A display of Incompetence

Shame and empathy are the two words that best describe my feelings while listening to the Commission of Inquiry into the incident when four divers lost their lives while trapped in a pipeline belonging to the Paria Fuel Trading Company.  On 25 February 2022, just 8 months prior to the time of writing, this incident rocked our country and wrenched at the bellies of citizens, particularly those former Petrotrin employees.

Watching the man who was the sole surviving diver, crying while presenting his evidence during the inquiry was difficult, but experiencing him incorrectly blaming himself for the death of his colleagues puts your mind at a different level.  While his bravery and courage are acknowledged, one would hope that he’s in the hands of an experienced therapist to help him through this difficult period.

I feel ashamed because this is another example of a leadership decision that has not been in the interest of the citizens of our country.  No matter how this one is sliced, the bill for the taxpayer continues to rise. 

My recurring question has been: How did we get to this?  It is early days, but the evidence points to a complete collapse in the systems and procedures which create a safe working environment. 

In 2018, when asked about the number of employees to be sent home because of the shutdown of the Petrotrin Refinery, then Chairman Espinet responded “All … All … All.”  The refinery’s closure affected some 2,600 jobs including 1,700 jobs in the refinery.   Among those discontinued jobs were the jobs carried out by a well-trained Safety Department which kept the refinery and its workers safe for many years.  In one act, the institutional knowledge was removed and replaced by a level of incompetence which brought us to this tragedy. 

What was the procedure to select LMCS Limited as the service provider for diving services?   If the report that only “two members of the dive team were in possession of commercial diving certification while the others were certified for recreational scuba diving” is accurate, this supports my conclusion about the incompetence of the leadership team.

The world is looking on and coming to its own conclusions about this tragedy.  How can a country which has been in the oil business for over 100 years exhibit such indifference about this level of incompetence?  No matter the investment opportunity, why should an investor put his money in a place where the systems and processes are so broken?

In the same way that company directors are held liable for poor financial decisions and can face jail terms, shouldn’t the Board of Directors of Paria be held personally liable for the deaths of those four divers?  Can we anticipate the passage of relevant legislation?

Published on November 25, 2022 – Newsday

https://secure.mediafiles.fi/newsday/221125074410_public-U3Sw1xfVqeSzEtVZnd8aosRL62KJrQoOYcJfFXezJRA/Newsday-Friday-November-25th-2022-Issue-No-10658/#p=14

Asking for help is a sign of strength

ROSE Hill RC Primary School is the first ‘big school’ I attended 60 years ago. It was about half a mile from my home on Quarry Street.

One day, a man chased another through the schoolyard with a cutlass, and I couldn’t wait to tell this story to my mother when I got home. Her immediate response was, ‘Ah moving yuh from dey!’ My next clear memory is wearing the Nelson Street Girls’ blue uniform and walking two miles to and from school.

The recent story about gunshots in the neighbourhood of Rose Hill RC brought back this memory, and I asked: ‘What has changed in 60 years?’ The weapons are no longer cutlasses but now AK-47s, and both sides in the argument are well-armed. My mother’s response was to find a way to escape the reality of the environment and move her child to what she felt was a safer environment.

Published in the Trinidad Express, Wednesday 16th November 2022

About 50 years later, Despers Steel Orchestra, ‘The pride of Laventille’, ran away from their home of more than 60 years to find safety away from gun violence. Over the years, families have abandoned the area in search of safety and security but many residents have no option and no support to transform it, so they remain and survive as best as possible. This is no longer the exclusive narrative of Laventille; there are many ‘Laventilles’ all over the country.

It is time for us to accept that our country is on a slippery path toward total collapse. Unfortunately, accepting this narrative means acknowledging that not only are our country’s systems broken but that this occurred because the execution of our responsibilities for managing our country has been lazy or even absent. We have given one political party a free hand to preside over that destructive process for more than two-thirds of our life as an independent nation. Our brokenness may also be seen as an opportunity to change the way we do business. Maybe the time has come for our country to seek outside help to de-escalate the mindset behind the gun violence which is killing us. About 20 years ago, the country of Colombia was known for drugs and guns, and with the help of the United States, they were able to transform their country. If a country like Colombia can reach out for help, why can’t we?

