Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 7th 2014 Contents A26
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt September 7, 2014
Last week, 52 Small Island
Developing States (Sids)
met on the Pacific island
of Samoa. Small islands, big
issues; 2014 is the UN Interna-
tional Year of the Sids. We are
20 years on from the Barbados
conference, which kicked this
roadshow onto the circuit.
The Sids are an odd bunch.
The happy band includes
Guyana, Suriname and Guinea
Bissau, which are not islands.
It includes Cuba, the Domini-
can Republic and Haiti, which,
with more than ten million peo-
ple, are not specially small.
The band includes Singapore,
which has developed so fast that
it is no longer a "developing
country." It includes Puerto
Rico, the US Virgin Islands and
French New Caledonia.
The big Sids issue is climate
change. Poster boys are the
Maldives, Kiribati, the Marshall
Islands and Tuvalu, low-lying
coral islands in the Indian and
Pacific oceans which will be
devastated by even a small sea-
"Climate change threats facing
many Sids," says a UN Web site,
"are by and large not of their
Only up to a point. People on
small islands are not powerless
victims. Some are big carbon
The Sids group also includes
T&T and Bahrain. This country
comes second to Qatar in the
world carbon-emissions table.
Bahrain is number eight.
Here, we subsidise gas, diesel
and electricity like crazy. The
IMF warned only last Wednes-
day that these subsidies "dis-
proportionately benefit the well-
off," and lead to
"efficiency-killing traffic jams
and environmental costs."
There s a long-term carbon cost
too---which will be felt world-
People in the Dominican
Republic use energy pretty
much like their counterparts in
Colombia or Costa Rica. Living
on (two-thirds of) an island
does not make them all cuddly.
People in Sids, like the others,
will have to make lifestyle
Some small islands are justi-
fied in asking for help. So are
some which are not so small.
Haiti, yes. But Singapore?
It s not all about victimhood.
Small islands need expertise.
With just over 50,000 people,
St Kitts-Nevis has great
resources for renewable energy---
geothermal, solar and more.
They have only a few high-
powered engineers and financial
planners. They need outside tal-
Targeted technical assistance
can launch schemes which will
be financially self-supporting.
Some islands depend on
marine resources: fish, coral
reefs and tourist beaches. Those
are threatened by sea-level rise,
and by the sea s increasing dis-
solved carbon, which raises its
Other marine threats are local,
not worldwide. They lie within
the islands power to control. To
their enormous credit, Barbadi-
ans have invested in sewerage
systems and beach protection.
Some others have not.
In our case, the main marine
resources are oil and gas. So,
plenty cash, not much threat to
the resource from changing cli-
mate---and a responsibility for
There s a knottier problem.
Islands necessarily depend on
air and sea transport---which
release four per cent of world
The Maldives earn their
money from long-haul tourists---
more than a million each year,
two-thirds of them from Europe
or the Americas.
If we count in the aircraft
emissions from tourist travel,
the Maldives are a high-carbon
economy. Add the international
tourist flights to the Maldives
own carbon emissions, and their
per capita total is higher than
If carbon emissions go on
increasing, uncontrolled climate
change will drown the Maldives.
If emissions are cut back, they
will have to rethink their
"There aren t many environ-
models for small islands. Air
travel is not a sustainable
model," says David Hughes of
Rutgers University, who is now
completing a book on T&T
energy and climate politics.
Caribbean nations complain
about Britain s air passenger
duty, which aims to cut carbon
They were right to say it was
initially unfair in structure.
Caribbean flights were charged
more than those to North
America. That has now been
But cuts on carbon-emitting
air and sea travel will stay on
the worldwide agenda. And
these won t all come from
increased engine efficiency. How
they will affect tourism-depen-
dent Sids is anyone s guess. But
it won t be easy.
Then there are natural haz-
ards. Some, such as volcanoes
and earthquakes, have zilch to
do with climate change.
Hazards hit small islands
hard. An entire economy may
be knocked out. After a Hurri-
cane Ivan or a Haiti quake, help
can t be trucked in overland;
ports and airports may be dev-
Some islands think ahead;
others don t. The Caribbean
Catastrophe Risk Insurance
Facility this year offered excess
rainfall insurance. Eight of its 16
members bought in. The Turks
and Caicos did not. Two weeks
ago, they were flooded by Trop-
ical Storm Cristobal, with up to
300 millimetres of rain.
