Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Politics and Diplomacy - The Juffali Affair

Dr. Walid Ahmed Juffali
Quietly, in April 2014, an appointment was made to the Saint Lucia High Commission in London which went under the radar to almost every Saint Lucian citizen, except those in the most inner circles of the government. Dr. Walid Ahmed Juffali, a Saudi billionaire, became Saint Lucia's permanent representative at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Almost straight out of a James Bond 007 movie he remained unknown until his cover was blown on November 9, 2015 by David Blair, Chief Foreign Correspondent, at  British newspaper The Telegraph.

Although there had already been rumblings in The Daily Mail since June 13, 2015 about Dr. Juffali's divorce brouhaha with former supermodel Christina Estrada, the Saint Lucian public was still in a deep slumber oblivious to what was soon to come.

It is of importance to note that Saint Lucia's High Commissioner to the UK, Mr. Ernest Hilaire, held the post of Saint Lucia's Permanent Representative at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) until April 2015 when Dr. Juffali was bestowed with that title.Ernest Hilaire earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies with a double major in Sociology and Political Science. He then earned his Master's degree in Philosophy from Darwin College, Cambridge University, England in 1995. He later earned his PhD in Economics from the London School of Economics.

It must be noted that Dr. Juffali has no formal certifications or qualifications in maritime affairs; in fact he is listed as earning a bachelor's degree from the University of San Diego in 1977, and a doctorate in neuroscience from Imperial College London in 2012. His PhD thesis was entitled "A Novel Algorithm for Detection and Prediction of Neural Anomalies."

Dr. Walid Juffali is estimated to be worth £4 billion (US$6 Billion, or EC$16 Billion) with properties in England and has had four wives: Basma Al-Sulaiman (1980-2000), Loujain Adada (m. 2012), Christina Estrada (2001-14). Christina Estrada is making claim to his UK properties estimated to be worth £60 Million (US$90 Million). 

In what seems to many Saint Lucians to be a rather convenient marriage (making Saint Lucia Walid Juffali's fourth wife), many questions are now being asked about this mystery man who has suddenly thrust the island on the international stage in the midst of what appears to be a rather messy divorce in the making. 

To make some sense of this affair, at least chronologically,  let me put events into a palatable timeline in the Saint Lucian context.

According to the Government of Saint Lucia's press release (page 11) on Dr. Walid Juffali's appointment as Saint Lucia's Permanent Representative to the IMO, and subsequent diplomatic immunity, "he was appointed in April 2014 as Saint Lucia's Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization, based in London." What seems to be a little peculiar is that no press release was made at the time of his appointment back then in 2014, unlike other diplomatic postings. 

The appointment of Albert Fregis was public, so too was Ernest Hilaire's, Menissa Rambally's in New York, etc., etc. In short, we all knew who our foreign based representatives would be. Surprisingly, the only mention to the Saint Lucian public about the existence of Walid Juffali was after the exposure in the British press of the refusal to lift his diplomatic immunity in the light of the pending divorce case before the British courts. What is even more head-scratching about that press release is that no specific date of the appointment was made, just the month of April 2014.

Even more peculiar is that Dr. Juffali's appointment to the post as Permanent Representative at the IMO was not recorded in the London Diplomat List until September 2014, five months later! 

London Diplomat List July 2014

London Diplomatic List August 2014

September 2014 when Dr. Walid Juffali first appears on the London Diplomat List
London Diplomatic List September 2014

October 2015 - After 18 months of Dr. Walid Juffali being Permanent Representative at the IMO,  and news stories are gathering steam about his impending messy divorce in the British courts, Tafawa Robert Williams is listed as Counsellor, Maritime Arrairs. Is Tafawa Williams' appointment designed for him to take over from Dr. Walid Juffali in light of this public spectacle? Is Tafawa Williams not qualified to be our Permanent Representative on the IMO?
London Diplomat List October 2015

According to the Government of Saint Lucia's press release of November 11, 2015, "Dr. Juffali ‎is a highly successful philanthropist and businessman."  Maybe I'm a bit thick in the skull, but what exactly is a 'highly successful philanthropist'? 

It goes on to state, "He has received a number of prestigious awards, including: Knight of theOrder of Dannebrog - bestowed by Her Majesty Queen Margaret the II of Denmark; Knight of the Cedars  bestowed by the President of Lebanon; and Knight of Saint Sylvester - bestowed by His Holiness Pope Benedict XV"  Maybe I'm wrong, but aren't all of the aforementioned honours bestowed on someone after they have rendered service or performed duties above and beyond the call of duty? It seems that for Dr. Walid Juffali the honour of such a prestigious position has been bestowed on him before he even proved his worth to Saint Lucia.

Tafawa Williams, a Saint Lucian, seems well qualified to be our Permanent Representative to the International Maritime Organization (IMO):

Tafawa Williams - Resume'
The divorce case against Dr. Juffali, in the UK, is a civil matter and can be brought against Dr. Walid Juffali. However, it is to be noted that the lawyers of Christina Estrada approached the Government of Saint Lucia to withdraw Dr. Juffali's diplomatic immunity to which they responded, "The Government of Saint Lucia has expressed the view to the lawyers of the former wife that this is a civil matter in which it does not desire to get involved. In the view of the Government, this is a private matter and to waive Dr. Juffali’s immunity for the purposes of resolving property disputes arising out of divorce proceedings will create a precedent that could compromise current and future diplomatic personnel in the United Kingdom and elsewhere."

This is both absurd and preposterous! First of all what is wrong of setting a precedent? In other words the government has no concern in upholding the rights of Christina Estrada simply because Dr. Walid Juffali is our Permanent Representative to the IMO! So to hell with you Christina! A man who is not a Saint Lucian citizen can thumb his nose at his ex-wife regardless of the fact that he may very well be liable to satisfy her claims for property. I daresay that this action is setting it's own precedent. Where are Dr. Juffali's moral obligations? Oh shucks, I forgot, in Saudi Arabia women are beneath men, especially very rich and powerful men. Is Saint Lucia propagating  this backwoods and medieval mentality?

