Sunday 30th January, 2005

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Protect us from this runaway train

I am issuing an appeal to Finance Minister Patrick Manning and his cabinet to insulate and safeguard the people’s tax coffers from the squandermania being foisted on unsuspecting Trinbagonians by Minister of Transport Franklin Khan.

This is the engineer minister who caused to be built an expensive, quite visible, anti-flooding embankment located east of the Sir Solomon Hochoy Highway extending from Guayamare River to Munroe Road, Cunupia. He then inserted cylindrical openings in the wall to allow the same flood waters, which he wanted to keep out, to inundate the highway again.

This is the same Works Minister who spent $28 million of our tax dollars to repave the Piarco runway. The contractor added tsunami waves in the tarmac. Pilots now have to negotiate these bumps to avoid damaging their landing gear. To date no one, including the local paving company, has been held culpable for wasting our money on shoddy work.

This is the know-it-all minister/chairman of the People’s National Movement, smiling all the way to our treasury, who announced an almost exhaustive network of new roads to connect the country. He has also issued a unilateral embargo on new 12-seater maxi taxis without any surveys being conducted.

He established a National Infrastructure Co to supervise road and infrastructure construction, yet proceeds after all of this to squander $23.9 million of tax dollars to engage the services of a dubious US company, being investigated by the FBI, Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas to conduct a National Transportation Study.

The Valleys Connector Link Road, the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway extension to Sangre Grande, the two expressways connecting San Fernando to Point Fortin and Mayaro, the Caroni Swamp road to Chaguanas, the Caroni North Bank link expressway to Piarco and the proposed East-West and North-South Light Railways and the water taxi from South, etc are all on Khan’s drawing boards.

How can anyone justify this obscene, exorbitantly priced and unnecessary National Transportation Study when Minister Khan knows it all and has already issued his edict? Is it to validate his ideas to buy 18 months to justify continuing non-performance, perennial traffic congestion, loss of manpower hours and potential delay of the Interchange?

This is the unique minister endowed with a rare speciality for blaming any and all developments/housing located near to river banks. He now cites Chaguanas as having been foolishly located on the banks of the Caparo Ravine.

He unilaterally embarks on a most expensive $120 million Mamoral Dam against the advice of the marooned people of Caparo, who know the ground, the source of the flooding and the requisite remedial measures better than him.

According to the Caparo residents’ spokesperson, the $120 million contract approved to build the Mamoral Dam “had been signed, sealed and was being forced down the throats of the villagers without consultations.”



Can the Catholic Church still kill?

The documentary “Can Condoms Kill?”, which aired on TV6 on January 23, should more aptly be named “Can The Catholic Church Kill?”

Of course, all of us are well acquainted with the bloody history of the church (my church) and know the answer is an emphatic “Yes!”

As a Catholic, I am painfully aware that, not only is my church responsible for the genocide of the Amerindians, but also of many others during the Spanish Inquisition.

One near casualty of the church was Galileo, who defied church dogma that Earth was the centre of the universe and that the sun and other stars moved around it.

Even the youngest Discovery Channel viewer will laugh at these pompous, educated professors and cardinals of the church, who expounded such fairy tales and were willing to kill for them. We have certainly come a long way, or have we? At the end of the documentary, there was an interview with a Ugandan couple, with the wife insisting she never used a condom during sex with her HIV-infected husband, because to do so would be a sin and would deny her entry to heaven.

Looking at the Ugandan cardinal smugly supporting her suicidal belief, my heart bled. It was like looking at Spanish soldiers dealing out their divine retribution upon those who dared to rise up against their enslavers—the real Martyrs of San Rafael.



Kids facing death to cross highway

I received the sad news of an innocent child, Anna Lisa Ali, hit by a vehicle a few days ago crossing the highway from Carlsen Field. This child, together with many others, are forced to risk their lives crossing the busy highway every day to get to and from school. Many lives have already been lost in this area as a result of this dangerous practice.

Isn’t it the responsibility of a “caring government” to protect the lives of our innocent? Why do people have to plead for years for their government to provide them with a safe way for their children to get to school? Are you telling us that the cry of the poor is of less importance than that of the rich and influential?

Is the cost of an overpass or the “inconvenience” of traffic lights greater than the blood of innocent children? Are you prepared to compensate this family for the life of their child? Are you doing anything to help them now?

I cry out to our government ministers: “Would you allow your children to cross this highway to get to school? Do your children alone have the right to safety? Are they the only ones that deserve a secure future? What would you do to protect the life of your child?”

Please, please do something now! Don’t say that you care, prove it!


Georgia, USA

Organ donor card is vital

FINALLY, it seems the government of T&T is doing something that makes total sense. I am referring to the government’s decision to start up a voluntary organ donation and transplant programme in the country in July 2005.

