What I learned from PMs Rowley and Mottley on our environmental challenges

Originally published on Wired868 on Sunday 14 November 2021

Joy is often stolen by comparison. Trinbagonians continue to rob ourselves of potential joy because of the continued comparison of our prime minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, with the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley.  

I am also guilty because I want so much more for my country and I worry that I can see no clear direction.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley (left) and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

Both prime ministers recently addressed the 26th Annual Conference of the Parties (COP26) and discussed the impact of climate change on island economies. Ten days after their addresses, Prime Minister Mottley’s speech has had more than 335,000 views on YouTube, while Prime Minister Rowley’s speech has less than 3,000 views.

That data is instructive and should provide a moment for pause, reflection and hopefully redesigning of our strategy.

(Editor’s note: Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley gave a speech during the COP26 opening ceremony while Trinidad and Tobago Dr. Keith Rowley gave a national statement on behalf of Trinidad and Tobago, which meant both had different objectives. Barbados did not take up its opportunity to present a national speech.)

Mottley called for the leaders to ‘try harder. Try harder because our people, the climate army, the world, the planet, need our actions now—not next year, not in the next decade.

Photo: Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley speaks at the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021.
(via COP26)

How right she was then and continues to be. Trinidad and Tobago need to take action now to salvage our economy and therefore our country.

Our Prime Minister articulated a series of plans which we have embarked upon to get to net-zero carbon emissions. He reiterated that our economy is largely based on oil and gas and petrochemicals and stated that: 

“We in Trinidad and Tobago recognise our responsibility in transitioning, over reasonable and manageable time, to net zero. We have set very ambitious targets aimed at diversifying our economy. We have embarked upon ambitious plans to reduce emissions and build climate resilience, but we will need help.”

There is a lot to be joyful about here because it means that there are plans and proposals for the transformation of our economy. COP26 gave many of us a peek into the strategies of our country and the work that is being done for us to get to net zero.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley speaks at the World Leaders Summit on Climate Change in Glasgow, Scotland on 2 November 2021.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

Here’s what I learned about my country:

  • We are in the process of establishing the largest utility-scale solar renewable energy project in the Caribbean with a capacity of 112 megawatts, accounting for 10% of our power needs, and we plan to increase this complement to 30% by 2030;
  • We have developed an e-mobility policy and we are already implementing measures to phase-in electric vehicles;
  • We recognise the need to address the socio-economic issues associated with the energy transition and have developed a Just Transition of the Workforce Policy aimed at re-skilling, retooling, and developing new capacity for a low-carbon economy;
  • We are pursuing measures to facilitate investment in green hydrogen to provide green feedstock to our vibrant petrochemical industry.
  • We intend to explore the use of industry-generated CO₂ in possible carbon sequestration projects.
Photo: A young man strolls along Maracas Bay during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

The problem with these intentions is that the average citizen is unaware of them. All we see in Parliament is the daily cussing and blaming of the opposition for our current status.

Six years into the PNM’s current term in office, it is time to stop the blame game and sell us on the joy of achievement as we pursue these ambitious plans. Thank you Prime Minister Mottley for reminding us to ‘try a little harder.

Improving our Media Engagement

Originally published in https://wired868.com

In a recent media interview, the interviewee was asked this very direct question: ‘Have you ever accepted a bribe for a firearm?’

Gary Griffith, former commissioner of police, former government minister, former senator, a former captain in the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force who is now husband, father, and private citizen, was no less direct with his response, which I seriously doubt the interviewer would have anticipated:

“[…] Have you been involved in prostitution?”https://www.youtube.com/embed/4mV5y6vb6WE?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent

The exchange immediately put me in mind of my first entrepreneurial venture. It was inspired by a lackluster presentation made by Jules Bernard, who was at the time the country’s commissioner of police. Bernard’s presentation was so bad that, before he was through, I had already made up my mind to form a company to coach leaders to become more engaging presenters. 

Professional Presentations Limited failed spectacularly—do the reasons really matter?—and I pivoted to providing public relations services.

