Presidential "boof" is insufficient!

A ‘boof’ from your ‘tantie’ will sting, but it will not necessarily lead to any improvement of the undesirable behaviour it was aimed to correct.

At the opening of the refurbished parliament building, called ‘The Red House’ for over a century, our president, Paula-Mae Weekes, fondly re-named ‘Auntie/Tantie President’, ‘pelt a good boof” at the 41 members of parliament and reminded them that the country is hurting. I wonder what response she is expecting, or more importantly, will these pointed remarks catalyse any positive behaviour change in her 41 ‘children’?

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes at Red House re-opening (via

On both sides of the aisle, the parties seem stuck in their ruts, unable to redefine themselves in any meaningful way. On the government’s side, we know that election is in the air, with the paving of roadways and the increased rhetoric about transformation. Those of us who have been around the block a couple of times smell this for what it is—cheap, lazy electioneering.

On the opposition side, I was impressed with yet another ‘makeover’ of the leader of the opposition (new haircut and all), and on this occasion, an un-slurred delivery of her remarks at the opening of the refurbished Red House. A closer listen told me that the UNC is smelling victory, but a look at the stable reveals very little to hope for.

When government is weak or unhealthy, everyone suffers and that is what we are suffering from—the malaise of weak institutions and even weaker leadership. I struggle to identify the systemic changes that indicate things are moving in the right direction. Instead, there is the continuous din of accusatory statements about the displaced opposition and a high-pitched tone about a turnaround, which we are all looking for.

The world looks at the ease of doing business ranking as an indicator that a country is on a growth path, but when I see that in four years, we have slipped from 62 to 105 on the index, I have no reason to be happy. Some of the countries ahead of us include Jamaica, St Lucia, Rwanda and Kenya. One of the reasons that this indicator is important is that the easier it is to do business in a country, the more likely it is to attract new investment, which in turn propels growth.

Trinidad and Tobago is at a place where no band-aid can help. What we need is deep systemic change, which can be accomplished by putting to work a team of bright young minds who can take a solutions-oriented approach to at least one of our problems. We continue to suffer because there isn’t the political will to take such a bold move. Instead, we seem to think that advertising campaigns will trick our people into believing that the work has begun.

Photo: PNM supporters celebrate their 2007 General Elections victory.
(Copyright Pedro Rey/AFP 2015)

Annually, there are companies that stage rally-type meetings, engaging the minds and hearts of their employees, but these visioning sessions are supported by work, plans and key performance indicators (KPIs) so that that progress is measurable. Our country is stuck at the rally stage and no amount of boofing from a well-intentioned Aunti/Tantie President will change that.

Maybe at her weekly meeting with the prime minister, the president can demand that he identify one specific goal, supported by action plans and KPIs to prevent her from having to resort to this public boofing at the next opportunity. Meanwhile, thanks for the reality check, Auntie/Tantie.

Demming: Time to vote for newbie politicians; T&T leaders fail to get things done — Wired868

Like most of Trinidad and Tobago, I am not looking forward to the upcoming election (a.k.a. silly) season with the current offerings. The PNM and the UNC or its derivatives have ruled this country since independence and the problems of underdevelopment persist. 35 more words

Demming: Time to vote for newbie politicians; T&T leaders fail to get things done — Wired868

Rowley should set positive precedence, give us the 2020 Election Date …

The PNM Manifesto 2015 begins: “In summary, we in the PNM envision a society where integrity and morality in public life is of the highest priority and the Government serves the public good above all else, and where decisions are made and actions taken by the Government in the best interest of all concerned.”

That statement comes to mind as we embark on the journey towards general elections 2020. It also reminds me that the 2015 elections represented a significant departure from the conventions that we have developed as a country.

Photo: Placing a vote in the ballot box.

Except for the election years of 2000, 2001 and 2002, governments have either called elections early or within ‘three months after every dissolution of Parliament’ as outlined in our Constitution. This was the practice before the PP Administration of 2010.

The PP’s natural term in office was from 18 June 2010 to 17 June 2015. Former Prime Minister Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar chose to take the elections down to the wire and hold it on 7 September, with just two days to go for the expiration of the three-month window.

Except for circumstances of war, it is clear that the framers of our constitution intended for the life of parliament to be five years (see sections 67, 68 & 69, Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago). The unprecedented extension of the life of parliament—on grounds that have not been shared with the population—communicated the guiding beliefs of an administration that epitomised the negative values that gave us the nickname ‘Trickydadians’.

