AUDIO: Interview on Sky 99.5 FM on the JCC’s Invaders’ Bay law suit

This is a short interview I did with SKY 99.5FM on Tuesday 22nd November 2016 with Jessie-May Ventour and Edison Carr to discuss the Invaders’ Bay developments. Audio courtesy Sky 99.5 FM Pro…

Source: AUDIO: Interview on Sky 99.5 FM on the JCC’s Invaders’ Bay law suit

Well do it!

It is 14 months since the 2015 general elections and I still don’t know where the country is going.  We seem to have fallen asleep.  14 months ago Dr. Rowley got the job he applied for with the slogan “Let’s do this”! Well Let’s do this now.

Let’s fix the crime situation, the 4 hourly daily commute to Port of Spain, the lack of availability of drugs in the hospitals.  I see neither results nor plans and and on top of that I have to tolerate hapless Ministers.  Here are 2 examples of their haplessness:

The Minister of Health recently talked on television about a plan he and someone hatched to catch the security officer not doing her job. I heard him say that he visited a health institution, and pretended that he was an intruder and snuck past the security who shouted but did not chase.  After about 15 minutes he and his accomplice approached the security officer.  From that incident he concluded that the security was not doing her job and he has put a plan in place to ensure that the security does their job.

What if the security guard had shot the Minister of Health? Additionally is that the role and function of a Minister?  When did the Minister of Health become a micromanager? There is a big difference between leadership and management and I am sure that Minister must be aware of the difference. Additionally where is the process? From my wide dealing in the public and private sector I know what that process trumps micromanagement every time. The more you micromanage the less time you have to plan the big vision and the big strategy. So I am absolutely disappointed in the Minister of Health for this kind of silliness.

The second issue that comes to mind is the contempt which was demonstrated by the Minister of Finance when he stopped short of daring the public to riot. Despite his apology, too many people are aware of his arrogance and highhandedness so his original statement reflects accurately how he feels.  

During the lead up to the national elections, the Prime Minister is on record as saying that his contemporaries were busy having retirement parties while he was looking for a job. Well KR! … you have the job and you’ve had it for 14 months. It is time for you to lead us in a way that makes us proud.   You are falling terribly short of leading with the charisma we know you have.  Instead the Rottweiler has returned.

I cannot count what the government has delivered over the past 14 months! But that’s understandable because no one has communicated what the government intended to do so we don’t know how to measure progress.  

Mr. Prime Minister, it is time for you to speak with the people of Trinidad and Tobago.  Let us know what your plans are and how we can help! Let’s do this now!

Sans Website?

office-of-the-prime-ministerLong time ago, when the internet was in the toddler stage, I asked a “techie guru” why do I need a website?  His response – “it’s like your home address”.  In today’s world everything on social media pivots to your website where you essence is communicated.  It is the place where you invite people to learn about you and  decide if they want to do business with you.  That rationale has not changed.

Why then when I google “Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago” I get an under construction message.  But when I google “Office of the Prime Minister of Canada” I get a dynamic website which even includes his itinerary.

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In today’s world if you are interested in communicating with your population, you have to use the internet and the range of online tools which it offers.  Inviting yourself to a radio programme just allows you to speak to 18 percent of the population.  What about the other 82 percent?  And what about the youth cohort for whom the internet is their sand box?  Recently I was able to hear the Valedictorian on Facebook Live broadcast from one of the the graduation ceremonies at the University of the West Indies.  This just shows the power of the internet if used sensibly.

I can’t think of one reason why the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago does not have a functioning website.  It must be a new deliberate strategy to not communicate.  It must be because my Prime Minister and his advisers have no desire to engage  “Pradeep Public”.  It must be because they are have no interest in being inclusive.  It must be because they think they have all the answers.  It must be that the Government just does not understand that the future we must create requires an ICT strategy which enables our people to have information at their finger tips.

We keep talking about diversification.  If ICT does not form the backbone of the diversification strategy then we’ll be saying welcome to the past”. 

Our country has the potential, the people and the creativity.  What we lack is the leadership!

Some Sorrel Juice Please Mr. President!

no_alcoholThere was a time, not so long ago when the only juices you could enjoy at President’s House were sorrel juice, grapefruit juice, mauby, star apple juice and any juice that could be made using local fruits.  I am told the fruits also came from the gardens on the premises. That was a period when the office still held some awe and mystique.  Today, the “The Hassanali’s” are still spoken of in glowing tones as part of the good “ole” days.  For that time, the serving of “home made juice” at President’s House was seen as disruptive.  Fast forward to today and the Office has its own wine label at the expense of the citizens.  There is inconsistency in the messaging here.  On one hand we are saying that there is need for austerity while on the other, we commission a private label wine for the President’s House.

