Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 23rd 2015 Contents Is there an upcoming election in
T&T? How can a country have
a political campaign with last-
minute scrappy manifestos?
Can anyone tell me what the
burning issues are?
We see politicians running up
and down the country in red and
yellow T-shirts hugging our cred-
ulous, illiterate, sycophantic pop-
Explain the supporters who
come in bus loads to the meet-
ings for promises of projects at
a time when most oil-based
economies are tightening our
Why is there no clamour for
quality education, health care,
environmental legislation, recy-
cling? This campaign is nothing
but rubbish tied up in yellow and
red bows, and election limes .
I interviewed Timothy Hamel-
Smith, an eminent lawyer, former
president of the Senate, chairman
of the Third Force Movement
that is seeking to impact on gov-
ernance, and chairman of the
oversight committee for procure-
Why are our people buying a
rubbish campaign with no debate
on health, education, or the
"Everyone in this country feels
second-class, the society is frac-
tured. The majority of people are
left out of party politics. When
in an election campaign all
politicians do is accuse one
another of corruption, syco-
phancy, nepotism. They are can-
vassing the symptoms and not
the heart of the rot. Look
around. There is no critical mass
of people following a single
vision. The divisiveness and lack
of vision has led to a self-defeat-
ing type mindset, that nothing is
working, let the devil take the
hindmost, look after yourself and
leave others to their fate.
"The politics is race based. The
Opposition s role is to make the
country as ungovernable as pos-
sible. If we want to fix this, fulfill
our potential, the first thing we
need to tackle is corruption. To
do this, we need to implement
procurement legislation. Ineffi-
ciencies in procurement can
make up ten-12 per cent of our
GDP. We are talking of up to 12
billion dollars being wasted.
Superimposed on this is that the
party that comes into power
gains all the spoils. If you listen
to political parties the message is
"We want to capture the treas-
ury." The deal is, if you vote for a
party, the largesse of the State
gets divided among the followers,
supporters and financiers through
the flawed procurement system.
"The resulting corruption is
divisive. The conversation
becomes about who is going to
get what, not based on merit or
value for money, but based on
who you support, who you know.
The spoils are distributed
amongst sycophants and sup-
porters. The rest of the country
is alienated. A proper procure-
ment is vital for the efficient
delivery of services and goods,
for the creation of jobs, for
imports and exports. The reign of
nepotism reinforces the heart of
our problem, fracturing an
already fractured and disenfran-
"I don t know if people under-
stand how important it is to
implement procurement legisla-
tion. The lack of it is eating away
like acid into the fabric of our
society. When you run a society
like that, you can imagine how
debilitating it is to run a society.
The underpinnings of the US is
that it is the land of opportunity.
Here we have opportunity only
for those who support the party
in power. Unless you create
opportunity for all no country
can achieve its potential.
"One of the things imbued in
the Constitution is an obligation
for effective and fair procure-
ment. We already have an excel-
lent legislative base. We have
framework legislation. Legislation
can take place without having to
change the Constitution. A draft
legislation has to be brought to
Parliament for affirmative resolu-
"Once we cross that hurdle and
the salary approved, we have to
get a procurement regulator. The
President will appoint the regula-
tor. This is an executive post.
There will be a board and they
will meet as a committee to
supervise, monitor and evaluate
"For instance, if six people ten-
der for a contract and one of
them feels he was not dealt with
fairly he has a right to initiate a
complaint. This will bring about
self-policing. This will ensure
competitive tendering, trans-
parency, a level playing field, and
good governance. If I am a
shooter, I can say the ones at the
top are committing daily crime.
Unless our leaders model trans-
parency and integrity, we cannot
expect violent crime to change. If
we all see favouritism, corrup-
tion, nepotism pervading the top,
we can t expect the bottom to be
"Society is getting eroded day
by day---the criminality, the
anger, and people stabbing and
shooting. Why are we surprised
at that? When we take an inch
at the top, the population has
permission to take a mile. The
trajectory of politics in T&T has
to be shifted if we want to see
There---I had my answer. With
just two weeks to go before the
election, there is still a small
window of time for the popula-
tion to stand up and say, no we
will not be part of a party that is
waiting to get its hands on the
treasury so it can pillage it for
the leaders and sycophant sup-
We can t pay lip service to the
idea of patriotism---wave at
cricket matches, and wine at
Carnival, and feel patriotic if we
like the food of all of the races
and cultures of this country.
Hamel-smith said we are all like
adolescents running around,
grabbing and mashing up the
place if we don t get what we
want. That is not a proper coun-
try.This is not a proper campaign.