On one occasion, former Prime Minister ANR Robinson said: ‘… streams into rivers and rivers into seas’ as a way of cautioning us about how small acts of indiscretion can escalate. What the PP government did was not illegal, but it broke a significant precedent in the way we conduct our political business.

One of the reasons 51.68% of the electorate voted for the PNM on Monday 7 September 2015, was their belief in the promises of the manifesto. To live up to those promises, it is necessary for Dr Rowley to dissolve parliament at midnight on 6 September 2020 and announce the date for the general elections. Here is an opportunity for him to demonstrate his commitment to doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley fields questions from the media.
(Copyright AFP)

The time has come for us to standardise the date for general elections, which I am suggesting should be the fourth Monday in September. If this is done, it will prevent any future prime minister from taunting the public with the remark that the date was in his back pocket or simply extending her term in office for political expediency.

If we can establish the dates for Carnival forever, why can’t we establish the date for general elections with the same certainty?

I have three wishes for our country as we start this new decade: 1. that we treat each other with grace and dignity, 2. that our public officials conduct themselves with kindness instead of arrogance and 3. that we regularise the dates for general elections.

No ‘work-around’ when it comes to curbing crime

‘Discipline guarantees success’ has been a tried-and-true maxim, but no matter how disciplined you are, if your operating context is chaotic, you are unlikely to succeed.  At all levels, Trinidad and Tobago exhibits a lack of discipline, which is facilitated by the absence of enforcement of the rules.  From captain to cook, there is a woeful lack of discipline and an inclination to look for the ‘work-around’ or ‘link’.

The reality is that there is no ‘work-around’ when it comes to curbing crime.  While the daily headlines reflect our reality of a high murder rate and unrestrained borderline activities and robberies, law enforcement is absent for small crimes particularly traffic violations (other than speeding).

Photo: Police car lights.

Some citizens feel helpless on the roads where traffic violations are rampant and it is a case of survival of the bold and daring.  This is intensified by the ‘PH’ drivers and maxi-taxis who hustle on the shoulders, break traffic lights and speed limits and stop without warning as they see a potential dollar standing at the side of the road.

The six speed guns have had little impact on the chaotic driving because much of the chaos occurs under the speed limit.  Law and order has broken down in general with the roads being a clear indicator.  Other jurisdictions have demonstrated that strict enforcement of traffic rules results in the discovery of criminals both big and small, so this absence of vigilance escapes my logic.

There is a strong argument that the responsibility for discipline is in the homes, which is supported by several studies that conclude the lack of parental discipline is responsible for aggressive and anti-social behaviour in children.  Even when parental intervention is absent, it does not remove the responsibility from the state for creating a context that encourages compliance rather than rule-breaking or the ‘link-up’.

The state is ultimately responsible for creating efficient structures and systems that facilitate daily living.  For example, in 2010 it took three days to renew a passport; today it is more like three to six months. So there is now a higher temptation to ask: “Who do I know that can help?”

Another example of the state presiding over chaos and confusion is being played out before our eyes in the changeover of our ‘blue notes’—the $100 note.  If the state cannot get basic things right, how can you expect the average citizen to do better?

Most citizens intuitively understand their responsibility, but people do what is done and not what is said. Every time John and Sumintra Public observe incompetence or mismanagement by our leaders, it re-enforces in their minds that this is the standard.  There is no incentive to hold ourselves to a higher standard, particularly since there are not many examples of leaders operating at a higher standard.

The daily lack of graciousness exhibited by our leaders in parliament … the apparent largess exhibited by favoured contractors … the blatant use of cell phones by police officers while driving … the obvious preferential treatment received by the friends and families of those in power … the abuse of special bus route passes …  the list can go on and on and are all examples of some citizens being favoured.  These all send messages to the population that we do not have to hold ourselves to a higher ideal, we just have to know ‘the right people’ and everything will be fine.

Our society cannot thrive in this context. All criminal and antisocial behaviours must be managed either explicitly by consequence management or implicitly by peer pressure and/or moral suasion.

Nobel Laureate and former secretary of state in the Richard Nixon administration, Henry Kissinger, said: “The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.”

Our next leader must be up to this task!

Four women on 5 member Board at Angostura!

In 10 years, Angostura Holdings Limited has had two women appointed to their board of directors: Vidia Persad-Doodnath was the first in 2009 and Ingrid Lashley the second in 2016. At the time of her appointment, Ingrid Lashley was the only woman out of eight board members, if you exclude the corporate secretary.

Barely two years later, the company has announced a 300% increase in board membership by women. Four of the five members of the board of directors at Angostura are women under the leadership of the sole male, Terrence Bharath.

