Get on with implementing the Procurement Legislation

Stop behaving as if the word “procurement” is a new addition to the language of business.  The concept of procurement can be traced back to ancient civilizations and the process has evolved over time.  Procurement and procurement systems are a normal part of non-government businesses.  Anyone who wishes to supply goods and services to a company must adhere to its procurement process.  This is what helps non-government businesses thrive and when they deviate from the process, there are usually negative consequences.

Procurement is the process of acquiring goods and services from suppliers through a structured system to which both parties have agreed and formalized, usually in writing.  

A look around the world will reveal that procurement legislation has transformed the administration of public service in many countries.  Why can’t it be a transformational moment for us as well, in Trinidad and Tobago?  One of the first benefits of a systematized procurement process is the creation of a level playing field for all suppliers despite any consideration about whether their inclination is towards ketchup or mustard.

So, what is all the brouhaha about the Procurement Legislation?  In the 18-year journey from birth to proclamation, the PNM has been responsible for the Procurement Legislation for 13 years.  Despite this intimate association for 13 years, the government waited until the actual proclamation to begin the process of considering the human resources needed to implement the procurement legislation. What’s that old cliché again? Oh, yes: “Better late than never”. 

If the procurement system is implemented with the use of appropriate technology, it will enable those with access to the system to track and monitor all procurement activities and therefore provide valuable data for planning and decision-making.  This can also be an opportunity for citizens to see and understand what is happening with their taxpayers’ dollars.

A technology-driven procurement process might easily provide a level of transparency that can reduce the probability of corruption, mismanagement, and abuses of power.  It will also reduce the time and resources to acquire goods and services and will ultimately lead to cost savings and better value for money.

The procurement legislation is certainly not the cure-all for our problems, but it requires a change in the way we do business and can be the starting point to transform our public service to one which is customer-centred, and not tainted by allegations of corruption, lack of transparency, and inefficiency.

From the licensing authority to the submission of a company’s annual returns, our country has been struggling with the effective implementation of technology.  Unless a different implementation strategy is found, the potential transformation which this legislation can bring will not be realized.  The easier it is for citizens to access information and services, the easier it is to generate trust in our institutions and leaders.

It is my hope that our leaders will use the implementation of the procurement legislation to systematize the way we do business and begin the transformational process which is needed in our public service and throughout our country.  Let’s do this!

Commendable that Gov’t proclaimed Procurement Legislation; but keep Lalchan!

Dennise Demming Friday 5 May 2023 Guest Columns

“[…] The theft of billions of dollars could have been prevented if we had a fully functional [Office of Procurement Legislation] according to acceptable legislation. We cannot underestimate the lost opportunity to have invested those stolen funds to take care of our social needs, such as health, education, utilities and infrastructure, and more.

“[…] Undoubtedly, [Moonilal Lalchan] is the most competent person to ensure that the office can hit the ground running and not be stymied by a new appointee who is unlikely to have his experience…”

Procurement regulator Moonilal Lalchan.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2018)

How can a white paper published in 2005 take until 2023 to be proclaimed?

Approximately 15,000 children were born in Trinidad and Tobago in 2005, and as of this year, those children are adults. Something is deeply wrong with a system that takes the same time in which a baby transitions from birth to adulthood to proclaim a simple piece of legislation. The legislation has been bouncing around for 18 years!

Successive governments have ignored the Procurement Bill because such legislation, along with the establishment of a fully functioning Office of Procurement Legislation (OPRTT), will likely put a spoke in their corruption wheel and add transparency to the awarding of contracts.

The theft of billions of dollars could have been prevented if we had a fully functional ORPTT according to acceptable legislation. We cannot underestimate the lost opportunity to have invested those stolen funds to take care of our social needs, such as health, education, utilities and infrastructure, and more.

With a structured, transparent approach to procurement, our levels of honesty and integrity would have been different.

It’s commendable that after eight years in office, this Government has ensured the proclamation of the Procurement Legislation. Despite the three amendments to the law and regulations, we are finally ready to proceed with adding order, transparency, and good governance to the awarding of contracts.