Although a civil case can be brought against Dr. Juffali in the British courts, and a judgement or order rendered, his diplomatic immunity can be invoked when he does not comply with this order as there will be punitive actions which can be taken. This is what Christina Estrada's lawyers have apparently anticipated and sought to address before getting to that point. It is quite clear that Saint Lucia's stance on this matter facilitates Dr. Juffali's non compliance with any court order because of his Saint Lucian diplomatic immunity! What message s being sent to all women in the name of Saint Lucia?

And we have heard that Dr. Walid Juffali's appointment to the post in London comes at no cost to the government and people of Saint Lucia. Really! So, Walid juffali jumps out of the blue and is so enamoured by Saint Lucia, a country he hardly knows, and a man who most Saint Lucians will not even recognize if they pass him on the street or see his face on television, and decides to represent us free of charge. And then the following year, his daughter, Halla Juffali, is named Honorary Counsel for Saint Lucia in Saudi Arabia. I don't know about you, but 1+1 is beginning to look a lot like 11 to me.

A man who has made a great fortune by certainly being a shrewd and calculating businessman decides to adopt Saint Lucia as his fourth wife....incredible! Why the posting to the IMO when all that is touted is his prowess as a businessman and not as a sailor, or maritime professional. 

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) describes itself as follows: A specialized agency of the United Nations, IMO is the global standard-setting authority for the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. Its main role is to create a regulatory framework for the shipping industry that is fair and effective, universally adopted and universally implemented. 

What does this really have to do with Dr. Walid Juffali's business contacts? The government's press release further goes on to boast, "Dr. Juffali has initiated his first major project for Saint Lucia - the establishment of a medical research industry. This project was announced in the Throne Speech of 2015 and the legislative framework for establishing such an industry is currently being reviewed by the Attorney General's Chambers in preparation for enactment. Dr. Juffali's‎ contacts and influence will be major factors in ensuring success of this initiative.
Dr. Juffali's‎ second project has been to investigate the establishment of a Global Diabetes Research Centre in Saint Lucia in response to the chronic levels of diabetes in the country. A detailed multidisciplinary investigation has been conducted by some of the world's leading researchers in diabetes, science and medical business to design a model for the Centre. Numerous meetings were held with clinicians, nurses, and other medical personnel during the months of August and September. A final report will be issued in December with necessary announcements on the way forward to be made in January 2016."

In all fairness, don't we have any Saint Lucians capable of doing what Walid Juffali is being lauded for?

This stinks of an abuse of office, plain and simple! Regardless of what Dr. Walid Ahmed Juffali may be able to do for Saint Lucia he has a responsibility to answer to his ex-wife in the courts just as any other Saint Lucian must. A multi-billionaire hiding behind Saint Lucia's coattails is a laughable and can be seen as nothing else than a ploy. Dr. Walid Juffali is more than financially capable of defending himself and needs no diplomatic to shield himself from his ex-wife. The government of Saint Lucia's stance to not lift his diplomatic immunity is nothing other than standing in the way of his ex-wife getting her way in court.

With a divorce case touted to possibly be the most expensive in British history the donation of a few millions to Saint Lucia pales in comparison to the princely sum which could be paid out in property and money to Christina Estrada.

Saint Lucia is a Christian society and tries to conform to our professed Christian values. We cannot be party, by-proxy, to the shielding of a man of immense means from his ex-wife who has every right to take him before the courts. 

If we don't want to be honest about this situation, what does that say about us? It is time for us to extricate ourselves from this desert storm.

Take your bundle and go Caroline!


ADDENDUM

Arguments have been made that mystery appointments have been made by previous administrations and individuals in government almost as a justification or excuse in this instance. It must be made clear that all political parties in Saint Lucia pledge to the electorate that their policies and operations as the government will be better and not like the previous occupiers of political office. To use previous acts as justification for their actions is going against all which was offered during the political campaign and in effect says you are no different from your predecessors. In fact you have compounded your position and indicted yourself as being no different.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Saint Lucia's National Debt Crisis - Nightmare on Laborie Street

I have wondered for quite some time, what the exact amount is for Saint Lucia's national debt. Year in and year out we hear of loans being taken by our government, for a multitude of different reasons. There have been budget debates, and House sittings, but somehow the exact amount seems to be as elusive as the national bolom and escapes the lips of our elected representatives. Or could it be that my use of Q-tips has failed to be as thorough is it should be?

Asking many friends was no help in shedding too much light on our debt situation. They all seemed to know that it was some astronomical amount but were not quite sure exactly how high. This was amazing to me since ultimately the payback, of whatever this colossal amount is, rests squarely on the shoulders of the people of Saint Lucia. Is it tens of millions, hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars in debt?

And with all this brouhaha about our high debt, wage freezee, layoffs, and rumours of war and famine, and destitution...blah blah blah; how does the ordinary man in the street relate, or have any clue, to the debt that looms over our heads. Will Saint Lucia be seized to pay off our unpaid debt which has so many zeroes on the end? Can out lenders somehow demand the money we owe from every single Saint Lucian? Imagine that!




But still the question prevails, how much do we owe?

Not being one to just sit on my derriere shooting the breeze I finally decided to tackle our mysterious national debt by the horns and ask publicly in the ONELUCIAN group on Facebook (a closed group) whether anyone knew exactly what our debt numbers were - well I should have done it sooner. BI had barely posted my question when the responses came rattling in - links galore! The  numbers were right there for my dry eyes to see. I had no tears and neither could I scream. Those dry, horrific figures gave me the biggest gorjette I have ever received. I felt like sucking my thumb and going to sleep. I wanted to cry for my mommy but couldn't. Eventually I was able to gather enough strength to raise my arm and administer a slap and gorjette to myself - I was in a daze. How much you ask? Wait for it...

A whopping EC$2.7 BILLION!!!  Bon Dieu, La Vierge, Sainte Marie!!!


http://www.ecseonline.com/documents/RevisedProspectusforPublicationGSLU.pdf
See page 40 and down: Debt Analysis. A document by our own government.

 


However, as colossal as it seemed how does the regular man in the street appreciate the enormity and severity of such an amount in a Saint Lucia context. Of course he will say it is a big number, in fact he may most likely say "dat's a lotta monee ee" or "whole chou nous pas bon."  But how does the ordinary man in the street really quantify the meaning of such a large sum of money.

