Oil slicks, sex flicks, murder conspiracies and disease dominated the headlines for 2014, laying the tapestry for a new year, in which general elections will take centre stage.The Lifesport scandal, Prisongate and the deportation of illegal African immigrants were among the major issues affecting the People's Partnership Government.
Among those who were forced to quit the PP's Cabinet because of alleged scandals were Minister of the People and Social Development Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh, who was fired for allegedly assaulting an air hostess; Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma who resigned over a public spat with his ex-girlfriend Sascha Singh; and the Sports Minister Anil Roberts who resigned following an audit report on the LifeSport programme, which found widespread corruption.
The Ebola, dengue and chikungunya viruses also caused major panic this year.
Not even President Anthony Carmona and his wife Reema Carmona were spared the controversy which encompassed politicians, religious leaders and media personalities alike.Among the controversies which triggered a firestorm of criticisms was the tabling of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 which was passed after almost three days of heated debate without support from the PNM.
The long-awaited Dog Control Act 2014 and the passage of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Bill 2014 were among the significant legislative provisions which Government offered this year. The political infighting between former prime minister Patrick Manning and his successor Dr Keith Rowley also stirred rumblings within the PNM.
Spiralling murder statistics continued to be a hot topic over the past 12 months with Minister of National Security Gary Griffith complaining that many of his crime initiatives were being stymied by bureaucratic red tape within his own ministry.
The year 2014 started with oil slicks and ended with concerns over tumbling oil prices.
Last January, state agencies embarked on a massive clean-up drive to clear coastal waters of 7,000 barrels of crude oil which spilled from separate locations in the lead-up to Christmas. Petrotrin used the controversial dispersant Corexit 9500 to control the spill. The use of this substance, which scientists have said was far more toxic than oil alone, was condemned by environmental groups and the trade union representing oil workers.
The Environmental Management Authority, which fined Petrotrin $20 million, issued a statement on January 17 saying there were four spills which had an impact on 12 locations including 10.5 miles of beach.By February, six senior employees from Petrotrin including vice president of Petrotrin's refinery and marketing department Madhu Bachan were fired in connection with the oil spill. Despite assertions of sabotage and subsequent investigations, the oil spills continued.
On July 9, 5,000 barrels of slop oil seeped into the nearby Guaracara River, causing dozens of residents to fall ill. The oil spill occurred when a leak mysteriously developed at the energy company's Tank MP6. The Marabella residents were given compensation but many of them continued to stage sporadic protests in August, September and November.
In Penal, on July 27, several residents of Digity Trace, Penal, were evacuated from their homes as another oil spill occurred. This time, Petrotrin said a two-inch union on the well head had parted, causing oil to spew onto residents' roof tops.
On November 22, another act of sabotage was reported when bull plugs from a tank were removed causing five barrels of oil to seep into a river at Grand Ravine, Palo Seco. This happened a day after a group calling itself Anonymous T&T released a video on YouTube calling on Petrotrin to "come clean" on issues surrounding the oil spill at Marabella. The video, which featured a person dressed in black wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, was later taken down from YouTube.
Apart from damage to oil infrastructure, sabotage has also been reported this year at the OAS Constructura highway site. On December 7, masked saboteurs set fire to a multi-million-dollar crane at the OAS highway job site in Point Fortin, as a warning to the Government. The cutlass-wielding assailants ordered the National Infrastructure Company Ltd (Nidco) to "pay farmers now or face the consequences."
The world also witnessed a steady decline in oil prices between June and December. On September 8, during the budget presentation, Howai said there was a revenue prediction of $60.351 billion for the fiscal year 2014-2015. This revenue was based on an expected oil price of US$80/bbl (WTI) and a natural gas price of US$2.75/MMBtu (NYMEX).
Oil prices plummeted to below US$60 as the year came to a close. In late October, Cabinet met in an emergency session to discuss the issue and Finance Minister Larry Howai ordered all ministries to curtail their expenditure. Business and energy chambers throughout the country later called on Government to revise the budget.
But there was no slow-down of government mega projects including the Couva Children's Hospital, the University of the West Indies law campus in Debe, the Point Fortin hospital, Couva Aquatic Centre and several highway interchanges.
In November, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal said the only project which might be affected by the curtailing of expenditure was the completion of the Brian Lara Stadium at Tarouba. A further $200 million is needed to complete infrastructural works on the stadium.By December, Government promised to curb spending but was publicly criticised for wasting money on billboards bearing the Prime Minister's image.
Several Cabinet ministers made news this year over allegations of sexual misconduct. In March, Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) flight attendant Ronelle Laidlow, 25, filed a complaint that Minister of the People Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh touched her breast when he reached for her identification badge, which was pinned to her blouse, and threatened to have her fired.
