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Updated: 1 hour 17 min ago

FATCA finally goes through

3 hours 14 min ago

Finally - FATCA legislation has flown to success.

After five months of hard battle between the Government and Opposition, legislation to facilitate the Foreign Account Taxation Agreement (FATCA) between T&T and the United States was passed in the House of Representatives at 7.48 last night, with unanimous support from both sides.

“I finally beg to move, after many months - five months,” Finance Minister Colm Imbert said with a laugh of relief, as debate and final committee examinations of the legislation concluded.

Legislation was passed with amendments in several areas with the nod of approval from all 39 Government and Opposition MPs present.

At least three Opposition votes had been required for passage.

The legislation enables local financial institutions to report to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on accounts held by US clients. This will be done via T&T’s Board of Inland Revenue. The FATCA facility is part of US’ tax evasion law.

The legislation came to fruition last night in the Lower House, almost at the eleventh hour of the deadline for approval which the US had recommended. The US had suggested passage this month - which ends next week with Carnival.

Having crossed the first hurdle in the Lower House, the legislation must now be debated in the Upper House. This will be after Carnival, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said after last night’s debate.

“It’s a foregone conclusion, we’ll get the Opposition’s support in the senate and therefore achieve the three fifth’s majority vote there,” the AG said.

“However, we’re very open-minded regarding the views on the Independent bench, since only two Independent senators had been on the Joint Select Committee whose report the House accepted (yesterday).”

Al-Rawi said the vast majority of amendments made to the bill were done by the Government “in the absence of the Opposition from debates during December last.”

The main amendment done last night concerned agreement that banks would notify an account holder that their sensitive information had been passed to the BIR and the US IRS.

The Opposition had suggested the account holder be notified 28 days before the information was sent to the BIR and IRS.

But Imbert said the Treasury Solicitor and Law Association had said this would be contrary to the aim of the legislation.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley also said Government couldn’t have agreed to that, since it would undermine the legislation and create costs for the taxpayer in the event the account holder chose to challenge it legally during the 28-day period.

“We’re not going to agree to that - it has consequences for the taxpayers,” the PM added.

However, all sides eventually agreed the account information would be reported to the relevant authorities by September 30 of the year in question and the account holder would be notified - with one notice - four months later in the following January.

“The Opposition presented significant amendments and in the end, Government gave us a version of what we sought - notification to the account holder. The Government did well to be flexible,” said UNC MP Dr Bhoe Tewarie of the collaboration at session’s end.
 

PM: Trump called of his free will

T&T is making world news today for the wrong reasons, and not because of its students or Olympic gold medals, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says.

Rowley said T&T therefore needed a lobbyist in the right places to speak for T&T and convey the correct picture and open doors to let people know who T&T is, before the country is harmed. “Therefore, when T&T hires any lobbyist, whether for $1m or half million, it is to protect T&T and ensure the correct information is transmitted,” he indicated.

Rowley, however, denied any lobbyist was paid “$1m” to obtain the conversation with US President Donald Trump last Sunday. He said he was at home when someone said the US President had called. He added it didn’t cost T&T “a cent since the US President understands T&T is a country the US holds very dearly for good reasons - the US is our major trading partner and we’re a leader in Caricom.”

Rowley also stressed T&T hadn’t paid for any lobbyist to go to the US to deal with banking de-risking issues. He said Caricom had agreed its Secretariat would fund a lobbyist regarding this, since some banks were taking action against some Caribbean states. He said Caricom had urged all states to be compliant so the region would be seen as this. He said he’d been invited to go to Chile since the Chilean President had indicated Chile would assist Caricom on that.

Speed cameras not yet launched

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 16:00

The Spot Speed Camera Enforcement System has not been officially launched in Trinidad and Tobago. 

 

In a press release today, the Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT) sought to correct what it described as inaccurate information being circulated in the public domain, regarding the presence and operation of spot speed, fixed cameras and speed traps at various locations across the country.

 

The release said the ministry is pursuing the required steps toward the eventual passage of legislation that will give effect to Spot Speed Camera Enforcement in Trinidad and Tobago.

 

"In light of the above, the Ministry would like to clearly state that at present there are NO “fixed camera” and speed traps” in the following areas:"

North Bound:

South Bound:

1)

Corinth Flyover

1)

Seereeram Brothers

2)

Gasparillo Flyover

2)

San Fernando Flyover

3)

Munroe Road Flyover

3) Golconda Flyover

4)

Caroni Flyover

4)

Penal Flyover

5)

Grand Bazaar

 

 

 

The release said the ministry was concerned with the rising trend of inaccurate information circulating in the public domain and urged the public to visit the ministry’s website and social media pages to verify information.

 

"Once the required legislation is enacted, the Ministry of Works and Transport will apprise the public and its stakeholders of the new road safety measures."

 

The ministry said once a new system or project is implemented, the relevant information will be communicated.

Calypso Monarch draw postponed

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 15:04

The draw for Sunday's Calypso Monarch finals has been postponed to tomorrow.

 

Calypsonians gathered at the University of T&T (UTT) campus at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa) at noon for the draw to determine their order of performance at the Dimanche Gras show, only to be informed by representatives from the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) that they had to return tommorrow.

 

In an interview, TUCO public relations officer Steve "Ras Kommanda" Pascal said the organisation wanted to wait until their legal issues  were resolved.

 

The issues involve two calypsonians excluded from the finals, Loretta Fya Empress Nedd-Reid and Brian London. 

 

  Both calypsonians are seeking to convince TUCO that they have the right to perform at the finals. 

 

Nedd-Reid was disqualified due to her nationality and replaced by Lynette “Lady Gypsy” Steele.

Boy, 8, struck by car Residents call for walkway, speed humps

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 11:22

Eight-year-old Darius Luke who was knocked down by a panel van on his way home from school on Thursday, remains warded in a stable condition at the San Fernando General Hospital.

Luke, a student of St Pauls Anglican School suffered injuries to his head after being struck while attempting to cross Lady Hailes Avenue. Although the San Fernando General Hospital was less than a quarter mile away, Luke remained lying in the centre of the road for more than half hour before an ambulance finally arrived.

As his mother Shereece Canterbury stood helplessly at his side, angry neighbours called on the Government to install speed humps or a walkway.

Aunt Avril Luke said she was at home when she heard a loud bang around 3.45 pm. She said Luke was accustomed to walking home by himself.

"When I heard the bang, I ran outside and I saw him lying on the ground bleeding. His head was swollen and behind his neck was bruised and swollen," Luke said.

She added that Darius remained conscious and it was more than half an hour later that the first ambulance arrived. Moments later, two more ambulances came, she added.

Saying they were angry because this was not the first time a child was knocked down there, Avril said: "My neighbour Akini Allee was killed right by this traffic light and nothing ever came out of it."