Realizing the dilemma the ordinary citizen will have in fathoming our debt situation I have put together a few slides to break those numbers down into visible comparisons..
(click for full sized photos)






So, where do we go from here? Is the debt collector gonna come knocking pretty soon? Will we have to make bom to pay off all of this debt? Well, that's gonna take a whole lotta of bom, I can tell you! Or will we do like most debtors and begin selling off or leasing any meaningful assets in order to raise funds? 

Wait, have this already begun happening in Saint Lucia? Will they resort to selling off chunks of fair Helen and sell our passports for economic citizenship? Will they sell the Pitons? Ooops, seems like they already tried that? Sell the beaches, Pigeon Point, Black Bay, Pointe Sable, Hewanorra Airport,  WASCO, and a host of other lucrative properties? 


But how do we fix this mess? It's all well and good to pay off what we owe, but what about the underlying practices which have caused us languish under this colossal debt in the first place? Something is terribly wrong with how we do business as a nation and needs to be changed pronto! I daresay this debt has been accrued in the past 20 years. This means we've borrowed, on average, EC$135 million per year!  What can we show for all this debt?

It seems our only meaningful earner is tourism which amounts to 80% of GDP! This is nothing short of lunacy when every aspect of this industry is out of our hands. Agriculture and everything else has been allowed to deteriorate Many years ago we boasted about Agriculture, Industry, and Tourism. Is tourism really benefiting Saint Lucia as much as we are made to believe? Of course it pays the bills, but can't we be sensible and not put all our eggs in one basket? For crying out loud it's a debt of EC$2.7 billion!  We're constantly bombarded by new record figures in tourist arrivals yet witness so many layoffs in the tourism industry. How much of the tourist dollar actually stays in Saint Lucia? Maybe they should also release the figures on tourist spending; that would be a more sensible indicator.

If our debt situation is not fixed we will surely languish in our version of the black hole of Calcutta!








Sunday, August 23, 2015

Freedom of the Press, Convenience, Truth, and Social Media

The three wise monkeys -Iwazaru, Mizaru, and Kikazaru
Recently I have noticed a subtle yet concerted effort to target those who use social media to express dissenting views. This effort has gradually increased in crescendo as the rhetoric, both online and off, has continued by those who have vested interests in silencing any criticism or opposing viewpoints. 

For whatever reason those in the diaspora come in for special attention since their medium of choice for expressing, unfettered, their points of view, is social media. It has allowed all and sundry to sidestep any blocks or censorship to their patriotic concerns and rights to freedom of speech and expression. This freedom and flexibility is clearly an issue to some. Ironically those who find fault with others' use of this medium wish to maintain it for the expression of their own perspectives wherever, whenever, and however they please. The use and freedoms of use should only be for a select few who share and espouse the same leanings as them.

They sit on their lofty perches as if theirs is the only valid voice of relevance or importance. Little do they realize that the perspectives of all are important, including the uneducated and those perceived to be the lowest in our society. Everyone has their real world experiences which are all part of the big picture.

Just because some do not have the same societal or political status does not mean their vision of their world is irrelevant. In typical Saint Lucian fashion the attitude displayed to them asks, "Who are you?" As if one needs to be of a special club to have a valid or worthy point of view.

This is the Internet age when information is accessible by all and sundry. No longer is it reserved for those who have financial means or those with special connections to know of what happens in the world today. No longer is information delayed by weeks, months, or even years before a publication lands on our shores. 

No one needs to be an expert to express an opinion. Hell, even experts disagree vehemently with each other; we see it everyday in courts of law. Ironically, social media has made these instances readily available for the world to witness and discuss.

The diaspora is always chided for its unrealistic perspective on Saint Lucian life and politics because "you live in metropolitan countries in the outside world"  or their experience is from "over there" and does not relate. Baloney!

Yet it is this same foreign experience and perspective that the multitude of consultants bring to our shores when hired. All of a sudden it is now relevant. 

If anyone is cognizant of the reach social of media and the Internet it should be our politicians and representatives who are of even higher visibility. They, more than anyone else should realize that their every utterance has more influence and reach than the average citizen who dissents on Facebook or other social media. As a result they should be even more mindful that every lie, half truth, mamaguy, character assassination, bluff, propaganda spew, or other utterance is under even greater scrutiny and has even more weight.

The complaint that everyone seems to feel they are an expert is surprising when it is considered that people making these complaints portray themselves as experts of everything. Such hypocrisy!

The complaint that the average man and woman does not understand or have a meaningful grasp of the issues seems to evaporate around elections time when they somehow, magically, develop the understanding of complex issues thrown about on the campaign trail. These lowly people who dare not comment on social media with their faux sense of expertism are suddenly smart enough to make a decision to render a victor at the polls. A few days later they no longer have what it takes to understand and comment on these very same issues. 

The ordinary citizen posting on Facebook or other social media is not the cause of Saint Lucia's current economic, financial, investment, or other malady. It lies squarely on the shoulders of our politicians, whether elected, selected, or appointed. 

This attitude clearly exemplifies what is obviously expressed behind closed doors.

The three wise monkeys, sometimes called the three mystic apes embody the proverbial principle "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." There are various meanings ascribed to the monkeys and the proverb including associations with being of good mind, speech and action. In the Western world the phrase is often used to refer to those who deal with impropriety by turning a blind eye.



Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mercury Beach Rising

Lets get it straight, 'Mercury Beach' at Pigeon Island has blown 'St. Lucia Jazz' out of the water like the HMS Sheffield by an Exocet missile during the Falklands War. Never in all its fantasy history has St. Lucia Jazz seen so many boats 'up Point.' There were no grossly overpaid artistes either, but still the people came...in droves. It was like one big Spring break! 

And so, for the second consecutive year "Mercury Beach" was held at Pigeon Island bringing in between 7 and 8 thousand fans who jammed the beach to attend an event organized by marine engine maker Mercury. Making the trip this year were 70 catamarans and 400 motor boats! To participate in this year's event it is estimated that Martiniquans spent between 3 to 4 million euros for boat rental,  hotel accommodation, meals, taxis, and a two day pass to the event (55 euros). 

"Mercury Beach"  is one big "Aqua Action." For those of you who don't know what Aqua Action was, go ask your parents. The organizers of Jazz must be green with envy when they see the astounding success of this event in just two years. This envy is not because of greenbacks, oh no! No US dulluhs here baybee..is strictly euros flowing up deh. Uh huh. 