Police later confirmed they were investigating a report of disorderly behaviour by Ramadharsingh on board a domestic flight from Tobago to Trinidad on March 16.
On April 5, single mother Patricia Singh also made a report to police that she was made to perform sex acts on Ramadharsingh when she went to him for assistance to fast-track a Housing Development Corporation (HDC) application. Ramadharsingh was later fired by the Prime Minister who ordered that his appointment be revoked on March 24.
A week after this scandal, Tourism Minister Chandresh Sharma's alleged affair with businesswoman Sascha Singh also went viral. Singh, managing director of AMS Biotech Security Concept and AmSure T&T Ltd, who claimed to be Sharma's ex-girlfriend, reported to officers of the St Joseph police station that he used violence against her.
Singh, 30, alleged that Sharma, 54, hit her and pushed her down at the Grand Bazaar mall on March 12. He later tendered his resignation. The DPP later found insufficient evidence to charge Sharma for any offence.
Sports Minister Anil Roberts also resigned mid-year. He started off the new year on a high note after tying the knot with his 21-year-old fiance Shandell Nichols, but took a dramatic slide in July when he tendered his resignation after an audit into Lifesport showed massive corruption.
Finance Minister Larry Howai blew the whistle on Roberts, saying it was he who retained Adolphus Daniell, the educator who was paid $34 million from the LifeSport programme for no work.
Lifesport was meant to wean young people away from a life of crime, but the audit revealed the programme had been riddled with financial irregularities; employed co-ordinators with criminal backgrounds; gave evidence of massive fraud and millions misspent; ghost centres; ghost participants; improper procurement; and theft, among other the findings.
In May, an explosive video shot inside a hotel room also went viral. It showed a man resembling a minister rolling what appeared to be a marijuana joint. The man, later dubbed as "the two pull minister" was in the company of Spanish-speaking women. The PNM later admitted to knowing about the video several months before it went public.
And in November, another online video surfaced depicting a sex tape featuring radio DJ Kevaughn "Lerbz" Savory and a woman purported to be the wife of a former minister. Police said a hit was placed on Savory, following which six people were held in a plot to kill Savory.
Ex-LifeSport co-ordinator Rajaiee Ali; Kesh�orn Dempster; Brent La Croix; Brandon Bor�neo; his wife, Donna Dyer; and his brother, Ish�mael were charged with being members of an unnamed gang, con�spiring to murder Savory and with assisting a gang member in the commission of a gang-related act by possessing a gun and ammunition.
Ebola, dengue and ChikV
T&T was spared any outbreak of Ebola in 2014, even though health care workers had two "scares" at Mt Hope and Piarco in August and September. It was a time when the rest of the world became engrossed in the spread of the disease which has killed over 7,000 people, predominantly in West Africa, since 1976.
In August, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared West Africa's Ebola outbreak a "public health event of international concern." The United States recorded its first case of Ebola with the death of Eric Duncan. As PAHO sounded its alert, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan begged citizens not to panic over Ebola saying Government would set up isolation centres in Piarco and Caura if any cases were diagnosed.
In November, the media was given a tour of the new containment facilities at Caura, inclusive of US$20,000 hazmat suits and two-bed isolation units.
But while T&T was spared Ebola, the cases of ChikV and dengue soared. As regional corporations continued cleaning and dyna-fogging, Professor Dave Chadee, a world expert on vector-borne diseases, said the strategies being used to fight the viruses were outdated.
In September, PAHO declared that ChikV had infected more than one million people throughout the Americas in 2014. However, Marcos Espinal, director of PAHO's Department of Communicable Diseases and Health Analysis, said the fatality rate for dengue in the Americas had declined more than 28 per cent in the last three years.
Murder and conspiracy
Apart from the threats of disease, T&T also faced its fair share of murder and mayhem for 2014, with the murder toll climbing past 400.
Several high-profile murders remained on the minds of citizens. Among these were the May 4 murder of state prosecutor and independent senator Dana Seetahal, SC, who was ambushed shortly after midnight along Hamilton Holder Street, Woodbrook, as she made her way to her One Woodbrook Place apartment. A $3.5 million reward was later offered by Crime Stoppers, but no one has yet been charged for the crime.
In August 22, the man David "Junior" Baker, 28, believed to have shot Seetahal several times, was killed by police at a house in Freeport.
