Monday, April 22, 2024

OUR CARIBBEAN: Word game vs realities


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WHILE FEARS of the right-wing billionaire Donald Trump emerging as new President of the USA at the forthcoming elections in November continue to spread at home and abroad, growing uneasiness is the name of the game in CARICOM’s formerly two best known performing economies – Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

As it remains in Barbados for the Government of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, so it was in the final years of the administration of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and currently for that of her successor Keith Rowley, namely the sad experiences for families coping with declining incomes and rising costs of living.

These developments are creating new challenges for trade unions as well as established state-created independent institutions.

For instance, in the case of Trinidad and Tobago the government and the Steel Workers Union are currently faced with the dilemma of how to realistically respond to the shocking – though perhaps inevitable decision– by Arcelor Mittal, the multinational steel corporation, based at Point Lisas, to dismiss the entire work force of some 644 employees last week.

That big blow for workers, represented by the T&T Steel Workers Union, and the less than year-old government of first-term Prime Minister Keith Rowley, shockingly followed just one day after the foreign-owned steel corporation had to face the consequences of a ruling by the Industrial court in favour of the workers, many of them long-serving employees, some with three decades of service.

The harsh reality to be faced by more than the affected workers, their union and the foreign corporation is that no domestic law seems to be in place to cover local nationals employed by any foreign corporation operating in the country.

Should this shocking state of affairs be confirmed – as seems to be the case in a country where trade unions and governments are in the habit of flexing muscles – it would be a very sad day for enlightened governance in a CARICOM state half a century after gaining its political freedom.

Spat with Ken Gordon

Regrettably, for Prime Minister Rowley, who seems ever-ready disposed for public no-holes-barred spats with Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar, now finds himself entangled with the former chairman of the country’s Integrity Commission, Ken Gordon.

It relates to Dr Rowley’s recent claim of having “no confidence” in the Commission which prides its reputation for fairness and competence.

Basically, for reasons best known to him – but which may now require a response following Gordon’s verbal blast – Prime Minister Rowley went public with the surprising view that he had “lost confidence in the Integrity Commission . . . ”

This verbal whacking proved too much for Gordon, whose term with a previously composed Integrity Commission that had also faced controversies under the administration of Persad-Bissessar, currently Opposition Leader.

“For a Prime Minister to publicly say he has lost confidence in the Commission,” argued Gordon, “what do you expect the normal person who gets a judgment against them to say . . . He (Rowley) has virtually knocked the commission’s legs . . .”

Well known for his readiness to engage in open verbal controversies, whenever necessary – as a media mogul or else – Gordon had taken issue with Prime Minister following Rowley’s controversial verbal swipe while addressing a conference of the Transparency Institute at the Trinidad Hilton.

• Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.


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