Five years ago, on 12 January 2018, the President of the Republic appointed Mr Moonilal Lalchan as chairman/ procurement regulator, and this gave several of us hope that finally, our country was on the way to regularizing the award of contracts and ultimately ensure that the back-room deals would be reduced.

I never imagined that Mr. Lalchan would have occupied office for five years and be unable to implement the law. I hope the government sees the value in having him reappointed as chairman/ procurement regulator.

Procurement regulator Moonilal Lalchan.
(Copyright Office of the Procurement Regulator)

Undoubtedly, he is the most competent person to ensure that the office can hit the ground running and not be stymied by a new appointee who is unlikely to have Mr. Lalchan’s experience.

The Piarco Airport scandal is an example of how wrongdoers prevail in our country. Since its inception in 1996, the project was plagued with allegations of corruption, and to date, the persons who have been accused and who even faced the courts are still free.

It confirms to those inclined to the transgression that you can continue to do wrong and face minimum consequences.

If we are to change the corruption culture of our society, the leadership must change the way it does business.

The Swiss psychiatrist Carl G Jung is credited with the statement: “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”

The scourge of corruption…

So we can talk about corruption till the cows come home, but if there are no systems, processes, and procedures in place to ensure order, good governance, and integrity, we shall continue to experience the chaos and crime which typifies our daily existence.

Despers’ hard gift—how will they fund operating and maintenance costs?

Dennise Demming Monday 24 April 2023 Letters to the Editor Wired868

Congratulations to Despers on receiving their second multimillion-dollar gift from the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

Their first theatre gift remains closed, up the hill next to the community centre by the gorgeous, gigantic John Dende Statue resides—which was designed and created by a Laventille resident called Leo Warner.

The Desperadoes Steel Orchestra perform during the 2023 Panorama competition.
(Copyright Maria Nunes)

During the Covid pandemic, I had an opportunity to pay a site visit to the space. It brought back wonderful memories of listening to Pat Bishop lovingly bouffe the band members for mispronouncing their Pan is Beautiful winning rendition of “The Bartered Bride” by Bedřich Smetana as “de battered bride”.

I also relived the moments of looking to the left and seeing the lights at the top of the Lady of Fatima Church and looking to the right and enjoying the breathtaking view of Port of Spain.

Very few institutions get a second chance to get things right, so this TT$14 million building is a unique opportunity that Despers must get right—and the band will not get it right unless a carefully considered business model is created and implemented.

If it works, that business model might be used as a guide for Invaders who have been working on acquiring their own space for many years now. It might also be used by Phase 11 Pan Grove, which is also in the midst of sensitive negotiations to own its space.

The Desperadoes Pan Theatre.
(Copyright Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and the Arts)

The list of potential users for such a business model can go on and on.

The first challenge Despers face is that this location will not attract supporters. The same issues that chased them from up the hill continue and are intensified nationally. Even the US government, amidst its own decades-old epidemic of mass shootings and child killings, has included midtown Port of Spain on its list of places to avoid.

No matter how much I love Despers, fear of crime and violence will keep me away.

Queen’s Hall, NAPA, SAPA, and the Little Carib are all cultural spaces that survive based on state subvention. As a society, we have not worked out how to make cultural spaces sustainable and this Despers space can now be added to that list of spaces that require continued funding.

What is needed is a strategic plan that considers the long-term view of the sustainability of a creative space.

The success of this kind of project requires a specialized skill set that may not be available in the current configuration. It needs collaboration between business strategists, art administrators, cultural enablers, and financial wizards.

As the new owners of this $14 million space, I wonder how Despers will fund the operating and maintenance cost of the building.

An architect friend told me that a back-of-the-envelope maintenance formula is to budget 20% of the construction cost for maintenance.

Despers, I love you and wish you the best—but this is a hard gift to have received.

