My wish upon a Star

I believe many people want a leader who is able to form a human connection with them using both words and deeds. So my single wish for 2019 is a leader who communicates with us this way.

The last time I heard our leader speak was at the PNM Convention in Tobago and I got a sense that it was a checkbox item for him to place a tick next to and move on to the next item on his “to-do” list.

There are three reasons why I want our leader to communicate with us:

Firstly, the economic pundits predict that the economy is not going to be on an upswing anytime soon, so we need someone to rally the troops to convince us that we are “all in this together”. Our leader must help us understand that despite the massive layoffs, separations and firings over the past few years, there is a plan to collaborate to make things better. A leader who is good at communicating will convince us that his five years spent as Leader of the Opposition prepared him to lead us out of this predictable economic decline. He theoretically should have been intimately involved in analysing every budget presentation since 2010, so he should be fully aware of the state of the economy.

The second reason why I want our leader to communicate openly and honestly is that I am seeking reassurance that he is not simply acting in the interest of the “haves” in our society but that project formulation and implementation is being activated with a view towards long term sustainability. For example, I want to hear that the Beverage Container Bill has been completed and there will be a systemic approach to ensuring that single use plastics are separated at home and ready for curbside collection and recycling or disposal.

My third reason for wanting our leader to communicate effectively is that I believed him during the run-up to the 2015 election when he said that transportation is a quality-of-life issue and he encouraged me to imagine what life would be like when the commute from the east would be less than an hour. I want him to explain why nothing has been done to ease this burden. Maybe he should have consulted the Inter-American Development Bank before selling me that dream about a solution to the transportation problem.

Singapore, our starting-gate brother on the other side of the world, knows that without mineral resources, the only source of wealth is the people, and they have motivated, inspired and coerced their citizens to follow a dream which today positions them amongst the richest, most successful countries in the world. Their leader had (and continues to have) a vision of the future which was sold to its citizens. If we have a vision, then it needs to be communicated to us clearly. In the words of American philosopher, James Hume: “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” In Trinidad and Tobago, we have a leader installed but there is an absence of leadership. Had we been blessed with true leadership, we would have been inspired, persuaded and influenced to operate at our highest potential and maybe become the Singapore of the Caribbean.


VIDEO: Sandals Tobago and You: What you Need to Know – A conversation

Each citizen has a responsibility to be vigilant . We CANNOT allow such huge investments without understanding the implications for the future. This is worth investing the time to be educated and informed.

Afra Raymond was at the Scarborough Public Library in Tobago on 13 December 2018 to speak on his successful Freedom of Information request to see the Memorandum of Understanding between the T&T government and the Sandals Group to develop and run a Sandal/Beaches resort in Tobago. His analysis of the MoU was discussed and Q&A followed.

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Urban Renewal PNM style!

Recently I returned to the place of my childhood, Quarry Street, East Dry River. It was just 7:30 pm and the streets were quiet. No families sitting out … no fellas liming under the street light, just an eerie quiet. I noticed that there were several cars neatly parked on one side of the street. It struck me that this street of my childhood was no longer a neat row of houses with plants in the front, filled with the laughter of families enjoying the evening breeze from their galleries. The quiet was troubling and I wondered out loud, “Why people have stopped passing time under the streetlights and on the corners?” My passenger exclaimed, “Girlfriend, they fraid gun toting bandits!” Equally troubling was the dilapidated buildings which dotted this one-mile stretch from Observatory Street to the top of Quarry Street.

It’s true that things are always changing, but I expected that things would have been better. Instead the evidence of poverty and decline is “in yuh face”. The halfway “falling down” former family homes, the piles of garbage on the corners, the roaming stray dogs, the vine-covered trailer truck which once housed Syncopaters steelband — all tell a story of a community in decline. I wondered about the plan for resuscitation and renewal.

My reason for being there was to drop someone home. Our journey was filled with nervous chatter about the dangers of living in such an area and having to rely on the informal public transportation (unregistered drivers using their cars as taxis) which exists in the absence of any formal system in that area. Transportation there has always been problematic, and for the past 50 years, no government has worked on finding solutions.

This is just one example of a wicked problem crying out for a solution. This areas has voted solidly for the PNM except for the 1986 election when they temporarily voted for the NAR. It is not surprising that this community has been ghettoised over the past 40-something years, but it is time to try a different engagement strategy which takes the residents into consideration. A strategy of collaboration across the community with all stakeholders being accountable for the outcomes. The people who live in this community enjoy easy access to the city and are often not interested in moving out. They just want basic opportunities to live a safe life.

Breathing new life into that community can begin by simply helping residents unravel the ownership of the lands on which their houses are built. The rebirth and revitalization of our troubled communities is not only a government responsibility, it is an opportunity for collaboration and once it is successful in one area, has the potential to spread like wildfire to other communities. Two important quality of life factors are housing and transportation, both of which have proved to be unsolvable by our current politicians.