That was 30 years ago. Today, it is still the exception to experience an engaging presentation from a public official. I say ‘engaging’ rather than exciting because some of them sometimes seek to create excitement by resorting to folktales, which is reasonable, I suppose, as well as insults and naked aggression, which is decidedly not. 

The upshot of this lowering of the bar is that the media environment has been transformed from a space accepted and respected as a locus of acceptable behaviour and appropriate language into a wild space where media practitioners and the professional hobbyists who are often their guests feel that no subject is taboo, every public personality is fair game and the rules of grammar are little more than a completely unnecessary nuisance.

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) makes a point to TV6 Morning Show host Fazeer Mohammed.

One can be forgiven for wondering if today’s media practitioners are guided by any rules at all. Is there an overarching philosophy that has at its core the pursuit of truth and which recognizes that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to arrive at that destination?

Are there any rules of behaviour for invitees and guests?

The media simply would never get their job done if they declined to ask hard questions. The corollary is that if you prefer not to have to handle thorny questions, give media people a wide berth. Stay far away from all ovens and kitchens if you can’t handle the heat. Unless you want long-lasting notoriety—remember ‘That’s insulting!’?—trying to embarrass or abuse the interviewer is not the way to go.

So, to return to Griffith, given the varied portfolios that he has held, I would have expected him to resort to any number of strategies to keep the discussion positive, fruitful, and solutions-oriented.

‘Acknowledge, bridge and go to your key message’ is a commonly used technique when the interview takes a nasty turn—or threatens to—and you know, thanks to Michelle Obama, that your best option is to go high.

Photo: Former USA first lady Michelle Obama.

Disrespect and abuse are rampant in our society and women are often on the receiving end of this toxicity. Why don’t we simply connect the dots and stop wondering why the scourge of gender-based violence is not in retreat in our country?

Griffith’s knee-jerk reaction was to opt to go low, preferring to ask about the interviewer’s experience of prostitution. 

Some would be tempted to normalise this behaviour by saying, ‘well, that’s Gary.’ Not I. 

What I see is a high-profile—not necessarily ‘responsible’ but certainly ‘with responsibilities’—public personality with an excellent opportunity for a teaching moment. But instead of seeking to reduce the aggro potentially contained in the interviewer’s question, he opted to fight fire with fire. 

I think this response is indicative of the systemic decline we are experiencing throughout our society. I also think that traditional and social media spaces provide an opportunity to collectively change the conversation from its current base level and create a more aspirational discussion.

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith talks to the media during a function for the Soca Warriors at the commissioner’s residence on 5 March 2021.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/Wired868)

Media owners have to become intolerant of talk show hosts who repeatedly insult callers by telling them to ‘go ask your mother’. Or who make slapping sounds on-air while eating and talking. Or who seriously asks the question ‘so what are we doing this morning?’ Or who, as in the case of one television presenter, accepts a personal telephone call on live television.

And the list goes on.

So, 30 years later, I am thinking maybe I should re-open the company. This time, however, the focus will not be on coaching leaders to do anything; the much more urgent need is to get all of us, high and low, to show one another kindness. 

And respect.

Time to Introduce Term Limits

All MPs who’ve served for more than a decade should resign now—you’ve failed!

Originally published on Wired 868 Tuesday 2 November 2021 Guest Columns

Black Stalin’s lyrics in his 1988 calypso ‘We could make it if we try’  have been occupying a space in my brain.

He sang: ‘So the Treasury broke and they say that recession jamming/
And so to foreign countries Trinis start migrating/
They lose faith in their country, they say we gone down the drain…

Photo: Five-time Calypso Monarch, the Black Stalin.
(Courtesy NCCTT.org)

I can think of three waves of migration from Trinidad and Tobago. People left after the 1970 revolution, after the 1990 uprising and there has been an uptick over the past three or four years. This uptick in migration will continue because the country has flatlined and, again in the words of Stalin: ‘Now the Treasury flat and the country come back to Square One’.

Once people leave, they are unlikely to return.

