There is nothing remotely unusual about going back to Trinidad! But for reasons that have nothing to do with this blog, I noticed that I stopped travel blogging around 2012. Which is too bad, since I made some fascinating work-related trips to Colombia, Israel and Albania before I stopped taking such opportunities because I preferred to hang out with my bambinos.
One day, I will say more about those places! But right now, let us discuss Trinidad, and later, Miami.
When you arrive at Trinidad, you arrive at Piarco International Airport, which encapsulates the country’s recent troubles. The new terminal, completed in 2001, isn’t terrible. It’s actually quite functional. But it’s barely functional. The security checks going out and the customs checks going in are easily overwhelmed. The terminal wait areas are spacious and nice, but that’s about it. For $1.6 billion, you’d expect a lot more.
So why isn’t it nicer? Well, allegations of corruption surround the project. The government commissioned an inquiry, but didn’t publish it. Then the government lost the 2001, and the report came out. (Although, amusingly, it is currently embargoed in Trinidad.) Charges were filed and wound through the local courts. In 2006, the United States filed charges against two contractors, Steve Ferguson and Ishwar Galbaransingh, alleging that they had defrauded the airport authority of US$150 million. The T&T government agreed to extradition. Allegations then crawled up the political food chain: former finance minister Brian Kuei-Tung; former Works minister Sadiq Baksh; former chairmen of the Airports Authority Tyrone Gopee and Ameer Edoo; former client representative in the Ministry of Works at the airport project Peter Cateau; and financial director Amrith Maharaj. By the time all was done, the fraud allegations exceeded US$245 million.
But then the UNC wins the 2010 election. (The United National Congress was in power between 1995 and 2001, when the new terminal project was implemented.) And what happens?
- A high court judge stays the extradition. Now, it is plausible that said decision had nothing to do with politics (note that the Florida indictment had been four years previous). But then we get ...
- The Administration of Justice Act of 2011 sweeps all the accused under a new statute of limitations, sending US$10 million in government legal expenses down the tubes. More details here.
Agh. That is not good. But hey, the UNC got trounced in the 2015 elections. Surely that means the PNM will clean house? Even if there are no new trials or extraditions, things will be better going ahead.
Although, well, it seems a little perturbing that one Ishwar Galbaransingh was a guest at the new transport ministers 50th birthday party.
Trinidad is not a basket case by any means. But it is underachieving. And the reason seems to be that voters are not yet angry enough to force change through.