Sunday, March 7, 2010

Let us Prey! The flight of Calder Hart from Trinidad and Tobago



Cobo Town: Cat in Bag Productions' 2010 mas presentation, designed by artists Ashraph and Shalini Seereeram. Let us prey!

I'm quite fascinated by the goings on in Trinidad and Tobago over the last couple of days. The Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (UDeCOTT) boss Calder Hart has resigned and fled the country. Surely this is a 9.0 magnitude political earthquake for the Manning Government. I'd like to see how the ruling party extricates itself from what appears to be damning evidence of guilt: the sudden, hasty departure of one of the major players accused of corruption. "AT LAST!" blared a headline on Newsday's cover page, referring to Calder's resignation. The lead article by Andre Bagoo titled "Hart resigns"started off like this:

ALMOST two years after allegations of corruption were first made against him, Calder Hart yesterday resigned as the Udecott executive chairman and as the chairman of four other state boards he had been appointed to under Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s administration.

...His resignation came after Newsday last week published a series of documents which appeared to disclose clear links between his wife, Malaysian born Sherrine Hart, and a company the Udecott board awarded $820 million in contracts to. The documents, birth and marriage certificates tying Sherrine to two men who served as directors on Sunway Construction Caribbean Limited, emerged after being obtained by the Congress of the People in the course of a six-week investigation.

Hart’s resignation also came one day after High Court Judge Justice Mira Dean-Armorer shot down an attempt by lawyers acting on behalf of Udecott to stop the submission of the final report of the Uff Commission of Inquiry. The judge rejected Udecott’s arguments that the inquiry, which saw damning evidence of corruption and mismanagement emerge, was illegal.

Calder Hart was no ordinary Trinidadian. The following paragraphs were taken from his Witness Statement to the Commission of Enquiry Into the Construction Industry.
  1. My name is Calder Hart. I live at No. 6 De Lima Road, Cascade, Trinidad and Tobago. I was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada. I have lived in Trinidad and Tobago for the last 22 years and in 2004 I applied for and was granted citizenship of Trinidad & Tobago. To do so I was not required to renounce Canadian citizenship and as a consequence I am now a citizen of both Canada and Trinidad and Tobago.
  2. As can be seen from my curriculum vitae attached below (annexure 2) before I first came to Trinidad and Tobago in 1986, I had acquired considerable work experience in the areas of housing (both private and public), mortgage financing, land assembly and urban development and redevelopment at both federal and provincial levels.

The news of Hart's resignation and abrupt departure from the country drew loud and raucous responses from the blogosphere.

"The flight of Cobo Hart: naturally my Carnival placard helped turn the tide!: http://bit.ly/cmUG6m" Nicholas Laughlin announced on Twitter, the link leading to his blogpost excerpted below:

SUNDAY, MARCH 07, 2010

The flight of the cobo



My Carnival Monday placard from the band
Cobo Town, proudly carried through the streets of Port of Spain nearly three weeks ago. The face of Calder “Cobo” Hart — head of the powerful state construction agency Udecott, widely suspected of massive financial improprieties and thought by some to be Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s bagman, subject of investigation by the Uff commission of enquiry — replaced the national coat of arms in the middle of a giant $100 bill. Read the rest of Nicholas's blog here:

Now the interesting thing is that i had arrived in TnT on the 20th of February just in time to be taken to the victory party of the Cobo ('corbeau' the equivalent of our John Crows) Town band (fourth place in the small band category at Trini carnival). I was transported from the airport to artist Ashraph's frame shop in one fell swoop, where the erstwhile Cobos were flinging wine and sundry spicy snacks down their beaks.


Cobo Town - Carnival Tuesday
artist Ashraph Ramsaran, leading the Cobo Town Band, seen above descending on Red House (House of Parliament)

One of them detached himself and introduced himself as Andre Bagoo, the author of the article quoted above and parliamentary reporter who was in the news only a few months ago. We had been following each other on Twitter and Facebook for some time but had never met in person. Bagoo is also author of the blog Pleasure (Art in all its forms) and had been banned from Parliament in TnT last November "for the rest of the session" on grounds of 'contempt'. Coincidentally, as a Trinidad Express story said:

The article written by Bagoo arose out of a report stating that the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago, which had been referred to the Privileges Committee for alleged contempt arising out of a complaint made by Caroni East MP Dr Tim Gopeesingh, had planned to concede on the contempt charge and had decided to issue an apology.

