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?


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

Support Plastikeep!

This space was occupied by a Plastikeep bin!
In a short few days, it has been transformed to –
A dump …  An eyesore!

Responsible Minister, get your finger out and do what you were voted in to do – help us to make this a better place.  Otherwise, you stand accused of facilitating the complete degradation of our environment.

Plastikeep was doing a good job.  They encouraged us to separate and dispose of our plastics in a responsible manner.  With the absence of their collection bins now, our trash will revert to an “all in” approach which adds to our high level of plastic pollution.

What I don’t understand is  why the monies in the Green Fund are no longer available to Platikeep.  In addition, the green fund levy was increased in the last budget.  By way of explanation, “The green fund levy is payable by all companies and unincorporated entities, including partnerships” … taken from the Parliament Website.

Why is this not simply a process of drawing down on the available funds to carry out the project?

Plastikeep needs our support.  We can survive problematic politicians, corrupt decision makers but not a contaminated  environment.


Decision Making Requires Data …

“In making a case for domestic tourism, Tourism Minister
Shamfa Cudjoe said Trinidadian residents vacationing in Tobago
spent over TTD 500 million, which translates to about 59 percent
of Total Domestic Travel Expenditure. Persons from Tobago
visiting Trinidad spent approximately TTD 250 million”.

Minister of Tourism, thanks for supporting the case for the need for a robust approach to data collection in this country.  A poor approach to data collection and analysis has paralysed several sectors over the years.   We are often making decisions based on bad data and false conclusions.  The Ministry of Tourism is no exception.  If someone with a small guest house, takes your $1billion statistic seriously and expands his/operation that person can suffer significant losses and be left asking what went wrong?Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 14.03.24

If the Ministry of Tourism is using such data to boast about the impact on our economy, please take an open approach to your data and share it with the average citizen. Government as well as the person supplying food on Store Bay need to make decisions using robust data.

My biggest challenge with this data is that since we do not fill out landing cards between Trinidad and Tobago, reliable data collection becomes problematic and unreliable. I can’t even contemplate the period during which the data was collected because it “revealed that 263,300 overnight domestic trips were taken by Trinidad and Tobago households over the survey period”.  If on average there are 50 flights per day (and that’s generous) then simplistic maths reveal that your data collection period was at least one year and each passenger was surveyed.

In addition to providing us with the data, we need to know the distinction between the Trade strategy and the Tourism strategy.  Speak to the average Tobagonian and she will tell you that she shops in Trinidad because of the exorbitant prices in the supermarkets.  She will complain that if she needs a visa she still has to come to Trinidad and we’ve all heard the laments about Title Deeds.  There is significant inter island travel to satisfy a range of basic needs.  When I travel to Tobago to conduct a training programme, I hope I am not viewed as a tourist or when a lawyer travels to represent a client, this is not leisure.

There is an excellent case for domestic tourism and the “Stay to Get Away” campaign is a good one but please be careful with overpraising and sensationalising what is a business case.  We need data driven decision making not sensational headline grabbing data.

So here are three lessons in this:  Firstly, the citizens are interested in your trade strategy versus your domestic tourism strategy, secondly we must organise a robust method for data collection and thirdly, citizens are wary about taking official word as gospel.

Thank You Ingrid Lashley!

Hi Ingrid Lashley … You made me proud.  You are a champion black woman with the confidence and competence to continue making a difference.
Here’s what I learned from your experience and let me share these learnings with Corporation Sole and his Designates!

  1. Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 15.58.21Appoint competent subject matter experts to lead organisations?
  2. Hire someone who is a team leader.
  3. Communicate your expectations as clearly as possible?
  4. Appoint a Board which understands their role?
  5. Give the CEO the space to develop the systems and procedures to manage the organization.
  6. Allow the CEO to hire best in class.
  7. Schedule your check in periods.
  8. Demonstrate your respect for CEO.
  9. Leave the CEO ALONE to do what he/she is hired to do.
  10. Go back to Parliament and do what you do best.