Not Condemning: Of sirens, blue lights, uniforms and abuse …

Monday 19 March, 3:54pm.  Charlotte Street. The shrill screech of a siren assails shoppers, motorists and pedestrians as a lone Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force vehicle bores a hole through the two-way traffic, forcing drivers to hastily squeeze to the far edges of the road, making room where there is none.

I have experience of questionable use of the siren by politicians, both newbies and veterans alike. I have experience of police drivers going for doubles, siren on full blast. I have experience of Fire Service officers with civilians in their vehicles clearing a path with their sirens.

But this is my first experience of a vehicle with a TTDF license plate being driven in this manner. I had always thought that the TTDF did not engage in such shenanigans. The scales have finally fallen away from my eyes.

Is this chaos desirable, I wonder, inevitable? How are drivers supposed to respond, especially in standstill traffic where there is really no room for them to make way?

How does a citizen know that the use of a siren is legitimate, justified? Where can (s)he find a listing of the conditions under which sirens are to be used? Does one exist? Is it merely at the discretion of the proud politician in the back seat or the peewat policeman, fireman or soldier who happens to be behind the wheel, uniformed or not?

If no such listing exists, are we not allowing—not to say encouraging—the blatant abuse now almost routinely visited on the road-using public?

I remain unconvinced that Monday’s Charlotte Street episode was necessary, legitimate or above suspicion. Well aware of the systemic necessity for what was happening across town at NAPA, as I viewed the tangle left in the wake of the siren-blaring TTDF vehicle, I found myself focused instead on the widespread systemic collapse we in T&T are experiencing.

Most—if not all—of our problems, have their roots, I heard myself thinking, either in the absence of appropriate systems, processes and procedures or in the shocking uncensored disregard for the ones that do in fact exist.

In general, citizens will follow where their leaders lead, will pattern their behaviour after the behaviour of their leaders. In Trinidad and Tobago, it appears, those in charge are blissfully unaware of the concept of leadership by example; they seem completely incapable of providing the good examples that our citizens desperately need.

It must be clear to all and sundry that, if the people you lead see you taking advantage of your position to enjoy some benefits, it becomes easier for the (wo)man-in-the-street to rationalise his own indiscretions, to decide that, in comparison to what the big boys are getting away with, what (s)he does is small potatoes, “small t’ing” and, therefore, okay.

And so we have the upward spiral, which sees the once minor indiscretions working their way consistently towards the top. And the instances of inappropriate behaviour are exacerbated by the absence of consequences; people are so convinced that nothing will come of any of their indiscretions that bandits no longer feel the need to conceal their features by wearing masks.

Even if we can’t arrest the perpetrators of these most heinous crimes we see ritually reported in the media, we might at least attempt to arrest the negative trends. The bandits, after all, are in the minority—still!—and the majority of the population is as hungry for positive change as we are for honest, decent governance in all spheres.

The dissemination of vital information is a good place to start and our leaders would do well to level the playing field and let us all know the rules of the game.

So, I think I can safely say on behalf of the road-using public, we will all welcome some clear guidelines about the use of sirens, whether they be on black official SUVs or TTDF vehicles or Fire Service appliances or police cars, marked or unmarked.

Not condemning, just commenting.




“It ain’t over till it’s over!”

American baseball legend Yogi Berra is credited with the statement: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  It can be understood to mean hold on your judgement because there is still hope. That’s how I feel about the Government’s response to the request made 90 days ago for the implementation of a Sexual Harassment policy in the Ministries and State Enterprises.  

While I live in hope, here is my reality.  The government has responded in two ways.  They have spent 3.5 million dollars to solidify the Chairmanship of their appointee at Angostura Ltd and made a song and dance about the publication of the Equal Opportunity Commission’s Guidelines on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. Chairman Seebaran Suite must be commended for working hard to produce a framework for treating with Sexual Harassment in the workplace.  On the other hand, I cannot commend the Minister of Labour who simply asked the private sector to take the initiative and implement the policy.  The Minister and the Cabinet preside over numerous state enterprises and ministries, and could have implemented such a policy; this would have been an excellent opportunity to lead by example. Why did they miss it?