Expressing gratitude that her nephew was still alive, Avril said she wanted the authorities to do something to protect the children.

Meanwhile, eyewitness Margaret Walcott denied the traffic light was on red when Darius was hit by the panel van. She said she spotted Darius walking as if in a daze and became concerned.

"My son was knocked down twice years ago and when I saw Darius I pulled aside with the intention of helping him cross but he ran across the street before I could get to him when the light was on green," Walcott said.

However, she agreed that speed humps should be installed near the lights, adding that many motorists break the lights.

The driver of the panel van, who waited with the boy until the ambulance came, went to the San Fernando Police Station and gave a statement. San Fernando police are continuing investigations.

Residents support fines for ‘nasty’ bands

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 22:03

There is overwhelming support among residents of St Clair and Woodbrook for the National Carnival Commission’s (NCC) plan to fine bandleaders for their masqueraders who vandalise public or private property.

The T&T Guardian yesterday spoke to several residents in these areas where Carnival masqueraders pass through on Carnival Monday and Tuesday.

The general consensus was full support for the NCC’s plans.

On Havelock Street in St Clair, the wooden beams holding up the roof of a shed at the front of Tricia’s Spa was damaged by a large mas band during last year’s Carnival celebrations.

“The whole roof damaged,” owner of the business, Tricia Mangray, said.

“The band (name called) climbed up around the side and jumped on the roof to stand on a piece of concrete jutting out.

“I did not fix the roof.”

Blue paint from last Carnival was also on the short wall in front the business. She said she had to repaint it. And does she agree with the NCC’s plan to fine bandleaders?

“Of course, yes,” she said.

Roger Murray, of RESL Real Estate Service Ltd in St Clair, said it was a good thing the NCC was doing.

“It happens here (the defacing of property by masqueraders).

“The walls are usually black after the Carnival with body paint.”

“You see black paint, all colours, on the wall in front the business after Carnival. We have to repaint it every time.”

A St Clair lawyer, who asked for anonymity, said he saw black and all colours of paint on the wall in front his business.

“People should be more responsible, to show respect for other people’s property, he said.

In Woodbrook, Stephen Dalla Costa said the wall in front his Film Processors business was defaced every Carnival.

He said the biggest culprit was a nearby J’Ouvert Band.

“The wall is stained from last year’s J’Ouvert. After this Carnival, I have to wash it and paint it.”

Dalla Costa said it did not cost him much because it was a small wall but people with long wallsnear Federation Park had to spend hefty sums to clean and repaint their walls.

“It’s a damn disgrace. I absolutely support the NCC,” he said.

Brendon Chow, of Mr Chow’s Smoke House in Woodbrook, said he was against the idea of fining bandleaders but not against fining masqueraders. “They should penalise the masquerader, the individual.”

Chow, who said he opened “right through” the two days of Carnival, said masqueraders dirtied his walls.

He said police officers should be out looking for people who defaced property. As for mas bands, they threw the blame on J’Ouvert bands.

Anthony Tang Kai, manager of McFarlane’s band, said he was puzzled about how they were going to identify the perpetrators.

“I appreciate what they are trying to do but how are you going to track them down?”

Tang Kai added, “I won’t say it’s National Carnival Bandleaders Association bands who deface property.

“It’s more the J’Ouvert bands.”

Ronnie McIntosh, of the band, Ronnie and Caro’s, said also sent some blame in the direction of the J’Ouvert bands.

“I guess the whole thing (NCC’s plans to penalise) targets J’Ouvert bands.

“We are not famous for defacing property.”

McIntosh said he did not want to comment because in the last couple weeks before Carnival, the NCC always came up with something.

“They lose me every time.”

NCC chairman Kenny De Silva said bandleaders could be held responsible for their masqueraders who are caught defacing property.

If a masquerader was identified in the act, that bandleader could be fined thousands of dollars, he said.

Terrorism high on agenda

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:59

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders has confirmed to the New York Times that US President Donald Trump spoke to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Sunday about “terrorism and other security challenges, including foreign fighters.”

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that American officials are worried about having a breeding ground for extremists so close to the United States. They fear that T&T fighters could return from the Middle East and attack US diplomatic personnel and oil installations in this country, or even take the three-and-a-half-hour flight to Miami.

The newspaper quoted the figure given by National Security Minister Edmund Dillon of 130 T&T nationals—men, women and children—who had made the trip to Syria. By comparison, it said, about 250 citizens of the United States, a country with 240 times the population, had joined the extremists or attempted to travel to Syria by late 2015, according to a House Homeland Security Committee report.

The article quotes former US Ambassador to T&T John Estrada as saying that per capita this country has the greatest number of foreign fighters from the Western Hemisphere who have joined the Islamic State.

“Trinidadians do very well with ISIL,” Estrada said. “They are high up in the ranks, they are very respected and they are English-speaking. ISIL have used them for propaganda to spread their message through the Caribbean.”

The report further stated that T&T has a history of Islamist extremism—a radical Muslim group was responsible for a failed coup in 1990 that lasted six days and in 2012 a Trinidadian man was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a plot to blow up JFK International Airport in New York. Muslims make up only about six per cent of T&T’s population and the combatants often come from the margins of society, some of them on the run from criminal charges.

The newspaper said those involved saw few opportunities in an oil-rich nation whose economy has declined with the price of petroleum. Some were gang members who either converted or were radicalised in prison, while others have been swayed by local imams who studied in the Middle East, according to Muslim leaders and US officials.

The young men found solace in radical Islamist websites and social media and in the call to jihad. The newspaper quoted Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi who said after the 1990 attempted coup, wearing Muslim garb took on a certain appeal.

“A lot of people who were not genuinely Muslim or otherwise took on the persona to carry on their thuggery,” he said.

The NY Times said much of the information about the identities of those who went abroad comes from American intelligence sources, although local imams and Islamic leaders all said they knew several people, including women, who had left. It quoted Imtiaz Mohammed, president of the Islamic Missionaries Guild, as saying: “I know whole families that went.”

The report referred to statements by Juan S Gonzalez, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who said the bulk of Islamic State fighters from Latin America originated in T&T. The numbers underscore a risk of lone-wolf attacks in the region, he added.

“As the United States continues to corner ISIS and defeat them, a lot of these guys aren’t going to feel they have safe quarters,” Gonzalez said.

“Is the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, prepared for these guys to return to their countries? This is a real vulnerability.”

He noted that people in the Caribbean enjoyed visa-free travel throughout the islands, which makes it fairly easy to travel to the Bahamas, and from there make a “short jump” to South Florida.

The NY Times said the United States, which encouraged T&T to tighten its laws, has hosted meetings with Muslim leaders at the Embassy in Port of Spain, and paid for several to attend anti-extremism workshops in the US.

Government last week introduced a series of amendments that would criminalise membership in the Islamic State and other extremist organisations. People who travelled to certain regions would be presumed to be doing so for terrorism, and the burden to prove otherwise would be on them.

