Demming Chronicles

Dennise Demming interviews Nirad Tewarie (CEO of AMCHAMTT) and Roxanne Colthrust of Nirad shares his views on how the absence of appropriate governance structures is impeding the advancement of Trinidad and Tobago. Roxanne Colthrust discusses her company’s pivot to which is an ecommerce platform featuring the widest collection of fashion, jewellery, art, craft and accessories made in the Caribbean.

Isn’t it time to move past PH-taxis and create comprehensive transit system?

Legally our country prescribes that only vehicles with an ‘H’ as the first letter of the registration plate can be used as taxis, and the drivers must have a special licence which designates them as being allowed to operate such vehicles.

Photo: A taxi driver in San Fernando waits for passengers during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

People operating their personal vehicles as PH-taxis have neither the correct drivers’ licence, nor the correct registration for their vehicles.  The recent brutal rape of an 18-year-old Venezuelan reminded me that successive governments continue to preside over this travesty. 

Over many years I have read and heard comments by transportation specialists, Dr Trevor Townsend and Dr Rae Furlonge, about modernising our transportation system. One of the basic fixes they advocate is the establishment of a transit authority to manage the nation’s transportation system.

How difficult can that be? The issue has come before the Parliament in different iterations but with few outcomes. 

A quick search of the edited records of parliamentary debates reveals several discussions and commentaries about transportation but very little is accomplished.

In the absence of regulation, the illegal PH-Taxi system thrives. One former Minister of Works and Transportation even advocated for its legalisation. 

Photo: A taxi driver plies his trade.

Undeniably the PH-taxi industry provides a service but the cost of providing that service is tremendous. The public has no way of knowing if the PH-taxi is road worthy, if it is properly licensed, if the driver has a criminal record or is a sex offender, or even if the person is medically fit and emotionally stable. 

On the other hand, boarding an ‘H-car’ provides some assurance that the driver has gone through a process and is legally authorised to operate a taxi—but there just aren’t enough of them to match the needs of the travelling public. 

The fixes to this historical problem are actually easier than we believe, but because of the societal and political entanglements regarding transport that have developed over the last 60+ years, the will to resolve the problem has been very weak. 

We know that the creation of a transportation authority will begin to order the current chaos. A major responsibility of such an authority would be to develop a comprehensive transit system. 

Most developed countries around the world all have some form of transportation authority; why not us? The reliance on spontaneous growth as a strategy has not worked, so our next option is to formalise the systems, structures and processes around transportation.

Photo: Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan (right) talks to reporters at the commissioning of a bridge on Mamoral Road.
(via Ministry of Works and Transport)

If this all sounds bureaucratic and time consuming, it need not be in this age of technology and digitisation. All that is needed is the willingness to re-imagine and redesign our transportation system to serve the needs of our citizens. 

A soft entry point could be to refurbish our bus shelters, create specific taxi stops, and insist that only they be used as the drop off and pick up points for the travelling public. In Grenada, this is already in practice. 

Another soft solution might be an app to track the PTSC buses, so a citizen can plan to use the facility knowing for certain that the bus will arrive. 

I am confident that eventually our country will implement solutions, but until then my heart will continue to race and my level of anxiety will increase every time I am forced to use a PH-taxi in the absence of safe and reliable public transportation.  

Maybe all the victims of rape or robbery via PH-taxis should consider suing the state.

Reframing the Conversation between State and Citizen

As our country recognizes our 58th year of Independence, the conversation about re-framing the relationship between state and citizens is a necessary one. It should really have been an ongoing one which encouraged all of us to dream big and dream about a brighter day. One commentator has cleverly described our country as being “in dependence” while the Prime Minister almost simultaneously advised us to “wean ourselves” from the state. They are both partly right. The time has come for us to relearn self-reliance, as well as how and where to apply it.

From the business leader to the beggar, we have had more than 48 years of conditioning with the message “vote for me and I will set you free”. This reliance on the state will not change overnight nor without upheaval. Focusing on education and Laventille is necessary but not sufficient, because the conditions which spawned the reality of the Laventillian ecosystem, exist like a poisonous mist across both islands, and those conditions have become deeply ingrained.