Sandwiched between Pigeon Island and the so-called private Sandals beach (slip the guard a few euros and a lukewarm Piton and you get in with no hassle) the last spot for locals to bathe freely was transformed into the biggest beach jam since....uhhhhhh...last year's event. By all accounts this event dwarfs Jazz by leaps and bounds. There were more jamets than Jazz, more drunks, more artistes, more poom poom, more G-strings, more rum, more fried chicken, more cougars, more weed, more drugs, more boodeh robbah, more vieux neg, more free condoms, more glass bottles, more trash, more foam, more pee, more sea ants, more wining (or is it spelt whining, or winding?). Anyway! There was no shade! You get up there and is sun in your a$$! Too hot? Then you take a dip and come out to bake again, this time seasoned with some Caribbean sea salt.  Bake, season, wine, repeat. You get the idea.



Wait, I'm not done yet! There was also more 6:30 than Jazz, more totots, more wet t-shirts, more bodah, more poonie printers, more camel toes, more wardrobe malfunctions, more body malfunctions, more go-pros, more drones, more foam.....and yes, there were a LOT more trouser snakes! And oh yes, a lot more sex too! I mean seriously, who has sex during St. Lucia Jazz anyway?

But putting all this aside "Mercury Beach" is like a shot of adrenaline into the vein of St. Lucia's flagging economy. The benefits to local businesses are apparent and don't need an accounting wizard to explain with flow charts and PowerPoint presentations. 

There are, however, concerns from many quarters about the environmental impact of this event. Although there is the usual garbage, and abandoned drunk or crackhead cleanup, much is unknown of the inevitable garbage dumping and chemical contamination from this unprecedented number of boats moored off Pigeon Island. It would have been a good idea to have an environmental impacts assessment done by the relevant ministry or agency in order to determine whether our national park can survive ecologically. In all sensibility, an environmental impact charge should be attached to any permit issued for such an event. This would not only cover garbage removal but aid in determining any effects and necessary measures to minimize any adverse effects. Recently New York City required Uber taxi to conduct an environmental impact study as a condition of their license to operate, requiring submission in three months. I daresay we need such a study and report before the next iteration of this event.

To derive maximum benefit from this event we cannot only be focused on the monetary aspects but also on the social, ecological, drug, crime, environmental, and other impacts on our country. Although there is much of a boost to the economy the attendant negative side effects can be worse than its benefits.

Already plans are afoot for "Mercury Beach" 2016 but reports are that the Martinique tourism authorities are trying to woo the event back to their shores. Could this be the last we see of this event? Time will tell.


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Online Freedom Under Attack - Is Digicel a Telecommunications Bully?

Lets get it straight from the outset, Digicel and all telecommunications companies operating in Saint Lucia are out to make money, a lot of it! They don't give a shyte about anything other than hefty returns for their owners and investors. PERIOD! So now that we've got that out in the open lets deal with the hot news on the block about Digicel reportedly blocking voice calling via Whatsapp.

In a galaxy far far away through the monopoly black hole Cable & Wireless ruled supreme, and handled their Saint Lucian empire with an iron fist. Competition was nonexistent as they had been blessed, by the government, with unfettered control of the telecommunications market. For over 100 years, since the 1870s, they ruled in the Caribbean. As usual, monopolies become arrogant and are slow to innovate since there is little fear of competition and therefore no incentive to spend any more than they have  to. It was also a time of analog communications, and the Internet was only available towards the turn of the century to only those with the deepest pockets. Computers were exceedingly expensive contraptions to be viewed and dreamed about by those who had access to magazines on the subject. Smartphones were not yet even invented and most internet connectivity was via dialup...very slow dialup.

Liberalization of the telecommunications industry occurred when The Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) was established on 4th. May, 2000 by a treaty signed in St. George’s, Grenada, by the Governments of five Eastern Caribbean States - Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It was a watershed moment and seen as an opportunity for competition which would greatly reduce prices and improve technology since many had considered Cable and Wireless as a money sucking parasite. Indeed, rates for all services offered then were among the highest in the world.

Enter Digicel, a fledgling telecommunications company founded in April 2001 by Irish billionaire Denis O'Brien. Digicel was the darling back then. New phones, competing rates, and 2G. Wow! Prices on cell phones were reduced overnight by Cable and Wireless to unheard of prices.

Fast forward to 2015 and Digicel is now seen by many in what has become a duopoly seemingly as bad as the loathed Cable and Wireless monopoly. They have been very aggressive in marketing and come across to many as bullying and avaricious in their battle for market share. It seems that when companies pass a certain critical mass that they lose all consideration and care for the customer and become solely focused on squeezing every last cent they can by any means necessary.

Digicel got into the St. Lucian market with promises of innovation and actually boasts in their company's slogan that they are"The Bigger Better Network."  That network, and the services provided was based on new technologies making it onto the market as opposed to C&W's legacy and deteriorating infrastructure. And of course, they were a smaller and more nimble company able to make changes faster than the mammoth Cable and Wireless which had been accustomed to a non-competitive market and bureaucratic corporate structure. In essence Cable & Wireless was caught up in an old business model and was very slow to adapt. Digicel benefited from that, tremendously.

But lets get back on track...Whatsapp.

Since those early years of this 21st century Internet technologies have advanced at a blinding rate, unarguably faster than the preceding 100 years of Cable & Wireless' presence in St. Lucia. Dialup disappeared, DSL is a technology fast disappearing in the rear view mirror of technology, and practically all communications and entertainment is moving towards pure IP (Internet Protocol). When Digicel rolled out services, there was no Whatsapp, no Viber, Facetime, or any of the host of other voice services currently available for communications between end users.In fact the speeds then would have rendered those services useless.

Even though any similar services (Skype) were available the presence was only available on desktop computers. With the advent of smartphones, apps, changed the world. Smartphones were miniature computers with all services available in the palm of your hand. 3G, and now 4G blew everything out the water. A company which was granted a license to provide voice services was now competing with itself because of the Internet services which they also now provide.