Use Jamaica’s Champs example to fire up local sporting passions

Originally published on Monday 10 April 2023 in Wired868

Two of our Ministers recently attended Jamaica’s Champs Track and Field Event. This was a great idea to expand the education of Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, the minister of Education, and Shamfa Cudjoe, the minister of Sports and Community Development.

If their interest was really in coming up with a solution to our “sporting pothole” they would have looked over their “imaginary fences” and chatted with former President of The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) Larry Romany.

Jamaican teenaged sprinters compete at the 2015 Jamaica Champs track and field event.
(via Ketch Caribbean)

He would have pulled a quotation from a 2012 article in which he said: “Jamaica puts a qualified physical teacher into every school, but more than that, each physical education teacher in Jamaica is actually qualified in track and field.

“So they are a coach as well as a phys-ed teacher and they go into the system, and that is why Jamaica has had such success because there is a focussed attempt, a strategic intent on creating track and field stars.”

If the Minister of Community Development was curious about why Jamaica is dominating track and field globally, she would have reached out to former national hockey player Dr Iva Gloudon, a former High Commissioner to Jamaica. And she might have explained that Jamaica’s Champs has been staged for more than 100 years.

There are so many people “over the fence” who could share solutions to our sport and social issues and are ignored because of the perceived colour of their allegiance.

I hope that the two Ministers return home with the understanding that Champs is a grassroots activity. The average Joe Jamaican will find an old school tie or socks or t-shirt or undersized shorts and proudly strut their stuff at the Champs while rooting for their secondary school and re-living long lost memories.

Patrons at the Jamaica Champs track and field event.

When an activity assumes the cultural significance of Champs, it is an easy sell. But Champs is more than the expression of sport and culture, it is the culmination of years of hard work.

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.

Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe (centre) joins the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team as they salute the crowd in Bacolet, after qualifying for the Concacaf W Championship with a 2-2 draw against Guyana at the Dwight Yorke Stadium on 12 April 2022.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/ Wired868)

As blood continues to fertilize 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 fire up our people’s passion for sport and culture.

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.

Look to the future and stop making excuses!

Ria Taitt’s article in the Sunday Express of April 04, 2023, quotes the Prime Minister as saying: ‘In order to get our independence, we agreed to some arrangements which are inimical to good order and brought obsolescence to management arrangements.”  In other words, some of the policies we agreed to 61 years ago are the root cause of many of our current-day problems. Is the blame for the current inefficiency and ineffectiveness of our institutions being placed on our colonial masters?

Where has our current Prime Minister been living over the past 61 years of independence?  He first served in Parliament in 1987 as an Opposition Senator and subsequently as a Member of Parliament in the capacities of Minister of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources, Minister of Planning and Development and Minister of Housing, Minister of Trade and Industry, and Leader of the Opposition.

Is this a new revelation?  Or is it an inconvenient truth that he is using to walk away from the fact that as someone who has held office for more than 30 years, he has little to show for the action he has taken to improve our systems, processes, and procedures?  Our Prime Minister has held office for 50% of our time as an independent nation and he has the audacity according to the Ria Taitt article to admit that “our system has not discouraged .. on the contrary, I regret to say, it has encouraged white-collar criminal conduct …”

Although it is true that in his 30-plus years in government, he was not the ultimate power holder he has, since 2015 been the power holder and has been in the best position to begin the process of changing the culture.

If he were truly committed to transformational change, he would have facilitated the work of the Economic Development Advisory Board and removed the bottlenecks which stifled them and caused Dr. Terrence Farrell to resign after submitting seven key suggestions to the Government. The suggestions included a Draft Diversification Strategy and Roadmap, a Proposal on Steelpan Manufacturing Industry for Export, and a Redraft of the National Innovation Policy.

If he was really interested, he could have been hyper-focused on reimagining the public service and how to improve the delivery of services to citizens.

If his primary goal was for the betterment of all citizens, he would have found a way to collaborate with the opposition to come up with a strategy to handle both the illegal immigrants from Venezuela as well as genuine refugees, reduce the importation of guns and drugs and lessen the incidence of crime.

