Thursday, 15 October 2009

In Trinidad, "Massa Day Not Done".

The above was the front page of yesterday's Trinidad Express, one of three daily national newspapers.

On Tuesday morning, there was an almighty pile up on the highway going from south to north. The traffic is always heavy on this road so anyone leaving home in south to be at work for 8.00am should leave by 5.00am. Three hours to cover approximately thirty five miles of highway! Of course, the alternative from San Fernando to Port of Spain, is the 'water taxi' but not a great many people trust that completely as it has only been in existence since the beginning of the year and has been known to konk out mid-ocean.

Tuesday morning. Announcements being made on local radio stations that the traffic was backed up for miles and it appeared that several buses and maxi taxis were parked on the hard shoulder. Their occupants had alighted and were sitting on the grass at the side of the highway. The occupants it appeared, were Chinese nationals. It was assumed that one of the vehicles had broken down. Not so! As events unfolded and the traffic was now backed up, bumper to bumper for the best part of twenty miles, it transpired that the workers were staging a 'sit in'. Now very strange things happen in Trinidad but I don't think that there has ever been a demonstration by imported workers. Traffic had come to a stand still not because of an accident but because Trinidadians are macocious (minding other peoples' business) and were stopping to gawk.

Yesterday's newspapers revealed that about eighty five Chinese nationals haven't been paid in months, are eating "dry bread", cannot speak a word of English and would rather return to the crowded streets of Fujian Province than stay to work as labourers in Trinidad. However, they want the money that they claim is owed to them before they leave. So what better way to bring their plight to the notice of the powers-that-be? Bring traffic on a major route to a standstill. I have no problem with the silent demonstration at all because I am aware of just how these people are being treated.

Naturally police (wearing riot gear!) were called to rein them in and escort them from the highway to the administrative branch of the Immigration Department in the capital. Once at Immigration the Chinese workers adamantly refused to be sent back to work and also refused to return to where they were being housed in Central Trinidad.

Some indicated by sign language that they were hungry and patted their pockets as if to illustrate that they were empty. Others took empty water bottles onto the Immigration compound, gesticulating that they were in need of water.

While most could only speak their native language, Mandarin Chinese, the few who did know some English told the media they had come here from the Fujian Province in China about 18 months ago "to make money for family", and were ready to go back home because they had not been paid for several months. They used sign language and gestures to show they were ready to "fly" and be on "a plane to China". They also showed a handwritten letter in English, explaining their plight and asking the Government to intervene, but could not say who had written the letter for them. One of the workers said they were each owed 30,000 yuan (approx USD3,666) for two months of work.

Many citizens who gathered in front the Immigration office expressed concern and sympathy for the men, many of whom they said "looked afraid".

"They have a unique job and they work hard and fast. Unlike most of us they are productive," said one local Chinese man who was passing by. The man said he was not affiliated with the workers in any way but had observed the conditions under which they live in Trinidad at various compounds and felt they were being treated unfairly.

After several hours an official came from the local Embassy of the People's Republic of China after which Embassy officials said they could not decide who was right in the dispute but were only present to ensure that the rights of all their nationals are protected. When the media tried to find out where the men were going for the night, one could only say in broken English, "We do not have idea." However, the group maintained they were not going back to work or to the compound where they are being housed.

This morning the Chinese workers are protesting their alleged mistreatment by Beijing Liujian Construction, the company contracted to work in Trinidad.

Can you imagine people wanting to return to a country that is not known in a positive light for its stance on human rights rather than remain in a so called Democracy?? These people are being made to live in containers - yes containers, with no proper facilities. Shower rooms and toilets are scarce making hygiene non-existent, cooking facilities are makeshift, sleeping arrangements are on the floors and rats think they have died and gone to heaven. Then the government which awarded the contract to the Chinese company expect these people to work eighteen hours a day. Where's the humanity in all this?

Slave trade is alive and well in Trinidad and don't ever let anyone tell you that the words "Massa Day Done" (Public Lecture at Woodford Square, 22 March 1961) said by the very late Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Eric Williams, are true.

Give a man power and he will crucify his very own!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Money Done!

I received the letter below from a friend who is standing for the comparatively newly formed party COP (Congress of the People), this morning.

My adopted country is in a mess and I weep for our children, the poor who are getting poorer, the homeless, the lack of decent health facilities, the waste of money, the crime rate to name but a few of the many things that are very, very wrong.

In typical third world fashion, the Prime Minister wants to change the Constitution obviously with the ulterior motive of making himself Executive President for life.

We have just had a Budget.

