The Israelis In The Machine. Or, SIA Later, Alligators...

Who said we didn't know anything about spying? Was just looking over an old post where I'd hosted my Israel/Palestine clippings file and thought you might like to revisit some newspaper reports. I'm reposting, among others, those that discuss the equipment bought from Israel by the previous administration and a few articles about the allegations from 2008 of spying on citizens.

I have no problem with intelligence gathering and the clean work that can be done by intelligence agencies. My respect ends where that intelligence gathering, which should only be for the betterment of the nation, is done to deliberately cause harm to your own, to others, and to serve the interests of the wicked and greedy. This is why I support WikiLeaks as a platform for whistle blowers who have seen and are repulsed by the Emperor's nakedness wherever it is uncovered in the world. I cannot be a part of global corruption. I trust that my country feels the same.

-T&T offers to patrol region. T&T Express | Wednesday, September 29th 2004
-Who can't hear will feel! By Sasha Mohammed | Trinidad Guardian | Sunday April 24th 2005
-Manning leaves for Israel. By Richard Lord | Trinidad & Tobago Express | Friday, November 18th 2005
-PM talks politics, energy with Israeli president. T&T Express | Monday, November 28th 2005
-NAR criticises PM for visit to Israel. By Anna-Lisa Paul | T&T Express | Tuesday, November 29th 2005
-Think before dealing with Israel, Mr PM. | T&T Express | Wednesday, November 30th 2005
-PM's Israeli trip in right direction. T&T Express | Wednesday, November 30th 2005
-Unfair attack on Israelis. T&T Express | Thursday, December 1st 2005
-PM checks out high-tech weapons on Israel trip. By Anna Ramdass | T&T Express | Friday, December 2nd 2005
-Israelis can help with security, farming. T&T Express | Wednesday, December 7th 2005
-No Israeli crime-fighting helicopters. T&T Express | Wednesday, January 4th 2006
-VMCOTT buys $130M Israeli radar. By Sean Douglas | T&T's Newsday | Thursday, November 23 2006
-$100m off-budget Israeli deal. By Anna Ramdass | T&T Express | Friday, December 8th 2006
-Israel, an attractive market for local entrepreneurs. By Aabida Allaham | T&T Express | Thursday May 15 2008
-Listening in...'Phone calls, e-mails of high-profile citizens monitored for past two years'. | T&T Express | Wednesday, November 26 2008
-That right to privacy. Express Editorial | T&T Express | Sunday, November 30 2008
-Anti-smuggling spy gear missing. By Richard Charan Investigative Desk | T&T Express | Sunday, December 14 2008
-Police fail Hindus. By Sat Maharaj | Trinidad and Tobago Guardian | January 21st, 2009
-Caribbean ‘Wish List'’ for Obama administration. By Norman Girvan | T&T Guardian | January 21st, 2009
-Israel and the USA. By Marina Salandy Brown | T&T's Newsday | Thursday, January 22 2009
-PM: Security cloak for T&T. By Denyse Rennne | T&T Express | Sunday, February 28th 2010
-Prime Ministers digging holes. By Marina Salandy Brown | T&T's Newsday | Thursday, March 25 2010
-Israeli water company to sign deal with WASA. By Alexander Bruzal | T&T's Newsday | Monday, April 19 2010
-Americans train Kamla’s bodyguards. By Inerva Arjoon | T&T's Newsday | Thursday, May 20 2010
-Kamla: Probe rush into $b WASA contract. By Anna Ramdass | T&T Express | Friday, May 21st 2010
-No 'sweetheart deal' with Israeli company, says Sultan Khan. By Aretha Welch | T&T Express | Friday, May 21st 2010
-Duke: WASA Israeli contract an insult. By Anna Ramdass | T&T Express | Saturday, May 22nd 2010
-No $700m deal, says WASA chief. By Anna Ramdass |
T&T Express | Saturday, May 22nd 2010
-WASA head: No Israeli deal. By Darcel Choy | T&T's Newsday | Saturday, May 22 2010
-Smelter, rapid rail in limbo, water taxi to stay. By Raffique Shah | T&T Express | Wednesday, June 2nd 2010
Trinidad & Tobago Express | Wednesday, September 29th 2004
...T&T offers to patrol region.

TRINIDAD and Tobago has offered to have its Coast Guard patrol the entire Eastern Caribbean, as far as Antigua, if the United States was prepared to fund it.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning told the Centre for Strategic International Studies here in Washington DC that Government had made the offer to the Americans as part of its efforts to ensure that drug traffickers do not take advantage of the weak Caribbean economies to set up base in the region.

Manning said; "We have told them that we are prepared to do our part by patrolling the entire Eastern Caribbean but to fund that would be out of the reach of Trinidad and Tobago and so, if they are prepared to fund it, we are prepared to do it."

The Prime Minister said the fact was that with the decision to construct an Intra-Caribbean Gas Pipeline, Trinidad and Tobago's Coast Guard would have to patrol parts of the Eastern Caribbean to protect the pipeline and already steps were being taken to strengthen the Coast Guard including increases in manpower and in the acquisition of additional patrol boats.

Manning told the Washington policy advisers that Trinidad and Tobago had installed a radar it had bought from Israel and had put in a repeater in the Cedros area and from that the security forces were able to see certain things which had alarmed them.

He said as a result both the Guardia Nacional and the Coast Guard had taken action in that part of the country and had the drug lords on the run.

Trinidad Guardian | Sunday April 24th 2005Who can't hear will feel! By Sasha Mohammed

Licks for criminals, fighter boats and helicopters to combat the drug trade in the Southern Caribbean and a trip to Israel are the hallmarks of Government’s latest anti-crime plan, which was unveiled by Prime Minister Patrick Manning.

He made the announcement to a crowd of PNM party supporters at a meeting in Tunapuna on Friday night.

This came after a public outcry for action following Thursday’s daring midday murder in Port-of-Spain, where gangsters pursued and fatally shot 25-year-old gangster Oba Jones on Brian Lara Promenade, mere metres from a police post.

So far, there have been 104 murders and 18 kidnappings for the year.

Addressing the problem of repeat criminal offenders, mostly young males, in the penal system, Manning said his Government was intent on putting a “deterrent” in place— beating them.

This, because “young fellas in particular” often believed that in prison they “have it easy...with three square meals a day” and no death penalty, he said.

“There is no deterrent, and the Government is determined to change that,” Manning said.

“Cabinet will consider very shortly a proposal for the reintroduction of corporal punishment in T&T.

“They must get strokes, and after, they eh go want none.

“So if we have to change the laws in T&T to ensure corporal punishment is carried out, I assure you we will do that.

“Who can’t hear will feel!”

Manning did not specify exactly what he had in mind.

He said Government would introduce training and work programmes aimed at criminals who wanted to rehabilitate.

“If you don’t take the carrot, you getting the stick,” Manning added.

He said some crimes were politically motivated, “based on “things (that) come to my attention.”

Manning, who is also chairman of the National Security Council, said the drug trade remained the biggest problem facing this country, and the cause of most of its crimes.

He spoke at length of anti-drug measures which included Government spending millions of dollars in hi-tech equipment for T&T, St Vincent and Grenada, the two countries proposed to form part of a political union with T&T sometime in the future.

Manning said T&T’s location made it a primary transshipment point for the narcotics trade, and Government intended to make its sea borders virtually impenetrable.

“I will give T&T the assurance that if we have to lock down Tobago, Chaguanas, Cedros, we will do so (to) pursue criminals relentlessly,” he said.

Manning said a two-step plan to do so involved putting a radar system at ten different locations.

He said two of these sites were already up and running and the rest would be fully operational by the end of July.

Each site costs US$.5 million, he added.

Manning said the second step involved the purchase of four armed offshore vessels, 70-90 metres long, “with helicopter capacity,” for the waters off Cedros and the Gulf of Paria.

“The National Security Council has just agreed to purchase two at US$6.1 million each and we anticipate that in about six months that helicopter operation will be in fully in place,” he said.

Manning said he was reviewing a proposal to purchase from Israel a boat “armed to the teeth.”

“Later this year I will accept an invitation from the Government of Israel,” he said.

Manning accused the Opposition UNC of fostering racial tensions.

Acknowledging that the PNM “draws its bulk of support from the African people,” he said, “If it is that sections of the national community feel alienated, it is not a point of view that the PNM will ignore, and now we are saying there is an opportunity, in the reform of the country’s Constitution, to put a system in place that whatever the outcome of a political election is, no group feels alienated.”

He said this system included giving local government bodies more autonomy.

“So if you win at local government level you will have control of the country. It is a challenge. We require constitutional reform and we don’t expect support from the UNC,” Manning said.

Science Minister Colm Imbert, Works Minister Franklin Khan, Social Services Minister Christine Kangaloo and Education Minister Hazel Manning also spoke.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Friday, November 18th 2005Manning leaves for Israel. By Richard Lord

Prime Minister Patrick Manning departs for Israel today where he will hold bilateral discussions with the heads of Government and crime talks with the Israeli defence and security officials.