What we need are politicians with vision, empathy and backbone who are prepared to provide inspired leadership.

“Mornin!” Former Petrotrin Worker.

Today marks the end of life as you knew it for the past whatever number of years you worked proudly for Petrotrin.  Today, you awake with an emptiness deep in your soul and a lack of clarity about your future. You are not even assured that the severance package to which you are entitled will be paid.  You don’t know when, next money will be deposited into your account.

Depending on how you calculate it, you are one of either 1700, 3500 or 5000 family members who are awake now with nothing to do this morning and several mornings to come.  Unofficial statistics suggest that you join another 18000 persons who have lost their jobs under the leadership of Dr. Keith Christopher Rowley.

The most important thing you can do for you and your family is to take time to assess your finances.  Really work the number of days to bankruptcy and do it with your significant other. This can be a frightening task but it will give you a true sense of where you are and what you need to do.  It will also help you whip up the courage to have a conversation with your bank, credit union or financial institution and plan for your future.

The only bright light in this equation is that some of you will be employed by Paria and Legacy because there is no other option.  The pool of employees for any new company is the local workforce and there are only a few multi-thousand dollar jobs available for expatriates and politically connected locals.  But many of you either have to retrain for a new career or learn to survive on a reduced income. However you chart your future course, you must never forget that the ultimate responsibility for the closure of Petrotrin belongs to the current Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Christopher Rowley.

When he is no longer Prime Minister, I shall remember him for three things.  Firstly, his lack of accountability to Petrotrin workers and the nation about the future of Petrotrin.  My second memory will be about him paying lip service to holding collaboration as a core value.  In his capacity as Leader of the Opposition, he collaborated with the Union and signed a MOU which was quickly abandoned when he became Prime Minister.  My third memory will be of a Prime Minister who talks about transparency but who hides his action “under a bushel”.  The new companies Paria and Legacy were not conceptualized yesterday; they have been long in the planning.  It is just that the roll-out has been sloppy.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for workers at TSTT who are currently undergoing a similar hatchet job.  WASA, I hear you are next in line for the chopping block.

Traffic Police can make a difference!

Daily, cyclists and runners take to the roads in pursuit of their sport, and nearly all of them do so while following the appropriate safety requirements. Unfortunately, pedestrians and motorists seem less concerned with safety and more with doing their own thing whenever they want, and expecting to do so with impunity.

Because of this attitude, our roads have become dangerous for all road users. There is no evidence in the behaviour of pedestrians, that we teach road safety in schools. There is plenty of evidence that motorists are on the road who show no signs of having passed the regulations exams. How did we get to this stage?

Unless corrective measures are put in place immediately, the carnage will continue.  More citizens (Parliamentarians read: constituents) will pay with their lives because of the chaos which has been allowed to reign.  Many runners and cyclists can recount numerous near misses in which the driver happily drove off, secure in the knowledge that he/she is unlikely to be prosecuted. Making the roads safer means having an effective police presence or effectively using technology coupled with mandatory mass education programmes regardless of age.

Our policemen seem to have hibernated or are too busy rudely waving motorists out of the way just so the President, Prime Minister, Commissioner of Police, or the latest Machel Montano wannabe can get through.  We seem to have forgotten that in the absence of consequences, people will push the envelope and get away with whatever they can.

These problems will not self correct.  They need:

  • Sustained, ubiquitous police enforcement of the driving regulations
  • A public campaign aimed at promoting acceptable driving standards
  • Retraining of pedestrians on how to use the roads
  • Introduction and enforcement of penalties for jaywalking & pedestrian obstruction of traffic

Simply increasing the fines without enforcement will not have the desired result.  And let’s not forget that the police themselves must be exemplars for obeying the rules of the road.

Too often we observe Police officers driving while chatting on their phones or driving with their right arm dangling out of the window or using their sirens only to be found buying doubles at the next vendor.  I often ask how is the citizen supposed to react to a someone in civilian clothes driving a marked police vehicle? Yes, I’ve digressed; this will be taken up in another post.

Police officers continue to fumble over the chaos on the roads by ignoring the illegal and inappropriate stop/start/stop/start of both illegal (“ph”) and legal taxis, a major cause of traffic; the illegal “u” turns on main roads; drivers rolling through major roads; drivers not stopping at zebra crossings; and even pedestrians not using the zebra crossings and walkovers. These are not headline grabbing activities but if laws are obeyed, and good sense followed, these are the things that signal that we are a society of order.  

A good life is made of lots of small, good actions, preferably by everyone in society.  Doing these the small things can make a big difference.


Gary needs more lightning, less thunder!

