Only in Trinidad

By Raffique Shah
November 23, 2017

Raffique ShahUntil such time as persons in public life who are criminally responsible for stealing from the public purse, or for abusing their powers to enable their friends or associates to unfairly, maybe even illegally, acquire state lands or subsidised housing, are thrown into jail like the common thieves they are, this society will continue to decay, to fall apart, hurtling towards a failed state, a dubious title that we seem hell-bent on attaining, as if it were an achievement we can be proud of.

Note well that for all the accusations of political banditry through the years, not one “big boy” has ever been charged, shackled, hauled before a court, tried and jailed in a stinking cell, as happens in other jurisdictions where, for all their inequities, justice is dispensed equally, and the wealthy and the powerful have paid the ultimate price for their white collar crimes.

Take for example the Bernie Madoff scandal in the USA: the high-flyer who gypped people of billions of dollars through a Ponzi scheme was arrested and hauled before the courts in shackles. He pleaded guilty to several charges in 2009, and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. He is currently rotting in a Carolina prison, and according to news reports, even his wife and grandchildren have stopped visiting him.

Scores of other similar offenders in the USA were also jailed, but one that is of interest to us is Allen Stanford, that fraudster who was knighted by the Antiguan government, the man who used millions of US dollars of depositors’ money to dramatically transform T20 cricket. He was embraced by the overlords of the game and governments of the region—until the US authorities indicted him in 2009 for running a seven-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

He was imprisoned, badly beaten by other inmates, convicted in 2012, and sentenced to 110 years’ jail. He, too, is rotting somewhere in Florida.

In Trinidad and Tobago, fraudsters who have committed similar crimes have never been made to account. A few of them fell into hard times following the collapse of a number of financial institutions of dubious repute back in the 1980s. But none slept in stinking cells, and almost all of them bounced back to rejoin the elite echelon of society.

While the CL Financial collapse in 2008 was not of the same mould, it is only in Trinidad that eleven years after the Government used taxpayers’ money to bail out the conglomerate that the public does not know exactly how much the Group owes, what sums have been recovered, and how much is still outstanding.

Worse, some of the high-flyers who presided over that fiasco continue to live high on the hog, owning multi-million-dollar properties from here to the USA to Canada and England. They will never face the courts, far less see inside a cell or make a long stretch in jail.

Only in Trinidad!

Estimates of how much public money has found its way into private hands by fraud and patronage run into tens of billions of dollars, span decades, starting with the first oil boom of 1973 and staying current into today’s harsh economic times. Yet, no one is held accountable the way two presidents and other senior office-holders, as well as super-wealthy contractors, have dragged to court in Brazil.

Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff have been charged with diverting funds from the state-owned oil company, Petrobras. If found guilty, they could face long terms of imprisonment. Here, state-owned Petrotrin has been looted, raped, exploited, reduced to a heavily-indebted many-billion-dollar burden, mainly because of political pillage—and no one is held accountable.

Only in Trinidad!

In fact, as if to pour oil on troubled water, and I don’t mean the pollution of the Gulf of Paria that Petrotrin frequently commits, we now have the saga of “fake oil”, crude that was never delivered, but for which the beleaguered company paid close to $100 million, as confirmed by an audit followed by an investigation. Will anyone be arrested, charged, imprisoned for such boldfaced banditry? I doubt it.

Only in Trinidad!

A recent Express news report told of huge tracts of premium land at Chaguaramas being leased to the super-wealthy for rents ranging from five dollars per acre (not square foot) per month to $1,000 per acre, mostly during the tenure of the People’s Partnership administration. In one instance, the current Government had to re-negotiate a lease to allow for direct public access to the beach, and for parking.

Who was, or were, responsible for almost freely sharing out valuable Chaguaramas lands, the way they do “parsad” at prayers, to select billionaires? For all the allegations of corruption, we may never know. The for-free leases will stand, the culprits will “shake dey tail in we face”, the rich will get richer—and for sure, no one will make ah jail.

Only in Trinidad!

I can continue with hundreds of examples of people high and low profiteering off the national patrimony (don’t get me started on Caroni lands—that’s a billion-dollar outrage!), but to what end? The unscrupulous will never stop the looting because they know they will never be arrested or jailed.

Only in Trinidad!

6 thoughts on “Only in Trinidad”

  1. This article is well supported by myself and many more, I hope. Raf, in your last paragraph you left me high and dry because you now got me started: re- Caroni lands. From the days of Seukeran who found ‘gobar’ in his car as directed by a segment of the audience that equated as to what he was talking about on that night of political rallying to the thieving suckers of today.