A release from the Office of the Prime Minister stated that on the official visit to Israel from November 20-24 Manning will meet with the President of the State of Israel Moshe Katsav and the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

On November 25, Manning will depart Israel to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOG) meeting in Valleta, Malta.

He will be accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Knowlson Gift.

CHOGM 2005 will take place at the end of a year which has seen more natural disasters than any other in living memory, as well as the continued terrorist activity in all regions of the world, and on the eve of the Hong Kong Ministerial meeting on the DOHA Development Round Of The World Trade Organisation (WHO), stated the release.

"This is an event from which this country is likely to derive significant political, economic, social and cultural benefits," the release continued.

On November 29, on his return from Malta, Manning will deliver an address on developments in Trinidad and Tobago's energy sector to members of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House, a world renowned think tank based in London.

On that same day, Manning will officially re-open the recently refurbished Chancery building of the Trinidad and Tobago High Commission in London.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Wednesday, November 23rd 2005
PM talks politics, energy with Israeli president.

PRIME MINISTER Patrick Manning was updated on the current political situation in Israel yesterday by President of that country Moshe Katsav.

The two leaders met at the official residence of the Israeli President yesterday.

A statement from the Office of the Prime Minister at Whitehall, Port of Spain said Manning was also informed of the new constitutional options available for the people of Israel at this time. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, who met with Manning on Monday, had asked the President the day before to dissolve Parliament for elections in March next year.

Meanwhile, Manning told Katsav of this country's energy sector, specifically about ammonia and methanol exports.

Manning also told the Israeli leader that the two countries had similarities, many religious persuasions and ethnicities.

Manning planted a tree in Grove Nations, Israel and also visited an organic farm outside Nazareth.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Monday, November 28th 2005
NAR criticises PM for visit to Israel By Anna-Lisa Paul

Prime Minister Patrick Manning has been criticised by the National Alliance for Reconstruction for what it yesterday described as his "reckless adventurism in foreign policy" when he visited Israel.

The NAR has charged that Manning placed the country and its citizens in a potentially dangerous situation with respect to the long-standing conflict in that region.

Speaking at the first National Council meeting at the party's headquarters since the installation of its new political leader, NAR's communications officer Darryl Narinejit claimed Manning's rationalisation for his visit that it involved talks about reducing crime was untrue.

Narinejit claimed it was a "radical departure from the foreign policy of Trinidad and Tobago with respect to the long-standing conflict in that region".

Narinejit suggested that Government might "be bringing citizens of Trinidad and Tobago into an escalating involvement with the dangerous politics of that involvement that would exacerbate rather than lessen our national security concerns".

Advising Manning "to stay out of the dangerous politics of that region or at least think carefully about his foreign policy positions", Narinejit questioned the extent to which Manning was prepared to go to distance himself from past relationships.

NAR's political leader Dr Carson Charles said it was very important for Manning to steer clear of foreign policy positions as the country was small and a cosmopolitan state.

"You cannot be weak as a prime minister and shift from one hand to the next you have these friends and tomorrow...they are your enemies. You cannot do these things in foreign policy," Charles said.

Evidence of Government's desperation on the crime issue was signalled by the Government and Opposition's crime debate which Charles suggested was "just an excuse to buy some time", and "provide excuses to the public as to what they were doing behind the scenes".

Even as citizens continued to kill each other, Charles said the great crime debate was a "farce and an attempt to buy time," both by Government and the Opposition.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Tuesday, November 29th 2005
Think before dealing with Israel, Mr PM.

During Patrick Manning's recent visit to Israel he claimed to be a friend of Israel. This would normally not be a contentious statement to make, however with Israel it carries with it a number of dubious associations.

For example, as a friend of Israel how does Mr Manning view the illegal occupation of land Israel invaded back in 1967? And what of the many breaches of international and human rights laws that Israel has committed?

And how does Mr Manning view Israel's frequent refusal to abide by UN resolutions, especially with respect to the illegal occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights (recently, of course, Israel has pulled out of Gaza, but even so the withdrawal is not complete since the Palestinians do not have overall control of their border, sea waters and airspace)?

And what of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians? Is Mr Manning aware of the apartheid-like way Israel deals with many aspects of the Palestinians' lives, inhibiting them from improving their lives in ways Jewish Israelis take for granted? For example is he aware that Palestinians seeking planning applications for their dwellings face a far more stringent procedure than Jewish Israelis, very rarely having their applications granted whilst Jewish Israelis face few problems and rarely have their applications turned down?

Palestinians in the occupied territories frequently have their land confiscated for spurious reasons, their olive tree plantations destroyed to make way for further illegal Israeli developments. Palestinians are not allowed to travel on many roads, denied access to a number of beaches, have poor, often open sewage and water service-the water supply often turned off to meet neighbouring Jewish Israeli demands with swimming pools etc-are not allowed to travel freely.

In the occupied land Jewish Israelis are allowed to vote but Palestinians are not. How does Mr Manning view this apartheid-like behaviour of his friend?

The Arab peoples of the Middle East see a clear double standard in the way the US and UK governments have enforced laws against Saddam's Iraq but are not prepared to do the same with Sharon's Israel.

Does Mr Manning really want to be in business, buying weapons from such a rogue state? Surely, Mr Manning can find other friends in the world with less dubious baggage, whom he can do the same business with. In the interests of Trinidad and Tobago and world peace, let's hope so.

Joe Pepper
Trinidad & Tobago Express | Wednesday, November 30th 2005
PM's Israeli trip in right direction.

I believe that the NAR is stuck in a time warp of some sort. Mr Manning's visit to Israel is a step in the right direction. The Israelis have shown themselves to be a resilient, determined people with the ability to survive in a very tough "neighbourhood".

If the NAR is afraid of facing up with extremism then they do not have what it takes to lead this nation. Maybe the NAR should take a few lessons on political survival from the Israelis.

A R Singh

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Thursday, December 1st 2005
Unfair attack on Israelis.

I am writing this letter in response to a letter dated Tuesday November 29 headlined, "Think before dealing with Israel, Mr PM''. The writer expressed concern over Mr Manning's apparent friendship with the Israelis.

He went on further to describe Israel as an apartheid state and a violator of Palestinians' rights.

My question to him and those who share his sentiments are-

- Is an apartheid state a democracy?

- Does an apartheid state court-martial its soldiers when they use brute force on its enemies?

- Does an apartheid state hospitalise a would-be suicide bomber whose bomb malfunctioned, injuring only himself?

Finally, I invite that writer to research the history of the 1967 Yom Kippur war. If the Palestinians/Arabs would cease their attacks on Israel the Israelis will have no need to occupy their land!

A Calliste

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Friday, December 2nd 2005
PM checks out high-tech weapons on Israel trip. By Anna Ramdass

Prime Minister Patrick Manning went to Israel to look at high-tech security weapons and equipment that can be used in this country in the continued fight against crime.

"We looked at helicopters, we looked at boats, we looked at whatever else the authorities had available that we thought would have been at interest to us," Manning said at yesterday's post-Cabinet press conference at Whitehall in Port of Spain. He however said that nothing was discussed with respect to purchasing any of the equipment.

"Nothing was discussed, we looked at what was available ... the next step we will continue to examine our own security requirement and determine what additional we need over and above what we have already decided to purchase," he said.

He said the Government was at present in the process of purchasing three offshore patrol vessels, six fast powerboats and four armed helicopters.

He explained that Israel is a country that supplies a lot of the security equipment to this country, including the assault rifle used by the armed forces and the radar system.

Manning said an air vehicle and a radar system are already in place and "we are looking to see what else is necessary".

He said he visited a couple of companies to see what they had to offer in terms of the security of this country, looking at it specifically "with respect to the issue of crime and the concern of the national community and the Government over enhanced levels of security for the people of Trinidad and Tobago".

He said he visited an air military institution to examine the equipment that was available and also what they (Israeli forces) use.

Manning, however, declined to go into details as these were security related matters.

The Opposition, including UNC political leader Winston Dookeran, last Friday criticised the Prime Minister's visit to Israel in Parliament.

Dookeran had said that there was too much secrecy surrounding the trip.

Responding to this yesterday, Manning said the criticism from the Opposition came as no surprise to him.

He said his meetings went on as scheduled and he was also able to meet with Israel's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister.

He said he understands that Opposition Leader Basdeo Panday has received the package of legislation as was discussed in their crime talks and "we will give them about a week to study it and then we will seek further face-to-face discussions".

Trinidad &Tobago Express | Wednesday, December 7th 2005
Israelis can help with security, farming.

PM Manning's trip to Israel has generated some interest and appears to have potential for some positive developments.

What are the Israelis good at? The quick answers that spring to mind are:-

- The ability, second to none, to protect their borders.

- Agricultural expertise, with the apparent ability to make orchards out of desert land.