The recent budget announced an increase in the sin taxes (meaning alcohol and tobacco) which is a good initiative but if we are aiming to change the alcohol palette of the Trinbagonian, it didn’t go far enough. It should really have been a one hundred percent charge for all imported alcohol.

If we’re serious about reducing the foreign exchange drain, why not temporarily  ban the use of alcohol at all government functions and on all government premises including the Diplomatic Centre and President’s House. At least we could implement this tax while the country moves towards economic stability. An old saying comes to mind: “People do what you do and not what you say”.   There is a tremendous move to authenticity in today’s world and people are looking for behaviour which they can pattern.  They do not respond to instruction. If you want to call out the best of others you have to be the best you possible.  If we want the population to understand the dire straights we are in, then our actions must be consistent.  The focus at the moment is on the Presidential label for his special wine but it is only a matter of time before someone leaks the bill for the Diplomat Centre and Household.  

Colonized at 54

colonized-at-54The absence of strategy at all levels in Trinidad and Tobago is deeply rooted and of historic significance.  We continue to have the mentality of a colonized people.  We have not yet decided to take charge of our destiny.  Daily we keep asking for someone to provide solutions to our problems.  We seem to have forgotten that we have sole responsibility for our future.  Only us … YOU AND I, TOGETHER WILL SHAPE OUR DESTINY AND THE TIME HAS COME!  NOT TOMORROW, NOT NEXT WEEK BUT RIGHT NOW!

By way of example of our colonial mentality, let us quickly reflect on our chocolate experience.  Over the past 200 years we have exported our cocoa and reimported the same cocoa as chocolates at significantly higher prices.  Imagine Cadbury once owned a cocoa estate in Trinidad with more than 430 acres.  They rode the backs of our ancestors and built their empires for generations while we simply provided the labour.  What has changed in that industry?  Cadbury no longer owns the Ortinola Estate, our cocoa industry has declined, we are still importing chocolates and we have lost the taste for our own chocolate products.  Even our palettes have been colonized!

I commend the resurgence of chocolatiers, planters and merchants but they need a home market and that’s where our population has to move away from our commitment to foreign goods and begin to appreciate what we produce locally.

This narrative is repeated in every sector – energy, agriculture, tourism.  In the agriculture sector, we have been colonized by our brothers and sisters in Grenada and St. Vincent.  They supply the dasheen, plantains and sapodillas which are on offer in the markets.  Unless we can feed ourselves we are vulnerable.  Feeding ourselves requires a shift in mental attitude and the design of the enabling systems and processes.  Since the late Dr. Eric Williams our leaders have been so busy mimicking the metropole that they have not engaged or inspired our people to accept full responsibility for our destiny.

Over many years we have failed to develop a Tourism Industry in preference for a range of Tourism activities.  Our determination to court Sandals is another example of an activity which will simply ensure that the profits flow outwards. Instead of institutionalizing a drain on the treasury, here is an opportunity for us to take a long term view and answer the question: “will this sustain us 50 to 100 years out?”  Answering that question will take us away from the 5 year focus that currently informs our decision making.

Thinking 50 to 100 years out will force us to act in the interest of Trinidad and Tobago.  The narrative must be changed from this is in the interest of Penal, Tobago, Laventille, UNC, COP, PNM or whatever is the latest symbol of our disaffection to “Is this good for all of Trinidad and Tobago?”  Answering this one question will also encourage us to look beyond our political financiers and “eat ah food gangs”.  It will inspire us to think differently about desired outcomes and perhaps help us to understand what it means to be an independent nation at 54.

 

Making Sport the weapon of choice for our youth …

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The Jamaican Olympic success has been simply phenomenal and I admire and congratulate the government and people of Jamaica.  I however worry about my own country because every four years we rehash the same discussion about what is Jamaica doing right and what we are doing wrong?  The solution is the same – we need a strategy for sport and consistent implementation.  Our leaders continue to fail us by not clearly communicating their vision.

In a recent address Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh said that “Childhood Obesity had doubled and that the Non Communicable Disease (NCD) policy, which is waiting on approval, will come on-stream soon”.   The fact that Minister Deyalsingh referenced the increase in obesity in children tells me that we are aware of the problem.  What is needed now is action to get our children moving.

During the 10 years I served as Secretary of the Witco Sports Foundation, I spent a lot of time with the late Lystra Lewis and one of the stories she often told was what led to our country sharing the World Netball Championship title with Australia and New Zealand in 1979.   This was the the fifth (5th) World Netball Championship which was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1979.   20 countries were represented.