“Trinidad and Tobago's Minister of Finance Karen Nunez-Tesheira expects this country's 11.9% inflation to increase further. While delivering her maiden National Budget speech at the Red House in Port of Spain, she also said the Ministry expects the price of oil to fall further. She reported that the government-owned Trinidad Hyatt Regency expects to turn a profit ahead of schedule in 2009. She hinted during her speech that Government wanted to collect more from non-energy businesses.” (Source: Trinidad and Tobago News Blog)

There is to be a property tax reform. One of the comments I have picked up is:

Property tax plan unfair
“This is not about reform or equity. It is simply additional taxation in deficit budgeting brought on by squandermania in a time of plenty. If you fail to pay, Government will simply seize your property.”

In the following letter you will see a reference to “hartless”. Calder Hart, a Canadian, heads UDecott (Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago which is the centre of an ‘on hold’ Commission of Enquiry because there are allegations of corruption, nepotism and the like within the company.

Dear All,

As you may be aware we have issued a National Call to Wear Black on Friday as a protest against Govt squandermania and the fact that they wish to tax the people to pay for their deficit and "hartless (or ful) projects...
I would like to invite all of the national executive and all chairmen and activists to mobilise supporters and friends to wear BLACK on Friday and to Attend a Street Talk at the San Juan Market on Saturday at 10 am sharp wearing BLACK (does not have to be a COP jersey).
This crucial ground assault will be maintained over the next few weeks, with Chaguanas market and San Fernando market following San Juan Saturday. The idea is to actively recruit members of the public and follow up with them.
This exercise is intended to be reviewed and already I have noticed great deficiencies in our ability to mass mobilise on short notice and the use of multiple avenues of communication. Luckily, I would submit a document following this exercise to the natex to consider.
I trust you would come out and bring out numbers for these events. We need to show strength on the ground at these busy public places. I make a special plea to members of the national executive to attend.
Don't forget to wear BLACK on Friday and Saturday.


Dr. Navi Muradali

The top and bottom of it? As they say here, 'Money done!’

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

An Upside Down World

At 7.00am this morning I had half an ear on the BBC World News as I was flitting from room to room, preparing for my day. I heard that South Korea had launched its first rocket from its own territory into space whilst I was in dreamland. The rocket, built with help from Russia was carrying a domestically built satellite aimed at observing the atmosphere and ocean. So dem say!

Korean space launch

"Oh well" I thought, "what an extraordinary waste of money".

The next news item really caught my attention. Giant herd flees Kenya drought.

Kenyan cattle flee drought

According to UN agricultural chiefs, a massive herd of cattle which numbers over 200,000 has fled northern Kenya into the Borena zone in Ethiopia to escape a drought. Migration apparently is normal but this is the largest number in over ten years. Added to that farmers are abandoning their villages in search of water.

Kenya's drought has hit the country's capacity to generate hydro-electricity and last week electricity rationing was introduced. Last January President Kibaki said that 10 million Kenyans were facing starvation. Today it was reported that school holidays have been cancelled so that children can go to school and receive at least one decent meal a day. Stocks of oil, rice and other basics are kept in some school areas and children are known to take their meal home to share with the family. A report says that there are enough stocks to last for approximately two months. What then?


Somalis need aid

More than half the Somali population is in need of humanitarian aid. Conditions in that country have been deteriorating rapidly since the beginning of the year. One in five children are acutely malnourished.

I remember well my mother telling me when I refused to eat something on my plate, that there were starving children in the world and I would think to myself that leaving my food was not going to help them even if I made a food parcel of it. Years later, I told my children the same thing and I suppose they too had their silent thoughts relating to my remarks and the food on their plates. I am fully aware that remarks such as those made to force children into guilt eating is not a good idea and has absolutely no effect on the needs of starving populations, worldwide.

I know governments are to blame for mismanaging their countries. I see it here in this country. I see the ever widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. There are starving families in this oil and gas rich country. Granted most have access to water but not all homes have pipe borne water. In this country which hosted the Fifth Summit of the Americas, people still bathe themselves at stand pipes on the side of the road.

My point?

We are living in an upside-down-world. We are doing nothing or very little to improve the lots
of the starving. Mia Farrow's hunger strike to bring attention to the starving in Darfur does not count.

I am appalled that in this day and age when countries in the Western Hemisphere are promising aid to populations in need as a result of bad governance, that a country has spent four hundred and two million US dollars on a rocket in an ambitious bid to jump-start its space programme. Not only that - it failed yet again. It did not reach proper orbit. What a total waste of money.