From the announcement by Health Minister John Rahael, it is not clear, however, just how the programme will be implemented.

By what means will medical personnel know that someone is an organ donor, so they can remove their organs? In most places that I know the programme to work, the person carries a wallet-size organ donor card; or the fact that she/he is a donor is shown on their driver’s licence.

This is something new to the sensibilities of Trinbagonians and thus people need to have the benefits of this new programme explained to them. The government should embark on an education/advertisement campaign to sell the benefits of this donation programme, along with showing the protections under the law, so people can be assured that the programme will not abuse them and their families.

They may also have to win over those with religious and other ethical objections to their efforts. But I believe with time, the public will come to realise the benefits of an organ donor programme and will volunteer their organs to the good of mankind.

As callous as it may sound, with the number of murder and accident victims in the country whose organs now go to waste, while many other people who could use those organs, die needlessly, it is a shame. It is good to see the government willing to address the problem with a sensible and humane solution.

I applaud the government for their forward thinking on the subject and I wish them all success in advancing this lifesaving endeavour, especially for cornea, liver and kidney transplant surgeries.

Now let’s see how the programme will be administered.

I am sure the many doctors with these surgical specialities will soon get an opportunity to exercise their skills and help to extend the lives of many people.

Another step toward Vision 2020. Congrats T&T!


Via e-mail

Milestones on path to dictatorship

As one whose age has afforded him the opportunity of seeing the People’s National Movement (PNM) come and go more than once, please permit the following observations.

While national sentiment and interest are offended by perceptions of Israeli imperialism and American aggression, it is of significant import that neither of these offenders of local sensibilities may be accused of waging war against their own—on behalf of, perhaps, but against, never.

That dubious “honour” is the sole “achievement” of the current PNM administration, splurging new-found hydrocarbon wealth in all the wrong places.

That urban sensibility was scarcely disturbed by the closure of Caroni (1975) Ltd, without adequate provision for families and dependants of 9,000-plus employees displaced at the stroke of a pen—and the dire consequences for surrounding towns and villages affected, on spurious grounds of economic viability—is a sad indictment on ethnic, cultural and social insensitivity.

That was a politically motivated act of economic and cultural aggression against an ethnic majority, perceived as the only effective area of opposition to the ruling administration and deserved recognition and condemnation as such. For this atrocity, the PNM claims and is afforded credit for “biting the bullet”!

It remains, however, as heinous an aggression as any of the excesses of Israel or the USA, perpetrated against us all, a fact which those who applauded loudest have begun, to their own consternation, to realise.

The justification from an administration boasting of billions of dollars diverted to politically expedient Cepep and URP, million-dollar bail-outs for Liat and emergency relief for all and sundry, while Central Trinidad remains inundated by flood and hollow promises, is not merely specious, it is an insult to all, save beneficiaries of political nepotism, such as party hacks, criminal dons and unrepentant terrorists.

The real message is “today Caroni, tomorrow the rest.”

The tragedy since December 12, 2001 for T&T is the politically inspired division of society into We and Them. And the We people have been too lulled by the politics of mass distraction to either recognise, or accept that the same bells which sounded Caroni's requiem are tolling now for them.

As Caroni went yesteryear, so too will all independent thought and critical judgment follow tomorrow, regardless of ethnic, cultural and economic similarities or differences. In such circumstances, Prime Minister Patrick Manning might be better concerned with the prospect of secession in Caroni, rather than in Tobago!

Expressions of genuine grief at the fate of politically displaced employees of the National Broadcasting Network (NBN), so long a well loved constant in national life, from a populace cowering in apathy and fear since 24/12/01 at criminal and social anarchy, smack of nothing more than poetic justice.

From a fickle society, so easily whipped into a frenzy of indignation at the only productive and equitable elected administration to date, crocodile tears at the silencing of NBN is simply “too little too late.”

The unwarranted and premature destruction of a national icon is merely another instalment on the price of their mythical “deliverance” from “corruption” into the hands of manic incompetence, determined to re-fashion both the national psyche and its physiognomy in its own warped image and likeness, as milestones on a path to dictatorship.

Concerned citizens may well inquire, though they will never be dignified with a response, how long NBN may have continued to perform for the community, and at what fraction of the money which their government proposes to expend on the relocation of their Parliament in order to massage the vanity of their Prime Minister.

As today's mourners adapt to the latest PNM atrocity and resume their somnolent, political apathy and myopia under which the party’s leadership has perpetrated its selective wickedness, they might be assured that neither NBN, Caroni nor our hallowed Red House will be the only victims of a PNM rampage through all we hold near and dear.

Nor will a PNM-dominated Tobago be spared under Orville London, in whom, with Biblical portent, Manning has declared himself “well pleased”.



Poor nations aiding rich

ON January 1, a new era in the international trade in textiles came into being.