This is not democracy. It s time
we put country first.
If we don t, once the money
runs out, we will have nothing. A
country without vision is a coun-
try without hope.
No, I mean the other sort.
Smells worse, and just as
much trouble. Piles of
brown stinking seaweed, some-
times six feet deep, rot on
beaches from Barbados to
"I don t think it will affect
the tourism in Tobago," said
Tourism Minister Gerald
Hadeed this month.
UWI Vice-Chancellor Sir
Hilary Beckles disagrees. Last
Monday, he called sargassum
"the greatest single threat to
the Caribbean economy I can
imagine." He wants a Sargas-
sum Emergency Agency.
Sun, sand, sea and sargas-
sum? Island economies depend
arms, legs and neck on
But Hadeed says Tobago "is
not only the beaches...it is so
beautiful and friendly."
Yes, up to a point. There s
more to life than beaches.
Scuba diving, for starters. But
stink up the beaches, and you
have trouble. If in doubt, check
It s not just the tourists.
Fishing boats can t work in
sargassum-choked seas. Corals
are smothered. Bacteria from
decaying seaweed grab oxygen,
leaving little for other life.
Seafront residents complain of
Sargassum has its fans. It s
"a golden rain forest of the
sea," says Hazel Oxenford, fish-
eries professor at UWI s Cave
Sargassum provides food and
shelter for young flying fish,
turtle hatchlings, a whole food
web. Ten fish species live only
in sargassum, among them the
which looks like a scrap of
seaweed. Onshore, sargassum
stabilises beach sand.
There are a hundred-plus
types of sea-bed sargassum.
Two Atlantic species---natans
and fluitans---are different.
They spend their entire life
Their tangled mats terrified
Columbus and his sailors in
the Sargasso Sea.
Today, it s regional tourism
chiefs who have the wobblies.
The sargassum explosion
started in 2011. Why?
In normal times, floating
sargassum has an annual cycle,
following nutrient-rich waters
from the Gulf of Mexico to
seas around Bermuda.
The recent outbreaks are dif-
ferent. Mats form in equatorial
waters, between Brazil and
Nigeria. From there, sargassum
drifts to the Caribbean in
tions, half-a-mile across and
maybe four miles long.
If one of those hits your
beaches, you re in trouble.
In Barbados, they mess up
the scenic east coast and the
The glitzy west coast, natu-
rally, is just fine.
In Belize, all beaches face
east. They have real trouble.
So, why this southern sar-
gassum? The science is not yet
clear. But climate change has
warmed the sea surface.
Replacing rain forest with agri-
culture has increased the nutri-
ent inflow from the Amazon.
Years back, I remember
teams of steadfast women
employed in Barbados to rake
up seaweed, and bury it manu-
ally on the beach. That was
environment-friendly job cre-
Today, some hoteliers panic,
using heavy construction
equipment to remove sargas-
sum. Machines lack the deli-
cate touch. They scoop up pre-
cious beach sand too.
UWI s Barbados campus
organised a sargassum seminar
last Monday. Government min-
isters from three countries
turned up. The host country
has a well-focussed Coastal
Zone Management Unit.
Sue Springer of Barbados
Hotel and Tourism Association
spoke bravely of turning nega-
tives into positives. She spoke
of bussing guests from south
coast hotels to the west coast---
which sounds fine, until you ve
met Bajan peak-hour traffic.
Says Springer: "When there s
a hurricane, we have a hurri-
cane plan. We need to have a
Weather watchers last week
tracked Hurricane Danny as it
moved west. Texas A&M Uni-
versity is now developing a
satellite-based early warning
system for sargassum.
Julian Francis, St Vincent s
junior works minister, wants to
reap the stuff before it hits
shore; a 300-metre boom costs
Seaweed has a host of uses.
For the Japanese it s a food-
stuff. Dried out, it can be fuel
It can make pharmaceuticals,
or MDF for construction. An
ounce of Estée Lauder s sea-
weed-based Crème de Mer was
selling for US$110 a decade
But as with most Caribbean
manufacturing, there are snags.
There s way too much sar-
gassum for the beaches---but
we do not have the year-round
multi-tonne supply needed for
volume manufacturing. Nor do
we want low-cost but destruc-
tive mechanical harvesting.
Niche products by contrast
use tiny volumes which won t
clear the beaches; and their
edge is in branding and pack-
aging, not the weed.
We have a crisis. And not
just in Tobago.
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt August 23, 2015
ALL THAT WEED...
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