Covid has brought us to a different ‘square one’ where we need a combination of good people, ideas and innovation to reset and rebound our economy and country. However, when I tune into the Parliament Channel, I am confronted with a phalanx of persons who display arrogance and a passion for destroying those ‘on the other side’—seemingly at any cost, with the entire country as collateral damage.

Taxpayers (the vendors in the street, the office worker, pensioners, others and myself) have funded the lifestyle of these members for more than 10 years.

And I question: to what end?

Photo: Members of Parliament and Senators gather for during an extraordinary sitting of the House on 21 October to vote on the impeachment of President Paula-Mae Weekes.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2021)

Every year through an oppressive web of taxes, we surrender more than a third of our income—which we earn at significant cost to our physical and mental well-being—for nearly non-existent government services. In some cases, we are paying for our own abuse, as government offices have us going back-and-forth all over the city for simple transactions.

There is neither vibrancy nor eagerness for tackling our deep problems. More than 25% have been members of Parliament for more than 10 years and they appear stuck, unable to pivot in a different direction.

The private sector has a term for employees who have this very syndrome: Incompetent.

In the corporate world, there is continuous assessment of the performance of leaders and if you have not delivered according to your KPIs (key performance indicators) there are consequences.

Unfortunately, our population has no opportunity to assess performance other than the ritual of quinquennial general elections. And, like a dishonest employee, your MP promises to do better ‘next time’.

Photo: A woman responds to the fiery atmosphere during protests in Barrackpore in October 2021.

So this moribund group continues a weekly parliamentary charade, pretending to be going about the country’s business. In the corporate world, a contractor who behaved like that would very likely be taken to court for fraud.

If you have been in Parliament for more than 10 years, you have presided over economic decline which began long before the Covid pandemic took root. You are responsible for the annual 500+ murders we have been experiencing, either because you created the cumbersome system to select a commissioner of police or you interfered with the selection process.

You have either ignored or facilitated the transformation of our society into the alleged ‘narco state’ some say we have become. You have contributed to the collective decay we are all experiencing. You have contributed to the brain drain.

Worst of all, your conscience doesn’t seem to be bothered or you don’t think you are doing something wrong.

In some places, you would have been escorted out of the building for failure to perform. You would have been required to go home and enjoy the permanent pension which you are guaranteed for the rest of your life.

Photo: An employee is ‘let go’ by his boss.

In other places, you might have been taken to court, stripped of your benefits, or even jailed for gross mismanagement of public funds.

From your own personal reflection, you should have accepted that if you have not made a difference over more than 10 years, you have failed and should allow someone else the opportunity to make a difference.

Your conscience should tell you to resign but since it appears you no longer have a conscience, here’s my ask on behalf of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago:

All members of Parliament who have served for more than 10 years, either as a member of Parliament in the Senate or both, please submit your resignation—with immediate effect.

PS: Stay out of politics, permanently.

“Imps, pimps and chimps” … You know better Mr. Prime Minister!

Originally published on Wired868 Dennise Demming on Tuesday 19 October 2021

If only Members of Parliament could master the same level of decorum and use of language as our esteemed President, this would be a more gentle place.

I contrast the language of the President with the language of the Prime Minister and feel sick to my gut.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley.

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley recently made this comment about the Opposition Leader:

“[…] But the Opposition Leader wants to get around that by bringing the President’s name into the Parliament in a substantive motion so that she and her imps, pimps, and chimps can scandalise the President in the worst way…”

Raymond Ramcharitar claims to have used the phrase ‘imps, pimps and chimps’ over the past year to describe the Opposition. The last thing I expected was for my prime minister to copy and use such a degrading phrase to refer to members of the Opposition.

His reference goes, by extension, to the more than 300,000 persons who voted for the UNC. It is insulting and degrading for half of our population. Our dear Prime Minister seems to have forgotten that he is the prime minister of the entire nation, including those who did not vote for him and his political party.

By definition, the Prime Minister is saying that the Leader of the Opposition and her little creatures are hiding in cupboards, that her people control prostitutes for a percentage of their earnings and that her people are in some way chimps. Is this really what was intended?