For the academics and theoreticians, International Women’s Day/Week/Month (IWD 2018) has been a resounding success because it brought together the young and the old in conscious dialogue and celebration in different spaces.  For me, there is still a lot of work to be done so my celebration is muted. I dream of the day when women truly stand proud and confident that the system will recognize and protect them. There are two action items outstanding; firstly the enabling legislation and secondly the policy implementation.

I have learned over my lifetime that the trigger for action is almost always an injustice which is caused by not having an appropriate policy, and until those consequences of that injustice are apparent and felt strongly enough, nothing will change.

The curtain is now closed on international women’s day activities 2018 but it is not closed on the necessary activism and so I hope that all the participants in the IWD solidarity will continue to be part of every movement and if we are to #pressforprogress, implementation of the sexual harassment policy and legislation is the next step.  However, the most important step is to allow for the transparent investigation of the Angostura case and that can only happen if the Chairman is removed. #Let’s do this!

Rowley’s men diddle while women get burned!

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 05.25.22On 8 March, the world will celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). Here in Trinidad and Tobago, some will clink glasses, others will engage in “big” talk at cocktail parties while others will analyse gender issues to death in panel discussions, talk shops, talk shows and seminars.  A minority will take positive action to bring women’s issues to the attention of the wider public. Read more…

Sexual Harassment or Bad Skylark!

“Muted” would be an accurate description of Trinidad and Tobago’s response to the international #metoo movement, despite the rampant sotto voce comments about who slept their way to the top and with whom.  Our collective ambiguous response is understandable given the size of the country.  In another context, this was described as the economics of consent.  Additionally, there is a culture of open secrets which negatively impact women’s opportunities for professional advancement.  Who would be so crazy to say #metoo or to name the perpetrator(s)? Screen Shot 2018-02-19 at 08.20.35 Reference what happened in the Angostura case; a woman accused an executive in 2016 of sexual harassment; she has since been fired and the matter is still unresolved.  Despite having women well-placed in their hierarchy, Angostura Limited has demonstrated an amazing level of duplicity.  On the one hand, when you look at the establishment, there are women in management  while on the other hand theres no sexual harassment policy so when the senior executive was inspired to call out the then Chairman, her only option was to use the “Whistleblower” policy which is totally inadequate to deal with issues of sexual harassment.  This duplicity is fully supported by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago who appointed the Chairman and to date has spent M$3.5 dollars on his defence against the sexual harassment charges.

What is ironic is that the male decision makers in this scenario all have wives, sisters and daughters yet they seem numb to the fact that it is only a matter of time before either their wife, mother, sister or daughter is sexually harassed.  Given the current response, she would have to take the harassment and shut up.

North American data says that one in four women is sexually harassed in the workplace.  Why do we think that the data would be different for us?  It is likely to be higher but there is not data to clarify.   Oops… I forgot; we call it “bad skylark” and if we take this sexual harassment issue seriously, it will negatively impact our level of camaraderie and culture.  Well, it’s about time to change this unfortunate response. Your inappropriate comment about how sweet I am looking this morning is not appreciated. The use of the word “sweet” in this context is offensive.  Your catcalls are disgusting! Your focus on my breasts is repulsive!  Your “feeling up” my hand is not a hand shake and on and on!

Men, if you’re interested in protecting your daughter from sexual harassment, please desist from the locker room talk with your guy friends about what “it” was like with so and so from the office.  Please give me a straightforward “3-pump” hand shake.  Please hold my gaze and not stare at my breasts.  Please speak out against sexual harassment. The most important thing you can do is NOT use your position of power and influence to gain sexual favours! Bob Dylan in 2018 sang “Your silence speaks louder than those who condone!”


Where’s your broughtupsy Minister Young?

What would make Minister Stuart YoungScreen Shot 2018-01-29 at 09.37.06 think that he could call into a radio programme last Friday (26 Jan 2018) – or any day for that matter – and deliver his “prepared statement” without interruption? What would make such a thought even enter his brain?
Ignorance? Arrogance? Or is it to follow the lead of his political leader who has developed a penchant for coining new words. Who can forget the debut of “ignorrogance” into the local vernacular?
As far as I am aware, when you call a radio station, you have to abide by the station’s rules. The host did not invite you; you invited yourself, so you cannot expect to dictate the rules of the game.
I am not very clear on the rules by which the government can claim a certain amount of media time every month. What is clear, however, is that it is not relevant in this case. Government minister or not, if you have not paid for the broadcast, you have no right to determine the rules of engagement. Not even to attempt it.