Courtesy Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews

The system must be re-designed to reduce inequity and improve our quality of life. When citizens are advised to stay in their room if they exhibit signs of ill health, we seem to have forgotten that for the 20% who live on or below the poverty line there is no room in which they can self-isolate because of their shared accommodation. When we talk about blended learning and students using a device to communicate with their teachers, we must consider that there are both students and teachers who do not have access to a device. When we talk about logging on to the internet, we need to consider that there are homes in which internet access is not available.

The conversation is not simply about Laventille, education and teachers, it ought to be about the systemic changes that are necessary in order to remove the deep inequities which exist in our society. IndexMundi reports that 20% of our population lives under the poverty line and have done so since 2014. This is up 3 percentage points from 2007 when it was measured at 17% of the population living under the poverty line. The story this tells is that if you meet 10 people on your daily encounter, 2 of them do not have enough money for food, shelter and clothing.

The conversation has to be about including the beggar and the business person in a conversation about collaborating to make import substitution a reality; moving our manufacturing and production up the value chain and our individual diversification strategies including diversifying away from state dependence. We can no longer maintain the fantasy that 1-2% of the population is the cause of all ills. A capable government knows how to distribute resources with equity while not taking away incentive to do better. The beggar must be able to access food and shelter; the business person should be able to access good infrastructure to do viable trade, in or out of the country, yet beggar and business person alike must be incentivized to contribute tangibly to society.

There is a popularly held view that there is inequality in accessing state services and opportunities. As long as these views persist then the feeling of inequity will also persist. So, along with the necessary system changes, we must ensure that there is accountability, collaboration and transparency as we chart the next 5 years of our independence. 

The success of this reframed conversation requires a deep conversation with our citizens under the guidance of a transformational leader.

TTHTI collapse means another restart to education in Hospitality Sector …

Can we survive another restart to education in the Hospitality Industry? This question has been on my mind since the recent announcement of the voluntary winding up of the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI).

It weighed heavily on my mind because I sat as chair for a period during 2016-18. Our country has a history of re-starts and breaking apart of institutions. Amongst the many institutions we have dismantled are Caroni 1977 Ltd, TIDCO, BWIA, Petrotrin TDC and now TTHTI.

Photo: Students at the TTHTI facility.
(via TTHTI)

In the case of the hospitality industry, we seem to be wilfully and systematically destroying each pillar on which it stands. There was a time when this wasteful approach to re-starting could have been tolerated because the country was awash with oil and gas money but those days are over.

We have to find ways to re-design, repair and continue building on our past successes. Successful governance is deliberate and premeditated. It requires vision, planning, and significant amounts of hard work. We must design for that success.

For TTHTI, this is the third iteration of a training institution for the hospitality sector. Maybe the sector will get lucky and the notion that ‘the third time is the charm’ will apply—but I don’t believe in luck.

Forty-eight years ago, the Trinidad and Tobago Hotel School was established in partnership with the Canadian government and the Ryerson Technical Institute. That trial led to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago taking over the school in 1975.

The school navigated rough waters and managed to stay afloat. In 1996, the late William Aguiton, as President of the Hotel Association, led negotiations with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for US$2 million to help reform the Hotel School into TTHTI.

Photo: TTHTI CEO Brian Frontin (right) and board member Delano Ribeiro.

Now in 2020, there is news of the winding down of TTHTI and chatter about poor performance, funding deficits and political interference.

TTHTI has an excellent track record of providing opportunities for students who did not choose traditional professions as their path. Over the years, hundreds have excelled and become successful entrepreneurs based on the foundation provided by the school.

The region has benefited both as an option for young persons to learn the art of hospitality and from reciprocal arrangements for the placement of interns. While TTHTI has high global brand recognition, it has underperformed in transforming the quality of the hospitality sector and customer service in the country.

This might be an unfair criticism and one can easily argue that customer service transformation was not its mandate, and what is needed is a focussed effort to improve customer service.

Hospitality and Tourism are inextricably linked and successive leaders have paid lip service to the potential of the sectors while bemoaning its underperformance. If the government is serious about the Hospitality and Tourism sector, it will have to re-constitute the school under new arrangements and leadership—but the nexus with the hotel and restaurants will continue to exist.

Photo: TTHTI students show off their butter sculptures.

This is just a most unfortunate development which has been exacerbated by Covid-19.