Photo: Ingrid Lashley, Angostura Holdings Ltd director (via

Trinidad Guardian’s Joel Julien commented that: “Angostura Holdings Ltd has undergone a facelift in the last year, with four of its five members now being female.” This is unprecedented in the commercial sector, and if he is right that it is a facelift, then what has happened is cosmetic, unsustainable and a slap in the face of all those who are working for social justice and gender equality.

We recognise how difficult it is to move our society away from the entrenched systems of government in which men are seen—and behave—as if they know what is best and will let you know at the appropriate time. Changing this patriarchal approach requires transformational leadership. From their responses, it is clear many of our leaders do not understand how their own behaviours reflect this lack of understanding and reinforce the dominance of men.

Brand Angostura has become associated with brand Sexual Harassment and the simple inclusion of four women on the board of directors will not decouple this association. The decoupling will occur when there is evidence of the company’s commitment to policies and procedures that support a culture of gender equality. The decoupling will occur when there is the implementation of policies and procedures to prevent all forms of violence, including sexual violence, sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

This four-woman board of directors has a responsibility to ensure that Angostura takes the leadership role in ensuring that every woman and man in Angostura enjoys equal access to opportunities, while at the same time being protected from violence and abuse. They have an opportunity to demonstrate how gender equality can be operationalised in the manufacturing sector.

This is no easy task, especially since there is a lack of awareness that the demand for gender equality is not about numbers of women represented. Rather, it is about behaviour change, which only occurs when the systems and procedures support the outcomes.

The work to be done will involve understanding how entrenched behaviours allowed Angostura to have three botched attempts at investigating a claim of sexual harassment. It will be deep, painful and systemic. More importantly, this will not be explicitly included in the terms of reference of members of the board, but it will be the measurement criteria the society will use to judge not just the women on the board, but the entire board of directors.

It is an opportunity for these four women to demonstrate how gender equality can impact the bottom line in the manufacturing sector. If they take up this challenge of transformation while maintaining Angostura’s profitability, they would not have just served the company but they would have led the societal transformation that our country deserves.

Disrupt the status quo …

On an early morning run or walk through Port of Spain, you are greeted by homelessness, filth and a strong smell of human faeces. That’s not very different from some other developing countries, but after 60 years of dominance by one political party, our capital city is still in this sorry state.

Photo: Downtown Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Where is the public transportation system to easily get to any destination? Where are the clearly identified public facilities if you need a restroom? Where is the information kiosk to tell the wandering tourist about his or her options? These things just do not exist. Unfortunately, we can easily replace ‘Port of Spain’ with ‘San Fernando’, ‘Arima’, ‘Sangre Grande’, etc, and the questions will attract exactly the same response.

The issues of city transportation, the availability of public restrooms and information kiosks are local government issues, which are absent from the current discussion in the lead-up to the local government elections 2019 (LGE 2019). Maybe the current tone of LGE 2019 is because the parties understand that the results can be an indication of the likely results of the 2020 general election.

It is evident that our boroughs, towns and cities are slowly decaying, regardless of the dominance of reds/yellows/whatever. What is needed is a transformation of the mind to provide some hope to the millennials and, indeed, to the 60/70 per cent of the eligible voters who choose to stay away from voting in the local government elections.

Imagine if we were able to break the dominance of our regional corporations and provide opportunities for minority voices to be heard. It would start a trend of changing the way we do business and redound to the benefit of our towns and cities. Different voices in the chambers would ensure an improvement in the level of accountability.

It would demonstrate to us citizens that, in collaboration, we better serve the greater good and allow for a greater level of transparency. As a country, we continue to attract a failing grade in accountability, collaboration and transparency (ACT).

LGE 2019 provides an opportunity for Trinidad to remove the stranglehold that the reds and yellows have had on our country for the past 60 years. Most of us have had the experience of living in a space for so long that we no longer see the cracks in the paint. Similarly, the reds and the yellows have occupied the space of leadership for so long that they no longer see their own inefficiencies. LGE 2019 provides an opportunity for disruption.

December 2 reflects our moment of freedom; we must use it wisely to send a message of inclusion.

Vasant Vindicated (2005)

The Trinidad Guardian ran this story by Yvonne Teelucksingh on Sunday 1st May 2005 under the headline “Vasant vindicated”. At that time Colm Imbert was The Minister of Works and Transport under a PNM administration.

