Not what you say, but how you do it

By Raffique Shah
November 07, 2010

Raffique ShahONCE more Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has triggered Caribbean hostility towards Trinidad and Tobago by another ill-timed, inappropriate statement. Coming a few months after her “Trinidad is not Caricom’s ATM” gaffe, one wonders who is advising the PM on the nuances of good diplomacy.

Maybe Kamla needs someone like Reginald Dumas to lead her support team. Most heads of governments today have such “backroom advisers” to help them craft speeches, prepare them to face tough questioning from the international media, and to advise on how to approach delicate issues like relations with one’s neighbours and friends.

I should declare my mala fides on Caricom before I write why I think what the PM said was wrong. First, I have long held that many of our brethren in the region have used, abused and kicked T&T in the face. I do not have the raw data before me, but I am certain we contribute most to the regional body’s coffers. Yet, beneficiaries of our generosity have bitten us where it hurts most.

Starting with the TT-US dollar exchange rate, Barbados (B$2 = US$1) and most Eastern Caribbean countries (EC$3 = US$1) scoff at our $6.3-to-$1 currency. Those who understand nothing about the real value of money, of how exchange rates are determined, see the TT dollar as being one of the weakest currencies in the Caribbean. Indeed, the islanders will sooner accept a Japanese Yen (Y80 = US$1) than the TT dollar.

In many instances, the uninformed in these small-island-states believe their standards of living are vastly superior to ours. Indeed, many of our own people sing praises to these countries, contrasting them with their own. Except for the wealthy and well off, I dare any ordinary Trini to move house and, after one year, tell me he has found paradise.

Nothing I have written about our neighbours’ attitudes towards us justifies any among us rubbing our resources-generated wealth in their faces when our PM, or any senior public official, says or does something that comes across as insulting to our neighbours.

PM Kamla linking aid to hurricane-stricken Caribbean countries with benefits to the donor was in poor taste. When she spoke, the islands were still under severe stress, still trying to add up their losses, counting flattened houses and fallen trees, trying to cope with floods, slush and damaged infrastructure.

In such circumstances, the PM, or any other government spokesperson, needed to show sympathy, to appear to be generous. Yes, our economy is not exactly booming. Yes, we have been bitten before, as I mentioned earlier. But with Tomas still weaving its destructive path across the Caribbean, the PM should have said that T&T was standing by to render whatever assistance we could to our neighbours in distress.

I need add, however, that PM Kamla is right to require recipient countries to use most of what we donate to them to purchase essential goods and services from T&T. We would be fools to fork out millions of our dwindling dollars and give them to neighbours who would rush off to buy reconstruction materials or goods and services from the UK or Japan or China.

This country can easily supply all the steel, building blocks, roofing, paints, road-building material, etc., that the recipient countries need. We also have a pool of good, experienced technical and highly skilled labour to execute reconstruction works. I should add that whatever similar skills the islands have should be utilised, and certainly, their labour should find employment in the works to be undertaken. In today’s world, aid must be mutually beneficial.

For those who cry foul at this notion, let me point them to Haiti—poor Haiti, where those buggers must be experiencing a battering even as I write (Friday morning). Think of the billions of dollars wealthy nations of the world pledged to that country after the devastating earthquake. Where did the money go? Are we seeing roads rebuilt, rubble cleared, or house construction on a fast track? Haitian earthquake victims still live in tents.

As a country that gave generously, we are entitled to ask why. The answer is easy. The US and its various agencies have all but occupied Haiti. And much the way they dragged their feet in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina, they are repeating their no-action approach in Haiti.

More important, and relevant, in this instance, is that almost everything thus far used in the limited reconstruction that has taken place has come from the US.

Have they asked T&T, which, I believe, contributed US$1 million, to sell them cement or blocks or furniture? No. Have they offered our contractors, our road builders, work? So when we give money to victims of natural disasters, we can morally seek to reap some benefits from what we donate. There is nothing wrong with that.

What PM Kamla ought not to have done was offer aid with strings in a public statement. You quietly tell St Vincent, St Lucia, Barbados, and maybe Haiti (again!), look, tell us how much construction material you need, we see what we have, and that will form part of the aid package. We can supply manufactured goods—let us know what your requirements are.