Maybe this is an opportunity to deliver on a PNM 2015 manifesto promise which refers to ‘converting the Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (THTI) into a full-fledged university’. (page 74, PNM Manifesto 2015).

Kudos to Dr Rowley, but now Persad-Bissessar should step aside for UNC to re-create itself …

Congratulations to the PNM on their victory at the polls under the leadership of Dr Keith Christopher Rowley. Congratulations also to the ongoing Leader of the Opposition Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Unless the results in the marginal constituencies are in the single digits, it would be a foolhardy pursuit to seek any recounts. I hope that as the sting of the defeat recedes, this idea will also fade from the memory of Mrs Persad-Bissessar—therefore sparing the population of this aggravation.

Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
(via UNC)

Mrs Persad-Bissessar’s biggest obligation is to provide the UNC with an opportunity to re-imagine what the party can look like on Election Night 2025. The first step in this process is to provide a clear path by resigning as MP and anointing a suitable successor to run in the Siparia By-Election which will be triggered.

From the historical patterns, that person will be successful— so it is a relatively risk-free activity which also has the potential to help the party heal, re-create itself and signal a different role for the Opposition in Parliament.

It can happen that a loss may be a better teacher than a win, especially since the winner is not likely to change strategies. This loss provides the UNC with a tremendous opportunity to think deeply about our society and how future elections can be conducted.

Unfortunately, the 2020 campaigns continued the focus on an ‘us versus them’ strategy and not on messages which spoke to: ‘we, the people…’.

My subjective observation is that the electioneering and dirty tricks have reached a new low with attacks and counter-attacks. Some believe that it is entrenched and all we can expect is the continuation of gutter politics, but I am not convinced.

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

I still believe that there are citizens who want better and are interested in the social transformation that is required to make Trinidad and Tobago a place of excellence. If we can transform the political parties, there is hope for our country.

A re-imagined UNC has an opportunity to embrace a digital strategy as it rebuilds itself, using platforms which allow it to keep in touch with members in real time. The UNC might take the lead on targeting different segments of the voter population directly and not having to rely on third party platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which currently appear to have their own filters, biases and priorities.

A properly re-imagined UNC will be able to identify new areas of focus and therefore keep its membership continuously engaged around its plans and activities. If this is done, a permanent change in the election game might occur and this can steer the country in a new, beneficial direction.

The UNC has been given an opportunity to analyse, adapt, build and prepare for 2025. Unfortunately, the pattern is for parties to use that time in opposition to tear down and have a mad scamper to appeal to the electorate in the final months before the subsequent General Election.

For the love of your country, please Mrs Persad-Bissessar, go in peace!

Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar on the campaign trail in the build-up to the 2020 General Election.
(via UNC)

My April 07, 2020 letter to P.M. Rowley

This is one of the letters which I have written to
Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years.

Congratulations on your 55th month as Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Mr. Prime Minister, despite your stridency on the campaign trail in 2015, public transportation continues to be chaotic and unreliable.  I am taking this opportunity to suggest for the 3rd time that you make Chaguaramas into our first “Bus only” city.  This thought was stimulated by the “FluTag” disaster, St. Peter’s Day Celebrations, every Carnival Fete in Chaguaramas and the visual of 2 massive car parks which routinely house the private vehicles owned by members of the Regiment and Coast Guard.  The stadium can be used as a car park and regular bus shuttles could operate on time from there.  It would require the registration of resident’s vehicles and the issuance of passes.

I sincerely hope that you will at least establish a committee to identify the feasibility of this idea or some other idea which can positively impact transportation in Chaguaramas.

Yours for our country!

Dennise Demming (Mrs.)
MBA, BSc., Cert-Mass Comm

My February 07, 2020 letter to P.M. Rowley

This is one of the letters which I have written to
Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years.

Dear Dr. Rowley

Congratulations on your 53rd month as Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

It is almost 10 years since Despers was chased from the “Hill” by their children and the band continues to move from property to property in search of a home.

May I suggest that the property on which they now practice be converted into a National Pan Theatre and a home for Despers.  For many years the Government Printery was housed there which makes its allocation a simple exercise. Such a move by your government will not go un-noticed by the people of the “Hill” and the “Pan Fraternity”.

Yours in the interest of development.

Dennise Demming (Mrs.)
MBA, BSc., Cert-Mass Communications
Concerned Citizen