The Government should be commended for what appears to be diplomatic and other moves to tap into Israeli expertise in these areas, and one hopes that soon we will learn of deliberate follow-up action including visits from Israeli experts to help T&T seal its coastline against the scourge of illicit drugs and guns. I guess the huge radar dish recently installed at Chupara Point on the North Coast is testimony to this!

The other huge opportunity is agriculture. The single largest contributor to the current high inflation rate is the increase in the prices of locally grown food. Mr PM, move with deliberate dispatch to take advantage of your trip and encourage the use of Israeli help in this vital area, but not only for large farm projects. What about the ex-Caroni workers who can now be encouraged to farm the land recently allocated to them? T&T could become the primary food producer in the Eastern Caribbean.

Glenn Castagne

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Wednesday, January 4th 2006
No Israeli crime-fighting helicopters

Cabinet has not taken a decision to buy attack helicopters from Israel in the fight against crime, a highly placed Government source said yesterday.

The source said however that Government has agreed to buy an armed helicopter at one-tenth of the cost of the Israeli crime fighting machine.

It was reported at the weekend that an Israeli attack helicopter cost US$60 million.

Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday | Thursday, November 23 2006
VMCOTT buys $130M Israeli radar By Sean Douglas

UNC Senator Wade Mark wants to know why the Vehicle Maintenance Company of Trinidad and Tobago (VMCOTT) has semi-secretly purchased a $130 million radar surveillance system and other equipment from Israel for the Ministry of National Security.

The deal was unearthed yesterday in a sitting of the Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee (PAEC) chaired by Mark which questioned VMCOTT’s acting CEO Joel Brown and fleet manager Ken Bissoon.

Mark said documents supplied by VMCOTT to the PAEC have raised questions about the purchases from two Israeli firms — Elta Systems Limited and Ectel Limited. “We asked you to provide us with invoices and specifications for the specialist hardware and software equipment purchased with loans that you have already specified for us and whether these transactions were subject to tender. You said it was sole selective tendering,” he said.

Mark thanked Brown for supplying invoices to the PAEC as regards loans for US$9.8 million (TT$60 million) and US$12 million (TT$72 million), a total of about TT$130 million, used for the controversial purchases.

“I looked through the invoices you have provided to this committee and I wondered if they were specially manufactured.”

Mark said not only were details sketchy in the import documentation, but that VMCOTT’s acting CEO, Joel Brown, now seemed in the dark.

“The Vehicle Maintenance Company of Trinidad and Tobago is spending over $130 million of taxpayers’ money to import from Israel ‘specialist hardware and software’ and we asked the question, ‘give us some specifications’, and you know what your response was ‘go and talk to the Ministry of National Security.’”

Holding up an Ectel Limited invoice, Mark scoffed in disbelief at its vagueness, saying, “This is how they supply invoices?!”.

Mark VMCOTT must account to the PAEC.

“We are not asking if it’s spying equipment — that’s another matter. We want to know the specifications of the material you imported because you might be involved in unlawful activities.”

Brown said he had given all VMCOTT’s available information.

“The more detailed information, I have not been able to find that on VMCOTT’s books or in VMCOTT’s files, and hence we referred that the best place to be able to identify that kind of specification would be the Ministry of National Security.”

Mark replied, “This is $130 million of taxpayers’ money, and we don’t have a clue as a Public Accounts Enterprises Committee as to the nature and specifications of what you imported. We need answers.”

Mark queried VMCOTT’s accountability.

“All they sent to you is an invoice, ‘number one — specialist hardware and software’. You in turn instruct the First Citizens Bank to issue millions of dollars on this basis?!”.

Mark asked Brown if he had inspected and cleared the shipment on the docks.

Brown said VMCOTT had placed the purchase order in 2003 before he and his current management team had taken office and he did not know the details. He said the Ministry of National Security would have given more details to the suppliers.

Independent Senator Mary King asked if Brown had sought details of the transaction upon assuming office as acting CEO. He said no.

King asked if upon assuming office Brown had questioned the rationale of the Ministry of National Security for routing its purchase through VMCOTT. Brown said no. He told King VMCOTT got no procurement fee.

King queried the invoice, saying, “The ‘job number’ is vacant, the number of ‘pieces’ is vacant, the kind of pieces tells us it’s a carton, that’s all the information you paid this money out on?!”

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Friday, December 8th 2006
$100m off-budget Israeli deal. By Anna Ramdass

Government used the Vehicle and Maintenance Company of Trinidad and Tobago (VMCOTT) to purchase more than $100 million in equipment from Israel as that money was not in the budget and therefore had to be sourced off the books.

This was disclosed yesterday by acting Permanent Secretary in the National Security Ministry, Jennifer Boucard-Blake, at the Public Accounts (Enterprises) Committee meeting into VMCOTT at the Red House, Port of Spain yesterday.

Opposition Senator and chairman of the committee, Wade Mark, asked representatives of the National Security Ministry why million dollar equipment was purchased through VMCOTT for their ministry.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Glen Roach as well as Acting Superintendent of police John Clevant Felix were present.

Mark had questioned acting VMCOTT CEO Joel Browne on the matter at the previous PAEC meeting and he was unable to give answers.

Boucard-Blake admitted yesterday that the equipment which include a high-tech radar was procured from two Israeli companies through sole selected tendering.

She said that a decision was taken in 2002 based on the requirements of the technical staff of the National Security Ministry and a note was submitted to Prime Minister Patrick Manning who is head of the National Security Council.

She said the note was approved by the Council and ratified following which there was a consultation with the Finance Ministry .

Boucard-Blake said a confidentiality clause in the agreement made it necessary to have the information at VMCOTT "couched in a particular way in accordance with the confidentiality clause".

Independent Senator Mark King questioned why didn't the National Security Ministry do its own procurement instead of going through VMCOTT.

"I am not sure," responded Boucard-Blake who added that in terms of the financial transaction it was necessary to engage VMCOTT.

"You still don't know why they chose VMCOTT, they don't have the money, it came from the Ministry of Finance....what will be the rational for using VMCOTT?" King asked.

"I don't have that information at hand," responded Boucard-Blake who also said that VMCOTT was used on a prior occasion to procure vehicles so she presumed that it was on this precedent the company was used.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Thursday May 15 2008 
Israel, an attractive market for local entrepreneurs. By Aabida Allaham

A NATION torn by war, Israel is now being hailed as one of the most promising markets for local and regional business entrepreneurs.

"Israel is one of the best economies that a potential investor from the Caribbean or Latin America should explore," according to Resa Gooding, a Trinidad-born economist living in Israel.

"The economy is in a boom even though they don't produce oil and the conditions for investment are just right."

As Israel celebrates 60 years of independence, it can now boast of having a market economy that is technologically advanced and in possession of a highly skilled and educated workforce.

"Israel's economy is very strong and will continue to have average growth rates between four to five per cent per year," she added "the Israeli Shekel is now one of 17 currencies being traded on the currency market making it available in 80 countries around the world."

As a result of this, Gooding said that Israel was currently seeking trading partners around the globe.

Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturing Association's (TTMA) representative, Marc Sandy said that once you put aside the fact that the country was war torn, trading with them was a very good idea.

"The TTMA position is one that is in favour of widening market access, both for import from and export to Israel," he added, "once these trade relations can be conducted independent of the regional / international political activity that surrounds the country."

According to Gooding, even though Israel is very poor in natural resources, it has managed to host several successful industrial sectors including metal products, biomedical equipment and a substantial sector for diamond cutting and polishing.

Israel has therefore signed Free Trade Agreements with the European Union, the United States, Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Jordan and Egypt. In addition to these agreements, she added that it became the first non-Latin American country to sign free trade agreements with Mercosur.

While in Israel, Gooding hopes that she can establish an Israeli consulate in Trinidad, whereby import/export transactions can take place with ease.

According to the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute (IEICI), Israeli companies have earned the reputation for creating cutting edge technology, which has placed them in a new light with other global markets, consequently being nicknamed "silicone valley" by Bill Gates.

As a result, Advanced Vision Technology, the leading Israeli developer and manufacturer of automatic inspection systems for web applications along with its subsidiary, Graphic Microsystems Incorporated, provider of closed-loop colour control, remote ink control and colour management solutions will be launching new solutions for a variety of printing applications as part of their joint presence at Drupa 2008, which will run from May 29 to June 11 in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Apart from being a world leader in software development for firms such as Microsoft, Google and Intel, it also possesses a fast developing packaging and plastics industry. The IEICI said that this industry comprises of 120 companies backed by a workforce of over 20,000 employees who together exported a total of US$222 million annually.

Kriyaa Balramsingh, an economist at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, geographic proximity might prove to be a hindrance.

"There are no direct air links or shipping routes so I cannot say if there will be any trade agreements in the foreseeable future," he added. "In the absence of trade agreements, companies will have to pay all applicable tariffs."