The newspaper said the Islamic Missionaries Guild, criticised the proposed legislation, saying groups like theirs that make trips to the Middle East are often engaged in charity work and could be unfairly singled out.

“You can’t just go to a court and have a judge tell you that you are guilty with no evidence, just an assumption,” Mohammed said.

The newspaper also quoted a senior intelligence official in T&T who was not authorised to speak publicly but said he was worried that the proposed legislation would make people who would have left for Syria plan attacks at home instead.

The official is reported to have said that about 15 or 20 of the Islamic State recruits spent two weeks before their trips at a mosque in Rio Claro. There, they attended an orientation, the official said.

But the imam at the Rio Claro Mosque, Nazim Mohammed, denied running an Islamic State training programme and insisted that he operated an elementary school and a weekly food programme for the poor.

He, however, acknowledged that two of his children and five of his grandchildren were in Syria and that the adults were believed to be involved with the Islamic State. He insisted that his children did not notify him of their plans and shrugged off the group’s influence.

“Who is ISIS?” he said. “ISIS is just a few people.”

Mohammed added: “Killing and murdering is not Islamic. Our programme is to help people. You know how many people have come here for help?”

The NY Times also spoke with Umar Abdullah of the Islamic Front, who said he had been among those who encouraged the would-be fighters.

The report said despite having made thinly veiled threats to Americans in the past, which led a cruise ship on its way to T&T turning back, Abdullah has since denounced extremism and now says Muslims must work with the United States to “change the narrative.”

It would be stupid to try to attack the United States Embassy, he said.

Licks for TUCO

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:55

The Calypso Monarch competition was thrown into a tailspin of controversy yesterday, after two calypsonians threatened legal action against the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation (TUCO) to secure spots in Sunday’s final at the Queen’s Park Savannah.

They are St Vincent-born Lornette “Fya Empress” Nedd-Reid, who was disqualified from the final by TUCO due to her nationality and Brian London, who claimed he narrowly missed out on a place in the final after four points were unfairly deducted from his semi-final score.

Both are being represented by attorney Keith Scotland, who yesterday issued pre-action protocol letters to TUCO president Lutalo Masimba, demanding that his clients be placed in the final. Scotland asked that TUCO respond to his letters by noon today, before he files an injunction.

The move came hours after first reserve contestant Lynette “Lady Gypsy” Steele managed to book her place in the final after threatening to sue TUCO over its decision to allow Nedd-Reid to participate in the contest although she is a foreign citizen.

Central to London’s claim is a new rule introduced for this year’s semi final, which reduced the time allotted for each performer from 11 minutes to nine. Scotland said London and the other semi-finalists were asked to sign an agreement which incorporated the new rule a day before the event. However, he said London was among a group of veteran performers who protested against the move, as they claimed it was done without consultation.

“Be that as it may, because the situation was time sensitive, as it was just mere hours away from the semi-final competition, the client ultimately, with great demur, signed the agreement, as failure on his part to do same would have resulted in him being unable to perform at the competition,” Scotland said.

On the day of the event, London spoke to two TUCO officials, including a member of its adjudication committee, who assured him the rule would not apply again.

“Based on this representation, our client adjusted his presentation from nine minutes back to its original 11-minute format,” Scotland said.

London eventually placed 17th, narrowly missing out on the 15-member final.

But Scotland claimed London was then penalised four points for exceeding the time limit.

“We respectfully submit that had the client been judged without the penalty for the time limit, the client would have ultimately tied for the 15th position, with two other contestants, namely Anthony Hendrickson (All Rounder) and Steele,” Scotland said.

Scotland said by applying TUCO’s tie-breaker rule, London may have placed higher than Steele, making him the first reserve in the competition, who should have benefited from Nedd-Reid’s disqualification.

Yesterday, Steele’s attorney, Gerald Ramdeen, received a letter from TUCO’s lawyer Marlon Moore, placing Steele as a finalist in the Dimanche Gras show. Steele placed 16th in last Saturday’s semi-finals with her rendition Plight of My People.

This move came after Ramdeen sent a pre-action protocol letter to TUCO on Tuesday, alerting them that Nedd-Reid was not a T&T citizen, which was contrary to TUCO’s rule for the competition.

But Scotland yesterday condemned TUCO’s decision to disqualify Nedd-Reid.

“We contend that by virtue of our client’s long, undisturbed and frequent participation within your organisation, our client now has a legitimate expectation to participate in the National Calypso Monarch Competition 2017. We also wish to direct your attention to the fact that one cannot use the Adjudication Handbook 2017 to determine any issues to this matter, as our client is not a new member but a long-standing member,” Scotland wrote.

Scotland outlined that Nedd-Reid, who had participated in other competitions governed by TUCO, married and applied for permanent T&T residency in 2004.

In 2007, 2009 and 2010, Nedd-Reid won the Tobago Soca Monarch, while in 2012 she captured the National Calypso Queen title and became the Tobago Calypso Monarch in 2014.

From the outset, Scotland said Nedd-Reid was never advised of a requirement that she must be a T&T national to belong to TUCO or to participate in its competitions.

Nedd-Reid, 37, said Moore’s letter came as a big shock.

“TUCO told me yesterday to disregard the disqualification. I honestly thought I was still in the competition. Now this news has shattered me. This is killing me ... breaking me down,” an outraged Nedd-Reid told the T&T Guardian of the decision.

“To say that they now find out about my nationality is crap. TUCO has to be blamed for this. All I am looking for is answers. These people are behaving as if I hid my identity for all these years. How could they? Everyone know I from St Vincent...it was no hidden secret.”

St Vincent’s Culture Minister Cecil McKie also described TUCO’s decision as terrible, noting that the decision came despite his compatriot’s long string of win and competing in TUCO competitions over the years.

But Lady Gypsy said Nedd-Reid deserved to be disqualified “because I can’t go in she country and do that. I would need a work permit.”

She maintained she was denied a spot in the final by TUCO due to political interference and victimisation.

Staff to be relocated as fire razes ministry

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:51

Social Development and Family Services Minister Cherrie-Ann Crichlow-Cockburn says staff from their burnt out office on Independence Square, Port-of-Spain, will be relocated to other locations.

Crichlow-Cockburn made the comment moments after the Fire Service extinguished a fire which gutted the office yesterday afternoon.

The minister said public services were not provided at that office, but the HIV, Policy and Project units as well as the general administration section were housed at the location. “Service to the public will not be affected because those units do not interact directly with the population,” she said.

She said all staff had evacuated the building and “there were no injuries to any member of staff.”

According to reports, the fire started around 3.50 pm in the third story of the ANSA McAL Building at Independence Square South.

Members of the ministry were alerted and assisted in evacuating the three dozen employees who were inside as they waited on fire officers to arrive.