History is important and yes, our road to independence was marked by several unfair intersections but isn’t it time for us to look to the future and stop making excuses for the continued deterioration of our country?

With the right leadership philosophy, our country will thrive.  We have talented people and abundant non-oil resources to transform our country. 

Abby Charles on mental wellness …

“You only know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know” … is a quote from Public Health Practitioner Abby Charles as she shares her views with Caribbean Wellness.

Abby is a Trinidadian working in the US since 2006 supporting public health in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. She is also the founder of Bene Caribe, a conscious fashion brand “where ethical consumption and a colourful Caribbean spirit threads the fabric of each piece.”

In this conversation, Abby talks about the stigmatization of mental health and the importance of staging discussions about mental health in Trinidad and Tobago. Apart from normalizing conversations about mental health, there is a need to raise awareness by intensifying the country’s promotional education campaigns.

She talks about using social media as a communications platform but reminds us of the importance of persons in the community being trained to have accurate conversations about mental health and wellness. Abby describes herself as “a solutions finder and an advice giver” but warns that most times people don’t want advice, they just need to talk, and our role would be to be great listeners without judging.

When her friends reach out, she often asks: “Which type of friend do you want right now? Do you want a friend who’s gonna listen? Do you want a friend who’s gonna share some recommendations? Do you want a friend that’s gonna connect you to resources? What are you looking for?”

In all that we do, let’s be mindful that everyone needs a therapist from the time they’re born.

Even the therapist needs a therapist.

The Legacy of Senator/Minister Rohan Sinanan

Soon the population will reflect on the legacy of our current leaders because elections are in the air.  The number of roadworks I am seeing suggests that the election cycle has begun.  Guess what will come to my mind when I think of the legacy of the current Minister of Works and Infrastructure — the phrase “Rohan’s Folly”.

Under the stewardship of Senator/Minister Sinanan, a “Highway to Nowhere” (HTN) was built at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars which could have been invested in people development.  It is currently referred to as HTN because both ends of the highway are blocked off and there is no connection to either the Cumuto Road or the Eastern Main Road.  From the Cumuto Road to the HTN the distance is approximately 500 metres and from the HTN to Eastern Main Road the distance is approximately 800 metres. 

Whenever the HTN is completed, the people of Sangre Grande, Toco, Valencia, Cumuto, Mayaro, Guaico, and Manzanilla will traverse the roadway and question whether the construction of the road was worth the destruction of the Moriche palms, the lagoon, and even the Caiman who thrived in the area?  Isn’t the area also designated a reserve?  I totally accept that there is always a balance between development and environmental destruction, but it need not be an either/or situation.  Why haven’t we come up with solutions which protect our legacy and support our development?  Why can’t we have sustainable solutions to our myriad of problems?  “Rohan’s Folly” will be associated with the likely negative environmental impact the HTN will have on the Valencia area.

The story of the Moriche Palm also called the Tree of Life, is important because those palms could have played a significant socio-economic and ecological role in our country as they do in South America.  Some Peruvian societies still depend on the Moriche palms for their survival, and it contributes millions of U.S. dollars per year to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Out of the Moriche Palm estates, they create products for export like frozen sweets, wines, buttons, crafts, jewelry, oils, baskets, purses, sandals, hammocks, birdcages, toys, sunscreen, deodorant, and many pharmaceutical items.  In Brazil, there is the creation of the “Moriche Palm Diet” used by thousands of women worldwide.  In sweet Trinidad and Tobago, we destroy it to build an HTN.

The reported expenditure on HTN ranges from $500 million to $1.7 billion.  Whatever the final expenditure, taxpayers’ dollars have been invested in the construction of the HTN and the opportunity cost is tremendous.  Think of the potential impact (both short and long-term) of investing in the redesign of our education system.  Instead, some contractors have built a highway to nowhere and they all sleep peacefully while “Rome burns”.  I suppose they can afford to educate their children abroad and have 24-hour security.