However, Christian Moutett of VEMCO limited said trading with Israel was like trading with any other country.

"If their products and services are of good quality and they have competitive pricing, I don't see distance being an issue," he added. "We currently trade with Israel to bring in medical supplies such as syringes for one of our subsidiary companies, Smith Robinson."

As far as security is concerned, Gooding told the Business Express that despite Israel's tumultuous relations with nearby Arab states, the nation's security is extremely vigilant and the country has managed to significantly reduce the number of incidents since 2005.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Wednesday, November 26 2008
Listening in...'Phone calls, e-mails of high-profile citizens monitored for past two years'.

THE country's top politicians, business people, trade unionists, journalists, social activists and legal practitioners have been monitored-via high-tech equipment bought from Israel-for the past two years by a national security agency for political purposes, according to an investigation by TV6 News.

The current TV6 series, titled Spy Games... They're Listening, which has been aired nightly since last week, and continues until Friday, has so far named some of the politicians, lawyers and activists who have been monitored.

The station says its information came from high-level national security officials who are involved in the monitoring operations, and have spoken on the strict condition of anonymity.

According to TV6, the equipment that does this monitoring is called Trilogue.

It is a high-tech system that records telephone and e-mail communications by word recognition, where a computer is programmed to record conversations which mention specific words.

It was purchased by the Vehicles Maintenance Company of Trinidad and Tobago in 2005 from Israeli company Ektel Ltd, which is a sub-company of America's Verint Systems Ltd, which sells high-tech wiretapping systems strictly to government and law enforcement agencies throughout the world.

The TV6 report claims this equipment cost taxpayers $60 million and has since been used by a top secret agency in the National Security Ministry-the Office of Strategic Services-and the Special Anti-Crime Unit, to monitor the private conversations of several high-profile citizens.

Some of these people have spoken to TV6 on record, saying they were aware that they were being monitored, and in some instances, told so by senior members of the ruling party.

This information, TV6 claims, goes to the Prime Minister and National Security Minister. The station quotes Independent Senator Dana Seetahal, SC, and Law Association president Martin Daly, SC, as saying that Prime Minister Patrick Manning confirmed that the monitoring is taking place, when he said during the Budget debate in September that he had commissioned a National Security agency to monitor Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar after he received reports that she had a contact in the Integrity Commission.

The attorneys have also claimed the monitoring, and SAUTT, are illegal.

TV6 News said the Prime Minister, National Security Minister and SAUTT were asked to comment on their information. None denied that monitoring was taking place, it said.

The Prime Minister has not responded.

The National Security Minister has said, via his Media Advisor Irene Medina, that "it would be highly irresponsible for the Ministry of National Security to discuss publicly and in detail the operations of national security agencies in this country".

And SAUTT has said: "Criminal intelligence-gathering plays an important role in the fight against crime. SAUTT seeks to gain criminal intelligence which can assist it in targeting specific serious crimes.

"SAUTT is an intelligence-led organisation, but our resources are used to target criminals and solve crime. They are not used to spy on law-abiding citizens. SAUTT has never, and will never, spy on parliamentarians or the innocent citizens of Trinidad and Tobago."

TV6 News continues its series for the rest of the week, examining the legal ramifications of the alleged Government-sponsored monitoring.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Sunday, November 30 2008
Express Editorial: That right to privacy.

The fact that American intelligence has kept a file on former prime minister Tony Blair, even after these close allies had an agreement not do so, should not surprise anyone. If in the interest of national security President Bush decides that e-mail and other electronic communications of citizens and residents be monitored, spying on close allies can be no big thing. Espionage in its various forms has been part of human history.

All countries have their interests and to protect these interests, be they internal or external, intelligence gathering is the norm. Of course, in totalitarian states intelligence becomes of paramount importance to keep track of internal dissident forces. We have only to remember the Gestapo of Nazi Germany. But even in the functioning democracies state intelligence authorities may gather intelligence on its citizens as well as those in other countries and have been known to carry out actions against others on orders from or with the approval of governments.

But no one can really argue that there must be no surveillance or intelligence gathering. At its more civilised practice, embassies constantly gather general intelligence about their host countries routinely reporting to their governments. At its secretive best all sorts of intelligence is gathered passively or actively.

In the developed world there are mechanisms to protect citizens against abuse. In one it may be through judicial oversight. In others it may be through ministerial oversight according to established procedures. But here we have a serious problem. Our Constitution gives every citizen "the right of the individual to respect for his private and family life". Yet we are told that millions have been spent on Israeli information gathering technology that has been deployed. We are even told by Prime Minister Patrick Manning that he has had an intelligence agency investigate MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar's alleged access to confidential information from the Integrity Commission.

Now the issue is not whether the country should not have an intelligence agency, but that there are ground rules applied supported by law. We are sure that most citizens will in the interest of good order in our society support effective intelligence, especially in criminal and terrorist matters. On the other hand we expect that many will shudder at the prospect of an intelligence agency with seemingly unlimited powers under the direction of the Prime Minister or other ministers who will hide behind the blanket of national security.

There is a perception that phone tapping is prevalent. What we find disturbing is that two Senior Counsel have stated clearly that there is no law in the country that permits phone tapping. If phone tapping is practised Cabinet is breaching the law and violating constitutional rights of citizens.

Only law and judicial oversight will suffice.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Sunday, December 14 2008
Anti-smuggling spy gear missing. By Richard Charan Investigative Desk

Surveillance equipment meant to find smugglers bringing guns, drugs and people from South America has been dismantled and removed from its lookout point in Cedros.

The radar, which is part of Prime Minister Patrick Manning's much lauded 360-degree coastal defence system, was first reported as being broken, back in February.

Last week, the Sunday Express confirmed reports from police sources in Cedros that the equipment had gone missing.

The installation was manned round the clock by Coast Guard officers monitoring screens which showed the movement of vessels in the Gulf of Paria, the Serpent's Mouth, and on Trinidad's south coast.

The system was hooked up to feed images to intelligence officers working within the Office of the Prime Minister at a location in Port of Spain.

The existence of the department has never been publicly acknowledged.

Citing national security concerns, Coast Guard officials have consistently declined to give information about the equipment.

The Coast Guard's communications officer, Lt Kirk Jean Baptiste, asked that a written request for information be made to Coast Guard Commanding Officer Jewan Ramoutar. The Sunday Express sent the request on Friday and has not received a reply up to yesterday.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning said last Thursday that national security would improve when the State acquires new assets. The State has paid down on three offshore patrol vessels which are being built in England at a cost of more than $2 billion.

The vessels are to be delivered in 2011.

The unprotected bays and coves on Trinidad's south-western Peninsula are considered a major point of entry for all things illegal.

Within the past month, five fishermen have reported attacks in the waters off Icacos Point by Spanish-speaking pirates who seemed to be working with the help of locals.

Cedros police said they have never received any call alerting them to offshore attacks and the incident happened without the knowledge of Coast Guard officers, who are based at Bonasse Village, Cedros.

Two Coast Guard interceptor vessels are stationed at the Cedros base.

In October 2007, the radar on the San Fernando Hill was removed for repairs, after malfunctioning for several months. There are also problems with the installation in Moruga.

National Security Minister Martin Joseph has said that the breakdown on one installation does not compromise the capability of the system, purchased from Israel.

Few knew of the equipment until 2006 when it was revealed in Parliament that the government had used the Vehicle and Maintenance Company of Trinidad and Tobago (VMCOTT) to buy the devices, known as the Advanced Coastal Surveillance radar (ACSR).

It has the capability to detect submarine periscopes and airborne targets in all weather, from a command centre on a colour screen showing the outline of the country's coastline.

The equipment was purchased after a 2001 visit to Israel by Prime Minister Manning to meet with then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Trinidad and Tobago Guardian | January 21st, 2009 
Police fail Hindus. By Sat Maharaj

On August 4, 2007, the famous Temple in the Sea in Waterloo was desecrated and the national population was shocked by this display of religious intolerance in the most heinous manner. Murtis were destroyed and attempts were made to burn the temple down. One year after, the national community has not heard any disclosures by the police that they are any closer in capturing the culprits. Ironically, one year to the day on August 4, 2008, a Cunupia mandir was desecrated in what appears to be a commemorative desecration—done in a similar manner to the Waterloo mandir.

We must remind the national community of the events of these attacks and how they traumatised the Hindu community national-ly.
Vandals desecrated the landmark Sewdass Sadhu Hindu Temple by the Sea in Waterloo, Carapichaima, smashing murtis, piling up the pieces in the centre of the temple and attempting to burn them.
The vandals also destroyed carpets, electrical wiring, lights, glass windows and concrete pillars. The destruction took place on Friday night after the building was secured by a caretaker.