This is the classic case of “it’s not what you say, but how you say it”. Or how you do something that will be mutually beneficial even as you help your neighbours in distress.

21 Responses to “Not what you say, but how you do it”


  • It seems that foot-in-mouth afflicts parliamentarians, period.

    The Prime Minister’s gaffe almost segues off from that of the Leader of the Official Opposition’s comment that Tomas was a “cloud” and not meriting the public closing of financial and other institutions.

    Then, along comes the mighty Minister of Works, declaring the Prime Minister to be a Hindu goddess …

    Where it has begun, T&T already knows, given the ill-speak of others like Volney.

    The question is where will it end?

    Already in places overseas, for example in London and Toronto, Caribbean nationals have already called publicly for the boycott of products from T&T.

    Even the US Huffington Post has carried details of T&T in this regard. One might call it all political extempo.

    However, is it to be followed by, or be accompanied with economic extempo, lack of policy extempo, inept governance extempo, continuing to campaign extempo, inappropriate appointments to boards extempo, laptops extempo, extempo extempo?

    On a serious note, while the country lives in hope for a better present and more promising future, it must be emphasized that hope is a confluence of tactical planning and the strategic implementation, and is not to be confused with wishes: trying to whistle pass the graveyard of an economy in down-turn and many critical indices: crime, cost of living, unemployment, etc., on the up-turn.

  • I think most citizens will agree with Kamla’s wish that in the reconstruction process those who have benefitted from T&T aid dollars be asked to buy from us where possible. But there appears to be a mindset behind those ill-fated words on the demand and cautioning effect that carries a ‘mightier than thou’ effect. When we read the blogs on this and other boards we read that sentiment all the time, emanating of course from a segment of the population that feels that since power is now wrested in their hands, those ‘who are not like us’ MUST know that a new regime is now in place and ‘we will NOT tolorate any more giving’. That message is loud and clear throughout the T&T media, so when the intent was emphasied in her press conference, it was NOT a gaffe or a misconstruction of words, it came from the heart.

  • You’re right again Shah; if you’re offered a position of advisor will you accept? If the answer is no its understandable, many who have a genuine call to service do not take up the call for fear of being lumped in with the pretenders; and having their reputations, and the reputations of their loved ones destroyed.

  • Shah suggests that the PM should “appear to be generous”, but in fact agrees with her position on aid.
    So, let me see if I get it,keeping up appearances and using he right words are more important than telling the truth?

  • What is your understanding of generous? Are you less generous for buying a drunken beggar a meal, than the man who throws him a few dollars that ultimately end up in the cash register of a liquor store?

  • Shah wrote:

    “I need add, however, that PM Kamla is right to require recipient countries to use most of what we donate to them to purchase essential goods and services from T&T. We would be fools to fork out millions of our dwindling dollars and give them to neighbours who would rush off to buy reconstruction materials or goods and services from the UK or Japan or China”.

    The journalist seems to be in total agreement with the PM.His only concern is not what she said, but how she said it. This is hypocracy at the highest level, coming from someone who prides himself in telling it like it is.

    • She definitely should not have said it. The scariest thing about this is that she thinks it. She is demonstrating that she is not fit to lead and its all Mannings fault. Yes I said it. If he weren’t such an extremely poor leader, then voters wouldn’t have been so desperate to have elected a different but equally poor leader in Kamla. For the future of the country, someone has to emerge free of bigotry and elitist attitude with a strong desire to lead with the interest of the people. TNT cannot continue on like this or everyone will lose.