Photo: UNC leader and Siparia MP Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre in jacket) on the campaign trail during the run-up to the 10 August 2020 elections.
(via UNC)

Among friends, I have heard people refer to each other jokingly as ‘imps’, suggesting that some person was being naughty and even playful. However, not many people will tolerate being called a ‘pimp’ (except maybe in the rap music industry).

Still, to call someone a ‘chimp’ is to invoke the unfortunate theories used to justify Europe’s domination and enslavement of large portions of the world. ‘Chimp’ is often erroneously used as a synonym of ‘monkey’. And that, frankly, is an unacceptable utterance to come from anyone, especially if the holder of our highest office is using the term to describe any citizen of our fair twin islands.

It is now written into our history that one prime minister condoned and used the ‘ape’ insult to degrade his opponents in Parliament. Unfortunately, this cannot be erased.

At the US Democratic National Convention in 2012, former first lady Michelle Obama famously said these words: “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”

Photo: Former USA first lady Michelle Obama.

Our population is discovering who our Prime Minister really is. The use of ‘give me a break’ to ‘kiss my ar**’ and now ‘imps, pimps and chimps’ says that some misfortune has befallen our Prime Minister. Why has his vocabulary become so sparse?

At a time in our history when our children more than ever need leaders whose behaviour they can model and emulate, our Prime Minister instead elects to use language that is unbecoming of the office he holds.

Respect for an office should not only be expected from the ordinary people it serves; surely (s)he who holds the office also needs to treat it with no less respect, mindful that the authority (s)he enjoys is an honour bestowed by those who pay the office-holder’s emoluments and fund his perks.

I look forward to the day when listening to our leaders in Parliament again brings me the same hope and joy as when I listen to her Excellency.

Demming Chronicles chats with Transportation Expert Dr. Julia Kotzebue, and Entrepreneur Marlon Jeffers


Pedestrian Injustice

Dr. Kotzebue’s interest in transportation was sparked by her experience growing up in the city of Hamberg, Germany where she walked and bicycled. She describes the pedestrian experience as one of injustice because pedestrians do not contribute to the air pollution and noise but they suffer the impact. They are our most vulnerable road users. She is also convinced that quality of life is a transportation issue.

Walk, Ride, Bathe in the Office
Her academic study and research continuously examine the possibilities of people being mobile in a healthy and sustainable manner. The answer lies in a combination of walkability, bikability, and a well-regulated private-sector mass transportation system. Achieving a human-centred approach to transportation begins with educating our children about the benefits of integrating activity into our daily routines. It may mean incentivizing employers to provide bathroom facilities and lockers for persons who walk or cycle to work to shower and change.


Cars versus Children
In 2020, Trinidad and Tobago imported 25,00 cars while 17,000 children were born. One can interpret this to mean that society consciously allocated more space to cars than to our children.


Event Planners Survival Strategies
At 13:30 the conversation switched to an understanding of how Event Planners have survived the pandemic. Owner/Manager Director of Imperial Events Marlon Jeffers talks about the importance of creating your own job and using passion and resilience to sustain a dream.


Creating New Products
From a background in the hospitality sector, Marlon and his associates provide a range of services from event conceptualization to execution. While business disappeared during the Covid Pandemic, he has been able to develop a new product to stage “Micro Weddings”.
He sees the creative sector as contributing to the healthy balance that is needed for all of us to thrive.

Trying to put the pandemic in pan’s way is putting democracy at risk

Originally published https://wired868.com/2021/10/14/demming-trying-to-put-the-pandemic-in-pans-way-is-putting-democracy-at-risk/ Thursday 14 October 2021

Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) is now run by a non-elected normalisation committee appointed by the sport’s world umbrella body, The Federation of International Football Associations (Fifa).

Led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, our Parliament acted to override the collective will of Tobagonians when their election results with a 6/6 split spoke to collaboration.

Photo: Robert Hadad is co-CEO of Hadco and board member at the International School in POS.
Hadad was appointed head of Fifa’s normalisation committee in Trinidad and Tobago on 27 March 2020.
(Copyright Gary Jordan Photography ©2017)

The Pan Trinbago Executive has extended its term of office by another three years.