The Bahamas has long used
the ultra-strict South Florida
Building Code. In this country, a
National Building Code Com-
mittee was appointed two years
ago. Dr Richard Robertson of
the UWI Seismic Research Cen-
tre said in June that funds for
its work were yet to be released.
But some things at least are
prepared comfortably in
advance. A 32-page "outcomes"
document from last week s
Samoa conference has been
knocking about since July.
In a tiny democracy such as
this, where the norm is that
people don t keep their word
(from the electrician who casually
fails to show up, to the politicians
from whom we still await the bot-
tle bill so we can finally start
recycling), the efficacy with which
the Constitution (Amendment) Bill
was passed has raised red flags.
Anthony Vieira declared it "the
most controversial piece of legisla-
tion" to come to the Parliament.
Fyard Hosein wrote: "At its core,
the principle is if you cannot get
what you wish, then you are to
choose what other people wish for
Late last month the Senate
approved the bill by an 18-12 mar-
gin. It includes the following: (i) a
two-term limit for prime minis-
ters; (ii) the right to recall legisla-
tors; (iii) the need for an elected
candidate to obtain 50 per cent of
the votes in a general election or
face a runoff.
The mistake politicians make
repeatedly on the dopamine and
serotonin chemical high induced
by power is: they think the people
they "rule" are credulous, stupid.
They forget that no matter how
uneducated, how dependent, our
people have a native intelligence.
Trinbagonians "know" things in
their bones. And when the people
act during elections, they vote
from the gut.
Still, this time, the people s
hands are tied. The victory
belongs to the politicians.
Why the rush to pass this hasti-
ly-crafted bill? I asked the high-
est-ranking legal luminary I know,
who understands minutely every
nuance of this bill.
This is what he said:
"The bill has caused fear and
resentment. People are asking why
the Government was so persistent
in pushing this measure through
despite significant opposition to it,
despite the complaint that there
has been very little public consul-
"The amendment---the runoff
provision---was not trivial. It
allows the party that has run a
closer third to participate in the
runoff poll. This is a complete
reversal of the underlining policy
which is no one should be elected
until they get the majority of the
"The fear is this will have a
chilling effect on third parties
other than the two main parties of
UNC and PNM, and entrench
Here s how:
"While third parties have shown
themselves incapable of coming
first in any constituency and have
not won a seat in any election,
without an accommodation with
another party, the amendment will
operate to wipe them off the slate
"In 2007, when the COP ran,
the PNM is said to have benefited
from the splitting of the vote by
the COP. In 2010, the accommo-
dation made by the UNC with the
COP avoided the difficulty of the
split vote, especially in marginal
seats. The Partnership was formed
because the UNC agreed not to
run in certain seats where they
supported COP, which won six
seats. By avoiding splitting votes,
the UNC emerged as the winner.
"With the runoff provision the
bar is raised even higher, because
the third party would have to pull
more votes than the UNC and
PNM put together, which is
improbable in the extreme. If it is
able to beat one and not the
other, the party would qualify for
the runoff election. But even if
COP beat both parties without
gaining an overall majority, it will
still have to face the runoff against
larger parties. If the chances of a
small party winning based on past
performance was small, under this
new system it will be so remote
that it will persuade them that it
is not worth participating in the
"Under the previous system,
even if two parties were compet-
ing, they weren t as polarised as
they will be under this system,
although admittedly, there isn t
much to choose regarding the ide-
ology of the two parties.
"There are other fears: that the
15-day delay between the first and
second poll will put an added bur-
den on the Election and Bound-
aries Commission; that it will
allow the Government access to
the state treasury to influence the
outcome of the election. Another
pressing fear is that the 15-day
gap will create a void, an interreg-
num of absence of effective gov-
ernment between the reins of
incumbent and those taking over.
"The provision of the second
election will reduce the impact of
the third party splitting the vote
and there will be no inducement
coalition with a smaller group.
The idea behind the bill is that if
there is a runoff, the third party,
which doesn t qualify, will be able
to offer its votes to surviving par-
"But in our context, this is
unlikely to happen. I don t think
those who voted for a third or
alternate party rather than the big
two will vote again at all. Rather
than take instruction from their
leader, they will resort to tribal
At the end of this interview, my
This amendment to the Consti-
tution would make people s votes
count less, rather than more. It s
back to tribal voting.
POLITICIANS WIN---AT OUR EXPENSE
SMALL STATES: NO TIME FOR A BLAME GAME
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