Beetham – A Recurring Decimal

Violent protest from the Beetham is the new normal! Beetham flared up under the UNC in 2013 and this current flare up in 2017 is under a PNM administration.  Despite having a different political party in power, the response has been nearly identical: hold a news conference, threaten stronger action, state that behaviour of this nature will not be condoned and move onto the next crisis while the citizenry retreats to their “safe space” or escapes to the rituals of Christmas and Carnival.

We are on the brink of civil war between those who have power either by the gun, their physical strength or their money and those of us who perceive themselves as having less.   The majority of us have neither guns nor much physical strength so we become trapped between the world of the affluent and the world of the sufferer.  Old calypsoes sung about violence long before the situation got to this stage. Big businesses may not have physical strength but wield power in a different way to their own benefit. Until we accept that all parties are at fault, we are not going to move forward. We all evolved around each other into this state of affairs.

Successive governments have presided over this continued deterioration and when out of office, threw stones and accusations at those in office.  There is little difference between the persons in the Beetham and the average income earner.  We are all facing similar situations of deprivation in a society which should have utilized resources in a more equitable manner.  If you liken the society to a fish tank, we are all trending towards becoming “bottom feeders” as the one percenters flagrantly continue their lavish lifestyles.  Without meaningful interruption, a once thriving society will become unrecognizable. Just glance at our neighbours in Venezuela.

I am not encouraged by the Prime Minister’s statement that a line had been drawn by last Thursday’s “lawlessness” along the Beetham Highway because it is so similar to the statement in 2013 by the then Minister of National Security that “this anarchical behaviour will not be condoned”.  In a Trinidad Guardian article on Friday 21st August  2009, it was reported that in response to Beetham residents shooting at police officers, “close to 100 police and soldiers responded and locked down the area in search for the attackers who could not be found”.  The lesson here is that “gun talk” and threats of punitive measures have NOT worked.  Additionally, several pieces of seminal research  have demonstrated that punitive measures do not reduce crime or criminality.

We have to operate on several different levels to have any impact.  The police must take the appropriate action and the wheels of justice will spin at its own sweet time but this sticky problem requires a multi pronged solution and I am not hearing any plans to engage a different strategy.  This problem is deep and systemic and requires a radical response.

Different approaches are being tried in other parts of the world.  The one that gives me hope came to my attention from a TED talk by Epidemiologist, Dr. Gary Slutkin who “applied lessons learned from more than a decade fighting epidemics in Africa and Asia to the creation of a public health model to reduce violence through behaviour change and disease control methods. He is an Ashoka Fellow, a Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a senior advisor to the World Health Organization and the 2009 Winner of the Search for a Common Ground Award”.

I noticed that Trinidad was listed as an adaptation partner in 2015 (see image on this page) which means his work is known to the government   My expectation is that the Prime Minister will take leadership on this issue, call in the Leader of the Opposition and account to the nation that there is a collaborative approach to implementing solutions to crime as a national issue.

Gary Slutkin

Beetham by their actions has not favoured either party.  They are equally brutal to each. The masterminds behind the protest have learned that the protest must be on both the Highway and the Priority Bus Route to have maximum impact. They have mastered the weapons of the weak. It is in the political interest of both parties to collaborate and begin the process of solving this sticky problem.  To do otherwise would be to condemn Trinidad and Tobago to a future of anarchy.  




Voting for your STAIN!

Every 5 years, state enterprises are torn apart, diplomatic missions are populated with neophytes and the financiers pull out a different company tailored to the new party which forms the government. The losers continue to be all of us who cannot pay for private medical attention, cannot send our children to private or prestige schools, who have to wake up at 3:00 am to avoid the traffic, who cannot afford personal body guards etc, etc, etc. The citizenry continues to be abused by our politicians who quickly lose touch as they zoom around with police escorts, move into living accommodation they could not afford just 25 months before or as we saw recently, are given special privilege to bypass sticky immigration lines.

Our dilemma is that both political parties as currently configured are unsuited and inadequate to provide us with any leadership to attract our attention or in particular, the attention of the 18-45’s who will make the difference in the next elections.

As we approach the halfway mark for both political parties, the population awaits some concrete signal that either of the dominant political parties has a transformation strategy which will be rolled out. The PNM could have appointed a new General Secretary to tackle the transformation of Balisier House into that hub of excitement which is generated at any functioning “party headquarters” while the UNC could just have a “kuchoor free” approach to staging their internal elections.

The dominant political parties continue to offer us the equivalent of exhumed corpses with moribund ideas and expect the population to follow along in docile compliance. As time passes, the next General Elections will see us move deeper into traditional voting patterns as the legacy voters (i.e. the over 50s) dig their heels in and support the red or yellow stains.