Following the attacks the Maha Sabha and individual Hindus contributed replacement marble murtis to the mandir. It was hoped that the attacks on the mandirs would have caused the police to detect and eventually arrest the person or people connected with the attacks. Importantly, in both incidents eye-witnesses reported the suspected perpetrators fleeing the scene shouting fundamentalist slogans. This may suggest that these two attacks may be connected to people with an agenda to violently disrupt our existing religious harmony. An executive member of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Inc wrote the Commissioner of Police on the matter in August last, expressing the urgency of the issue.

On November 21, 2008, a response from the office of the Commissioner of Police was received indicating the status of the investigation.
The letter read:
“I am to inform that numerous persons were interviewed in an attempt to capture and arrest the alleged offenders but this proved futile. “Statements were recorded but no useful information was obtained. Investigations are continuing pending further developments.”
It is indeed ironic that while the Police Service has failed to secure and apprehend anyone connected with the attacks on the mandirs, police officers found the time to monitor members of the Opposition and other members of the public including a member of the Maha Sabha executive. Tapping of private/religious telephone lines is both illegal and morally offensive.

On November 26, 2008, according to an investigation by TV6 News, the nation was informed that the country’s top politicians, business people, trade unionists, journalists, social activists and legal practitioners have been monitored—via high-tech equipment bought from Israel—for the past two years by a national security agency. This illegal tapping could only be for political advantage since the police still remain clueless about the spate of violent crimes in the nation.

In response to the TV6 investigative series titled “Spy Games,” the National Security Minister has said, via his media adviser Irene Medina, that “it would be highly irresponsible for the Ministry of National Security to discuss publicly and in detail the operations of national security agencies in this country.” The Maha Sabha wonders aloud how can the ministry and police have the time and effort to monitor and spy on law-abiding citizens while criminals appear to act with impunity in the nation. Are these criminals part of the “community leaders” that were “wined and dined” by the Prime Minister? Are these criminals employed by day by the many of the State’s make-work social programmes?

Are these some of the reasons why the police have consistently low detection and conviction rates while the criminals have high records of success? The Maha Sabha asks the question: how much have we spent in the last six years to improve our crime-fighting abilities and what have been the results? Have we received value for our money? We have paid millions to Scotland Yard officers and Prof Stephen Mastrofski Chair, Department of Administration of Justice, George Mason University, to assist us to improve our crime-fighting abilities but what have been the results? Stephen D Mastrofski observes in “Meeting the Challenges of Police governance in Trinidad and Tobago”:

“Trinidad and Tobago’s governance problems issue from its colonial heritage and conflicts between cultural groups in the society. The old system of governance created the appearance of governance, but dysfunctional results… But success ultimately requires major changes in the habits of all governing entities, changes that only committed leadership in government, the police and party politics can ensure.”

Satnarayan Maharaj is the secretary general of theSanatan Dharma Maha Sabha

Trinidad and Tobago Guardian | January 21st, 2009
Caribbean ‘Wish List'’ for Obama administration. By Norman Girvan

There has been much media discussion about what the Caribbean should expect, or hope to secure, from the Obama Administration. My own wish list of priorities for the new administration falls under five headings: Gaza, Transnational Crime, Economic Development, Haiti, and Cuba.

1. Gaza

* Sponsor an initiative for an independent international investigation into the allegations that Israel committed serious war crimes in Gaza. These allegations have come from several credible sources including United Nations officials, the International Red Cross, and human rights organisations within Israel itself.

An independent investigation backed by the US would send a clear signal that those who commit such crimes cannot expect comfort and succour from the US and would be a significant step towards the restoration of the US moral authority in the world. It should not be necessary to explain to anyone why we in the Caribbean should care about what has been happening in Gaza. One only has to watch the news.

2. Security and transnational crime—the region’s number one problem
* Suspend the programme of deportation of criminal aliens from the US to the Caribbean, and initiate discussions with the region on a mutually agreed method of handling such deportations that is consistent with the monitoring and absorptive capabilities of the receiving countries.
* Take effective action against the flow of illegal arms and ammunition into Caribbean jurisdictions.
* Provide substantial technical, material and logistical support for the effort to establish an integrated Caricom security system to combat the incursion of transnational criminal networks into the region.

3. Economic development
* Support for a regional economic development programme to be undertaken by Caricom and the CDB, focusing on physical infrastructure and energy.
* Commit to trade arrangements with the USA that are supportive of regional economic development. In the first instance this means maintaining existing non-reciprocal trade preferences extended to the Caribbean region under the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act and the Caribbean Basin Trade Promotion Act.
* Support a challenge from Caricom countries to the Most Favoured Nation clause and other anti-development features of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union; imposed under threat of trade sanctions in 2008.

4. Haiti
* Undertake full and unconditional cancellation of Haiti’s bilateral debt to the US, and use US influence with other bilateral and multilateral donors, including the World Bank, to do the same.
* Restore temporary protected persons status to undocumented Haitians in the US, which provides them with the opportunity to make a case against forcible repatriation.
* Initiate an international partnership for Haitian reconstruction and development to be agreed jointly with the Haitian Government and civil society, based on Haiti’s circumstances, needs and priorities as defined and articulated by Haitians themselves.

5. Cuba
* Lift the US trade and economic embargo against Cuba and initiate a dialogue with the Government of Cuba on the normalisation of relations between the two countries.

Norman Girvan is the professorial research fellow
at the UWI Graduate Institute of International Relations at the University of the West Indies in St Augustine. He has been secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States.

Trinidad and Tobago's Newsday | Thursday, January 22 2009
Israel and the USA. By Marina Salandy Brown

Many people have probably noticed that if Ehud Barak, chief architect of the Gaza offensive, wins the Israeli election on February 10 we would have two of the key irritants in world peace, the USA and Israel, with leaders bearing strangely similar Semitic names. Interestingly, one of them will also have a name that sounds remarkably like the arch enemy of the USA, Osama (bin Laden). What does this portend? Some would have us believe that President Obama is a Muslim by instinct and by paternal inheritance, but I would argue that he is a very rationale politician and a pragmatist too and his name may place a particular burden on his resolving the 60-year old Middle East crisis but success is going to be very difficult to achieve.

So far the signs have not given much away but I was disappointed to see a brief news clip in which Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, used the same old hackneyed words in relation to the boiling cauldron of Middle East hatred. It is abundantly clear that such a thing as “lasting peace” is impossible in the region unless a completely different approach is taken by all concerned, especially the USA. Consider for a start the extent of US financial support for Israel, the recipient of most US aid internationally. According to Israel Money, the Bush administration’s 2008 budget gave Israel US$2.4 billion. “...Civilian aid has been steadily decreased over the course of the past ten years, going from US$1.2 million to being completely cancelled (in 2008). At the same time military aid to Israel has increased from US$1.8 billion to US$2.4 billion”. Egypt, who signed a peace accord with Israel in 1974, received “the second largest aid package... US$1.3 billion in military aid as well as US$415 million in civilian aid. Jordan…US$264 million in economic aid as well as US$200 million in military aid. Aid to the Palestinian Authority has been frozen following Hamas’ victory in the (2006) elections. Despite this President Bush has asked Congress to authorise the transfer of US$63.6 million in aid to the Palestinians, to be appropriated by the United States Agency for International Development.”

It is clear the US does not regard Palestine as a state, so that when Palestinians chose their own government in fair and free democratic elections their choice was rejected by the USA which has led, in part, to the struggle between the old PLO faction and Hamas that has weakened Palestinian progress. Which is just what suits the US who has remained obsessed with the Cold War idea, although not borne out in fact, of Israel being the only US ally in a sea of communist-backed foes. Israel is reputed to have over 400 nuclear warheads and refused UN weapons inspections, attracting no US sanctions. In addition, the US has vetoed over 30 UN resolutions on Israel, which has violated dozens of others. The destruction and loss of life in the Gaza “war”, which would probably have ended by today, has been disgustingly one-sided yet tacitly approved by the USA. And not to mention the rights of the situation where the US seems tolerant of the fact that the Jewish state occupies much Palestinian land, illegally.

Apart from the Israeli state’s violations, everywhere I went in Israel I saw Jewish settlers encroaching upon Palestinian territory. They even want to live in Gaza, so determined they are to reclaim what the scriptures supposedly say was once theirs. But that was millennia ago. Imagine the rightness of Spain reclaiming Trinidad after 500 years, let alone 2000. Ehud Barak has proven he’s keen to try putting an end to the well-armed illegal settlers, many of whom feel outside of the Jewish state and have turned their wrath on the Israeli authorities. I met many Israelis who reject those elements and I would guess this schism is deepening in Israeli society and will pose a threat to whatever deal could be struck for Israeli-Palestinian relations. Unplacated fundamentalist religious fervour in Israel is only one factor in the need for a new approach.