10 years prior to this achievement, Lystra Lewis won the bid for Trinidad and Tobago to host the tournament.  At the time we did not have a stadium and she knew that good facilities were needed so she approach then Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams to build the facility which is now known as the Jean Pierre Complex.  Her role was to implement a developmental plan which would see Netball being played across the country.  This resulted in the unearthing and fine tuning of talent at all levels of our society but it began with a focussed attempt, a strategic intent to create a winning netball team.

Unfortunately, we have not maintained that high performance, well oiled machinery and Netball has slid to un unthinkable level.

In every area of sport, Trinidad and Tobago has consistently demonstrated that we have the talent but we continue to underperform.  The missing element is there is no strategic intent.  I have not heard the Minister of Sport articulate such a strategic intent.  Once he makes the call, we would quickly need to deploy qualified physical education teachers into every school and provide them with a programme aimed at developing the specific athlete(s) we want to produce.  That’s what inspired leadership would look like.

During my Caribbean Games experience, my mantra was “Sport must become the weapon of choice for our youth”.   I still believe in the potential and possibility of this statement but it will only become a reality when we devote the time and effort to craft the strategy for the sport industry.  Of course, this has been done before but our leaders choose not to build on previously laid foundations but to smash any bases that exist.  As blood fertilizes our land and our people flounder, it is urgent that we put a strategic plan in place to capture the imagination of our youth and re-ignite our people’s passion for sport.  Whatever we do, there is the grim recognition that it may be another generation before we reap the rewards.  But if action is taken now, my generation may pass-on confident in the knowledge that our future sports persons will thrive in a nurturing, passionate environment.  The minimum outcome will be a reversal of the negative obesity trend amongst our children.

Revisiting the Colour Line: Cycles of Resistance or Empowerment?

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Image courtesy of rjlohr on Flick

I have experienced tear gas twice in my life. First at a “black power march” in Port of Spain and secondly at that famous “Pele” football match in the Queen’s Park Oval.

These memories came flooding back to me on a recent site visit to the Queen’s Park Oval. It is amazing that the pungency of Tear Gas has never left my consciousness.

I was drawn to the 1970 revolution and I don’t know why! Was it because I lived that juxtaposition of poverty and plenty? Coming from behind the bridge, we used an out house while my school had water closets. Or was it because I challenged the fact that the banks appeared to be staffed only by lighter skinned young women? This was one of the complaints of the marchers in 1970. Or was it because when Ventures played hockey against Checkers, it looked like a white team versus a coloured team on the Princess Building grounds?

I was at a stage where although I sat next to a white Trinidadian in school and we are friends today, I was uncomfortable in the presence of white persons.

Of course I felt that my school friends were different. My school had very few “darkies”. In those days I had no opinion of girls of East Indian descent. I saw them as neither dark, coloured or negro. I don’t know how they were viewed.

School was a contrast of poverty and privilege, rich and poor, high status and commoner.

My sojourns to support the Black Power marches ended after the tear gas experience and I settled down to make the best of the opportunity for an education. I settled down as most of us do to allow the universe to unfold. However I kept a keen interest in anything associated with the Black Power movement. When Beverly Jones and Guy Harewood were killed I felt I had lost a sister and brother.

I met the late “Guy Harewood” through a friend who was at Queen’s Royal College. During the marches he would call me “smallie”. I saw this survivor of the Revolution recently and was deeply pained by how rough life has treated him. There is another survivor whom I met at a Gym in Central. We talked about the superficial but acknowledged the memories that were awakened. I remember the late Beverly Jones as a young woman appearing to be larger than life.

My “Black Power Kit” comprised denim jeans, black vest, a jacket, bandana and a lime.

There was some illusion that rubbing lime on your bandana before tying it over your nose and mouth would reduce the burning sensation of Tear Gas. I never had the chance to test this illusion because the Tear Gas was swift and powerful enough to confine me to my home whenever there was a march. My late mother’s mocking question echoed in my head: “Aye, Aye .. yuh not black powering today? … dey in de square yuh know!”

Years later, the international environment is punctuated by incidents of brutality against people of colour.

The schisms between black and white are once again intense and black people have to find a place in the world and indeed in Trinidad.

We are still marginalised and at the bottom of the rung. People still use latrines in many parts of the country. The conditions of today remind me of 1970. Our reality is being revisited daily. Is it that there were no lessons of 1970?

By Dennise Demming
Volunteer, TEDxPortofSpain