O Sweet T+T! Where Public Service Fits Corruption like Ring on Finger

It was in 1956 that Trinidad’s newly elected Chief Minister Dr Eric Williams took charge of a tiny Caribbean country striving to establish itself as a nation evolving out of the British colonial mould. Foremost among the men Williams hand-picked to help him navigate his new government was John O’Halloran

“It doesn’t sound like much to Mr. Ten Percent of Trinidad. A man named John H. O’Halloran made himself an extraordinarily wealthy man. Johnny O, as he was called on the island hadn’t come as a stranger to Trinidad; he grew up there” said international Crime Forensic Analyst Bob Linquist.
‘O’Halloran’s clout in Trinidad lay in the sway he seemed to hold over a man named Eric Williams, Trinidad’s father of independence, head of the People’s National Movement, a political party that came to power in 1956. Williams appointed his man to a series of powerful patronage positions.
“From his insider vantage point, Johnny O took his slice, his 10%, his skim off the top, in oil, construction and in horse racing. And almost everybody in Trinidad knew it. But nobody could do anything about it’.

This was not the case with Brian Kuei Tung, however, the man who at varous times held the portfolios of Finance, Trade, Industry and Tourism under both Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday.

Kuei Tung was slapped with corruption charges for his part in the world famous Piarco Airport construction project scandal where a number of other ministers and hot-shots were implicated.

Eighty seven years after the Williams/O’Halloran union, Trinidad and Tobago presents a very remarkable example of how patterns can be followed by various leaders of various parties over the period, in a behavior trend that presents cause for deep study.

Even so, some psychiatrists are themselves expressing interest in the behaviour of their leaders and the need to discuss this openly, if only in the interest of protecting the citizens from erratic and potentially dangerous leaders.

In this regard, an article in psychologytoday.com examines the notion of the need for psychologists and all other observers to keep a constant eye on our leaders.

According to Thomas G Plante PhD APPB on December 2, 2019:

Much has been written and discussed about the mental health (or illness) of a variety of public figures including famous politicians, Hollywood and sport celebrities, and other news makers….

However, that being said, some professionals have strongly argued that the duty to warn provision suggests that mental health professionals actually should discuss the mental health or illness of important leaders and influence makers given their ability to impact others or to do potential harm..

As an example, Yale psychiatrist and professor, Brandy Lee, the lead author on a recent 27 person co-authored book entitled the Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, suggests that President Trump has a serious mental illness that greatly endangers the public.

This diagnosis blends features of narcissistic, antisocial, and paranoid personality tendencies that are highly dangerous in their combination.

In the T+T setting, the phenomenon becomes even more complicated when we look, not only at the individual leaders and their behaviour, but at the curious pattern of “bosom buddy” relationships developed by leaders and their various specially chosen partners over the period.

It’s only against this background therefore that one can explain relationships between individuals such as

  • Dr Williams and O’Halloran
  • Patrick Manning and Brian Kuei Tung
  • Kama Persad-Bissessar and Dr Roodilal Moonial
  • ANR Robinson and Selwyn Richardson
  • Dr Keith Rowley and Farris Al Rawi

The fact is that, whatever the chemistry in action, these pairs have been displaying symbiotic relationships that are working for them as they pursue their various ambitions and find protection in their unions.

It therefore begs the question in the case of T+T’s Attorney General:

How could Farris Al Rawi and his family be receiving income from four properties rented to the state at TT$20,280,000.00 per year while occupying the position of AG without the Prime Minister batting an eyelid in public?

Or , how come Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar could remain so apparently unperturbed at a scandalous situation involving her Minister Dr Roodilal Moonilal facing fraud claims of $200 million as PNM government minister Stuart Young goes after him to recover monies alleged to have been fraudulently obtained through a “rig bidding cartel” of companies?

Prime Minister Rowley received his own dab of the corruption brush when an oil drilling contractor was suspected of tinkering with the figures of the country’s national Petrotrin oilfields with accusations flying fast and furious and violence threatened in the mix.

The contractor was cleared but not without some doubt cast on the character of Rowley who said he was the man’s friend and that’s the only reason why he had called him the middle of his crisis.

One of the very tragic events emanating out of this unity syndrome was connected, most ironically to two men who most people of Trinidad and Tobago considered almost “incorruptible” in the straightforward and mainly transparent way they appeared to
conduct their lives.

Prime Minister Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson and Attorney General Selwyn Richardson had shown a determination to stamp out corruption as far as possible and , indeed, they conducted their affairs in a manner that showed them to be most sincere about their noble mission.
This culminated in Robinson telling the Army to “Attack with full force!” while held captive and beaten by members of the Islamic Radical group called the Jamaat al Muslimeen who stormed the Red House on July 27 to stage an aborted coup.
Richardson, who was also shot and beaten in the Red House, was later murdered as he kept pursuing various cases he had started to investigate since taking office with the Patrick Manning government.