Both parties are aware that constitutional reform is needed, though while in office have not found the time to address this fundamental issue. They continue to pay lip service to the notions of Accountability, Collaboration and Transparency (ACT).

I keep scanning the horizon for the emergence of a third force which will be the game changer that this country needs. Yes, the situation was different to when the NAR trounced the PNM 33/3 in 1986 but a landslide victory is what is needed to transform Trinidad and Tobago.  Based on past performance, the new Seepersad-Bachan led Congress of the people (COP) has a lot of rebuilding to do to regain any traction.

We continue to make the same mistakes over and over, hoping for a different result. What we are in fact doing is assuring that Trinidad & Tobago will continue to head to backwardness and self destruction as we continue on this path of winner-take-all and reap political reward.  

Here are some things a courageous leader could do:

  1. Engage talent from wherever it lies even it is across party lines.
  2. Rationalize the existence of State Enterprises.
  3. Establish a system where appointments to state boards are based on applications to an independent Authority.

Malicious or Hapless Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs?

Was it maliciousness or just haplessness at the root of the recent bungling of the appointment of Makeda Antoine to the post of Ambassador to the United Nations Office in Geneva?  From the article in the recent Sunday Express, the young lady appears to have the potential to do a fantastic job, but unfortunately she will be remembered by the Express Headline: “Anxiety as rookie appointed ambassador to UN.” Heaven forbid that she has any diplomatic missteps!

The main reason this has become a news headline is that her line Minister, the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs refused to confirm her appointment when asked by a reporter.  Had he confirmed her appointment, it would have taken the sting out of the news story but instead it gave Sheila Rampersad the opportunity to dig in and create a Sunday Express story which was published on November 12, 2017.

What befuddles me is that for a government being led by a politician of more than 30 years standing, they continue to make basic errors.  This could have gone so well if only the Minister had handled the announcement in the same way he did in March of 2016, when he presented instruments to 4 persons.  At that time the instruments were presented  to His Excellency Fitzgerald Jeffrey as High Commissioner for the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to Jamaica; His Excellency Dr Amery Browne as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federative Republic of Brazil; Her Excellency Pennelope Beckles as the Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations, in New York and His Excellency Dr. Lancelot Cowie as the Ambassador of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to Cuba.

Is it that Minister Moses was unaware of the appointment or did he not agree? Whatever the reasons, the Minister and the Prime Minister appear to differ on this appointment.  Looking at the track record of “maybe Ambassador Antoine”, it could have provided an opportunity to woo the 18-45 age group whose vote has a great potential to determine the future leadership of our country.

Having made this foulup, I expect the Prime Minister himself to welcome Ambassador Antoine and signal his high expectations for youth leadership in our country.  He still has an opportunity to clear the path for a positive tenure even though he missed a great opportunity to comment and clear the air at yesterday’s PNM convention.

In every aspect of our national development, what I see is missed opportunities.  This country is crying out for leadership that is sensitive, logical and structured.  Meanwhile, best wishes to Makeda Antoine, Ambassador Designate to the United Nations Office in Geneva.  

Of tweets and bites!

What do Mario Sabga and Colonel (Ret) Dave Williams have in common?

An assumption that they know their businesses so well that they can handle media exposure without the necessary training or preparation.  Mario Sabga made an unfortunate reference to 1% being the most powerful in T&T and Colonel (Ret) Dave Williams said small thing in reference to the flooding situation. These statements forced apologies out of these otherwise successful professionals.

Despite previous success, level of confidence, or where you are located on the hierarchy of power, only a naïve person faces the media without a plan.  That plan must place the audience and media at the centre and ask the question: What is the outcome I expect?  If you don’t have a clear understanding of the outcome you expect or even the angle you want the media to take, then someone else will make that decision for you and ultimately make a decision which you don’t like.

Crying that Anthony Bourdain or Khejan Haynes quoted you out of context is after the “horse has bolted”.  You should have been on top of your game and tempered that urge to be quick, witty, or whatever else you want to call it.  Had both gentlemen sat in a moment of  sober reflection with communications professionals, they would have understood the “no-go” zones.  In an age of “Live Tweets” and instant communications we need to understand the power of 140 characters and frame our messages to suit.
If you are going into an interview which is controversial, take the lead on the difficult questions and put the information out so you lead the issue.

Oftentimes, leaders believe that they can suppress information but in this era, nothing is a secret, it is just a matter of time before it becomes known to the public.  It would be better for you to lead the conversation and provide the information.  In instances where there is data to support your statement, your credibility suddenly shoots up.  But please ensure that the statistics are simple and that you have the right interpretation – I am reminded of the statement about the “decreasing increase in crime”.