What took 100 years to happen to Cable & Wireless has now happened to Digicel in 10. Technology has now developed so quickly that Digicel wants to remain in their same early2000s business model. The great issue here is that voice is no longer analog or only available on feature phones. Now, voice calling is no longer relegated to  cellphone or telecommunication companies. Any individual or company can roll out their own IP services via the Internet from anywhere in the world!

Whatsapp is one of these apps which has turned the world upside down with regard to voice calling because of it's reach and ease of use. After being bought by Facebook for US$15 billion it has exploded from a few million customers to almost a billion, worldwide.. Running purely on IP it requires only an app on the relevant cellphone platform to function. The only other needed component is a data package from your service provider over which calls can be placed to any other Whatsapp subscriber.

The problem here is that voice is no longer controlled by proprietary hardware or network. These are changing times, and sadly for providers, the old model of voice calling being the cash cow is quickly vanishing, the same way how text messaging is practically dead. 

In response to this dramatic change in technology it has been reported that Digicel has resorted to blocking Whatsapp on their network. In response to these allegations they have ofered some of the most ridiculous explanations in denial of these accusations. In one instance it was reported they said that Whatsapp is implemented differently on different providers' networks and the problem is not because of their blocking of the Whatsapp service. 

Whatsapp failure message on Digicel network
Yeah right! IP is IP and performs no differently on any network unless there are hardware problems or serious congestion issues. It is my opinion that if Digicel is not blocking the Whatsapp service outright that they are de-prioritizing their packets adding significant latency and causing the connections to fail. In other words the packets take so long to reach their destination that they timeout. 

Whatsapp under attack


But why would Digicel feel they could attack the very tenets of the Internet, net neutrality? This allows all traffic from any provider to traverse all others unfettered. It is why we can access websites all over the world, as the Internet is exactly what it is called, an inter network of networks. If network neutrality is destroyed then Lime can block iTunes, Spotify, Radionomy, and all other music services which compete with their own Deezer music service partnership. Digicel could block access to Lime's or other competitor's webpages. The Internet would be chaos and information would no longer be free.

Pretty soon the 5G specification will be ratified (expected 2019) and data speeds are expected to be at least 100 times faster than the current 4G. Imagine what the world will be like then. Cell phones and mobile devices will then be amazing in their functionality. It will also signal the end of voice plans as we know it. Subscribers will simply purchase data and use apps to connect to whatever services they want on the Internet. If you think telecommunications is amazing now expect it to be blown wide open in a few years. This will happen! These Whatsapp-blocking moves are just a mad dash to squeeze as much money out of us as possible until the inevitable.

The very technology which should free us and make our citizens more connected is what's used to squeeze every cent possible through our bleeding eyes, to our noncompetitive detriment. Which reminds me of a time many years ago when Cable and Wireless ruled supreme when I saved their webpage of rates for dedicated internet access. Please go down this road in history with me and see how we were choked under similar circumstances when Cable & Wireless was the big gorilla in town. Rates are with yearly contracts with setup and monthly rates. Look at the speeds and rates and figure out how we could have ever been a viable option on the world market.




We all know that the telecommunications industry is big bucks. Big money is paid for licenses, and big money is made for the services y the consumer. So why would a company block services so blatantly and thumb its nose at us almost defying any action? Could it be they expect our elected representatives to be silent because they are 'owned' by these very telecomms companies? Is there institutionalized low level bribery or largesse extended to our elected officials which makes them disinclined to deal with these situations head-on? 

Is it not a conflict of interest, and compromising of integrity, when an elected official of our government is gifted smartphones by telecommunications companies soon after being elected into office - no charge?  Who does that phone belong to ultimately, and who does the phone records belong to? Even more blatantly, Digicel donated 4G enabled laptops to parliaments and were boldly allowed to make that presentation at our House of Assembly!! Does nobody see anything wrong with this at all!!

 


We have high ranking members of our parliament making appearances at the launches of products by telecommunications companies without reservation in no official capacity! Is this not a conflict of interest when these very same officials have to render decisions for or against telecomms companies in our House when applications are made for licenses or regulations enacted?  Can we ever expect their decisions to be impartial? Are our officials so desperate for freeness that they will allow themselves to be pimped and surreptitiously used to advertise products for a few cocktail sausages dipped in pepper sauce and ketchup, or some oily accras on a plate?

 
LIME launch of Blackberry Z10 April 2013


It is true that elected officials are also private citizens, but these actions call into serious question the impartiality they are called upon to exercise everyday on our behalf. Aren't these instances textbook examples of a clear conflict of interest?


DEFINITION OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST
A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests (financial, emotional, or otherwise), one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation of the individual or organization.
The presence of a conflict of interest is independent of the occurrence of impropriety. Therefore, a conflict of interest can be discovered and voluntarily defused before any corruption occurs.

A widely used definition is: "A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest."[1] Primary interest refers to the principal goals of the profession or activity, such as the protection of clients, the health of patients, the integrity of research, and the duties of public office. Secondary interest includes not only financial gain but also such motives as the desire for professional advancement and the wish to do favours for family and friends, but conflict of interest rules usually focus on financial relationships because they are relatively more objective, fungible, and quantifiable.

The secondary interests are not treated as wrong in themselves, but become objectionable when they are believed to have greater weight than the primary interests. The conflict in a conflict of interest exists whether or not a particular individual is actually influenced by the secondary interest. It exists if the circumstances are reasonably believed (on the basis of past experience and objective evidence) to create a risk that decisions may be unduly influenced by secondary interests.


So, is Digicel not concerned because they believe our officials are in their back pocket?

You decide.










Friday, July 24, 2015

When Carnival Queen Contestants Attack

Lets face it, we've all heard of rivalry in the beauty contestant world. young girls, and sometimes grown women, just can't seem to get along well when so much is at stake under the intense pressure of being n the public spotlight. And it is at times like these, when under intense pressure, that the true character of contestants is revealed for the world to see.

This year just when we thought Saint Lucia Carnival 2015 could not have gotten any worse a bombshell story slowly makes the rounds of a bold  and public attack on one Carnival Queen contestant while at the parade of bands on Carnival Tuesday. 