I liken Minister Young’s behaviour to his storming a fete; “how he could vex if dey t’row he tail out? He eh pay nuttin, so he eh ha’ no right dey.’”

From an etiquette point of view, he was completely wrong. It was intolerably ill-mannered to call in to the station and not want to engage in even the minimum of courtesies.  As far as media engagement is concerned, this was also bad strategy, especially as there was no subsequent explanations of what is actually happening with the CNC/NGC impasse.  And perhaps most tellingly for a politician, subsequent calls to the station say unequivocally, that even if he thinks he won the battle, he certainly lost the war.

Media Engagement 101 teaches you, Minister Young, that it is of no consequence whether or not you like the host or agree with what he thinks; you simply have no choice but to play by his rules. You see, what matters in the case of this show host, is that he has developed a loyal listenership over many years. His content is generally viewed as being informational and educational.  It is beyond dispute that he has created a space for simple dialogue on complex economic and financial issues. Many see him as having demonstrated that his interest is in the country and not in any particular party.

And even if that were not so, you simply can’t behave as if you own the place. As far as we know, you do not.  If it were possible for to wipe the slate clean and rewrite this horror story, there are five things I’d suggest you do.

  • The first is to make sure that you are very clear on the reason for your action or what is your why.  This is ultimately what becomes your key message.
  • Suggestion number two also has to do with your key message – don’t forget to summarize your key message at the end of the conversation.
  • Number three: Impatience and anger are definitely not assets during a public “appearance.” You would be well advised to breathe deeply before you go on air so both disappear even if they are present before you begin.
  • Number four is so obvious that I am a little embarrassed to add it here: keep to your script and make the conversation pleasant.
  • But all four of those suggestions become rather less important if you are willing to go with number five: have one of your functionaries call the host and ask politely if there is any objection to your calling in and making a contribution on the issue; the likelihood of aggro is then severely reduced.

Minister Young, you had an opportunity to provide clarity on an issue that can have broad, long-term implications for the development of this country. Instead, you chose the bully strategy, seeing that opening as an opportunity to stuff something down the citizenry’s throats. That is perhaps why you tripped over the issue of whether or not the matter is subjudice or merely confidential. I think you should be made aware that, to some citizens, this will probably be taken to mean that you are disrespectfully saying: “We are not discussing this with you stupid people.”

Minister Young, your intemperance is just one more thread in the tangled web of government’s mismanagement in general, and in particular, mismanagement of its communication strategy – if we can be generous and say that one exists.

Minister Young, I have heard it said, “who have more corn feed more fowl.” Given the feeding frenzy of 2010-2015 and the forced frugality of the current period, will incumbency guarantee you the advantage the next time the election bell rings?

Minister Young, communication has to convey the “corn” message. And ultimately it is the better communicator who will reach more of the citizenry. Our country continues to underperform and the legacy voters (i.e., your powerbase providers) continue to disappear. It is not hard to see people like you, who were brought in to represent the younger cohort will be soon be seen waving the opposition flag.

After all – and I sincerely hope that you will prove me wrong – your presence has changed neither the game nor the methodology.  

Not condemning, just commenting.



Desperate exile of Despers …

When Despers returns to “the Hill” to create their music, Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 12.53.30I will believe that we have turned the corner on crime! Until then, I expect very few improvements.
It is a tragedy that we allow Despers to move from pillar to post in order to find a spot to practice for carnival. It is a tragedy that the children of Despers have chased them off of the hill with guns and bullets.
It is a tragedy that our politicians are collectively wringing their hands as young and old are gunned down in the streets. (oops! Opposition Leader recently agreed to re-open talks on the the Gang Legislation).