While the media has a tremendous responsibility to provide fair and balanced coverage, experience has shown that we cannot rely on this. Journalists and news agencies will do what is in their interest first, last and always.

Running alongside three evils!

UWI Half Marathon 2017

Exciting Finish with Dexter Charles!

13.1 miles provides ample opportunity for reflection as you seek relief from the boredom of taking each of the 30,000ish steps expected to be taken to complete a half-marathon.

For my umpteenth UWI half-marathon, I focused on the Priority Bus Route (PBR), the daily horror of commuting from the east, and the promise of relief that was so boldly made on the election campaign trail of 2015.

I also remembered Dr. Ray Furlonge and Dr. Trevor Townsend, because they both have spent their lifetimes suggesting practical solutions for easing the traffic congestion, to no avail.  

There are 3 evils which the Government of Trinidad and Tobago permits on the PBR.

The first evil is the issuing of PBR passes to members of the “in-group” while the population endures the pain of an almost non-existent transportation system. This special pass has become a prized possession and re-enforces the notion that privilege will get you special access and therefore special advantages in this country.  When will the playing field be levelled in every way?

The second evil is the facilitation of houses with direct access to the bus route.  Indeed, people have paved over the drains and park their vehicles on the shoulder of the PBR or house their cars in these paid for by the state garages.  How can this be permitted on such an important transportation artery?  Laws are broken with impunity and nobody cares enough to take action.  In addition to this encroachment on the PBR, there are structures whose boundary lines are built on the edge of the shoulder.  Isn’t there a “set back” law for buildings?

I observed the third evil less than 2 miles into the race.  There is a gas station with an entrance and exit onto the PBR.  Why should one station be given that kind of business advantage over any others?  What is the rationale? If this entrance and exit is designed exclusively for the Maxi drivers, how is this being monitored? I don’t accept the rationale that this exclusivity is designed to reduce traffic on the main road.

Recently our leaders have been talking about the lawlessness of our country, and that’s valid, but I say to them, “Don’t complain about what you permit!”  Someone permits the excessive issuance of PBR passes and that just adds to the congestion. Someone permits these illegal structures on the PBR … someone allowed the gas station access to the PBR.

We can start doing the right thing and send a message to the entire country.  How about starting with just the PBR?

I assure you that I’ll be taking those 30,000 steps in 2018 and checking if the illegal structures still exist; if the gas station still has this special access and during my training, I will take note of the number of vehicles using the PBR without permission.

Resignation Letter of Colonel (Retired) Dave Williams

Letter to MNS re resignationLetter to MNS re resignation page 2Letter to MNS re resignation page 3

Always a Line in the Sand!

Casino Workers at Imbert's home!There is always “a line in the sand”.  I draw that line at protesting in front of an MP’s private residence. Just as I would defend your right to protest, I defend the politician’s right to enjoyment of his/her property. We must continue to respect the sanctity of a person’s home and in this case, the Minister of Finance.

I am not agreeing or disagreeing with the actions taken by the protestors representing “the gaming industry”, I am simply saying that everyone needs their private space and that must be respected. In addition, one must always weigh up whether the action will hinder or help their cause. Here’s an example from Sesame Street which talks about weighing your options.
In this case, the objective was to get a meeting with the Minister in an attempt to change his position with regard to the new taxes. Disturbing his family routine would not have helped their cause, and in fact may have angered him in immeasurable ways. The issue, while framed as personal, is in fact an issue to be addressed by the Office of the Minister of Finance, not the private citizen who happens to hold the position himself. Every effort should be made to protect the privacy of his wife and family.

So, I have learned the following lessons:

Firstly, there must always be goal clarity. Once the goal is clear and unambiguous, it is easier to have a laser-like focus on achieving that goal. It also makes it easy to interrogate any proposed actions and question what would be the likely impact of that action. Anything that distracts from the main goal should not be done.

Secondly, protesting in front of the Minister’s private residence had absolutely no impact on the state. So once the media moved onto another story, the protest moved off of the front page and can only be renewed by additional action. Protesters must therefore consider what the ultimate impact of their action will be. For example, in a recent protest in which a road was destroyed, there has been no consequence for the protesters who destroyed the road. The inconvenience will be experienced for some time to come and the burden for that repair will ultimately fall to the citizens.

Thirdly, keep the momentum going or you will lose. This is precisely what has happened; the protesters got a meeting with the Minister in the Ministry, received no assurances and the Minister of Finance continues as usual.

He may have won this round, but until we change the approach from the dictatorial stance to a collaborative one, we will all continue to be losers in this game of politics. Meanwhile, protest if you wish but spare a thought for the families of our politicians and keep them out of the mix.