Then there’s Egypt, strategically hugely important. I am uncertain the government will be able to continue to suppress those opposed to peace with Israel who would be enraged by the Gaza campaign which has brought Egyptian public opinion into play through Egypt’s control of border crossings. A friend observed that Hosni Mubarak presidency is 28 years old and a new generation will come to power soon that has not lived the history and may not enjoy the same legitimacy. Without a stable Egypt the Middle East crisis would intensify. And, add Iran and Iraq into the mix. Barack will have to win over the powerful US Jewish lobby and prise newer approaches out of Barak and Hillary.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Sunday, February 28th 2010
PM: Security cloak for T&T. By Denyse Rennne

Prime Minister Patrick Manning yesterday promised T&T will soon be cloaked in a security blanket, making it difficult for illegal arms, ammunition and drugs to penetrate its maritime boarders.

Manning made the promise in his feature address at yesterday’s commissioning of six fast patrol vessels at Stauble’s Bay, Chaguaramas.

The vessels-CG11 T&T Scarlet Ibis, CG12 T&T Hibiscus, CG13 T&T Humming Bird, CG14 T&T Chaconia, CG 15 T&T Poui and CG16 T&T Teak -now joins the coast guard’s fleet of ten interceptors and four older interceptors. Manning said, currently, T&T faces two major problems, one being the issue of illegal drugs, namely cocaine, and the other the entry of illegal firearms into the country.

Stating that criminal elements have a thriving business from the importation and sale of these illegal items, Manning said fifty to sixty per cent of crime arises from the ’drug and illegal arms trade’.

Referring to the 1985 Scotland Yard Drug Report, Manning said one of the conclusions of the report was that T&T ’is small enough to eradicate the drug trade’.

on show: Newly acquired coast guard fast patrol vessels during a display at yesterday's welcoming ceremony at Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas. -Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

He said the recently acquired vessels will work hand in hand with the 360-degree radar system, obtained from Israel, to ensure T&T receives adequate coverage. He said already, ten radars were installed throughout T&T and were fully operational, with security agencies studying strategies and determining ways to address issues of detection.

Manning also said three off patrol vessels (OPV) are due to arrive in the country in July, before the end of the year and next year respectively, and will work alongside other security agencies to ensure the security of the country’s borders.

Saying T&T’s sea capabilities will soon be up to strength, he said Government has been assured the required training will be entrusted to those using the vessels.

Manning also spoke about the growth of the illegal drug industry, noting ’drug dealers no longer count money but weigh it’, but said with the acquisition of the vessels, T&T will see a reduction in crime.

’The Government recognises that if we are able to stem the illegal importation of cocaine and other drugs and the illegal importation of arms, we can see a reduction in crime by 50 per cent,’ he said.

The prime minister also thanked National Security Minister Martin Joseph, saying he has persevered despite criticism over the crime scourge in the country.

Also speaking at the ceremony was Chief of Defence Staff Brig Edmund Dillon who said receipt of the vessels will surely transform the protective services, making T&T ’a safe and secure environment for people to work, live and play’.

Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Cpt Kent Moore also spoke at the event which was attended by Attorney General John Jeremie, Chief Justice Ivor Archie, and other Government ministers.

Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday | Thursday, March 25 2010
Prime Ministers digging holes.
By Marina Salandy Brown

One must both have sympathy for and admire individuals who put themselves at the service of their nations. I believe that the vast majority of men and women who aspire to lead their countries really do believe they can make things better, but they always have to deal with the realities of power and maintaining it, and will inevitably and finally make serious enemies and mistakes. It is par for the course.
Often, in response to those realities these people begin to dig their own political graves. We see it happening here before our eyes with our present Prime Minister whom by anybody’s calculation must be considered a very capable and wily politician who will leave an indelible mark on our history. He was very successful in resuscitating his moribund party and despite the odds has manoeuvred himself into an impregnable position. He has seen off the very brightest, the most able of quasi pretenders and has dragged us into a status quo, which many do not desire, through the force of his will, his unswerving vision of where he wants us to be and his skill in achieving it. He has been masterful in creating the means and space in which to realise his personal and national ambitions.

Before the last general elections I remember hearing people ask laughingly whether the nation preferred to be led by a “crook” (Panday) or a “mook” (Manning). It was an invidious choice and many abstained or voted for COP. But the “mook” got his way, seized his chance and has triumphed, catching everyone off guard. And while that is happening the “crook” has got off the hook and is proving that he is, in fact, a “mook,” trying to retard the natural development of the party he started. It should be instructive to our Prime Minister to observe just how effectively natural evolution removed Mr Panday from his perch and try to avoid the same fate.

There are many other examples but I highlight just two: Mrs Thatcher, who changed the economic and social course of the United Kingdom but who in the end was drummed out of office because she lost touch with ordinary people. That transforming Conservative leader was revered by a young Tony Blair, who later became the leader of the opposing Labour Party and PM. He openly spoke of how Britain’s first female PM had influenced him, but he, too, was later to become persona non grata when he dragged the UK into the Iraq war against advice and public protest. It destroyed the, till then, legacy he had shaped in reforming the Labour Party, modernising it and making it electable again.

It is pure coincidence but worth noting that it is construction that has occasioned a crisis across the other side of the world in the cauldron that is Middle East affairs. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is mired in the most difficult time of his political career over Israel’s insistence on building new Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian (Moslem and Christian) land in defiance of its paymaster, the USA, and of world opinion embodied in various UN resolutions.

TT’s internal politics is small fry in comparison with what happens in Israel since that seriously affects international politics and peace but the slight similarities are interesting. Netanyahu is typically Israeli in the sense that he operates on the principle that “not because we are paranoid doesn’t mean they are not out to get us”. This has always made his politics very narrow and mean spirited. I associate him with some of the worst periods of Israeli-Palestinian relations and rang my hands when he was re-elected. Now he is ushering in a period of hostile US-Israeli relations that is unprecedented. His problem, in part, arises from the fact that he has made deals with small-minded, tunnel-visioned, reactionary interest groups who have no sense of human rights, except their own and whose fundamentalist belief in the scriptures has led the world to constant gurgling war.

Our own Mr Manning has worked himself into a situation where he is no longer seen to be on the side of the people, his lofty 2020 development ambition and impressive appearance on the world stage strangely at odds with the outdated monuments that represent development and the unnecessary smallness of his actions. Why did he not resist the temptation to push past someone who stood at the gate of his own home and forbade entry? That was a disrespectful display of his power. And why make it still worse by then claiming that the person is the citizen of another country? Does that deprive him of his rights? “They” might be out to get the Prime Minister but he is proving to be the architect of his own misfortune.
Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday | Monday, April 19 2010 
Israeli water company to sign deal with WASA. By Alexander Bruzal

Trinidad and Tobago’s water infrastructure is set to undertake a significant upgrade in the near future as the Israeli-based company Mekorot Water Co. Ltd is currently poised to sign a US $110 million contract deal with the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

Mekorot Water Co, a subsidiary of Mekorot Development and Enterprise Ltd, is to be contracted to work together with another Israeli company Yossi Maiman’s Merhav Group, to design, engineer, as well as facilitate procurement and construction which on this “rehabilitation project” said to be financed by WASA, which will also maintain overall responsibility for the development.

On March 23, the Israeli social-economic cabinet granted approval to the companies involvement in the proposed project. These projects reportedly include plans to improve the drinking water supply system, the overall supply management, and upgrading water treatment plants. Mekorot Development and Enterprise is already active in Trinidad. Last September, the company signed a consultancy and training agreement with WASA, and in November an agreement was signed for developing water management and carrier infrastructures.


Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday | Thursday, May 20 2010
Americans train Kamla’s bodyguards. By Inerva Arjoon

UNITED National Congress (UNC) chairman Jack Warner yesterday said the security detail for party leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar were trained by foreign security consultants.

Talk has been rife that foreign bodyguards have been accompanying Persad-Bissessar since an alleged $5 million hit on her life.

It had also been bandied about that Israeli body guards may have been hired to protect the UNC political leader.

Warner said he did not know if a foreign security detail has been assigned to Persad-Bissessar but noted that a team of American consultants, who have been here for a month, had trained the party’s local security firm and personnel. He said this was done to protect the political leader.

Warner was speaking during a walkabout in the San Fernando West constituency with COP candidate Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan.

Seepersad-Bachan said former PNM member of Parliament Diane Seukeran has wished her well in her bid to become the new MP.

Seepersad-Bachan said she did the same when Seukeran went up for the seat in 2002 General Election.

“I called her and wished her all the best even though we were on separate parties and now she has done the same for me,” said Seepersad-Bachan, who is also being assisted by another past MP Sadiq Baksh, who was a member of the UNC but has since joined the COP.

Seepersad-Bachan is contesting the seat against the PNM’s Junia Regrello, who was the MP in the last Parliament.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Friday, May 21st 2010
Kamla: Probe rush into $b WASA contract. By Anna Ramdass

Three days before a general election, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has raised an alarm over Government’s rush to enter into a deal which included the award of a $700 million contract to an Israeli company, contracted by the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

Persad-Bissessar said the deal between WASA and Merhav Mekorot Development (MMD) Trinidad and Tobago Ltd must be probed as the company was only established this year and the terms of the contract were vague.