In February 1998, 41-year-old Vasant Bharath was fired as CEO of National Flour Mills. Among the allegations made by the company was that he had taken a unilateral decision to import rice from India at what he claimed were preferential rates, and this had caused the company to suffer losses of some TT$30 million.
Even worse was that the rice that had been purchased was “dog rice,” and unfit for human consumption.
In what Trevor Roberts, former branch president for NFM of the Seamen and Waterfront Workers’ Trade Union described, at the time, as a dismissal that had been “well put together, well orchestrated,” Bharath was vilified and hounded in the national press, his name besmirched, a promising career aborted, his family embarrassed and humiliated in what to this day is referred to as the “dog rice scandal.”
In the end, Bharath was forced to sell his home and his possessions, uproot his family and seek employment in England where, in the ensuing years, he held several high-profile positions, including European general manager and head of foreign exchange operations with Thomas Cook PLC and head of global marketing with Gulf Oil.
Throughout it all—and this Roberts considers to be his greatest mistake—Bharath said nothing.
But Bharath’s silence had been enforced by not only his line minister but also others in authority at that time.
The scandal over NFM’s supposed loss of TT$30 million under Bharath’s watch continues to be the topic of gossip, innuendo and open hatefulness.
The issue of “dog rice” from India, which he is purported to have authorised, has been immortalised in calypso, virulent talk shows and on political platforms.
Vasant Bharath is now back in Trinidad as the CEO of Nutrimix Flour Mills, a direct competitor of NFM whose shares in the years since his dismissal have fallen from a bullish $4.50 to a bearish $2.85 at a time when the Stock Market has more than quadrupled in value.
So, what has changed since 1998 that enabled Bharath to return home?
The short answer is that Claim No1999 Folio No 61 made at the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Commercial Court, Royal Courts of Justice, London, by National Flour Mills against Huntsville Navigation Co Ltd completely absolves Bharath of any wrongdoing in the matter for which he was terminated by the claimants.
According to the claim, served in 1999, NFM had, “by a contract contained in or evidenced by an agreement dated 15 April 1997, purchased from G Gangadas Shah & Sons of India about 12,000 metric tonnes of Indian semi-milled, parboiled rice (non-basmati) in bulk for US$395 per mt C& F Port-of-Spain, free out.”
The first shipment was to consist of about 6,000 metric tonnes.
One of the allegations made against Bharath was that there was no contract.
NFM further claimed that the purchased rice was shipped on the vessel Ruby Islands for carriage to and delivery at Port-of-Spain, West Indies, “in the same good order and condition as had prevailed upon shipment.”
This description of the cargo is repeated in six different instances in the particulars of claim, variously as “in good order and condition”; “good order and condition as had prevailed upon shipment,” “apparent good order and condition…”
NFM’s claim against Huntsville Navigation Co Ltd was that the rice which was shipped “in good order and condition” had deteriorated, the cause being “the negligence of the defendants, their servants or agents,” and the failure of the vessel “to proceed from Kandla to Port-of-Spain with all reasonable despatch…by a usual and reasonable route and had delayed and deviated.”
“Huntsville Navigation Co Ltd are the owners of the vessel, Ruby Islands, which left the port of Kandla, India, “between about 22 and 29 July 1997,” carrying a shipment “in good order and condition 6,350 mt of Indian semi-milled parboiled rice (non-basmati) in bulk…for carriage to and delivery at Port-of-Spain, West Indies.”
No mention was made in the claim of the 35-day delay— after Bharath’s removal from handling the matter—in offloading the rice when the vessel arrived at Port-of-Spain.
The claim by NFM against Huntsville Navigation was settled out of court for an amount that was much less than the TT$30 million loss which, in 1998, NFM claimed to have suffered as a direct result of Bharath’s alleged wrongdoing.
Which begs the question—why was the claim made for less than the amount of the loss?
In fact, NFM employees confirmed that “some of the rice was sold on the open market, and the rest was sold to Colombia for $7 million.”
The processed rice, which could not be sold to consumers, was down-graded to feed grade.
Additionally, it was confirmed by the then Prime Minister that all transactions of this nature “are well-insured.”
Moreover, members of the SWWTU who are employed at NFM confirmed that even after the inordinate delay of 35 days before the relevant bill of lading was released by NFM’s new attorney, “there was a big pelau cook-up at NFM using the ‘dog rice’.”
There was no report of anyone who ate the dog rice pelau having suffered any discomfort.
On balance then, it would appear that NFM did not suffer a TT$30 million loss under Bharath’s watch, and that the rice purchased and shipped from India was “in good order and condition.”