In October, the disappearance of a Brasso Seco family–Irma Rampersad, 49; her daughters Felicia, 17, and Jennelle Gonzales, 19; and Jennelle's daughter 14-month-old Shania Amoroso–led to the capture of T&T's most wanted fugitive Azmon Alexander, who had escaped from the Mayaro Magistrates Court on January 31 after appearing on kidnapping and robbery charges.
Alexander and his 17-year-old accomplice were charged with the murders of Felix Martinez, 52, Rampersad and baby Shania. They were also charged with gun and ammunition offences, false imprisonment, shooting at the police, burglary, robbery and other serious criminal offences.
On November 22, the murders of German couple Hubertus Keil, 74, and Birgid Keil, 71, also made global headlines, threatening the tourism industry in Tobago. Their bodies were found on Minister's Bay, near the mouth of the river at Bacolet Bay. There were multiple chop wounds about the necks, hands and bodies of the couple.
Because of the high crime rate, several bulletins have been issued internationally, warning about the serious crime rate. On December 4, the United Kingdom issued a warning to the 30,000 British nationals who visit T&T every year. The bulletin warned of high levels of violent crime, especially in the inner city neighbourhoods east of Port-of-Spain's city centre, Laventille, Morvant and Barataria.
Several police killings were also reported for 2014 which prompted widespread protests. In June, officers from the Inter-Agency Task Force responded to a report about gunfire occurring in Morvant, and shot two boys dead–cousins 16-year-old Hakeem Alexander and 15-year-old Tevin Alexander. Tevin's mother, Lisa De Leon-Alexander, said the boys were running away from a gunman andstopped when they saw the police, but were still shot. This prompted widespread protests.
On August 14, Beresford Asoon, a known car thief from Sangre Grande, and another man were killed by police in Central Trinidad. On September 17, St Barbs residents, enraged at the killing of their neighbour Kerron Wellington by police, set the streets on fire.
On September 2, director of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) Gillian Lucky resigned in preparation for her appointment as a High Court Judge. Following her departure several residents of Laventille lamented that there would no longer be fair investigations into police killings.
President Anthony Carmona found himself in hot water this year as he tried to defend his wife, Reema Carmona, whose attire was criticised by comedienne and radio talk show host Rachel Price.
On October 21, it was announced via a news broadcast on CNC3 that Carmona issued a pre-action protocol letter to Price to cease comments on his wife. Price's comments stemmed from what many considered the inappropriate attire of Mrs Carmona when she attended a United Nations fashion event for first ladies in New York.
Price lashed back saying freedom of the press was under attack. However, Carmona said, the constitutional right of freedom of expression was not a licence to defame. To date, Price claims, she has never received the letter.
In November, the President was hit with another scandal when it was revealed that he had been receiving a $28,000 monthly housing allowance since last year while occupying state-owned quarters at Flagstaff Hill, St James.Carmona and the Chief Personnel Officer, Stephanie Lewis, who approved the payment were criticised by the Opposition and the Independent Liberal Party (ILP). Calls were also made for Government to halt the payment and for Carmona to refund the money.
Key legislative reforms
Apart from the murder and mayhem, corruption was a hot topic for 2014. Several key pieces of legislation meant to reduce crime, corruption and improper procurement practices were passed.
The most controversial bill for the year was the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014, which sparked protests and vigils outside the Parliament in August. The controversy began when Dr Merle Hodge, a member of the Constitutional Reform Committee, raised concerns about the run-off proposal. Hodge said the run-off was never part of the committee's report and was an "anti-democratic contradiction of the principle of proportional representation."
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said Hodge could have submitted a minority report if she had concerns about the Bill which contained provisions for a two-term limit for a Prime Minister, the right to recall and a second ballot run-off.In late August, after three days of intense debate, the bill was passed. Twenty-three members voted for the bill, 14 against, and there was one abstention.
Another Bill which triggered debate was the Dog Control Act which became law on June 2. Even though the act was passed, dog owners were not happy with the implementation of the legislation. Owners of Class A (dangerous) dogs expressed concerns over the hefty $250,000 insurance that each owner of a Class A dog was required to have in the event that their pet attacked someone.
By December, several animal rights activists complained that regional corporations still had not set up animal pounds and proper facilities for tracking animals. The long-awaited report of the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt was laid in Parliament in March. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in disclosing some of the recommendations, said that some of the commission's findings would be taught in schools as history for the benefit of young people.
In December, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Bill 2014 was also passed in Parliament. It had taken ten years for the bill to be passed by a special three-fifths majority. Chairman of the private pector Civil Society Group on Public Procurement, Winston Riley, welcomed the passage of the bill.The year ended with the Prime Minister announcing that the Constitution Amendment (Capital Offences) Bill 2011 would be brought back to Parliament next year as a deterrent to crime.