In a brief interview afterwards, an employee who asked to remain unidentified said no one was injured in evacuating the building.

“It was actually quite easy for us because the fire started in the north of the building. Most of the offices are located in the south and the entrance is to the east. It could have been worse if the fire started somewhere else,” he said.

Fire officers from the Wrightson Road Fire Station arrived on the scene within minutes and using Bronco Sky Lifts, they managed to extinguish the blaze before it spread to connected buildings.

Fire inspectors and officials of the T&T Electricity Commission (T&TEC) were on the scene up to late yesterday attempting to ascertain the cause of the fire, which is believed to be electrical.

The fire attracted scores of onlookers who paused on their afternoon commute to view the fire officers work.

Many were heard singing the lyrics to Ultimate Rejects’ 2017 hit Full Xtreme, which ironically references T&T citizens’ nonchalant attitude towards disasters such as fires in downtown Port-of-Spain.

Scratch bomb victim gets help from anonymous donor

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:46

Scratch bomb victim Sally Ann Cuffie still has difficulty holding a glass of water and can no longer do daily chores such as laundry and cooking. However she has come a long way since some of her fingers were severely injured in a scratch bomb explosion on Divali night last year.

The 48-year-old Talparo grandmother was hurt when she snatched the illegal explosive from next to her six-month-old granddaughter, Christa, after it was thrown into the car in which they were passengers at Las Lomas No 1.

Yesterday Cuffie collected the first cheque in a donation from an anonymous corporate sponsor at the Ministry of Public Administration, Port-of-Spain. The monetary value of the donation was not revealed but Cuffie will be collecting cheques for the next 12 months.

Four of Cuffie’s fingers on each hand are still heavily bandaged. She said the top of both thumbs were completely blown off in the explosion and were only found the next day while the car was being cleaned. She suffered multiple fractures of her thumbs and one of her index fingers was split down the middle, while her middle fingers were also split and broken in three places.

Although she is slowly healing, Cuffie, a security guard, said her hands are still very tender and the slightest touch is uncomfortable.

“It feels as if your leg is sleeping. I can’t really write but I try to scribble at times,”she said.

She is currently on extended medical leave without pay, but it is very unlikely that she will be able to return to work.

Following the incident, Cuffie was warded at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, Mt Hope for a few weeks. She was unable to feed or bathe herself and depended on her son and daughter-in-law for help. They gave up their jobs to care for her at home.

Cuffie said after she was discharged from hospital the entire Talparo community rallied together to assist.

“Even the pupils of the Talparo RC School, they donated $84 and some nice get well cards and that really helped me live through this. It was very comforting from those little children because it was very hard with all those bills.

“It was especially helpful when I was in the hospital with pampers and the hospital sometimes did not have the medication and I had to buy it outside,” she said.

Cuffie said the bulk of her expenses are for household bills, transportation from her home to hospital and medication.

She thanked her anonymous donor and said the donation not only assists financially but gives her some level of dignity.

“It would not be able to replace the fingers and all the pain and suffering but it goes a long way. I could bathe for myself now but I cannot cook and sometimes when I hold a glass of water it slides right out of my hands, so when I am drinking someone always have to be around,” she said.

Cuffie said her medical bills are approximately $600 a month but are likely to increase because she has to undergo physical therapy.

Doctors estimate it could take two years for her hands to heal but it could be longer amd may never completely heal due to severe nerve damage.

Anyone wishing to assist Cuffie can call 306 1332.

Suruj on Trump, Rowley talks: PM must dispel speculation

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:41

Prime Minister Keith Rowley owes it to the public to dispel speculation and share the content and context of his recent conversation with President Donald Trump, especially where security is concerned, says Opposition MP Suruj Rambachan

“It’s necessary especially when hearing the US may be worried, T&T is a ‘production house’ for terrorist fighters for Isis,” Rambachan said, adding Government’s statement on the conversation was vague.

Government has been mum on the conversation between the two leaders which occurred last Sunday, instead noting commentary on it, sources said Tuesday.

The White House website statement on the conversation stated: “President Donald J Trump spoke today with Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago to facilitate cooperation on shared priorities. The two leaders reaffirmed the strong security partnership and agreed to continue close coordination in the fight against terrorism and transnational organized crime. President Trump invited Prime Minster Rowley to visit Washington, DC in the coming months.”

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s office on Sunday night stated:

“This afternoon at approximately 4.40 pm, the Honourable Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley had a conversation with the President of the United States of America, Mr Donald Trump.

The Prime Minister and the President of the United States of America spoke about a number of issues of mutual interest to Trinidad and Tobago and the United States.

“The leaders agreed that both administrations would continue working together on matters including security and trade. It was acknowledged that both countries have had a close working relationship which will continue to be strengthened. “

A subsequent NY Times article, stated Trump spoke with Rowley about terrorism and other security challenges,including foreign fighters. It quoted Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” a White House spokeswoman.”

The article claimed: “American officials worry about having a breeding ground for extremists so close to the United States, fearing that Trinidadian fighters could return from the Middle East and attack American diplomatic and oil installations in Trinidad, or even take a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Miami.”

It reported Caribbean people “enjoyed visa-free travel throughout the islands, which makes it fairly easy to travel to the Bahamas, and from there make a ‘short jump’ to South Florida.”

Rambachan acknowledged the PM was probably trying to be diplomatic in his press release but said: “At the same time, he left many areas of speculation which isn’t good for T&T.”

“While one expects National Security matters carry confidentiality, the public must not be kept in the dark on safety and security as that concerns them.If the US is worried about the situation in T&T with people going to terrorist zones , we hope Dr Rowley will ensure T&T isn’t subject to any travel ban such as what the US implemented recently.”

“Also the public will hope the Prime Minister speaks to Mr Trump about the US’ immigration issues—regarding which some are worried—and particularly the way the US sends deportees to T&T. There are theories such persons contribute to T&T’s high crime,”

“The PM and Mr Trump must also speak about narco-trafficking since T&T is a transshipment point and there must be strengthened relations to deal with that.”

CPF chairman at Soca Monarch draw: Government needs to invest more in culture

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:38

Chairman of Caribbean Prestige Foundation for the Performing Arts, Peter Scoon said the Government needs to invest more in the country’s culture.

Scoon was commenting on this year’s $500,000 International Soca Monarch first prize. Last year’s first prize winner took home $1 million. Second prize this year is $250,000; third $150,000 and all other contestants will collect $50,000.

In a brief interview yesterday at the draw for appearance positions at the NLCB Suite at the Queen’s Park Oval, Tragarete Road, Port-of-Spain, Scoon said T&T’s culture was being disrespected.

“I don’t know what to think about that. The only thought I could tell you, there is a level of disrespect for culture in T&T. I also have to be mindful that we are going in a recession. That said, I am still of the belief that the cultural product is one of the places we should investing more in culture,” he said.

