We Cannot Ignore It


My wife Saleema was born and raised in Richmond Hill, Queens, New York City so we found ourselves talking and reflecting on two related news items this month.  Two stories broke earlier this month that have shocked some residents of this community with strong ties to Guyana and Trinidad.  Firstly there was the case of Edul (Ed) Ahmad, the extremely popular real estate magnate who has been accused of masterminding a US$50 million mortgage fraud.  He is known to have ties to powerful New York politicians and even the former President of Guyana but these connections have meant nothing in the face of the accusations and allegations that now face him. 

The second big story in Queens is that of three members of the Ramsundar family also from Richmond Hill who were sentenced to 418 years in jail for immigration and real estate fraud also in the millions of dollars.  Their ties to Trinidad meant that the story has been carried in the local press.  One thing about the United States is that it is not uncommon to see the wealthy and powerful regularly being held to account.  That message of accountability was sent loudly and clearly when the wealthy and powerful Stanford and Madoff had to take responsibility for their respective actions.

Now let us leave the United States and return to Trinidad and Tobago.  For those the least bit concerned about the nation our children are set to inherit, we cannot ignore how rare it is to see those with wealth and power held to account for their (mis) behavior.  Despite the campaign promises of the present administration, how can we ignore the fact that the report on the Piarco Airport Enquiry has not yet been published?  How can we ignore the fact that the two gentlemen alleged to have masterminded massive fraud in this Piarco Airport case are now walking around freely despite the best attempts of the US government to have them extradited to answer certain charges?  How can we ignore the culture of greed and irresponsibility emerging from the CL Financial Enquiry?  How can we ignore the perception of the average man that at the end of the day, no one will be held accountable for the CL Financial collapse and the almost unbearable burden that tax payers must now carry?

How can we ignore the perception that you have a better chance of seeing a jail for stealing clothes in Arima than for allegedly stealing millions?  Just ask Richard Fredrick who was sentenced to 4 years earlier this month for the crime.  But how can these small fishes ever be convinced crime does not pay when they look around and see so many high profile examples of what appear to be management by kleptocracy or at best, management without any moral compass whatsoever.   As one Vice President of a large Trinidad and Tobago entity once joked with me - if you steal, ensure that you steal enough to pay the right attorneys - never steal small - always steal big. Federal Tax Singapore

I would not join the chorus of comments about ‘silks’ except to say that I am still awaiting the constitutional reform promised on the campaign trail in 2010.  The same reforms which promised to address a lack of transparency and accountability in so many areas of governance.  I patiently await reforms that promised to deliver checks and balances to remove temptation from the path of those too weak to resist it.  I patiently await reforms that promised the right to “recall” ineffective parliamentarians as well as the reforms that promised term limits.  Remember those?

But as the first month of 2012 pushes forward, I am pleased by the recently signed agreement that promises a more direct air link with India.  I remember being quite impressed when I first heard this idea years ago from a former CEO of Caribbean Airlines and I am pleased that it is finally becoming a reality.  It is hard to overstate just how much the balance of power is shifting towards the East.  The promise is an additional link between India (preferably via Dubai) and Latin America (including the Caribbean) especially for business travelers, which avoids the hassle of U.S. airports, and / or the cost of European airports.   In my opinion, this has the potential to be one of the present administration's biggest achievements - if it goes well. For the benefit of the country, my fingers are crossed that no egos get in the way of this important opportunity. 

My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country and I love my region.  Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.  Feel free to email me on derren43@yahoo.com

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