Brace yourself for heightened aggression from the police! That’s the message I received from the recent television interview with Commissioner of Police (CoP) Gary Griffith about the alleged Police killing of five young men in Laventille. To paraphrase this very powerful citizen – anyone who objects to his approach either has not been impacted by crime or benefits from the criminal elements. Additionally, this leader resorted to sarcasm and ridicule to respond to legitimate concerns being raised by the interviewer. In a direct jab at his predecessor’s failure to impact the level of crime, the CoP questioned: has it really worked well for the last few years? In a direct ridicule of the grandmother of one of the slain victims who said that the boys held their hands up, the CoP described her as “Super Granny flying through the air”. Super Gary is confident that he has 95% of the population backing him so feels emboldened to insult citizens.

If I were his boss, I would muzzle him for the next 90 days and only allow the Communications Officer to speak to the Media. My first reason for muzzling him is that we have not really seen the impact of his gun talk as yet. As I write, we are counting the number of murders committed for the weekend. Commissioner Gary needs to give his plans time to work before boasting about how he will peg back the criminals because the evidence is that so far, he has not.

My second reason for muzzling him is that he has to be taught what to say. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind is the saying: “not all talk good tuh talk”. His boast that he will fire anyone caught in wrongdoing simply confirms his ignorance of process and procedure. He cannot do so without following a specific procedure, but the Police Association will teach him that lesson. You may say, “That is not what he meant,” but a true leader would have responded from a position of knowledge. That kind of activity is best dealt with by your actions and not your statement of intent.

My third reason for muzzling him is that as a person in a position of leadership, sarcasm cannot be your “go to” approach. Sarcasm as a literary device is often used when intended to mock or insult. The Commissioner of Police should not be intending to mock or insult any member of the public, particularly the media and, in a media interview. His response “Oh Jesus Lord Fadder…” was simply out of place for a leader.

If the CoP’s boss takes my advice, he would have Gary work tirelessly on finding out exactly what happened with the killing of five youths in Laventille and provide an account to John Public. That would demonstrate his commitment to being accountable. His second task would be to identify a collaborative approach for members of the public to work with the police on providing the information they so desperately need and, thirdly I would make the process of promotion transparent.

And while Gary is on lock-down, his boss needs to remind him of the old Apache saying: “It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand”

Less Testosterone needed to solve the Petrotrin Issue!

The Petrotrin story could have had a better outcome if only there was less testosterone being thrown about.   This is clearly a situation of, “I am in charge and I will do what I want.” Considering that you have been a large part of the decision making over the past 20 years and are therefore responsible, do you believe that this how to run a company a (or country) competently?Collaboration Image
The PNM has presided over bad decision making and politicking at Petrotrin for decades, but now the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance only want to express this situation purely with economics.  The crucial facet being missed by purely economic argument is that this is also a socio-cultural issue and a human development issue. It is about changing the way labour and business interact to produce outcomes, moving from the futility of adversarial stance to a collaborative one.

Once again, the government isis also missing the “boat” by turning its back on an opportunity to be a game-changer.  There could have been two outcomes; first, a message to “John and Kavita Public” that we have to give a fair day’s labour for a fair day’s pay and second, negotiated (ie. mutually agreed) outcomes are more likely to succeed than those which are adversarial.  For either of these outcomes to be achieved, deep dialogue and collaboration would have been required.

The leadership keeps missing the potential demonstration effect that can impact every part of our country.  Instead they choose the worn-out power play informed by “might is right” and the power of the patriarchy. Our country needs to see good minds get together (regardless of gender or socioeconomic status), and have a robust exchange of ideas to emerge with solutions which they all agree to uphold.  If that happens it will signal that we are really “all in this together”.  How can this autocratic display of power be allowed to occur in the lead up to elections? I keep hearing a line from Sparrow’s little ditty – “Who ain’t like it could get the hell out of here”.

The leadership is also missing the “boat” which can signal that there is always a middle ground that could be attained but it requires accountability, collaboration and transparency.  How could you sign a Memorandum of Agreement in April and less than six months later, pretend that it never existed? There was a time when a person’s word was his bond and we had gentlemen’s agreements.  Well, if a written agreement can be broken at this level, then what do you expect from the ordinary citizens? They will behave exactly as the leadership and speak with “forked tongues”.

The anecdotal evidence suggests that this population is waiting and anxious to follow anyone whom they believe will be honest and act in their common interest and not in the interest of certain cliques of people.  What the Prime Minister and his circle should be doing is figuring out how to get Roget and his aggressors to sit around a table and hammer out an agreement. They will all then have the moral authority to tackle WASA, the Police, the Health Sector and anywhere there is public expenditure in the provision of goods and services.

The industrial court has given us an opportunity and it is up to us to grasp it, run with it and be guided by the notions of Accountability, Collaboration and Transparency (ACT).