 
Apparently, and according to reports, the melee' occurred all because of a feud which existed between two contestants; Khadija Mason and another. The wind down to the parade was the time when a friend of Khadija's adversary took the opportunity to "go-street" and show her [Khadija] what bad girls are made of. Sadly blows were rained down in full public view and when the hissing, snarling, punching, and biting attacker was done Khadija's face had taken a beating..blood out! Ambulance! Polees! And the famous St. Lucian word of choice were all witnessed at the scene.After receiving medical attention she was released from the hospital.

Coming to light is a bombshell Whatsapp group chat between  at least one contestant and some other apparently ready-to-fight, friends. You be the judge.....





The questions which are now being asked is how these contestants are chosen for these beauty pageants. Is it simply good looks which qualifies an individual to compete? Is it family ties, money, status? Is there any background check? And these people are eventually expected to represent St. Lucia on the world stage!!

Just when you thought Carnival in Saint Lucia could not have gotten any worse this most embarrassing and despicable attack adds another black eye to a formerly magnificent cultural event.

Meanwhile police are continuing their investigations.

According to former St. Lucia calypsonian King Caro, "Where do we go from here?"


Kadijha Mason
Kadijha Mason
Kadijha Mason

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It's Time To Clean Up St. Lucia Carnival

SERIOUSLY!!
It's been said, time and time again, that Carnival is bacchanal. That the shock and disgust many express year after year as a result of the debauchery and drunken sexual behaviour is what Carnival is really all about, and the expressions of concern come from a bunch of prudes who should just stay home or go to the beach.

In essence this approach chooses to excuses all vile, sexual, drunken, and very often unlawful behaviour which would not be tolerated on any other day. From highly intoxicated minors to mature gogehs, astounding wardrobe malfunctions, bodily malfunctions, and everything else in between. Lets face it Carnival shocks the senses!

However we must, as a civilized society, decide when enough is enough and set limits to the seemingly limitless imagination and determination by too many revelers to be more raunchy than the previous year's offerings on the road. We are well aware that alcohol is a major contributor to problems not only at Carnival but at every other event and occasion known to man. It is also against the law to be drunk in public. According to the wording of one of the associated charges, "drunk and disorderly." 

The carnival band organizers, sponsors, and all involved in this cultural event need to up the ante and be significantly more responsible in their civic duty and responsibility. The changes which need to be made must start from the top and trickle down since it is easier to have the responsible parties set the conditions of participation in the bands and events.

What happens during our Carnival portrays St. Lucia to the world. Is much of what we see on the road how we really want the rest of the world to see us? Censorship of the sounds and images is not what I am alluding to but rather the behaviour of revelers in the first place.

We need to start by dealing with the serious problem of alcoholism which exists in Saint Lucia. Many will not like to hear this but alcohol is the root of almost every problem which occurs during Carnival and other events in St. Lucia. The drunkenness and unfettered consumption of alcohol in public and at all Carnival events must addressed by the authorities. Alcohol is being served to minors in the bands from their trucks and at after-fetes with absolutely no restraint. Minors should not be allowed in adult bands and neither should they be at their fetes where alcohol is being served. No sob stories, it is known.

Photo with the permission of Raymond Auguste
There must also be some form of control on how alcohol is dispensed to revelers on the road. Sponsors like LIME, Digicel, the Brewery, St. Lucia Distillers, and others must insist on conditions appropriate for the offering of alcohol during these events. The government MUST set these guidelines as they are responsible for the direction of this cultural event. There cannot be an endless flow of alcohol to already heavily intoxicated individuals. Sponsors and bands should not be allowed unbridled raining of alcohol as part of the sponsorship and advertising conditions. It is high time this situation be dealt with since those currently concerned have done, at best, a very poor job.

Photo with the permission of Audie Alexander Photography
The image we project must be cleaned up to a more family oriented display. There comes a time when we have to decide what is acceptable and what needs to be tossed out. That time has come. The idea of Carnival is definitely not one of a church choir but downright nastiness and perverse behaviour in the name of fun can no longer be tolerated.

Carnival is supposed to be fun. Lets make it so for all Saint Lucians. The financial side of this cultural event is as important as in any other and continues to bring handsome dividends to band leaders and many others involved. Never the less we cannot focus solely on the moneymaking aspect of Carnival and allow the quality and image do go down in the dumps until it all comes crashing around our heads. Lets be responsible and encourage a Carnival which can do much more for Saint Lucia than allow us a few days of wining in the streets.

Enough is ENOUGH!!









Wednesday, July 22, 2015

THE BURIAL OF ST. LUCIAN CARNIVAL - CAN IT BE REVIVED?

They say that the burial of "Vaval" signifies the end of a period of excess during Carnival and prepares the recovering devilish populace for the Lenten season. All that is and was unholy and of the flesh would go down in the hole amid much ceremony, never again to see the light of day because of our shame at being enticed and influenced by the flesh. If only that was the case!

Sadly it seems that instead of moving forward year by year and learning from the previous year's Carnival mistakes we return to the cemetery and raise Vaval from the dead! Jumping in the same old costumes, same old ways, and same old mal mes. 

It is too often lamented how the St. Lucia carnivals of today fall far from those of yesterday in culture, quality of costumes, and just all out fun. Nowadays there seems to be little to no culture involved, the seemingly almost same costumes from year to year, and just all out vieux neg behaviour which has caused the street jump-up to be called to a halt no later than 6 PM.

There is absolutely no doubt that Carnival has become a lucrative business for band leaders and others who have capitalized on the party aspect of the event; kudos to them. But at the end of the day we have to examine Carnival in its entirety and the overall benefit to Saint Lucia. After all it is supposed to be a cultural event, and as such should reflect who and what we are as a people. A cultural event suggests deep roots in our history and identity. It should showcase to all those who observe its depiction as a billboard and attraction to our lovely island.

In this modern age, particularly since our economy depends on tourism for at least 80% of our GDP, we should use every asset we have in bag of tricks to lure every tourist dollar we can. St. Lucians travel the world and see how every possible option is exploited to draw visitors to cities, towns, or countries. New York, Miami, London, Toronto, among a multitude of others are prime examples. Yet for some reason Carnival has been, and continues to remain, a red headed stepchild on our calendar of events.