Scoon said he expects an excellent show with high quality from the top 22 entertainers.

Tizzy, an Antiguan national, said she competed three times in the International Soca Monarch.

“I am going to come out on Fantastic Friday and do my absolute best with my team. I am hoping to do Antigua and Barbuda proud. This is my third time and I am blessed to be part of the finalists and congratulations to all who made it to the finals and thank you to everybody for their continued support,” she said.

Reigning International Soca Monarch Aaron St Louis (Voice) said he was satisfied with singing at number 21.

“It is a good number for me and I don’t want to go last, so I could have enough time to settle into the show. Last year, I had second to last and this year I have second to last and I am hoping for the same result,” he said.

First-time Soca Monarch entertainer Asten Isaac said he was building a business with his music and songwriting for the past 12 years.

“I would always suggest to newcomers to take the opportunity to show their skill set to do their best and plan, plan, plan. Market, market, market, work hard. It’s your craft.

Isaac said he worked with various artists working in the industry.

Deputy director of NLCB, Ricardo Borde, said ISM has become a corner store for the artform and the organisation has invested over 15 million over the past two decades.

Order of appearance

1Tizzy

2 Linkyfirst

3 Nailah

4 Kernal Roberts

5 GBM Nutron

6 Devon Matthews

7 Ravi B

8 Farmer Nappy

9 Lyrikal

10 Ricardo Drue

11 Teddyson John

12 Marvay

13 Patrice Roberts

14 Shal Marshall

15 Asten Isaac

16 Peter Ram

17 Iwer George

18 Blacks

19 Terri Lyons

20 Orlando Octave

21 Voice (reigning monarch)

22 Sekon Sta

US lobbyist accuses Rowley of defamation

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:21

American James Jatras, who is a Fatca-repeal lobbyist, has accused Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley of seeking to defame him and affect his reputation when Rowley spoke about Jatras in the last Parliament debate on T&T’s Fatca legislation.

Jatras, head of Global Strategic Communications Group, has called on Parliament to allow his response to Rowley’s remarks which were made in the February 13 debate.

“Dr Rowley made his comments with the clear purpose of adversely affecting my reputation and inflicting injury to me in my occupation, I ask that my response be incorporated in the parliamentary record,” Jatras said.

“The fact Dr Rowley has chosen to defame me rather than to refute the points I have made should be taken as confirmation that my arguments are sound and that no such refutation is forthcoming. I hereby accept Dr Rowley’s concession of all points in dispute.”

Jatras said he sent his request to House Speaker Bridgid Annisette- George on February 20. It was copied to Clerk of the House, Jacqui Sampson-Meiguel.

He cited Parliament’s Standing Order (18) on broadcasting and the “Opportunity to Respond as the basis for his request.

Jatras also cited the Hansard record of debate containing comments by Rowley.

Jatras stated: “Rather than answer the merits of my assertions—or better yet, himself initiating dialogue with the incoming US administration...Dr Rowley instead has sought to discredit me professionally and personally.

Jatras said he edited RepealFATCA.com for five years solo because he regarded Fatca “as an outrage against the rule of law, personal privacy, due process, sound governance, and international comity.”

“If Dr Rowley is looking for mercenary motives, I suggest he turn his gaze to persons in the compliance industry whose eager assurances to everyone that FATCA is here to stay have been widely quoted in the media.”

Prior to his current company, Jatras said he was part of the Government relations practices of major law firms, Venable and Squire Sanders. Since leaving government service in 2002 he worked for clients, both American and non-American, public and private.

Jatras added he was willing to speak with Rowley on the matter.

He said: His apology for his unfounded defamatory remarks would also be appreciated but isn’t a condition for any communication. The important thing is to do what is best for both our countries.”

OPM officials didn’t respond on Jatras’ comments.

Yesterday, a Parliament source said Jatras’ request hadn’t reached the Clerk yet and if the Speaker had received it , it would have been passed to the Clerk

“If it arrives, it will be dealt with in the normal manner and the Speaker will see if it warrants an opportunity to be heard. Parliament receives such requests all the time, but not all are granted opportunity for response.”

Rowley claimed Jatras was “advising” the Opposition and the Opposition had to be” careful who you are talking to and who is advising you because Mr Jatras is commercial business for hire. “

Rowley is quoted saying, “If you want to be seen as the emperor of Babylon, he is for hire to promote you in that way. So we are unimpressed to what Mr. Jatras has to say. As a matter of fact, if you see who Mr. Jatras’ clients are I would advise my colleague, the Member for Siparia, to stay far from him.”

Rowley was also quoted: “Those who believe Mr Jatras’ advice is useful advice. Mr Jatras’ firm is notorious for publicly defending or contracting himself to work on behalf of odious international figures and I could name many of them,”

Education Minister on Intellectual Chutney Soca competition: Why no participation by Hindu schools?

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:16

Disappointed by the lack of participation from Hindu schools in this year’s National Carnival Schools Intellectual Chutney Soca Monarch Competition, the Education Minister said ministry officials will be dispatched to find out why.

Speaking with reporters during the sixth annual competition held at the Queen’s Park Savannah yesterday, Anthony Garcia underscored the importance of ensuring that all aspects of the country’s culture including soca, calypso and chutney music was highlighted.

Reinforcing the Government’s thrust to impart T&T’s diverse cultural heritage via the Visual And Performing Arts (VAPA) curriculum in primary and secondary schools, Garcia said, “One section of our school population did not participate. I will ask the School Supervisors to find out what was the reason for the non-participation of these schools, with a view to encouraging them participate in the future.”

Garcia said he had no intention of engaging in any discussion or debate with noted Hindu officials on the issue.

Turning his attention to yesterday’s performers, Garcia admitted he was impressed with the lyrical content and originality of the compositions delivered during the competition.

Other officials commented that the youngsters’ compositions appeared to be superior to some offered by adults.

President of the National Chutney Foundation, Dr Vijay Ramlal-Rai and NLCB representative Stafford Wheeler, both urged the competitors to continue to strive for excellence in their compositions and delivery, adding that they should be mindful of their “performances” on and off the stage.

Despite the mainly empty Grand Stand which contained the performers, supporters, teachers and an assortment of parents —the contestants were not deterred as they sang their hearts out on topics such as child marriages, crime, the lack of curry at schools, religious harmony, cultural traditions, drugs and national unity.

Couva West Secondary School copped both the first and second place in the form of Christina Chattergoon and Nicholai D Rampersad respectively.

Chattergoon, who placed fifth last year and will turn 16 next Tuesday, sang about the pressures being faced by child brides as she begged to be allowed to remain at home with her parents and “grow up.”

Clad in a bright pink frock decorated with frills and white pleated underpants; her hair styled in two pig-tails with curls and tied with baby pink ribbons, Chattergoon pranced across the stage singing about wanting to enjoy her mother’s lap, her father’s arms, her teenage years and travel the world before marrying.