In his statement submitted at the High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, London, Colin Mahabir, who in 1997, was general manager, marketing at NFM, stated that although it “was not part of my normal function to get involved in contractual negotiations with suppliers,” he was, in early 1997, requested to travel with Bharath to India “to investigate whether we could find cheaper sources of rice than the sources in the United States which we traditionally used” and that he “had been recommended for this role by the chairman of the company at the time, Mr Robert Clarke.”
As a member of NFM’s grain purchasing committee, Mahabir was “involved in decisions about when we should buy and at what price.”
Also, it was “in 1997, and still is, normal practice at NFM that when a new shipment of rice comes from overseas, I am sent samples of the milled product for evaluation in terms of its appearance and smell… and these are subjective matters in which I am very experienced, knowing as I do the market which we serve.”
After stringent checks and balances which included inspection of the mill, water quality reports and verification of proper sampling and quality control procedures at G Gangadas Shah & Sons, Mahabir reported to the tenders committee at NFM along with Bharath, and “the committee decided to place an order with GGS in view of the price and their ability to supply a consistently good quality—a yield of 92 per cent when NFM’s standard yield was 86 per cent.”
Mahabir said he returned to India when the rice was shipped and brought back samples of what had been laded.
He confirmed that there was no sign of infestation.
“I did not see any black kernels. The rice looked to be in very good condition. It was definitely semi-milled parboiled rice,” Mahabir said.
He said he took photographs of the product being loaded and also brought back samples to NFM for testing.
Mahabir said the main problem with the rice which was eventually offloaded from the Ruby Islands was its appearance.
“It had been heat-damaged. Heat causes rice to be discoloured,” he said.
In fact, three separate analyses of the rice, including one done by Cariri and another by the Food and Drug Administration confirmed that the discolouration of the rice had not affected its quality.
In assessing their claim against the shippers, NFM sought expert and technical advice from expert rice broker M Jean-Paul Schepens, then chairman of the London Rice Brokers’ Association and Mr J A Conway, MSc, CBIOL, MIBIOL, who was then principal technical adviser at the food security department of the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, Chatham, UK, who has had “some 35 years of experience of post-harvest technology in the handling and storage of durable agricultural commodities both in temperate and tropical countries.”
Both determined that the protracted duration of the voyage was the primary cause of the deterioration.
Bharath’s dismissal was based on 13 allegations.
One allegation was that “no formal contract was entered into between parties” and that the order for rice from India had not been sanctioned by the then acting chairman of NFM and chairman of the Tenders Committee.
Yet, the letter of credit established by Citibank T&T Ltd on April 16, 1997 bears the acting chairman’s signature, as do subsequent amendments.
This letter of credit and its amendments formed the basis of the contract and clearly set out the relevant terms and conditions.
Contacted for a comment, union representatives at NFM said they were not surprised that NFM’s court claim against the shippers had exonerated Bharath.
They said that as far back as 1998, they had taken the evidence that would have cleared Bharath’s name to the Prime Minister and nothing was ever done.
“But”, says their spokesman, “I am happy that my friend can come back here and get the respect he deserves. I am happy to see him vindicated.”
After a seven-year exile in London, Vasant Bharath is glad to be back home.
“Trinidad is my home and it is always nice to be home among your friends and family,” he said last week.
Bharath packed up and left T&T after he was fired as CEO by National Flour Mills in 1998 amidst allegations that he had acted unilaterally in deciding to import some $30 million worth of rice from India.
He is now back as CEO of Nutrimix Flour Mills, NFM’s competitor on the local market.
Asked whether he was aware that NFM knew that its allegations against him were baseless, Bharath said, “I had copies of several documents that clearly showed that there was no wrongdoing on my part at NFM which were never disclosed by the company.”
He said he never made the documents public then because he was advised by his line minister that “I was not to respond to any of these frivolous allegations.”
“Of course, during this time of silence, the country was left to come to its own conclusions,” Bharath said.
“And six months later, when I did disclose the said information in a wide-ranging television interview, the public’s mind had already been made up.”
Commenting on information that completely exonerates him from any wrongdoing in the $30 million rice deal, Bharath said he was tremendously relieved, “not just for myself but for my family and friends who’ve suppported me throughout this matter and who on many occasions, have been the subject of ridicule as a result of their support.”
He said he was initially bitter and angry at what he saw was a well-orchestrated plot to remove him.
“Time is a great healer, and with maturity, I’ve come to realise there have been far greater wrongs perpetrated in the world,” Bharath said.
“As a good friend of mine always says, ‘God wears pyjamas but He never goes to sleep.’”