Please don't be fooled into believing that I am suggesting it is all a disaster as I am sure you will agree that the revelers have a darned good time; throw two stones together, mix in some alcohol, toss up some feathers from China or Trinidad, and almost any St. Lucian will have a damn good time. Hell, even Friday night in Gros Islet is a blast! (no pun intended).

Many moons ago, if you all remember, Carnival was moved from its traditional time in February to July. This was done, so they said, to avoid the competition with the Trinidad and Brazil carnivals. Although there were cries about the effect on students sitting CXC exams Carnival landed on July like nobody's business. It would have been expected that now we were free and clear of our main competitors for visitors to our shores, that we would attack our time for wining as a golden opportunity. But nooooo! Instead, Carnival descended into a virtual free for all. 

If I remember correctly much of the soul and essence of Carnival began to evaporate once steel band began disappearing from the road. And you know who was responsible for that? Burning Flames! At least that is my perception of it. Not saying that they were a bad thing, I love them, but Somehow I believe they are the ones who really introduced the big truck syndrome to Carnival. How many of you remember Diamond Steel and the other steel bands being pushed down the road in their galvanized pipe structures. Legions of Saint Lucians would lend their muscles, for free, pushing these steel drum contraptions around the city. You could feel the rhythm in your heart. You never felt tired. And for many it was a free pass into the Mindoo Phillip Park on Carnival Monday. Sadly those days are no more.

Today Carnival is a pale reflection of what it once was and too much of de-same-ole-ting. Yet there is hope if our elected officials can see the value of incorporating Carnival into our tourism product. Why is so much money pumped into Jazz when Carnival has been around for so much longer? And all this money continues to flow Jazz-side when it has been said to be operating at a loss since its inception! Why have Trinidad and Brazil been able to make their carnivals world renowned events, and we have not? 

Since so much money is already being directed to the coffers of Jazz why can't we dual launch Jazz and Carnival to minimize advertising dollars spent and offer visitors an option? Yes, hijack their minds and wallets. And damnit, lets target Saint Lucians in the diaspora with more gusto because although we are Lucians we are tourists too. Ohhhh you never thought of that huh?

'The Diaspora', as they like to refer to St. Lucians abroad, has money too. The same money the lighter complected tourists have! It has been well established that those in the diaspora contribute significantly to the economy of Saint Lucia with remittances (Western Union, MoneyGram), barrels during the holiday season and throughout the year, and supporting many of those left behind on a monthly basis. So we are not a broke bunch.

Recently the Tourist Board launched their Se Sannou initiative which encourages those of us in the diaspora to market the island to our friends and others with whom we come into contact. Somehow it is expected that St. Lucians will inevitably travel home on vacation. Unfortunately someone has missed the memo that we are also targeted by other countries and cities for the very same dollar! 

Anyway, enough about the diaspora aspect and get back to the dual launching. It is an established marketing practice to dual or triple advertise products in order to save significantly on marketing and other associated costs. Don't believe me? Just ask McDonalds, Burger King, Sony Studios, etc.

So getting back to the dismal state of our Carnival. 

Regardless of how much revelers enjoy themselves there seems to be a consensus among a wide cross section of St. Lucians that our Carnival needs a serious shot in the arm. Things cannot continue the same with our bands being feathers, feathers, feathers, panty, panty, panty, bra, bra, bra, rum, rum, rum, bweh wom, weemeh, ek weemeh encore, year after year after year.

Thank God for the French. Vive le Francaise! Since the French contingents from Martinique, Guadeloupe, and this year Cayenne, have been participating it has been like a breath of fresh air has blown over the parade. Not as skimpily clad as their local counterparts they have been a joy to the crowds. Costumes like what we had back in the day, and basic music instruments which did no less than any big truck. They had a good time just as well, didn't spend as much money to come from all the way over yonder, yet looked better than those Lucians who paid upwards of  $1200 for a VIP, or wait for it, $1800 for a VVIP membership in a Carnival band! Are you serious!!! Yes papa.

The big question is how Carnival benefits the nation past the few days of events. The costumes are just the culmination of a bigger NATIONAL event. We should not forget that calypso, Queen Show, and all the other events are a part of our Carnival. It is time that or GOVERNMENT does something sensible, relevant, and meaningful with it! I say so emphatically, seriously, and deliberately! Why in the blazes do we have a Ministry of Culture, or as they call it now, Creative Industries.

If Carnival is meant to showcase our country, then what is presented at the shows, and on the road shows who we are and what we are made of. Telling the truth what is presented as our Carnival is a downright dirty shame. When we strip all the rum, wining, and carnal behaviour we are not left with anything much.

The real kicker for me yesterday, Carnival Tuesday, was when a Bajan man who was interviewed live on Choice TV said that he came for to experience St Lucian culture and most of what he heard was  Trini music being played on the trucks. He didn't lie because I heard the same too. We need a serious reconstruct of this Carnival event. Just because people have a nice time doesn't mean it is to their ultimate benefit.

Panty and bra covered with feathers year after year is just not cutting it. We all know and say it. Toss photos from a few years of Carnival and mix the up, then try to figure out what year they were taken. I'll wait until next year for your answers. Now do the same with the French bands and I am certain it would be quite easy. Why? You answer.

Carnival has descended as far as possible into the gutters when can excuse highly immoral and straight up unlawful behaviour as our culture. These same actionsat any other time of the year would be considered drunk and disorderly behaviour and subject to arrest. It is just another excuse to get drunk in a country which has a serious alcoholism problem. It is an excuse to grope, oggle, and misbehave expecting there to be some tolerance and acceptance because it's our KOLCHA! 

Well if this is our culture crapaud smoke our pipe.







Wednesday, May 6, 2015

One Of Saint Lucia's Greats - Sir Dunstan St. Omer Passes On




Below I have transcribed the citation given during the ceremony for Sir Dunstan St. Omer where he was presented with an honorary Doctorate degree by the University of the West Indies (U.W.I.) on October 18th., 2009 in Castries.


Born in Castries Saint Lucia in 1927 the Honourable Dunstan St. Omer attended the St Aloysius Roman Catholic Boy's School and Saint Mary's College.

In 1946 he left St Lucia for Curacao and came under the influence of the Greek painter Pantelis.

On his return he taught at the Vide Bouteille School and also at his alma mater Saint Mary's College. He also taught at the Extramural Department of the University of the West Indies from where he received a scholarship to study art in Puerto Rico.