Drawing loud cheers as she “pushed” away a potential husband and clung to her father’s leg, Chattergoon called on all the young girls in the audience to stand up and chant, “We don’t want to marry, we don’t want to marry.”

Her school-mate Rampersad who paid tribute to cultural icon Anand Yankarran, included excerpts from some of his popular songs and featured pictures of the deceased singer.

Yankarran died on January 1 from a suspected heart attack.

Thanking Yankarran’s widow Vidia who was seated in the audience, for her permission and assistance in preparing for the competition, Rampersad said both he and the school appreciated her efforts.

Jeremiah James of Holy Cross College placed third with his performance “Chutney Lavway” during which he sang about learning of the culture and traditions from his grandparents.

In the primary schools category, the performances were equally thrilling as they came prepared with props and back-up dancers.

Jason J James of Arima Boys’ RC placed first, while Pravisha Singh of Macaulay Government Primary came second.

Last year’s champ N’janela Duncan-Regis of Eshe’s Learning Centre placed third in the primary schools category, while her sister Jerrisha Duncan-Regis also placed third in the secondary schools category.

Junior Extempo Champ for 2017, Kevan Calliste of St Benedict’s College delivered a memorable performance as he sang about the lack of curried dishes at his school’s cafeteria.

He was clad in a saffron yellow kurtah and yellow head-tie, and his props included a cooker and pot complete with curried chicken.

The list of winners in the Primary Schools Category

1. Jason Justin James - Arima Boys’ RC - 338 points

2. Pravisha Singh - Macaulay Government Primary - 234 points

3. N’janela Duncan-Regis - Eshe’s Learning Centre - 228 points

4. Akash Beharry - St. Helena Presbyterian - 214 points

5. Jayda Celestine - St. Michael’s Anglican - 213 points

6. Jahmaih Richardson - Salazar Trace Government - 190 points

7. Zakima Grant - Lower Cumuto Government - 188 points

8. Dabria Baptiste - Mafeking Government Primary - 174 points

9. Sharla Zakiya Grant - Lower Cumuto Government - 159 points

 

The list of winners in the Secondary Schools Category

1. Christina Chattergoon - Couva West Secondary - 248 points

2. Nicholai D. Rampersad - Couva West Secondary - 247 points

3. Jeremiah James - Hold Cross College, Arima - 239 points

4. Christian Mendez - Fatima College - 231 points

5. Melina Smith - Guaico Secondary School - 219 points

6. Adana Dardaine - Sangre Grande Educational Institute - 218 points

7. Tyra Deonarine - Couva West Secondary - 211 points

8. Jerrisha Duncan-Regis - School of Business and Computer Science - 210 points

9. Kevan Calliste - St. Benedict’s College - 209 points

10. Felicia Fletcher - Couva West Secondary - 206 points

11. Shernifa Gibbs - Guaico Secondary School - 205 points

12. Mackhadyon Charles - Miracle Ministries Pentecostal - 203 points

13. Nirmala Ramdass-Singh - San Fernando West Secondary - 200 points

Williams gets rogues’ list

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 21:11

The names of at least seven police officers were called out by Laventille residents during a forum with the acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams on Tuesday night.

These officers, residents claimed, were allegedly responsible for the shooting death of Mikeal “Short Buck” Lancaster, 27, who was killed on Saturday morning while at his Dan Kelly, Picton Road, Laventille home.

Lancaster was shot three times in the head and four times in the chest at close range, according to an autopsy. Initially, it was reported that Lancaster was shot and killed during an alleged shootout with police. But his mother denied this claim, saying she was home when police came into the house and entered his bedroom.

Residents staged a fiery protest at the John John traffic lights following his death, forcing Laventille MP Fitzgerald Hinds to intervene to calm the situation. It was this protest action that prompted Hinds to invite Williams and several other heads of various police units, including acting ACP Anti-Crime Operations Irwin Hackshaw, Snr Supt (CID) Radcliffe Boxhill and Snr Supt of the Inter Agency Task Force Simbonath Rajkumar.

At the meeting, held at the Spree Simon Community Centre, Laventille, angry residents took to the microphone for over four hours to vent their feelings and thoughts on the shooting incident to Williams and the panel.

One resident, identified as only Dixie Ann, said Lancaster was her nephew and she wanted nothing less than justice for his death. She told Williams there were a lot of officers who are corrupt and directly involved with the Rasta City gang because “that’s where the money is.” She claimed these officers carried out devious acts against young Muslim men on behalf of the Rasta City gang.

Another resident, who was not identified, said officers allegedly wore bands on their hands and carried chains that symbolised their connection to the Rasta City gang.

“They would come around us and harass us and when they driving in their vehicle they showing us their Rasta City bands or raising the chains and talking about Rasta City forever,” the resident claimed.

Williams interjected and asked if the man could identify such officers. The resident and several others shouted yes and Williams gave instructions for them to directly share the information with him.

One resident before, identified as Dale Mitchell, called out the names of officers he alleged were directly linked to the Lancaster incident, saying his brother in Islam was “murdered by the police officers.” Mitchell also mentioned other cases where individuals were also allegedly killed at the hands of the same officers over the years.

Another resident called for Williams to detain the officers for questioning, even as investigations were ongoing. Williams said there was a procedure to follow, but assured the officers will be transferred out of the community.

But this did not go down well with the residents, as they claimed the officers will “go do whatever they are accustomed to doing in the other areas that they will be sent to. We want them suspended or fired immediately.”

“We want justice now and will not give up until we get that justice. We will have to take matters into our own hands, but we don’t want to reach to that level. But if we have to protest and block roads and shut down businesses to say how serious we are, we will do it,” another resident shouted.

One of the residents also told Williams blood was seen on the boots of one of the officers who were there during the protest hours after Lancaster was fatally shot. He said the officer was told to give up his boots and firearm at the Besson Street Police Station, but was unsure if the officer did do as instructed. Williams did not comment on this.

At the end of the meeting, most of the residents, who were not satisfied with what Williams explained to them in relation to the future of the named officers, called on Williams to resign because he was not making any sense to them. They then walked out.

During the meeting, it was disclosed that no Crime Scene Investigators had gone to the scene to process it. Williams committed to sending in a team yesterday morning.

At the Lancasters’ residence yesterday, five days since the incident, a team of crime scene officers arrived after 10 am and carried out extensive investigations and took several photographs. They were also given about eight spent shells which were recovered from the scene on Saturday morning by residents.

Speaking with the T&T Guardian, Lancaster’s sister, Mahalia, alleged that the same group of officers involved in the fatal shooting broke down the door to her home and entered her bedroom asking for her brother about six weeks ago and again on the night before his killing.