Laventille has simultaneously been problematic while producing some of the most talented and competent sons and daughters of our soil (which includes a US ambassador to Trinidad). It has also provided leadership and creativity to the steelband movement for many years. Despers supporters from outside of the area have traditionally felt some fear of going up the hill to listen to their band but was always comforted in the knowledge that the community had “their backs”. Then something happened… maybe it was the passing of “de man with de hammer” but what began as small robberies escalated to full-on attacks upon visitors to the area. It became even worse when gun-toting bandits ran through a practice session of the band. Then someone made the decision that the safer option for the band was to practice elsewhere.

The social consequences of that decision are yet to be analyzed and measured, but the first consequence that I see is the absence of any positive visual role models for the young men and women of the area. For more than 30 years, generations saw men and women hard at work in the panyard mastering their craft. They say, “people striving for excellence.” That imagery is no more, having been replaced by the image of the “bad man” – so what do we expect will emerge? More “bad men.”

The aggression and violence which removed Despers from Laventille is both a criminal and a social problem for which there is no single root or solution. One type of solution lies in systematically addressing the evils; drugs, guns and poor self-esteem. But at the heart of low achievement is the issue of indiscipline which comes from not seeing the value of what you are doing. T&T has always been dreadful at organising anything but Carnival, because people saw the goal and thus the point of the work. Admittedly, even this is failing now.

From captain to cook, the lack of discipline which pervades our society is unbelievable. Even more incredible is a sense that there is a reluctance to bring wrong-doers to justice. At some point, the government must ensure that the necessary action is taken even at the cost of unpopularity. The public must see those “sacred cows” taken to the butcher’s shop because it is the right thing to do. Indeed we must feel that there is the discipline to just do what is right.

I live in hope that Despers will soon return to their practice home overlooking Port of Spain and once again bring hope and vision to a community which is in the wilderness.

Monetise Cannabis … don’t burn it!

Newspaper headlines scream, “Police burned millions of dollars worth of marijuana plants”. Different versions of this headline are frequently repeated and we dismiss them as, the drug rings are at it again. But what if we saw cannabis as a viable economic diversification option?

35565350815_f0f18bff6e_mFour possible outcomes surface. 
Firstly, we would stop jailing “little black boys” for the recreational use of cannabis.
Secondly, the agricultural sector would get a much needed boost with a potential foreign exchange earner.
Thirdly Trinidad and Tobago would join countries like Canada, Portugal and Norway in the decriminalisation of drugs.
Fourthly, we would benefit from early mover advantage in the business of the commercialisation of cannabis.
Our system has to halt the deliberate destruction of countless black lives because the possession of a simple “joint”. The practice of charging persons for the recreational use of cannabis is alleged to encourage corruption amongst Police officers who willingly accept “ah change” to not charge or when they charge a “youth man” Police often don’t turn up in court. Decriminalising cannabis would free up Police time to hopefully deal with solving murders.

Some people object to decriminalising the use of cannabis because of claims that It is a gateway drug but the evidence just does not support that notion. People who abuse drugs to their detriment are unwell and should be dealt with by the health care system, not the penal system.

Globally, the tide has turned on cannabis. A November 27, 2017 story on CBC Canada titled, “Canada’s marijuana industry enters consolidation phase,” is instructive. The developed world is consolidating their cannabis business and we are burning the plants and beating our chests in the “war against drugs”.

I am told that the agricultural conditions in Trinidad and Tobago are great for us to enter this market as a grower. We were once tobacco farmers, so why can’t we become cannabis farmers? There’s a good chance that young people will be attracted to cultivating “de herb”. There is a spike in global demand for cannabis to satisfy both the recreational and medicinal needs. This is a train TnT needs to ride hard and fast but it requires the establishment of an operating framework, structures and processes so that the state can collect taxes and the growers can operate within an organized system.

Norway recently announced that it will become the first Scandinavian country to decriminalise drugs. The majority of the Norwegian parliament backed the historic move and directed the national government to reform its policies on drugs.

15 years ago Portugal decriminalised the use of drugs of this kind and today their Health Ministry “estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began”. Compare that with the US where around 64,000 persons died of drug overdose in 2017 and this is almost the same as were killed in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined.

I am not advocating leniency on illegal drug traffickers, nor am I advocating legalising unregulated use of drugs, I am advocating an enlightened approach to the use of cannabis and a focus on the commercialisation of this plant which has been around for more than over 10,000 years!

Let’s do this!