A Cobo Town placard

Bagoo was not the only one so hastily dispatched. Former Trade Minister Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley was fired under mysterious circumstances. Rowley had called for Cabinet oversight of Udecott and accountability. And that's not all. In the March 8th edition of Newsday Bagoo states: "BEFORE CALDER Hart resigned as executive chairman in the wake of documents showing links between Hart and a company the Udecott board awarded $820 million in contracts, the Prime Minister Patrick Manning and Cabinet defended Hart and Udecott no less than forty-five times over the course of two years, all the while apparently taking no action to deal with allegations against Hart.

And they claimed Panday was corrupt! One of the funniest, most effective pieces of satire in the Caribbean Blogosphere is a blog calling itself "The Secret Blog of Patrick “Patos” Manning". The voice is ostensibly that of Manning:

Breakfast of losers

March 7th, 2010 · No Comments

Mealtime at a Commonwealth heads of government event is never pretty. You’d swear some of these characters have only recently learned to eat with knife and fork, and I’m not talking just about the South Asian and Sub-Saharan African delegates. For instance, it’s well known in Commonwealth heads circles that the person you never want sitting across the table from you isGordon Brown, who, in addition to having the table manners of a warahoon, insists of having a serving of haggis with every single meal. Experienced heads like me know that the thing to do is arrive at the dining room well ahead of time and choose the smallest table possible, which also limits your chances of having to sit near a type like Jacob Zuma.

But even an experienced head like me sometimes oversleeps. Thanks to a combination of jetlag, a not completely guilt-free conscience and a nightmare featuring a horrifying creature with the upper body of Calder Hart and the hindquarters of the Rev Apostle Juliana Peña, I didn’t manage to roll out of bed this morning until well after 8am BST. Hazel was already awake, talking on the phone in hushed tones. She said that she too had lost track of time and planned to skip breakfusses, which didn’t quite explain why she was already fully dressed, nor the general whiff of bacon and sausages about her person. I considered ordering room service, but in heads circles not showing up for a meal when you’re embroiled in a scandal is tantamount to an admission of guilt. Even Mugabe was still eating among us till the bitter end, much to everyone’s chagrin.

What i love about Trinidad is the freewheeling creativity to be found there as evidenced in the blog above and also in recent developments in Carnival. The riotous street festival which many feel has been hijacked by 'bikini mas' in recent years, is being reclaimed by a small band of politically and socially conscious revellers. A motley crew of artists, writers, fashionistas and techies this group has demonstrated what true creativity is, for two years running. Last year the band performed T'in Cow, Fat Cow, a commentary on the voicelessness of ordinary citizens. This year they performed as vultures, the birds of prey known as Cobos in Trinidad and John Crows in Jamaica.

Arriving back in Trinidad after my art appointment in Suriname i found myself riding in a taxi past the Labasse, the giant garbage dump across from Laventille. The sky was filled with circling cobos but what has truly stayed with me is the sight of 40 or 50 cobos sitting on the ground, striking birds of intense blackness, waiting their turn at the carrion. In the wake of the flight of Cobo Calder Hart and the unveiling of the depth of corruption in the governance procedures of the country, Cobo Town emerges as the stinging critical intervention it was meant to be. This is a kind of popular action that is definitely not happening in Jamaica.

In 2009 Ashraph and Shalini debuted an independent mas band of artists and 'creatives' called T’in Cow Fat Cow with the theme 'The People Must be Herd". The photos below show their strikingly simple, immensely creative costumes. Below the photos i've cut and pasted their manifesto which was clearly designed to extend itself to political protest from being a mere mas band.

One looks in vain for anything remotely similar in Jamaica both in terms of sheer conceptual creativity and as political mobilization. I eagerly await the next installment of Gab Hossein's hard-hitting video blog called "If I Were Prime Minister..." in which she mercilessly lampoons and takes down the political directorate of TnT about the absurdities that pass for governance. What will she have to say about the Hart resignation and the latest shenanigans?. One waits with bated breath.