Dunstan St. Omer and Derek Walcott
On his return to Saint Lucia Dunstan St. Omer, Derek Walcott his soul mate from childhood, and a few friends from childhood started the Saint Lucian Arts Guild. That in part became the regional movement to decolonize the artistic community, and to reflect the social reality of a people trying to carve out their own space and to build their own nations.

He worked with The Voice newspaper as sub editor and subsequently as editor from 1959 - 1962.

Then as Secretary to the Saint Lucia Chamber of Commerce from 1967 - 1971.

His role according to the Swahili word 'mwalimu' or art teacher for schools was the anchoring feature of his career. This period spanned from 1971 until his retirement in 2000.

He has been referred to as the father of the artistic genre called prism-ism where in seven geometric shapes he creates flat surfaces based on prisms using the colours red, yellow, and blue.

He is best known for his murals painted on the altars of several churches in Saint Lucia, the Saint Michael Church in Martinique, or the Church of St. John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs at St. Benedict. Trinidad.

Holy Family mural, Roseau, Castries
Some of his outstanding works have been the Holy Family mural at the Church of the Holy Family in Roseau, the murals of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the La Rose mural at the Rose de Lima Church in Monchy,  and the Last Supper mural at the Church of the Holy Cross in Desruisseaux.

St. Omer has always had a political engagement with his people. His art has always been one of defiance  of the cultural epitome of Europe and a struggle for a local identity.

At one point he said, "The curse of the Caribbean is that our poverty is picturesque. Our daily reality is regarded by Europeans as heaven on earth, but for centuries they denied us the real thing. Until I painted the mural in this church, the Roseau Valley Church, black people were not admitted to heaven; not even as waiters."

His paintings of the black Christ and the black Madonna are symbols of hope for Saint Lucia and black people everywhere.

His reading of blackness is uplifting, empowering, unique, generative, and rebellious.

Some may argue that the ambiguity may lie in his deep and resolute belief in Christianity and his own checkered colonial past. But he has sought to resolve it almost as a form of manifest destiny or mission by attempting to save Christianity for his people. By highlighting the message of love and with its attributes of unity and essence to life mirrored in his painting.

Dunstan St. Omer has sought to heal historic wounds and has offered us the possibility of renewal. By his work he points to an epiphany.

Dunstan St. Omer in designing the national flag has engaged in democratic art of the highest level. He has provided to society with an identity of himself. This identity reproduced over time and space taking to the world an image of this community.

St. Omer's art titled 'Prometheus' graces an external wall at the U.W.I. open campus with his theme of man receiving from God the gift of fire and light reflective of the U.W.I. motto  Oriens Ex Occidente Lux, a light rising from the west.

Saint Lucians internationally acclaimed visual artist was awarded the Saint Lucia Cross by the government of Saint Lucia, and a Papal medal by the Roman Catholic Church in 2004. He was acclaimed a national hero by the Jubilee Trust Fund in collaboration with the Folk Research Center and the Cultural Development Foundation in 2007.

Dunstan St. Omer credits all of his achievements to his mother. His caring and persevering  wife of
Sir Dunstan and Lady St. Omer
57 years who shouldered the responsibility of homemaking especially during the lean periods. His 9 children , Alwin, Luigi, Giovanni, Julio, Roxanne, Sophia, Digna, Lygia, and Dunya; professionals in their own right with an international reach. Luigi incidentally gives us hope for continuity and sustainability.

St. Omer, a little while after we had prepared this document, reminded me, with pride and satisfaction, of his first grandchild whom he raised and who now holds a Master's degree in Education from Harvard University.

And at the root of it all, Saint Lucia, Saint Lucia, la belle Helen and its people whom he loves dearly.

Chancellor you will agree, I assure you, that Dunstan St. Omer is fully deserving.


Sir Dunstan St. Omer with family moments after receiving honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies


---------------

Ode by his son Giovanni St. Omer :



"NOTHING MATTERS BUT TO BE A SIGNIFICANT BLACK MAN"
One of St. Lucia's greatest sons and the Caribbean's great cultural Icons sailed into the sunset today, Hon Sir Dunstan St. Omer PHD, our dad. Husband of Lady Cynthia St. Omer and father to Roxanne, Lygia, Sophia, Alwyn, Luigi, Digna, Julio, Giovanni and Dunya, his nine children, twenty one grand children and five great grands. Not many individuals in our life time have had such a profound influence on so many lives and was more passionate about his country, his faith and his family like our dad. His entire existence was in service of his people and their upliftment, CARICOM named him one of the hundred most influential West Indians of the past Century. Hailed by Nobel Laureates, Professors, Prime Ministers, The Vatican, the International Press and Artisans the World over as a genius of his time, a very special breed of human being, an amazing father, devoted husband, loving grandfather, and most loyal subject to the people of his beloved St. Lucia. 

Born 24th October 1927, the second son of Gerald and Louisa St. Omer, his father an ex soldier and customs officer and his mom a home maker, an older brother Allen and younger sister Geraldine. In 1952 he married his sweetheart Cynthia St. Croix, today Lady Cynthia St. Omer, a marriage that spanned 63 years to this day. Sir Dunstan a devoted Catholic with a great passion for the Virgin Mary and the fetal relationship of the mother and child had become his trade mark. Our father always said that his greatest contribution is being able to paint Christ, Mary Mother and Joseph as black, "Your God must be of you and you of your God". A major player in the seventies black consciousness and Art movement, he carved a regional following that transformed the thinking of young Artist paving the way for a generation free in their creativity. " The curse of the Caribbean is that our poverty is picturesque", Sir Dunstan had a way with words and those he touched were the better for it.

"But, ah Gregorias, I christened you with that Greek name because it echoes the blessed thunders of the surf, because you painted our first frescoes, because it sounds explosive, a black Greek's, a sun that stands back from the fire of itself, not shamed, prizing its shadow, watching it blaze!"
(From "Another Life" by his boyhood and long time friend Hon Derek Walcott).
We love you daddy, not just your wife and kids but all of St. Lucia, our flag is the monument every St. Lucian will hold dear in your honour and memory.
"Do not go gentle into the night, Rage, Rage, against the dying light"

Sleep well Daddy.