The local company was formed by Israeli companies Mekorot Development and Enterprise Ltd and the Merhav Group, for the purpose of automating WASA’s water distribution supply.

She called on Prime Minister Patrick Manning to immediately cancel the contract.

She was speaking at a news conference at the Opposition Leader’s office, Charles Street, Port of Spain.

concerned: Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar, right, displays a document during yesterday's media conference at the Office of the Opposition Leader on Charles Street, Port of Spain. At left is United National Congress chairman Jack Warner. -Photo: ROBERTO CODALLO

Persad-Bissessar explained that Cabinet minutes she obtained show Cabinet agreed to approve the management action plan (MAP) of WASA and authorised WASA to seek two billion dollars in financing in order to meet the obligations under the short-term plan.

She added just last week, an unconfirmed Cabinet minute, dated May 13, 2010, showed Cabinet agreed that Citicorp Merchant Bank be awarded the mandate to arrange and fully underwrite a TT dollar fixed-rate 20-year bullet bond in the sum of $1.35 billion dollars to be issued by WASA.

This money raised is to finance the implementation of an engineering, procurement and construction contract signed between WASA and MMD.

A specialist, she said, examined the documents and raised concerns over why Citicorp Merchant Bank was chosen on the basis of sole selective tendering, or was there an open and transparent tendering procedure for the provision of this service.

’This is important because our expert’s analysis suggests that the cost of borrowing was higher than conventional standards... Why the haste in pursuing this today, four days before a general election and the entry of a new government?’ she asked.

’Who gets the minimum $54 million arranger’s fee and any other commissions?’ she asked.

Persad-Bissessar said Opposition checks have found that MMD is an Israeli company incorporated on January 10, 2010 in Israel, and February 19, 2010 in Trinidad.

She recalled in September 2009, WASA signed an agreement with Mekorot Development and Enterprise Ltd for promoting technical courses, assistance in consulting, managerial and technological assistance...and planning of projects.

In October 2009, she said, a team of officials, including WASA’s chairman Shafeek Sultan Khan, Stacy Dillon (a commissioner of WASA) and Sharon Taylor (general manager of WASA), visited Israel on a tour of Mekorot water facilities, that country’s water distribution company.

She said in January 2010, WASA and the Ministry of Public Utilities engaged the services of MMD, with a letter of undertaking being signed between Merhav two months later (part of the consortium).

’In April 2010, the $700 million contract between WASA and MMD was signed,’ said Persad-Bissessar.

She said the contract (which she obtained) is an open-ended contract, and there was no limit as to what the final cost will be.

Persad-Bissessar expressed concern over a stated requirement for an advance payment of 20 per cent of the contract value in the total sum of $132 million.

She said of this, the first $66 million was required within 15 days of signing the contract, with a further $66 million required within 60 days of signing.

’What is clear from even a cursory examination of this contract is that there is no specific timeline for delivery, no specific quantified or quantifiable target, no independent value engineering and assessment to determine whether we are getting value for money; there are no performance indicators and no benchmarks,’ she said.

She said what was even more ’amazing’ was a clause in the contract which states if there were any breaches, the contractor would only be liable to $66 million.

Persad-Bissessar said the directors are listed in the registration documents at the Companies Registry as Yosef Maimam, Gideon Weinstein and Sabib Sayian, all listed as managers, and all of 10 Abba Even Street, PO Box 12215, Herzliya, 46733, Israel.

’We are giving a multi-million-dollar contract with a multi-million-dollar advance to a company, the directors of which have given their addresses as a post office,’ she said.

She also questioned what exactly this country was getting from this contract, and what became of the multi-million-dollar Genivar Water Master Plan.

’To provide billion-dollar funding for this contract at this time is an act of sheer madness. It is not in the people’s interest; it is not in the national interest. I call further for an investigation into the award of this contract. The trail reeks of conflict of interest and political manipulation,’ she added.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Friday, May 21st 2010
No 'sweetheart deal' with Israeli company, says Sultan Khan. By Aretha Welch

The deal signed by the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) and Mekorot Development and Enterprise Ltd is not a sweetheart deal but a legitimate contract between this country’s water authority and the Israeli water enterprise, said WASA chairman Shafeek Sultan Khan yesterday.

In a brief telephone interview with the Express, Sultan Khan said the deal was not ’an election rush job’. He said it had been in the works since last year, and WASA had documentary evidence to support this.

The site Global Water Intelligence reported in March that the Israeli Cabinet had given the company Mekorot Development and Enterprise Ltd the go-ahead to sign a US$110 million contract with WASA ’to develop and rehabilitate the islands’ water infrastructure on a turnkey basis.’ The site also said Mekorot would work in collaboration with Israel Merhav Group on the project.

Details of the deal were carried in the local media following an April 21 news conference by WASA.

Sultan Khan said the deal for financing of the project was signed recently, but WASA’s actual contract for the work was signed about a month ago. He insisted the timing had nothing to do with anything, except the fact that ’this is when the deal, which was very complex, was done. I am sure you can appreciate there was a lot that went into it,’ said Khan.

Sultan Khan said the entire country knows WASA has had corruption issues in relation to water being shut off at the source and citizens being forced to buy truck-borne supplies, but he said Mekorot was an expert in automated water distribution and installing systems to automatically run. He said the new system was needed to prevent people from illegally turning off the water supply.

A press release from WASA last night did not clarify if Merhav Mekorot Development (MMD) Trinidad and Tobago Ltd, a locally-incorporated subsidiary, did actually exist and for how long, and why a loan for $1.35 billion was allegedly signed when the actual work only cost US$110 million (estimated $660 million).

The release stated on April 12, WASA signed a contract with Merhav Mekorot Development.

’The scope of works included installation of network monitoring equipment, completion of hydraulic modelling and the replacement of high leaky mains,’ the release stated.

It added the agreement was signed following the conclusion of negotiations between the parties in February 2010. The process to procure these services from Merhav Mekorot Development took almost a year, and all proper procedures have been followed,’ the company stated.

The Express learned late last night that MMD had an office located at Valpark Shopping Plaza in Valsayn, and the country manager’s name was (Mr) Sharon Den.

WASA will hold a news conference at their head office in St Joseph this morning to shed more light on the issue.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Saturday, May 22nd 2010
Duke: WASA Israeli contract an insult. By Anna Ramdass

The Water and Sewerage Authority’s move to enter into a multi-million-dollar contract with an Israeli company for improvement of its system is an insult to workers, says president of the Public Services Association Watson Duke.

He called on WASA employees to not cooperate with the foreign team.

’We say no help at all...we are not supporting this agenda,’ said Duke at a press conference at PSA’s headquarters in Port of Spain yesterday.

He questioned if the contract was another UDeCOTT in the making.

WASA chairman Dr Shafeek Sultan-Khan said a contract was developed between WASA and Israeli state company Merhav Mekorot Development (MMD) for the improvement of WASA’s systems under a Management Action Plan (MAP) which is to cost $2 billion over an 18-month period.

Duke said that this was a shame because foreign workers were being brought to the country when WASA workers were able to do the job.

He said WASA workers felt betrayed by this move as they were not consulted on the matter.

WASA’s chief operating officer, Patrice Orleach, at a press conference yesterday said MMD’s services were sought to provide technical assistance such as repairs of leaking mains, installation of scanner systems, distribution of pipes, monitoring of networks and providing equipment and expertise for management of the water system.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Saturday, May 22nd 2010
No $700m deal, says WASA chief.
By Anna Ramdass

Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) chairman, Shafeek Sultan-Khan, yesterday denied there was anything untoward about a $700 million contract the State utility intends to enter into with an Israeli company.

Sultan-Khan was speaking at a press conference at WASA’s St Joseph headquarters, where he refuted claims by UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar that the muilti-million dollar contract with the company was being rushed mere days before Monday’s election. (See Page 10)

Sultan-Khan said this was ’silly season’ and Persad-Bissessar was trying to score political points on a matter that had been in the works for close to a year and not rushed as she claimed.

On Thursday, Persad-Bissessar expressed concern over the award of a $700 million contract to Israeli company Merhav Merkorot Development (MMD), for the advancement and improvement of WASA’s service under a Management Action Plan (MAP). Persad-Bissessar also took issue on CitiCorp Merchant Bank being sought to provide a loan of some $1.36 billion for WASA’s MAP.

Sultan-Khan explained yesterday that MMD, which is a state company in Israel, is legitimate and reputable and was selected because research showed it was the best in the world in water management. He said the company specialises in institutional strengthening and not project management, therefore Merhav-Mekorat Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago was registered in this county earlier this year for this reason.

Addressing Persad-Bissessar’s claim that MMD carries PO Box address, Sultan-Khan said there was nothing fishy about this because this was how addresses in Israel are. He added that although a contract is in place, it is subject to conditionalities, so it was not a done deal.