What these three examples communicate to me is that we are pushing towards autocratic styles of leadership instead of seeking to ensure that people are allowed to exercise their democratic rights. The central idea behind democracy is to provide followers with an opportunity to validate leadership, which we do via the electoral process.

Elections provide an opportunity for officials to be held accountable and to seek a fresh mandate. Followers look to leaders to act in their best interests as well as to provide ACT: accountability, collaboration and transparency.

In the absence of these three intangibles, either autocrats will emerge or chaos will reign.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, our country has held two in-person national elections and we are currently preparing for a third, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Elections.

Photo: PDP political leader Watson Duke (centre) poses with supporters in Tobago.
(via PDP)

Banks, financial institutions, credit unions and voluntary organisations have all held their elections using technology and blended approaches. If collectively we have the wisdom, capacity and technology to hold elections, why is Pan Trinbago using Covid-19 as the reason for not honouring their constitutional obligation?

If, as reported, the majority of their members have supported deferring the elections, I wonder how this majority was measured. If it was done online, then it follows that you can certainly hold your elections online as well.

If it was done in-person, then the excuse offered is hollow!

If it is true that the majority of their members are unvaccinated, then isn’t this an excellent opportunity to come out in support of the national vaccination drive?

I expect that, as a woman in leadership, the Pan Trinbago president will act in our collective best national interest. That, I submit, means promoting the vaccination drive to increase the numbers of fully vaccinated citizens and assist in a direct way in the fight against the uncompromising pandemic.

Photo: Pan Trinbago president Beverley Ramsey-Moore (right).

It also means, I suggest, demonstrating that although she may not be an internet native and may be in an age cohort which is largely resistant to technological change, she is willing and enthusiastic to embrace technology to find solutions to our myriad problems.

A way to vote freely and fairly is just one of them.

The election of president Beverley Ramsey-Moore heralded a wave of hope for forward thinking and doing things right.

I hope she is aware that her reluctance not to say refusal to seek to re-validate her leadership can completely undo whatever good she may so far have done.

Please, madam, hold the elections.

Chatting with CEO of Nevis Tourism Authority.

Tourism in Nevis
This edition of Demming Chronicles explored the island of Nevis with CEO of the Nevis Tourism Authority Jadine Yarde. Under her leadership, the focus is on developing a strong team to communicate clear messages. The Covid Pandemic provided an opportunity for collaboration between Nevis, St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Kitts, Saba, and Sint Eustatius to promote the concept of island hopping among different islands as a unique experience for visitors.

Intra Regional Travel
A major obstacle to Caribbean island hopping is the cost of intraregional travel to the extent that a ticket from New York to France can cost less than a regional ticket or one to get a person to the Caribbean. Jadine is confident that this long-standing issue can be solved if we collaborate and are prepared to engage in open conversations.

Leveraging Technology

She also commented on the importance of packaging our Caribbean offerings as an opportunity to share the unique cultural experiences of people who are resilient, proud, and fun-loving. To young people across the region, she pointed out that the new shift in technology brings with it opportunities to develop different methods of communicating and creating content to reach audiences whose interests go beyond sun, sea, and sand.

Whether it is “Nevis Naturally” or “Nevis Nice”, a warm welcome awaits you.

Going, going, going, gone! Goodbye, Gary Griffith

Originally Published on September 29 View Point

From 1956 to 1981, Trinidad and Tobago experienced what it is like to be led by an unapologetically patriarchal leader who made decisions on our behalf whether or not we supported them.

During that period our two-island nation became the richest country in the Caribbean. For 25 years, the leadership style of former prime minister Dr Eric Eustace Williams was accepted—although, after the Black Power Revolution of 1970, it was perhaps more tolerated than accepted. Dr Williams was globally respected as a Caribbean scholar firmly grounded in the history of the country of his birth.