  • No T-Man , we understand why you feel inclined to defend the good lady, but no matter how you sliced and dice it , her behavior in this occasion ,was justifiably viewed as crass, and despicable for a leader of a modern State ,that plans to assume a greater leadership role regionally.
    As such she was wise to put her tail between her legs and her head in a hole like a Zandolee, and offer what can only be accepted as an apology- though obviously, very half heartedly. If our leader wish to roll with the big boys , by sipping tea and drinking champaign in Harvard in front of gullible elite kids that fall for the false claims that women are better leaders , because they rule from the heart,then one expect that such leaders would learn the distinction between humanitarian assistance , and regular developmental aid.
    Not sure Uncle Shah if the good lady is as naive as she would like us to think ,to the extent that she would require Reginal Dumas to wipe her nose moving forward. After all, this is not some wet behind the ears,political upstart, Princess Mackela Panday, but Queen K, a lifelong protege of the politically immoral Bengal Tiger , and quite experienced in the affairs of state, including dancing to Bob Marley’s One Love, while showing the middle finger to Yardee neighbors, as she embark on cutting up the lifelong PNM ,governmental regional, credit card. We wish the people of T&T well, as the barbarians are surely encroaching the gates , with evil intent, yes? .

    • “neal
      November 4, 2010 at 3:04 pm

      Sometimes one must give Jack his Jacket, and Jim his Jim boots, In this case let me say good job, Madame PM, for attempting to shape a clear Foreign policy , when it comes to aid as opposed to the almost laissez- faire crap that existed for the past decades of oil and gas give aways by successive regimes in our country, simply as a way of pandering to voters , and distant families ,scattered across the country.
      It is time our ungrateful brothers of sisters across the Caribbean wake up and recognize T&T’s role as a viable regional leader, on social , economic , and political affairs , and so stop taking my country for granted as they have been doing for too long.
      A few lifetime disgruntled,would chastise her, as being a bit undiplomatic , but so be it. Let us continue to build on this prudent ‘Realist,’ pathway , and ensure that T&T ‘National Interest,’ always remain paramount,in keeping with the traditions of great nations. Let the Tobago Flying Fish stealing upstart Bajans pretenders, and self opinionated Yardee boys, and gals recognize that there is a new Sheriff in town, and there shall be no more free lunches, yes?
      Hopefully , I did not surprise many , with this my full support of Madame K, in her theprudent thrust to set the Ship of State afloat, away from Helter Skelter drifting it floated along , for too long by the clueless, and arrogant- but den some say I am a flip flopping , Schizophrenic. I in contrast say no , but simply ,a patriotic voice of reason, that would forever put country over tribe, while holding all our power brokers hands to the symbolic fire , where necessary.
      Love country!”
      Neal,
      It seems like your schizophrenia have won the dad again,on one hand you were in agreement and now you call it “crass”well you look like an ass without his grass to cover you know what.
      I say “plain talk bad manners” everyone know about the free money we have been dumping into all the other islands in the Caribbean for years with almost nothing to show for it.In the 70’s Guyana tried to pay us back with dog rice for our oil,then end up buying from Venezuela after the people got tired of it.We paid for Barbados entire telephone system to be upgraded while most people in Trinidad did not have a phone in their house.Jamaica banned our calypso and soca music from their radio while we were blasting rockers and reggae on ours every day.The climate of anti Trinidad in the Caribbean is sickening,it is time our leaders stand up and give prudence to our voice in the region,so I say again “plain talk bad manners” and who vex,vex.

      • Even an alpha-female (which this PM is not, maybe Jack and Volney are alphas) either runs with the pack or dies.

        In this age of economic co-operation, to speak, and think as she does is not only beyond naievte, but is also as politically and economically counter-productive as it is socially crass.

        Unfortunately, being crass and counter-productive appear to be the political default button of this accident-prone administration.

        The inserted point of previous administrations pandering to “families” spread across the country and the region is from a mind-set with a dry-rot sense of entitlement based on suckling mythic nipples (think koolaid) that are racist, egregious, and doomed.

        Let the healing begin.

  • Raff.
    I totally agree with your comment.You really hit the nail on the head.We have materials,equiptments,and Techs.Why give $$ ,when we give Expertise,to all these countries.Trinidad always appear t5o them as Nothing,from sports,to Ranks,no one respects us.Time to be firm.Remember when TNT had 3 Assembly Plants,They never buy our Vehicles.They bought from Japan,USA.and the rest.
    The Caribbean gaied much from TNT,Its time for RE COnstruction,and the way we do business.Hand out time is over.Lets be real TNT.Go madam PrimeMinister.Your Leadership qualities will speak alone today.