Just think what the people of Kenya and Somalia could do with half of four hundred and two million.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Right to Die

In recent months, on several occasions, Dignatis a clinic in Zurich, Switzerland has been very much in the news. Some say Dignitas is the name of the clinic; Wikipedia says that “Dignitas is a Swiss assisted suicide (euthanasia) group that helps those with terminal illness and severe physical and mental illnesses to die assisted by qualified doctors and nurses.”
More and more terminally ill people from the UK and no doubt other countries where assisted suicide is against the law, are making their way to the clinic to put and end to their lives.
In early July Dignatis hit the headlines once again when it was revealed that one of Britain’s most respected musicians, orchestral conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan had ended their lives within its walls whilst their children sat with them. Lady Joan Downes a former ballet dancer and a choreographer had terminal cancer of the liver and pancreas. Her husband, eleven years older at eighty five was virtually blind and had become increasingly deaf. By all accounts he relied on his wife totally and according to their son, would never have been able to cope with life without his wife who had only a matter of weeks to live. So rather than hang on and wait for his time to come, the man who had been principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and who had conducted for more than fifty years at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London made the decision to travel from the UK and end his life with a lethal concoction of barbiturate poisons whilst his wife did the same. They drank a clear liquid, lay down on beds next to each other and held hands across the space between them. Within minutes they were asleep and ten minutes later, they were both dead. So ended a love story that had lasted for fifty four years. The couple lived in my village: Blackheath Village in south east London. A beautiful village approximately six miles from central London.
Scotland Yard had said it will investigate the deaths . Assisting suicide is an offence in the UK that can carry a fourteen year prison sentence. Among the growing number of non-Swiss, known according to as “death tourists” who go to Zurich to end their lives are more than one hundred Britons . No move has been made by the UK authorities to prosecute family and friends who helped them. There have been several high profile cases.
There is of course, a great deal of controversy surrounding this clinic but it isn’t breaking any laws. Switzerland has some of the world’s most liberal statutes on assisted suicide: a doctor may provide a lethal dose of drugs to a terminally ill person if they feel there is absolutely no hope of recovery and that the patient is capable of making a sound decision to die. The patient administers the drug him/herself. Euthanasia, whereby the doctor administers the drug, is illegal.
It is said that Dignatis has strict rules. It is not just a case of being able to go there and end it all. According to the staff there is a detailed procedure in place which ensures that the ‘patient’ knows what they are doing and that this is what they really want. Family members are encouraged to be present when their loved ones pass away.
There is the question of finance. A nurse who is now an ex employee of Dignatis accused the organization of being ‘a production line of death concerned only with profits’. I read somewhere that an assisted suicide costs £4,000.00 but rockets to £7.000.00 if Dignatis arranges the funeral. It is also alleged that some of the deaths are not always peaceful. Peter Auhagen a German national suffered a gruesome seventy hour death and his demise almost brought the founder of the clinic to trial. Auhagen’s death was the subject of a German TV documentary. (

There are of course two schools of thought as what may be termed as ‘the sanctity of life’. Very much against assisted suicide is Pro Life Alliance whose chairwoman has said. “Britain is a world leader in palliative care doctors. I am sure Lord and Lady Downes could have lived out their lives happily”. Bel Mooney asks in a recent article “how can this woman (my words) define happiness for the sick and the dying?” The other school of thought is the charity, Dignity in Dying formerly known as Exit and before that, the National Euthanasia Society. Their motto is ‘Your Life, your Choice’.

Where do you draw the line? Who decides if enough is enough if the terminally ill person is not able to make a sound judgment? Dignity in Dying is all too aware of these questions. A devoted child wanting to see the end of suffering for a parent in pain calling for help or the unthinkable motives that may lie in the thoughts of uncaring relatives? The vulnerable have to be protected according to Bel Mooney and society must be aware of how the sick and the elderly are being cared for.

Two weeks ago the House of Lords in England defeated an attempt by Lord Falconer to make the Coroner’s and Justice Bill less punitive on those accompanying a loved one abroad to die. Hw wanted to dismiss the threat of prosecution of relatives who help the terminally ill who go to die in a country where euthanasia is not against the law. The Peers voted 194 – 141 to reject any reform of the Bill that would have made it legal for families to help Dignatis suicides in regulated circumstances. Dr Peter Saunders of “Care not Killing” agrees with the decision citing amongst other reasons, the deterrence of would-be abusers.