Photo: Prime Minister of Trinidad Dr Eric Williams (standing) addresses the opening session of the Independence Conference at Marlborough House, London on 28 May 1962.
The talks lasted about two weeks and resulted in Independence for Trinidad and Tobago.
(Copyright AP Photo/Staff/Laurence Harris)

Since his death in March 1981, we have been led by individuals who have generally continued his style and made little effort to change the structures, systems and processes which were created under his leadership.

Understandably, our history nudges us to lean into a patriarchal style of leadership characterised by gender inequality, lack of inclusiveness and Father-knows-best authoritarian stances. From a ‘hassled’ approach to our digital transformation strategy to unclear guidance about the creation of dining bubbles, we continue to be led by men whose leadership styles prevent them from moving away from ego satisfaction.

This often dehumanising style was exemplified by our now former commissioner of police Gary Griffith. For example, he has publicly referred to citizens as ‘cockroaches’ or ‘criminal elements’. Some may have found his communication style appealing but to me a guideline of ‘one shot, one kill’ is totally inappropriate.

In a bygone era, there was doubtless a role for the patriarchal leader. However, the leadership style which brought us out of colonialism is not the leadership style required for us to thrive in a world which is in the throes of change and redefinition.

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith poses over a dying suspect, who was arrested for the murder of a policeman, on 28 December 2019. 
The image is blurred as it may be disturbing to some readers.
(via TTPS)

It is time for us to ditch the patriarchy and embrace a leadership style which is forward-thinking, inclusive, agile, collaborative and transformational.

We should thank the ultimate patriarch, former commissioner of police and former captain Gary Griffith for his services at the same time insisting that we need a different leadership style.

Your job, sir, is done!

Among the many initiatives for which you have taken the credit are a decreased murder rate, police being arrested for corruption and the investigation into the issuing of Firearms Users Licenses.

But to whom should the credit go for all the citizens—far too many!—who have been killed by police bullets? Are we all wrong, the large number of us who are of the impression that ‘zessers’ in the west are treated more gently than ‘zessers’ in other parts? Video Player00:0000:20

Are we all overly sensitive, the large number of us who recoil in the face of your verbal abuse and imprudent, intemperate language?

The new commissioner of police must receive the baton and carry on with the good we have seen from our now former commissioner. His job is to inspire our policemen and women to protect and serve equally, to support the social changes needed to improve our communities, to be positive role models for our citizens and to engage communities for our collective good.

His challenge is to modernise the systems, structures and processes while making it crystal clear that our collective responsibility is to keep each other safe under the watchful eyes of 7,000 police officers who are resolved and determined to protect and serve.

Come what may.

Welcome, good sir; we wish you all the best.

Goodbye, Gary.

Chatting with Jean Claude-Cournand and Devon Seales

Civil Conversations

The conversation begins with Spoken Word advocate and founder of the @2CentsMovement, Jean Claude Cournand who comments that spoken word provides an opportunity for millennials and others to have civil conversations about topics like politics, religion, and diversity. Comparing spoken word to traditional communications tools, he referenced the superiority of a good poem to tug at your heartstring over simply narrating a statistic.

Spoken word and Education

Referencing how spoken word is used in other parts of the world Jean Claude commented that Chicago has provided a case study of how it could be integrated into the school’s curriculum where teacher Peter Khan has integrated a “Poetry Slam” into his school’s curricula and all students participate. The benefits experienced go beyond reading, writing, and performing to developing their confidence and presentation skills. There is ongoing research globally to understand the impact of spoken word from an evidence-based perspective.

At 17:00 the conversation pivots to Devon Seale who is bilingual (fluent in Portuguese), a Calypso Monarch (2016), and a technology nerd. Inspiration for him comes from being around people who are passionate about what they do whether it is solving an “IT” problem or hearing an “encore” in the calypso sphere.

Digitization

In dreaming of the future of our country, he wished for us to embrace technology in all forms and implement the changes that are necessary to digitize our country. Among the many areas where service delivery can be improved, he commented on transportation and the easy win which could be derived by embracing technology.

Devon operates at the intersection of the Calypso art form, Technology, and Language. His motto is “Trust and Believe.”