  • If TNT cannot afford to give, than it should not offer anything. That should be it. You don’t give something to desperate people in order to get something and call it charity.

  • “Sometimes I like playing the fool , to make foolish people think they are wise.”Morugamax, that was a quote that I grew up hearing from the wisest woman that ever lived, in my loving Grandmother. The fact that it was only you who would fall for my ‘playing dead to catch Cobeaux alive ruse,’ proves clearly, that you are not as wise as you think my friend.
    Do you really in your heart think that I ,or any other decent soul on this planet, would support your Prime Minister , for making perhaps the most insensitive remark in front of camera imaginable ,towards desperate, fellow human beings in their time of dire need?
    What is even more reprehensible ,is the fact that moral degenerates like yourself ,would possess the gall ,to come on this forum ,in her defense, when she herself was wise enough to take the high road ,and backtrack from her previous ,ill advised ,public pronouncements.
    The clock is thinking my friend – perhaps 3 years or less , to another 15 year, political wilderness drought, all due to outrageous arrogance,power grabs , and neo tribal ,politicaL ,overkill, by socially depraved ,barbarians.

  • I see that there are many of these bloggers who do not understand “humanitarian aid” as opposed to “developmental aid”. Humanitarian is the free giving (from one’s heart) of assistance from the goodness or inner feelings one may wish to display or offer. Developmental aid often comes with strings attached which most of the times are mutually consented to. In Kamla’s case, it was under the premise of humanitarian and as such drew the ire of people who understand the difference. We know the sentiments of many who support this government is NOT in keeping with the humanitarian aspect of this scenario because most of them believe that “God is a Trini” and as such we may not be likely to fall into the “victim” category. Those of us who are of the Christian faith believe that we must “love thy neighbour as we love thyself” and unconditional assistance to our friends next door should be natural and NOT taking advantage of an unfortunate situation. Whild Kamla’s heart might have been where her mouth was, the protocol for that type of language called for her to be more discreet and diplomatic. If it was Guyana I’m sure you would not have heard that kind of language from her. The reasons are obvious.

    • For all 1st World Nations, humanitarian aid is developmental aid. The kind of Charity you’re speaking about isn’t the responsibility of States its the responsibility of religious organizations, a generous public, and entities like the Salvation Army and Red Cross.

  • Neal are you retracting your post on Nov 4th at 3.04p? I expected that you would have performed some slippery maneuver to wiggle your way out when caught with your pants down.I have to admit that I was stunned by your sidewinding ability to distant yourself away from your earlier comments pretending now that it was just satire.

    The views that I expressed here are my own and not meant to pander to any person or political party,unlike you who regurgitate and recycle the talking points of NRA,Tea Party and other radical fringe groups in the US.
    My advise to you Neal is be careful when you are running away from yourself,you may fall on your own sword.

    • No, my friend, and that’s due to the fact that as you claimed I prefer to pander to the stupid PNM idiots that rode the backs of black folks , then use and neglected them for almost 40 out of the 48 years they held power , simply to appease fringe groups domestic and regional.
      In the interim, I am scouting the media archives of yankee friends , especially those of the NRA, and far right Tea bagging bunch ,to garner an unoriginal opinion so as to impress folks on this board that I know how to steal and regurgitate.
      What a delusional moron, indeed!
      Sometimes , I wonder why I even bother with these intellectual midgets on this here information highway.

  • Hi Raff. Once again you are offering free advice to the government. Is it not the right time for them to pay consultation fees? After all you must live and payment is one way of saying thank you for your wisdom.
    Let’s see how they would react to my recommendation. Maybe they want to get you as they did Mohammed recently. Luckly you don’t work for them.
    Whatever is their reaction to your wise counsel I know you will continue to open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and the minds of the dumb.
    Keep writing. The pen is mighter than the sword.

  • I think Mz. Kamla should frame this article and comments, and re-read it periodically as a centering exercise. Now, could the fact that Raf writes these sharp pieces have had a hand in that other Muslim’s firing? Both journalists, both critical. Raf, thy might be coming for you next, but gracias a dios, you and I are to old to work for anybody. We already know where our bread coming from.

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