As things go therefore, it was no surprise that when First Citizens Bank was releasing its Initial Public Offering of TT$1.1 Billion (US $1. = TT6.75 approximately) in 2013, First Citizens’ chief risk officer Hassan Philip Rahaman was caught purchasing 659,588 FIRST shares and disposing 634,588 of those shares three months later.

A report in the Trinidad Express of February 9, 2020, revealed that independent senator Subhas Ramkhelawan and his company, Bourse Securities, have agreed to pay $1.3 million to the T&T Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for their role in the First Citizens Initial Public Offering (IPO) scandal.

As then Chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange, Ramkhelawan sent in his resignation while Rahaman – who was revealed to be also a director of Bourse Securities – found an escape route by agreeing to pay TT$750,000 “ without any admission of guilt”.

It would have been out of his observation of these and other similar events that the Calypsonian Brother Valentino sang

Trinidad is nice
Trinidad is a paradise

One of the biggest fiascoes to hit TT was an issue with CLICO (Colonial Life Insurance Company Limited), the giant nationally established insurance company which had diversified to a company of regional proportions but became overexposed because of the world energy melt down in the 2008.

Gross mismanagement and weak liquidity regulations led T&T’s central bank to assume control of CLICO in January 2009, at the start of a collapse that would cost T&T taxpayers US$3bn and send shockwaves across the region, especially in Barbados.

The disappointing outcome came in 2010 when the People’s National Movement (PNM) government lost power in mid-stream of the negotiations which were running very well until then.

In 2001 meanwhile, then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday was charged with failing to declare a London bank account to the Integrity Commission, and freed 11 years later.

The corruption trend was given a deadly blow in December 2019 the Central Bank announced plans to replace all TT $100 bills or blue notes within a time that was short enough to send many people scurrying to find old notes which were being laundered in spare rooms and mattresses but would cause severe havoc in the organizations if they could not get it to the bank without accounting properly for such large quantities stacked at home with no accounting systems in place.

As the force behind this comprehensive loop, National Security Minister Young himself did not escape the attention of the public by the number of times he recused himself in Parliament while decisions were being taken about lucrative contracts being handed out to a firm headed by his brother.

Nor had anything much been said about Trade Union Leader Watson Duke who hoisted a load of money from inside a bank and transferred it to another without any recording procedures before he was placed on a rape charge.

Minister of Planning Camille Robinson found herself in a similar pickle when she transferred a heap of money in cash to her husband’s account.

In a move which raised the suspicions of the bank’ employees, she drew more attention by flashing her credit card to ostensibly buy some new hair which never materialized in time for her to lead the next sitting of the House of in Parliament.

Not to mention what many saw as the questionable manner in which Stuart and Keith rushed to Australia to buy two new Tobago boats, raising questions about the deal with the Australian government who told the UNC’s Devant Maharaj and other scrutineers to keep their backsides quiet on this one.

It’s in a similar vein that questions loomed large over the dealings of a company run by one Krishna Siew Lalla who was hired by the People’s National Movement (PNM) government for work at the e-Teck project but was dismissed in 2006 after it “failed to meet contractual obligations” .

Work on the Couva Interchange, the senior staff member said, also had to be redone after the “asphalt failed.”

Questions were also raised about PM Kamla’s mansion built by a contractor who painted his name off the equipment used here and who fled to Panama (again) on the discovery by the PNM government of suspicious dealings in a billion dollar water contract secured under the United National Congress.
Even the police commissioner jumped into the corruption party by exposing himself in public to big questions about his son being promoted for inclusion in the national football team even though he was not well qualified and drew the attention of certain dissatisfied coaches who are not afraid of police and made their voices heard until an English coach who was considered too well paid was sent packing.

Such are the questions with not many answers that plague the TT scene in public and private life while the general public looks on aghast at a Chief Justice who had cause for an LGBT security guard man to seek public asylum in England.

As they say in Sweet T+T : sometimes there’s more in the mortar than the pestle.

That’s what came up many years ago as a landmark for the future when a Trini named Valmond Fatman Jones sold tickets nationwide for a big show featuring Sam Cooke who never appeared and never even knew he was booked for the show.

Out of this, Trinis who like a good con, prepared and sang a famous song with the line :

“Oh bring back the Fatman!”

The way T+T works, you have to look before you leap – and just hope for a soft landing.

Or else, water more than flour or : Who have cocoa in the sun, look out for rain.

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