The People Must be Herd
Photo: Georgia Popplewell


On Thursday 16 April, as final preparations are being made for the staging of the 5th Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, a group of artists will do a performance installation on the streets of Trinidad and Tobago's capital, Port of Spain.

The silent procession is part of a video installation being created by the band’s designers Ashraph Ramsaran and Shalini Seereeram.

T’in Cow Fat Cow debuted as an independent mas band in 2009, inspired by the song T'in Cow by 3 Canal.

The procession takes place on the streets of Port of Spain between 9 and 11 and started at that traditional seat of people’s democracy, Woodford Square.

The People Must be Herd manifesto

T’in Cow Fat Cow – The People must be Herd.


Dey belly full but we hungry
And right about now we angry
And de reason dat we angry
Is because we belly hungry

Tin Cow tin cow green grass dey over so
Fat cow de butcher callin yuh
Watch for yuh head ah warnin yuh
Otherwise in de pot yuh goin to go.

T’in Cow, 3 Canal

We represent the voiceless. The many thousands of Trinbagonians outside of the Red Zone. Whose tax dollars are being invested in a display that does not address their most urgent concerns.
New buildings, a repaved highway, painted lamp posts and hidden homeless do not mean that we are on the road to development.
In the midst of the Summit performance we ask, who is seeking the interests of the voiceless? Who is spending many many millions to address our concerns. Who is listening? Who will suffer the most in the face of a global economic meltdown?

The people of high risk communities must be heard.
The missing children must be heard.
The homeless people must be heard.
The women and children who live with abuse every day must be heard.
The people who will lose employment in the aftermath of the Summit must be heard.
The people of communities in danger of environmental destruction must be heard.
The physically challenged must be heard.

5 comments:

Gelede said...

Annie - thanks for stitching this narrative together! Trinidadians act like they live in a democracy, Jamaicans just like to say it, but we don't know the hell what it means. And certainly not our artists, too many of who seem to think it's a requirement hat they suspend all ability to think critically and engage with the issues of the day in order to sell their art. One of the reasons that Jamaica so, so frustrates me is the pervasiveness of cowardice at every level, and the retreat to "law" as the solution for every blasted ting, just so we the people don't have to get up off our baxides and do anything. For all of the noise about patriotism, such unwillingness to speak up and speak out against the wrongs that are being committed in our midst is definitely unpatriotic. Everything just "too hard" therefore it shouldn't be done. Its a level of laziness that I really have difficulty wrapping my mind around. Of course, all it takes to change this is a critical mass, but even the people who I was thinking would be down for such, they too are showing themselves to be raging cowards. But I haven't given up hope. Not yet.

Annie Paul said...

Hey Gelede,

thanks for the comment! the first since i posted this...wondered why no one could bother to say a word one way or the other.

thanks also for recognizing the effort it takes to stitch things together. they're not just out there waiting to be recorded in their pristine, fully developed forms.

Nicholas Laughlin said...

I thought I should (belatedly) share the link to a few notes I wrote about the cows last year (I was a member of the herd):

http://nicholaslaughlin.blogspot.com/2009/05/herd-instincts-written-for-very-belated.html

Annie Paul said...

Thanks Nicholas! i should have included this in my post if i'd remembered---

Gelede said...

Well, the post is *not* about some obviously controversial issue in Jamaica, so our die-hard nationalists won't take to it. But that's exactly the point made by Nicholas's piece (thanks for sharing that, NL!). It is for us, the citizens, to define the issues, and to bring what we have to bear on making our voice heard. There is no time like the present to do that. And it's not like there's not tonnes of raw material to work with in Ja. On top of the daily body count and the Dudus embarrassment, there's the JHA, the perennial garbage problem, the selective water shortage but still nuff nuff deh fi UWI Carnival, and that woman who headed the Correctional Services during the Armadale fire is rumoured to have been transferred to another gov't position. Sounds like musical chairs or dandy shandy happening up in Parliament and Jamaica House. All those are just variations on a theme. My mother used to talk about going to Speaker's Corner at Parade. Where are the griots, the warner-women and the broadsides to speak the voice of the people?