Our country needs radical intervention to move us out of the current negative cycle.  That radical thinking must be informed by a focus on investing in our people.  It is the only way to maximize our net social benefit. 

Couldn’t the Minister have reviewed the investment in physical infrastructure by talking to the residents of Sangre Grande, Toco, Valencia, Cumuto, Mayaro, Guaico, and Manzanilla to get their views on what they really need?

From where I sit, the legacy opportunity available to Minister Sinanan is to deliver modifications to the poor public transportation system.  Will his legacy be the HTN or “Rohan’s Folly?”

Published on 18/03/23 Newsday

“Our society must urgently navigate potholes of life… We need a deep, systemic redesign”

Originally published on 868Wired Wednesday 1 March 2023

Forty years ago, while I was pregnant, I fell into a pothole. Fortunately, the fall did not terminate my pregnancy, but I still have the scar on my foot as a reminder.

Forty years later our country continues to be haunted by potholes, despite owning the Pitch Lake and producing bitumen for many years. What can we learn from our failure to manage potholes throughout our country?

Trinidad and Tobago has more than its fair share of potholes.
(Copyright Holts Auto)

Life is not a perfectly paved road and potholes will show up at various times.  We continuously must choose how to react to the potholes.

Do we continue to walk around them, or find long-term solutions to repair them? Do we ignore the potholes, and allow them to get wider and deeper?

Do we use the excuse: “life is not perfect” to avoid expending any effort to correct issues that affect us?

Like many systemic problems, such as crime and corruption, it is difficult to navigate around them. A re-design of our systems and processes is needed to prevent the crime and corruption from becoming more deeply entrenched.

In other instances, do we engage in quick temporary repairs at the risk of the reappearance of the pothole?

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (right) and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
(Copyright Newsday)

There is no single fix and every time I walk or drive around a pothole, I ask the question: “Why do we tolerate this level of incompetence?”

Is it that many of us live in our little bubbles and are not aware of the extent to which this ignoring of potholes is undermining the foundation of our society?  Or are we so afraid of change that we prefer to live with this proliferation of potholes rather than to alter the way we do business?

Our society is at a stage where we must urgently navigate the potholes of life. We are no longer able to steer around the potholes or create temporary, inefficient, or even harmful fixes for our problems.

We need a deep, systemic redesign to be able to create a non-destructive future for our children and grandchildren. For example, we need leadership that is courageous enough to tackle both white-collar crime and gun violence.

Bribery has long plagued Trinidad and Tobago’s public sector.
(Copyright Canadian Business)

We need leaders who are strong enough to transform customer service amongst our public servants. We need leaders with the ability to communicate effectively but still be empathetic. We need leaders who will provide us with a vision of the future that we can all embrace.

A look around the globe and you will see Trinis excelling in various fields. Undoubtedly, we are gifted with intelligent people, and the necessary resources are available. What is missing is the leadership to make new decisions and choices that are in the national interest.

It is time for Trinidad and Tobago to embrace new ways of doing things. By actively embracing new behaviours, we will demonstrate that we have the audacity to help our country live up to its potential.

Peter Minshall’s 2016 Carnival creation: The Dying Swan—Ras Nijinsky in Drag.
(Courtesy Maria Nunes/ Wired868)

Potholes will turn up at every turn to challenge our self-belief and whenever they turn up, it is an opportunity to redesign our roads and make life smoother.

Help T&T become a Real Place

Our Prime Minister recently commented that some idiots say that Trinidad is not a “real-place” and whenever he reads that statement, he wishes that they could end up in Ukraine. Well Mr. Prime Minister, you cannot wish me to the Ukraine nor can you revoke my citizenship but we can play the board game “Not a Real Place”.  Maybe it will help you to understand some of the opinions being expressed when our people repeat the phrase “Trinidad is not a real place”.

Not A Real Place is touted as the highest quality board game in Trinidad and Tobago (my favourite however is “Doh Say Dat”).   It is a creative parody of the globally popular game “Monopoly” but littered with our Trini nuances.