The 30-year-old MultiFibre Agreement (MFA), established under the Gatt (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) rules in 1970, and renewed every five years in the various Gatt rounds of negotiations, came to an end on December 31, 2004.

It is interesting to recall that the agreement was requested by the more prosperous industrialised textile-producing countries to allow them time to adjust their industries as they face intense competition from developing countries, eg Bangladesh, India and others in Asia and Latin America.

It was to allow time for a structural adjustment programme like those so popular with the IMF (International Monetary Fund), but in this case, it was developed countries which requested protection of their textile producers through quota restrictions and tariffs on their imports from poorer countries.

And it was the rich countries which kept requesting a renewal of this protective agreement, so detrimental to the competitive poorer countries. In fact, at one time, when the poorer producing countries resisted renewing what was initially a temporary concession, the rich countries demanded compensation for loss of earnings!

The MFA can be described as the longest Third World aid programme to the First World over a period when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

The MFA survived the metamorphosis of Gatt into the WTO (World Trade Organisation). But the ministerial meetings of the WTO in Seattle, Doha and Cancun could no longer persuade poor countries to perpetuate the status quo.

As the Asian textile producers are poised to make large gains in the markets of rich countries for textiles, rich countries are resorting to all means to frustrate such an attempt. Pressure is being placed on China to increase the value of its currency to eliminate the advantage of lower prices.

Pressure is also being applied to place an export tax and to voluntarily restrict the volume of its exports. Rich countries are considering imposing taxes on imports, considering them a penalty for “dumping”, ie selling products at a lower price than is available domestically.

There are all sorts of innovative ways of protecting domestic textile industries, and the rich industrialised countries have a long experience in all sorts of creative ways of frustrating the just demands of poor countries to gain the benefit of their competitive advantage.

To underscore the importance of textile production to the developing countries’ economies, it is worth recalling that a Gandhi-inspired trigger to the emancipation of India from British exploitation was the reclaiming of its centuries-old textile industry, eloquently symbolised by the spinning wheel, now occupying a place of honour on the flag of a free India.



Landslides a result of slackness

I WISH to address a very serious issue facing our country: the problem of landslides.

From the media, we seem to be hearing all about the plethora of events themselves, yet there seems to be some reluctance to discuss the mechanics behind their occurrence.

It is wonderful to hear the Government will be expending the capital to fix the problems, but let’s hope they’re taking the right approach and not spending money in vain. People seem to be hearing only about rainfall as a factor in the onslaught of landslides, where it is merely one of many factors.

Why the hills are falling down:

If we have been paying close attention to media reports, we may have noticed that for the most part, landslides are happening along parts of the Northern Range which were cut a long time ago; along the North Coast roads; and around homes that were established in the hills many years ago.

The cutting that was done to facilitate construction of the North Coast Road, for example, produced slopes along the sides that were almost perpendicular to the roads. These steeply-angled slopes were then left without the protection of any sort of retaining measures like walls or gabions, probably because the cost of building them would have been much too prohibitive.

Along many parts of these roads, rock layers dip or slope downwards toward the roadway, which heightens a slope’s vulnerability to failure.

The roads along the Northern Range were cut more than half a century ago. The range is made up of metamorphic rock that is weakened by a pervasive system of faults and joints (the cracks and lines you see as you drive to Maracas or along the Lady Young Road).

What has happened is that the rock has been weathered, or broken down by natural factors such as air, rainfall, temperature and time. The longer the slopes are exposed, the more weathered they become. This makes the rock become very weak and crumbly and it is predisposed to falls or slips down the very steeply cut slopes.

Because the rocks are cracked up by joints and faults and have become crumbly with weathering, it is very easy for water to filter into them. Water building up within rocks does two things: it makes the rock heavy and increases the internal pressure within the rock; and it lubricates loose material, making perfect conditions for it to slide down a slope.

Here are ways that we have made this situation worse:

Apart from rainfall percolating into the rock during the rainy season, burst Wasa and private water pipes constantly leak into the rock. Additionally, when we put soakaway sewage systems on hillsides, the water filters through the rock causing the same effect.

When we clear away vegetation from the hillsides, we remove vegetation as a buffer and cause water to flow directly onto the rock, accelerating the weathering process.

When we remove trees from hillsides, we remove their roots. Trees and grasses help to hold rock together on hills, even loose, crumbly rock. When those roots are gone, so is their cohesive function. This makes more loose material available for landsliding.

These are the very basics in black and white. The reasons for our landslides are, therefore, once again resultant of the actions of humans without foresight. Actions that took place long ago are affecting us now.

Just imagine then, how our destructive present day actions are already impacting on our children, grandchildren and future generations.

Remember that cliché, “Sustainable Development”? A drastic change in the way we develop our hills is just the beginning of what it might really need to mean.





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