    For a country that has amassed so much wealth over the years and still talk the same s— day beit in Parliament or the barber shop day-in to day-out indicate how vacuous we have become. To add salt to the wounds we have become a laughing stock overseas as well. Political banditry comes in all shades of colour, culture, backgrounds and respective echelons of society, the lack of enforcement to this hour is the indicator of ‘we ting’ and an indictment to us all.

    I was told and encouraged by many to pursue matters that are criminal in nature and when I look behind me for the required support there was none. Hence, my maintaining the mantra, ‘show me your friends and I would tell you who you are’.

    I support you 100% in this submission and I have felt the brunt of losing battles in pursuit of justice so many times, that I have literally given up. Lawyers are a disgrace to our society, sorry to paint with such a wide brush.

  2. I am re-posting this comment, because it has relevance here also. We continue to focus on higher education without a corresponding emphasis on integrity, honesty and nationalistic pride. The result is described by Shah. Only in Trinidad.

    One of the major roles of higher education wherever it is offered is to shape a democratic, civilized and inclusive society by incorporating these goals into all programs which are being offered.
    It could be argued that our institutions of higher learning, including certain faculties at UWI, are failing to accept and accomplish that goal. The evidence to support this accusation is played out daily by many of our citizens in almost every institution and community, as we examine numerous situations involving crime, divisiveness, criminality and the deterioration of family values. Graduates of programs offered by institutions of higher learning should be advocates and exemplars of productivity, honesty and national pride.
    It is not enough to increase knowledge, technical skills and understanding for occupations only. Narrow acquisition of technical expertise for one’s own sake should be accompanied by the desire to foster their application to the benefit of the economy and society.
    One of our national problems is the selfish pursuit of increasing one’s knowledge and understanding of personal careers without fostering and applying the benefits to the society at large. Our society is falling apart. We have become selfish and materialistic. Personal self-fulfillment cannot be achieved without a corresponding contribution to society and an obligation to improve our communities and nation.

  3. When a Prime Minister reacts in the following belligerent manner, what do you expect from the ordinary man? This was Rowley’s reaction to the riots by Beetham residents yesterday.

    Rowley was approached by the T&T Guardian hours after the Beetham residents blocked the roadway, threw missiles at motorists and robbed them, causing panic along the Beetham Highway.

    Asked about the rioting before the opening of the Point Lisas Business Park in Couva yesterday, Rowley said, “Where are you standing? In Couva, well don’t ask me about Beetham. I am here to talk about Couva.”

    1. Given the sarcasm in the response, one can only surmise that the question lacked the objectivity necessary for an honest reply. We didn’t see how the question was posed.

  4. Mr Shah I commend you for putting this rotten side of Trinidad and Tobago in the forefront. Over the past weeks investigations have confirmed that Petrotrin was being ripped off by one company but the bigger question: “How long has this been going on and if any other companies are involved” We have one high ranking official of Petrotrin speculating that this may not be fraud or some other mistake. There is a never ending incompetent high officials in Trinidad who is always finding an excuse for thiefing and fraud. This official was given the responsibility to safe guard the assets of Petrotrin for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. Only in Trinidad. In another an ex Minister who is alleged to have committed an offence is going on about how this government is on a witch hunt and that there will be a fight between Attorney Generals past and present. He has not categorically denied that there was no wrongdoing by him or his party! But only in Trinidad.

  5. CRIME! regardless of the circumstances, should be a topic that everyone, regardless of party affiliation, religion, race, creed, sexual orientation or political preference should in concert as a scourge in our society. While that is so based on the responses, what is evident is that the only preferences that are expressed is the question of “who” should be charged with criminal responsibility. There is the tendency to redefine ‘crime’ based solely on how we see it and not necessarily what constitutes a crime. These differences may vary based on race, politics or societal standings. When it is viewed from narrow perspectives the outcomes become obvious ‘bias’. When bias is identified, it is usually explained from narrow points of view which make the crime seem either minimal or non-consequential.

    On the recently discussed topic of “Beetham Badmen”, there obvious explanations given by some differentiating white collar crime as being tolerable as opposed to violent and intrusive crimes. When viewed from narrow perspectives, people are much more intolerant of crimes against the person, than those that are incriminating. When viewed generically, often times violence become the outcome of crimes that had its beginning under the coatings of “white collar” activities. So, to excuse “white collar” lawlessness as something that can or should be dismissed is counter-productive to getting to the root of crime.

    In order to stop crime in its genesis, there need to be preventative structures (usually initiated by government) that have as their functionalities, processes that are interrogative and qualifying. In many cases there needs to be accountability and qualifying approval to ensure that the processes that are approved have legitimate accounts. Case in point, the “freeing” of Miss Boodram from prison. Lack of accountability becomes the culprit in the execution of this crime.

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