’Today is Friday, election is Monday, the blunt truth is that the request to stop the deal is again flawed because there is no deal and no deal will happen until the conditionalities are met. So whichever government comes into power, they have to deal with this,’ he said.

Sultan-Khan explained that under the MAP, both foreign and local expertise will be put to work over an 18-month period to ensure that water is supplied to 75 per cent of the population. He said CitiCorp Merchant Bank was approached for financing of the two billion plan because ’all other banks required a guarantee for the full capital and interest. Citi Bank in their proposal only asked for a guarantee of the interest only’.

WASAs CEO, Andrew Smith, said no money has been paid up-front with respect to this contract. He said two million was spent thus far outside of the contract to set up a scanner room.

’The money spent to date is money well spent regardless of what happens in the next two to three days,’ he said.

Sultan-Khan said he was not a member of a political party but stressed that the truth offends and it will offend ’people who sought to make a mountain out of a mole hill’.

Trinidad & Tobago's Newsday | Saturday, May 22 2010
WASA head: No Israeli deal.
By Darcel Choy

THERE is no deal, chairman of the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) Dr Shafeek Sultan- Khan said yesterday as he responded to UNC leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who urged Prime Minister Patrick Manning on Thursday to halt a $700 million deal between WASA and Israeli consortium Merhave Mekorot Development.

Speaking at a press conference at WASA’s head office, Sultan-Khan said Persad-Bissessar’s claim is flawed. “The blunt truth is the request to stop the deal is again flawed because there is no deal and no deal will happen until the conditionalities are met and there is no way the conditionalities about accessing the money would be met today or until elections,” he said.

He explained where there are sums of money, it has to go in an escrow account...and it becomes a catalyst that makes the contract valid. “That is in fact the money that Cabinet is approving, that is part of the process, this has been before Cabinet going through all the stages. It was announced in February to April long before the election,” Sultan Khan said.

WASA’s Chief Operating Officer, Patrice Orleach explained that the $700 million was for a series of work including engineering, hydraulics and improving the authority’s overall system.

Sultan Khan said that no money has been paid as yet to the company. The only money that has been spent is in the creation of the SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) control room located at their head office which costs approximately $2 million, which he noted was not part of the contract.

Persad-Bissessar alleged there was haste in signing the deal just days before the election.

“We had different stages of the agreement, we had a Letter of Understanding, we had a draft agreement that had to go through several lawyers in Israel and TT,” he said. Sultan Khan noted that the process has not been completed as it is a work in progress and would not be completed before the election.

Persad-Bissessar also questioned whether an open tender process was used to select Citicorp as bond-issuer, or whether it was done by sole selective tender. “Citibank got the nod because all the other banks required a guarantee from the Government for the full capital and interest. Citibank in their proposal only asked as a conditionality a guarantee of the interest only. There is nothing fishy, they followed the procurement process,” Sultan-Khan explained.

Trinidad & Tobago Express | Wednesday, June 2nd 2010
Smelter, rapid rail in limbo, water taxi to stay.
By Raffique Shah

’IT would be foolish of the new government to simply abandon all projects started or even planned by the PNM regime. But we have a mandate from the people to immediately take action on some of their billion-dollar plants and plans. I believe the people voted against the Alutrint smelter at La Brea. They voted against Mr Colm Imbert’s rapid rail. They voted against ex-prime minister Patrick Manning’s offshore Otaheite industrial island.

’I think I can safely say, though, that my colleagues and I, after examining these projects and later consulting with the people, will stop those that will cost taxpayers whopping sums and bring little value, not to add much harm, to the country. But it’s early days yet...we’ll act responsibly...that much I can say.’

Without committing himself, and not wanting to go on record last week, a People’s Partnership source close to the Cabinet spelt out some broad plans to the Business Express.

Noting that these were his personal views, he added: ’On the PNM platform, Mr Manning vowed to expand the country’s heavy industry base. In our case, our leader said, among other references to continuing industrialisation, ’No smelter.’ So I think we shall move in another direction. We are committed to building a sustainable economy from which the majority of people, not just a few, will benefit.’

So what PNM mega-projects are likely to fall to the new government’s axe?

Start with the aluminium smelter.

While the adjacent 240-megawatts electricity generating plant is currently under construction, the US$500 million-plus smelter is yet to get off the ground, stymied by final EMA approvals.

The anti-smelter lobby successfully challenged the EMA’s provisional CEC before the High Court sometime last year.

The People’s Partnership vowed on its platform to change the EMA to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

One source said the new government may opt to continue with the power generation plant.

’It may make sense to proceed with that and integrate it into the national electricity grid. In fact, we could even consider expanding its capacity from 240 megawatts to 400 megawatts. That would compensate for eventual closure of the Port of Spain generating plant that has a capacity of around 320 megawatts, but is obsolete. Instead of constructing a new plant in the capital city, this La Brea plant could meet the country’s immediate and future electricity requirements.’

The Alutrint project has several very powerful and strategically important ’partners’ as part of the joint-venture.

China, for example, has provided the ’soft loan’ capital (US$400 million through its Exim Bank) and the building contractor.

The latter has insisted on using Chinese labour, with minimal jobs for locals.

China is among the emerging global superpowers, and no Trinidad and Tobago government would want to sour relations with Beijing.

Last December, months after Venezuela’s Sural withdrew as an investor in the project, one of Brazil’s leading aluminium companies, Votorantim Metais, signed an MOU with Alutrint to ’take up the slack’.

Brazil is fast emerging as the powerhouse of South America, a country with which we’d want to have good relations.

How the new government would wiggle its way out of the smelter plant without breaching contracts the last PNM government would have signed, and without offending China and Brazil, would be a diplomatic challenge.

The rapid rail, the single most expensive project conceived by the PNM government, seems destined to the dustbin.

Although the last government has already expended some $300 million on preliminary studies and designs, the new People’s Partnership government may prefer to write off that sum rather than pursue a $15 billion-plus project.

The PP seems sold on the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alternative that is substantially cheaper and, combined with other modes of public transport (like maxi-taxis), will deliver similar commuter service.

But, said our source, the PP is likely to expand the water taxi service that was initiated by the PNM government last year.

Another billion-dollar project that will come under the People’s Partnership microscope is the recently signed contract between Israeli firm Merhav Mekorot and WASA.

New Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar warned WASA and the PNM against signing any such contract-said to be worth more than $1.3 billion-on the eve of general election.

WASA chairman Dr Shafeek Sultan-Khan and PNM spokespeople said the contract was signed after more than a year of negotiations.

Frontline PP people have noted that Mekorot is not the only company in the world with the expertise WASA says it has.

Then there are the many ports being in some stage of planning and construction as the new government takes office.

According to the most recent information from the Ministry of Energy, ’The port will have two berths measuring 100 metres in length and four berths measuring 85 metres.

The NEC also plans to construct a fish landing facility to complement the area’s fishing industry. Facilities for the Coast Guard Southern Command Centre are also to be constructed.

’The contract for the design and construction of the facility was awarded to the joint venture of Grandi Lavori Fincosit Construction Corporation (GLF) and Jan de Nul. The latter will undertake all dredging and reclamation works. The company finalised and submitted the port development design concepts which were reviewed by NEC’s board. The Environmental Impact Assessment was completed by the consultants Coastal Dynamics and submitted to the EMA in September.’

The most controversial of these is the planned port for Claxton Bay. Residents and environmental activists, many of whom are strong supporters of the PP, have protested against this facility (officially called the Point Lisas East and South Port) for more than two years.

The NEC, which is the executing agency for most of these ports and energy-related plants, continues to conduct preparatory work for what was originally intended to be a nine-berth port, now cut to two berths (in the first phase).

Up to a few weeks ago fishermen of the Claxton Bay district protested barges still operating in the area intended for the port.

Since this port is linked directly with the Essar steel mill, and given that the Indian conglomerate seems to have abandoned plans for the mill, the new government may question its viability and its environmental impact on fishing in that part of the Gulf of Paria.

Another mega-project that will most likely be dumped by a PP government is the reclaimed ’island’ off Otaheiti, officially called the Oropouche Bank Off-Shore Reclamation.

This 1,400 hectare island, which Mr Manning promised he would build should his party return to power, will be located 3.5 km from the Otaheiti coastline.

The NEC says: ’This site will allow for large scale cluster of gas based industries. The seaward side is adjacent to natural deep water for development of post-panamax harbour. Design services were invited in 2006 for Development Plans, Dredging and Reclamation Designs, Preliminary Infrastructure Designs, EIA and obtaining of CEC.’ Four years later, the project remains a concept that may never come to fruition under a PP government.

Among other major projects that are likely to be reviewed is the eTeck Tamana Park.

’The concept of the park seems to be good,’ our source said. ’It’s the way eTeck and its associated agencies are run that must come under scrutiny. We are not against can we be? But they must add value to what is already on the ground, they must be executed in a transparent manner, and most important, they must bring no further harm to our people from an environmental standpoint.’

"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!