapped two weeks ago to make his point that kidnappings no longer applied to wealthy families as "Bernard is not out from a family of wealth".

Nine-year-old Micha is the son of Marlon Bernard, a Customs Clerk, and Marcia Bernard, a clerk at the Ministry of Industries and Commerce.

Adrianna Ramsingh, aged 8, the daughter of Ramesh, owner of Ramsingh’s Glass Specialists, and Routie Ramsingh, was kidnapped on last Wednesday. Both children have been returned to their families.

Both officials of the Anti-Kidnapping Squad (AKS) and relatives of the children who were kidnapped would not disclose information on whether ransom demands were made for the children’s return.

When Guy was questioned about the new issue of child kidnapping and alleged reports of an increased security presence at schools, he stated "those two persons were not at schools". The Commissioner neither denied nor confirmed the reports.

An official at the AKS also said that he could not comment on alleged reports of an increase in police security at schools. When asked about issue of child kidnapping he said: "If they occur they would be handled like any other kidnapping."

Guy reiterated the policy that the payment of ransom money should not be the "foremost strategy" in dealing with kidnappers. He said that succumbing to kidnappers’ demands set a precedent that kidnapping is a fruitful business.

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