Lancaster’s father, Victor, said he was a bit disappointed that no crime scene investigators’ came to the house on Saturday, but thanked Williams for his intervention and hoped that the police would carry out a fair investigation.

Building evacuated as fire officers battle ministry blaze

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 16:20

 No one has been injured or trapped in a fire currently at the Ministry of Social Development head office on Independence Square.

The fire, which is currently limited to the third floor of the ANSA McAl Centre, is at this time being brought under control by officers of the T&T Fire Service.

Chief Fire Officer Roosevelt Bruce, in a brief response to questions from the Guardian, said all employees had been evacuated.

Fatca compliance deadline looms

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 04:12

More than two dozen comments have been received by Parliament from members of the public on the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Agreement (Fatca).

A well-placed source told the T&T Guardian most of the comments were sent via Facebook and their authenticity is being checked before they are passed on to the Joint Select Committee (JSC) reviewing the legislation —the Tax Information Exchange Agreement Bill.

The JSC met last Friday and chair of the JSC, Finance Minister Colm Imbert, was very accommodating and understanding.

“That actually surprised us given that the vote could not be taken in the Parliament on the date which he set,” the source said.

Parliament is scheduled to meet tomorrow (Thursday) and the Government is optimistic it will get the support of the Opposition on the legislation which is critical for the country’s financial sector.

Opposition sources said they would be hard-pressed not to vote for the legislation since Government has responded positively to everything they asked for.

Several amendments proposed by the Opposition have been included in the legislation and at the JSC the suggestion that the bill be sent for public comment was also agreed to.

However, there are reports that the United National Congress (UNC) is still divided on the issue.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar could not be reached for comment on a Facebook message that has been circulating, which calls on her and UNC MPs to withdraw their support for the legislation because of the Government’s failure to fight crime and to address issues of discrimination.

UNC officials told the T&T Guardian they did not know from where the message originated.

The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has been warning citizens about the severe financial consequences for T&T if the proposed legislation is not passed, chief among them a 30 per cent withholding tax which could increase the cost of living.

The OPM’s Facebook page states: “The severity of this penalty becomes clearer when we examine how dependent our day-to-day transactions are on access to the US financial system. Our ability to import food and raw materials for our manufacturing sector, make purchases with credit cards, do money transfers and buy online are all reliant on our banks maintaining a relationship with the US financial sector.”

Persad-Bissessar wrote to US President Donald Trump last month asking whether his government planned to repeal the legislation which was opposed by Republicans when it was brought to the US Congress by former president Barack Obama. Trump is yet to respond.

Reports are that director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, one of the co-sponsors of HR 5935 which sought to repeal Fatca, has indicated that repeal of the legislation is not on the cards anytime soon.

Nigel Green, founder and CEO of financial consulting firm deVere Group, teamed up with Jim Jatras of the Global Strategic Communications Group last week to start a new lobbying campaign to repeal the act.

In a statement the two said: “Trump must show his mettle and reverse a fatally flawed, misguided law.”

Obama signed Fatca into law as part of a massive jobs bill in 2010. The law requires foreign banks and financial institutions to report to the IRS on the financial activities of Americans living abroad.

WASA to blame

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 04:07

Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan says he continues to be very concerned and uncomfortable about last Friday’s disruption of traffic leaving and entering Port-of- Spain, which was caused by a broken eight-inch Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) underground main on Beetham Highway, metres from the Port-of-Spain lighthouse.

It caused traffic gridlock for several hours extending as far as St Augustine in the east.

Sinanan told the T&T Guardian yesterday that leak was “happening too often and someone at WASA must be held accountable for it.”

He said the leak, which occurred three times since November last year, effectively “shut down Port-of-Spain and I was really not comfortable in the way it was handled and the way the whole traffic situation was dealt with.”

Sinanan said he has established a team from his ministry to formulate a new “communication strategy so that if this happens again we will be a lot more efficient.”

He said the major problem was the lack of proper communication among the stakeholders to ensure the evacuation plan was effectively executed last Friday.

Sinanan stressed he was “not happy with how it was dealt with. We must have a better communication system and we must have the key stakeholders coming to the forefront immediately.”

Sinanan said last Friday’s development “clearly states that there is the need for a better communication strategy and not necessarily an evacuation plan.” He said he gave “WASA a lot of blame for what happened on Friday and I think somebody in WASA has to be held accountable for what happened there, because what happened on Friday is not acceptable.”

The Priority Bus Route was opened to all motorists while the leak was being repaired on the nearby highway. He said: “We opened the bus route the communication went out but everybody left the highway and went on the bus route without a proper strategy in place as to who should go on the bus route and who shouldn’t go and how we should manage the bus route.”

According to the minister that was “not an evacuation problem, it was a communication problem and we need to address that, which we are doing at this time.” Sinanan said the new communication strategy will ensure “that we could get the stakeholders, including the police, the army and everybody on spot whenever there is an emergency like that,” adding that “we just don’t want just open the bus route because that doesn’t solve the problem, it actually moves the problem from one place to the next.”

The minister said WASA must come up with a more permanent solution to that frequent problem. He said there was a leak in close proximity to Friday’s two years ago. “Since I became minister that was the third time, not in the same spot, there is a leak on that line.

I think WASA has to find a more permanent solution because whenever that happens it disrupts the entire flow of traffic.”

He said he asked WASA “to let us relook at the situation and come up with a more permanent solution because from November last year to now that is the third time that has happened.”

Sinanan said the authority should even consider “re-routing that line so if it (the leak) continues it doesn’t disrupt the traffic. It is happening too often and bringing too much discomfort to the travelling population.”

He said Government major plan for dealing with traffic congestion in the nation- a rapid rail system - has been shelved because of economic conditions. He said there was no “overnight solution” to the traffic problem, adding that in all major cities there are traffic problems.

Sinanan said the Government cannot build enough roads to accommodate the amount of vehicles in the country. He said the PTSC’s fleet was being brought to the required standard to improve the mass transit system.

Jack requested presence of soldiers

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 04:01

The Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM)’s trial over the controversial Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Point Fortin Highway continued yesterday with the testimony of retired Chief of Defence Staff Major General Kenrick Maharaj.

During his cross examination before Justice James Aboud in the Port-of-Spain High Court yesterday, Maharaj was questioned about an incident on June 27, 2012, in which members of the Defence Force and the police dismantled the HRM’s protest camp and arrested its leader Wayne Kublalsingh.

In addition to claiming that the Government contravened their rights to “life, security, enjoyment of property, to freedom of expression and freedom of association” by building the highway without consulting them properly, they are also alleging that the destruction of the their camp was illegal.

As he was questioned by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, Maharaj (no relation) admitted that it was former government minister Jack Warner, who requested the presence of soldiers on the day of the incident.

“Did you consider you had a duty when the minister gave you the directions to get legal advice whether those directions was lawful or not?” Maharaj asked. The retired soldier said no.