For example, you can take corrupt actions to achieve your goal of winning the game.  Along the way potholes will stop your progress and owning nepotism cards will help you win.  The game accurately reflects our reality.  Daily social and traditional media bring to our attention corrupt practices which have almost become the norm while our leaders speak of solutions that have not been successful or impactful.  Daily potholes impede our progress while we witness nepotism helping incompetent persons to take leadership roles.

The continued repetition of the phrase “Trinidad is not a real place” is simply another cry from citizens asking our leaders to be fair to all and stop this binary response of if you are not with me (PNM) you are against me (UNC). 

We have become so politically minded that a recent show promoter was bold enough to offer a job to Errol Fabien and place as a condition “No anti-PNM jokes eh”.  Thankfully Errol Fabien was able to walk away from the opportunity to make some money.  How many other creatives can walk away? In his Facebook post, Errol said: “I need the work, but I need my manhood more. I did not do the show”.

These toxic political shenanigans must come to an end for us to develop as a nation and maximize the range of talent available to us.  It is unquestionable that as a country we have the talent to transform our nation and pull us up from this decline we are experiencing but what is needed is a government that is acting in the best interest of all, whether they are UNC or PNM, Indian/African/Syrian/Chinese/European, rich or poor, living in the north or in central, big business or small entrepreneur.

We are all Trinidadians, living in a beautiful space that to some seems unreal but underneath it all Trinidad and Tobago is a real place that is underperforming, to put it mildly.   Unfortunately, the game “Not A Real Place” is a real example of where we are now.  So, Mr. Prime Minister, while your wish that citizens go to the Ukraine will never be realized, it is in your hands to reduce corruption, potholes, and nepotism.  You can help our twin island nation become a real place.

New Marathon route off-course

Less than 1% of the global population finish a marathon every year.  My sincere congratulations to the 50 or so persons who completed this year’s Trinidad and Tobago International Marathon (TTIM).  You have demonstrated the grit, tenacity, determination, and dedication necessary to complete 26.2 miles (42.16) km on the road.  I salute you.

2023 marked the 41st staging of the TTIM and the first significant change of the marathon course that I am aware of.  In changing the marathon course, we have destroyed social activities which have made a difference to the people of our country.

That 26.2-mile run was one of a few activities which linked north and central Trinidad.  I recall my first marathon in 2006 when I became friendly with another runner as we traversed the course.  He admitted to me that it was the first time that he had visited Central Trinidad and how happy and surprised he was to experience another part of our lovely island.

As we ran through Cunupia, he was amazed that the rum shops and bars were open, playing music and their patrons cheering on the runners and offering them a drink or two as a way of helping them to the finish line.  He was surprised that there were rhythm sections on the pavement adding to the excitement.

The next jaw-dropping experience for him was watching the sunrise over the Caroni Plains.  As we approached the old Bailey bridge over the Caroni River, it was magical. It was indeed a uniquely beautiful experience to see the sun rise above the sugar cane fields while the darkness disappeared.  All along people cheered and encouraged the runners either from the banisters of their homes or on the side of the road.

By the time we hit Curepe, the sun had risen and again the patrons of the rum shops and bars stepped out to encourage the runners.  The mood of support and encouragement changed once we turned left onto the Eastern Main Road and headed into Port of Spain. Along the Eastern Main Road, we were generally heckled with some exceptions being persons bringing out their water hoses to help the marathon strugglers cool down.  The warmth and support increased again once we hit the 21-mile mark.

This old marathon course was gorgeous even though it was not closed to traffic as it likely would have been in developed countries.  We have replaced it with a dirty, boring, channel-like course where the maxi drivers are hustling to earn a living and don’t care about the marathoners.

My wish is for the TTIM to improve and develop a course that is scenic, closed, and focused on supporting the marathoners.  There have been occasions when more than 500 locals have challenged themselves to conquer the 26.2 miles (42.16) km. There is no reason why that could not happen again.  After 41 years, we owe it to future generations to stage a marathon that is beautiful and positively reflective of our country.