My belief tells me that life is sacred. It teaches me that I have no right to take my own or anyone else’s life under any circumstances. I nursed my dying mother and at no point did I have an overwhelming desire to put a pillow over her face but then again, although desperately ill with no hope of recovery, not once did she scream out in pain. Not once did she beg to be relieved of her agony and distress. Yes there were times during her six month illness when she shouted at me, when she accused me of not caring after I had spent night after sleepless night sitting with her, calming her, feeding her, bathing her, praying with her. I was inconsolable when she said terrible things to me. There were times which I now deeply regret when I lost patience , when I wasn’t as kind as I could have been, when the pressure and stress of seeing my beautiful mother so helpless got to me, when I argued with God. But through it all, it never entered my head that I should ‘put her out of her misery’. Had she asked me to help her to die which thankfully she never did, much as I loved and adored her I would have had to say ‘no’. Not because I was afraid of what would happen to me in the event that I might be found out by the authorities but because I live by the code that “God gives life and only God can take it away as and when He chooses”.

But I struggle. I really, really struggle.

I have never been faced with the horrendous circumstance whereby a child of mine has found herself pregnant as the result of a rape. I believe that life starts at the moment of conception but what would my reaction be to a pregnancy that came about through a violent act? My belief tells me that I would have to accept it and deal with the outcome later. But my mind tells me ‘immediate termination’. So if I am really honest, I have to ask myself the question that if I could even consider a termination in dire circumstances, how could I refuse a person in so much pain who is asking to be released. We can say so much. We can agree. We can disagree but who knows what we would do if ever faced with having to make those kinds of decisions? Who knows what we would do in the name of love?

Please God, don’t ever allow me to be in the position where I have to make those choices and let me not judge anyone who has already been there.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Two Hundred & Seventy Murders for the Year

Yesterday saw the 270th murder for the year in this small twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. That doesn't include the overnight ones that haven't hit the news yet.

This country is in crisis whilst the government sits idly by seeing who can put what into their pockets, continues to build a smelter plant even though a judgement was handed down last week putting a halt to it, turns a deaf ear to the accusations of corruption, turns a blind eye to rising costs, inflation and poverty, imports foreign labour whilst nationals remain unemployed, oversees a defunct health service and continues to employ an Attorney General whose resignation the Law Association is demanding and a Minister of Finance who as a client of a major financial entity had inside information as to its impending doom and removed millions of personal dollars before its downfall.

This is a country which the Prime Minister is attempting to bring out of third world status by the year 2020. The project is called "Vision 20/20". A blind man can see it is never going to happen.

So sad. A country with massive wealth, abundant natural resources and a multi-cultural society that Bishop Desmond Tutu once dubbed 'a rainbow country' is in decline. Oh there's money - plenty of money, but there has been a complete breakdown of discipline and lawlessness abounds. There is a total lack of respect for life, crime is rampant and whilst the country burns, the Prime Minister and his government are fiddling in tandem.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

What they Can Claim

I write this because I now read that the British government is to give out 220,000 British passports to migrants this year. In the first three months of 2009, 54,615 citizenship applications were approved, up 57% for the same period last year.

At that rate, the number receiving passports - and with them the right to full benefits - this year will smash the record of 164,540 set in 2007.

Last year the total was 129,310, and when Labour came to power in 1997, just 37,010 people were given citizenship. It means approvals have rocketed by almost 500 per cent under the current Government.

I have no problem with immigrants although I wonder where they are going to put them all as GB is after all an island and there is only so much room.

I am British and can trace my lineage back a couple of hundred years on my military father’s English side. My Austrian mother automatically became British upon marriage because that is what happened when a Brit married ‘an alien’ at the end of WW11. Although born in Austria, I was born so to speak, ‘under the British Flag’ because Austria was ‘occupied’. I have and always have had a British passport. Both my children were born in Britain and carry British passports. It just so happened that I married a Trinidadian who did not want a British passport (he got that right!). We lived between West Africa and London and my husband had UK residency because the American company he worked for, had offices in the UK as well as virtually every other country in the world. We owned two homes, the children went to British schools and we paid our British taxes.

I am cross because my British daughter is not entitled to a British university education because through no fault of her own, she has lived outside of the United Kingdom for more than three years. In short she would be treated as an 'overseas student' instead of a 'home student' which in her case would mean a difference in fees of approximately GBP13,000 - 16,000. Add to that living accommodation, learning resources, food etc... etc...

My daughter, undeterred is doing her Law Degree at The University of London through an external programme. It is still expensive but nothing like the fees we would have to pay if she were living in London.

Better we give up our heritage, our British passports, claim political asylum in the UK and go with the flow.

My father who fought for King and country and then Queen and country must be spinning in his grave whilst I spit blood and wonder at how this Labour government managed to turn a once great country into the laughing stock of the world.