Asked whether Warner had also given instructions to forcibly remove Kublalsingh from the site, Maharaj could not say as he was merely present but not in command of the soldiers on the scene.

“Because I was not in charge of the operation there are likely to be orders issued by the officer in charge to his subordinates on the conduct of the operation,” he said. Maharaj also said he could not recall details of Kublalsingh’s eventual arrest.

Next to testify was police constable Daniel Gerald, the police officer who arrested and detained Kublalsingh for six hours before his release without any criminal charges.

Gerald admitted that when he arrived at the camp he was greeted by a group of soldiers, two of whom, were restraining Kublalsingh. Gerald said the environmental activist was handed over to him. He said he placed him in handcuffs and put him in the back of a police vehicle.

However, under cross examination, Gerald admitted that during the incident, a restrained Kublalsingh fell to the ground and had to be lifted into the police vehicle.

Gerald admitted to seeing Warner at the site but said he did not interact with him or hear him giving orders to the soldiers.

While testifying at a previous hearing last month, Kublalsingh claimed to have gotten permission from NAMDEVCO to build the camp near its market in Debe. He also admitted to resisting the soldiers as he felt that they were acting illegally in evicting him and his supporters and destroying their makeshift camp.

Additional State witnesses are expected to be cross-examined when the trial resumes on March 29.

The lawsuit arose as a result of the group’s long standing battle with the Government over the segment of the project.

Kublalsingh embarked on two hunger strikes in protest of the construction-the first in 2012, which lasted 21 days and a second in 2014 which lasted 288 days.

While the group continues its legal battle, work on the project came to a halt last year after its main contractor, Brazilian firm Construtora OAS, was fired from the $7 billion project. Government is currently seeking a new contractor for the project as well as financing.

The State is being represented by Russell Martineau, SC, Deborah Peake, SC, as well as Kelvin Ramkissoon and Shastri Roberts.

Attorneys Fyard Hosein, SC, Anil Maraj and Rishi Dass are also representing Kublalsingh and the HRM.

JSC hears of dwindling agriculture sector: Young farmers face challenges

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 03:50

This country’s agricultural sector continues to dwindle as young people are becoming less interested coupled with the fact that those who want to become farmers face challenges in acquiring land and loans.

This was heard before yesterday’s Joint Select Committee meeting held in Parliament in which officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Caroni Green and National Agricultural Marketing and Development Corporation (Namdevco) appeared before the committee.

Chief executive officer of Caroni Green, Sharma Lalla, who said the entity was just over three years in existence, painted a worrying picture of T&T’s agricultural production and it’s contribution to the GDP.

“When you look at statistics is the lowest among all Caricom counties. We are less that .8 per cent where as you have Jamaica about seven per cent and Guyana about 26 per cent.

“Another important statistic is what has happened to the sector from 1990 coming forward and again we are rated as the worst performing country among Caricom in that we have had the highest reduction in contribution of agriculture to GDP,” Lalla said.

He added that this country has decreased by some 76 per cent in its agricultural contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“A significant portion of that is attributed to the decline of the sugar industry. By comparison if we look at Jamaica their decline has been a mere 2.5 per cent.

“What that tells us is we really have a long way to go in terms of trying to capture some kind of comparative status even among our Caricom members,” Lalla said.

He said while Caroni GREEN has been making its own strides primarily in exporting hot peppers the company, however, continued to work with an outdated policy.

“We have tried with very limited resources to make a contribution to the sector,” Lalla said adding that the company had not received any financial support from the Government since 2014.

The committee also heard that while agro-processing was viable there were no support mechanisms for this as production needed to be greatly increased.

“You would have sporadic shipments by farmers and if they get a higher price at Macoya market they forget the export market. So it is not done in a way as a sustainable industry,” Lalla added.

61 OJT staff members sent home

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 01:49

Some 50 per cent of staff members from the On-the-Job Training Programme (OJT) are on the breadline as the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development plans to restructure the programme.

Yesterday, OJT staff members and representatives from the Ministry of Labour held a close door meeting at the Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies in Valsayn.

A total of 60 employees were told that their last day will be May 31.

In a brief interview yesterday, Rukmin Sonny, one of the staff members from the accounts department in Chaguanas said her entire department was sent home.

Sonny, a mother of one and cancer patient, of Esperanza Village, said members of staff were informed at the beginning of February that they will be terminated.

Sonny said she was employed with the organisation since 2014.

“There were a lot of angry people, I won’t say I am angry. I am hurt, you working for a company and giving it your all,” she said.

Sonny said they were informed that the decision was based on “the economy and policy.”

“With my medical condition I will not feel comfortable working at a new organisation. Others might be younger than me and more resilient,” she said.

She said during the meeting there was a “man” available for counselling and motivation “but we really didn’t’ want to hear that.”

Sonny said staff were told they could reapply for the position but other citizens could also as the post would be publicised.

Another staff member who (refused to be named) and was a field officer in excess of five years.

“I am back on the job market and right now it is very difficult. In terms of the structure they are proposing cannot facilitate the current size of the programme,” he said.

Nonetheless, the officer said he was financially secure and a lot of his co-workers would be having it hard.

“I was there just to help out and everyone else is different,” he said.

Audit, Audit assistants, clerk I, clerk II and Human Resource personnel were laid off.

A media release yesterday from the Ministry of Labour said there was a Cabinet decision to restructure the On-the-Job Training Programme (OJT).

“The decision was made to facilitate the most efficient and effective integration of the OJT Programme as a division of the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, with a view to developing an appropriate organizational structure for the OJTP.”

The OJTP under the existing structure will end on May 31 and the programme, under the new structure will commence on June 1. A Transitioning Team has been put in place and is working steadfastly to ensure a seamless transition and that all bases are covered in this critical transitioning process, the release said.

Thousands of trainees since its inception in 2002 and provided many with an introduction into the professional world of work.

However, the integration of this programme as a Division of Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development presented duplication in several Support Unit areas. At this juncture in the process, a decision was made to obtain the official advice of the Public Management Consulting Division (PMCD).

A meeting with the staff of the programme was held yesterday to address the issues and questions posed as a result of this restructuring.

The Ministry advises that there will be neither disruption of employment nor payment of stipends to the trainees enrolled in the programme.

UNC MP Rudy Indarsingh said he warned public servants that job cuts would occur in state enterprises.

Indarsingh said prior to the budget announcement there were loses at the Ministry of Tobago Development, the Office of the Prime Minister, TTEC and Social Development.

“No job is safe under the Government of Dr Keith Rowley. This government don’t care whether workers are employed. Thousand of workers have gone home in both the private and public sector and the minster continues to talk of a 10-point plan,” he said.

Indarsingh said unemployment continues to rise and the Government denies this.

Several attempts made to contact Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus proved futile yesterday.

Members of staff said that Baptiste-Primus is out of the country.

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