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; sometimes, it is the bravest move you can make.

Urgent need to improve transportation system

Do you know that notification sound of an incoming text on a cell phone? That’s what happens in my head whenever I read about transportation plans or anything to do with public transport.  In this instance, I was excited to read that Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan told Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee (SFC), that tenders will soon go out for the development of a transportation plan for Trinidad and Tobago.  My excitement increased because I remembered that one of the selling points in the lead-up to the 2015 general elections was that transportation was a way of life issue and we were encouraged to dream of the 4+ hours we could save every day when an efficient transportation system was put in place if the PNM was elected to lead the government.

My excitement withered when I remembered a public statement by former Minister of Works Jack Warner who boasted that he used the box containing the rapid rail report as a footstool.  During a discussion in Parliament in 2010, then Minister Warner reminded the population that a former PNM administration had spent $27 million on the Comprehensive National Transportation Study (CNTS) and Mass Transit System Study.  All we have is a memory of the disappearance of $27 million.

My excitement transformed to cynicism because we are ignoring the recent work of Dr. Trevor Townsend and Katherine Agong, research assistant and Ph.D. student who carried out a scientific survey of households and developed a suite of travel demand models that can tell us about the daily travel behaviour of commuters.  

My cynicism became mistrust when I recalled the political model for awarding contracts.  This is my understanding of that political model: begin with selecting the intended awardee, craft the need to suit their stated competence, develop the invitation to tender, issue the tender, award the tender to the firm, wait for the variation or scope creep, and waste taxpayers’ money.

Of course, this political model for awarding contracts is never implemented because our politicians always act in the best interest of our country and the most transparent process will be utilized to procure these services. For those not paying attention, that sentence is sarcasm.

Minister Sinanan, there will be a long timeline between the award of the tender, the submission of the report, and the implementation of the recommendations.  Is it your expectation that the population will continue to silently suffer the daily grind of an unreliable transportation system?  We need some quick solutions to alleviate our transportation pain.

From my “ringside” seat you had a big spat with Transportation specialist Dr. Rae Furlonge so you are unlikely to engage him for professional advice.  PTSC may have some history with Dr. Trevor Townsend so we could run a redline through him as a subject matter expert.   So, your next best bet would be to engage Katherine Agong, a Ph.D. student who appears to be our most recent transportation advocate.  She is quoted in the Express Newspaper of August 02, 2022, as saying that the study found that a major need for improved transportation, was “more reliable and convenient public transportation systems to replace the use of the private car.”

I sincerely hope that some action will be taken quickly to improve our transportation system.

Guilty in Fact but not in Law …

“Guilty in fact and in law, and getting away with it!  For me, it took several days for this statement to sink in.  The Al Rawi/Nelson cockup is another confirming example for the person in the street that he/she can get away with breaking the law because our leaders are continuously sidestepping our laws.

If it is a fact that the Attorney General promised a “Presidential” pardon, then clearly our politicians believe that their backroom dealings, whether legal or not, will prevail.  I wonder what other wonky deals have been made that did not come to light.

We have witnessed so many examples of political interference in our rules and regulations that the popular view is that if you have access to the inner circle, you can get away with murder. 

The collapse of the Ramdeen/Ramlogan case is a big blow to the current administration because this was supposed to be the trailblazer in their quest to prove opposition corruption and misbehaviour in public office.  Now they must re-examine and try to avoid the allegation being turned back and exploding in their faces especially since the alleged “Presidential” pardon might also be regarded as misbehaviour in public office.

Is it that even at the level of the Attorney General, there is little faith in the justice system?  Or is it that the AG believes that the only way to get his desired outcome is by interfering with the justice system? 

Our state of injustice was captured in a recent statement by a relative of the deceased “road rage victim” who said: “We are unsure if justice is even possible. You would read this on the news, then hear nothing again. We do not expect justice.

This Al Rawi/Nelson cockup is bigger than the PNM.  It is akin to treating the black spot on your skin and not investigating for cancer. This is about how we as citizens have allowed the cancer of corruption to take root in our society.  It is about a judicial system that has become dysfunctional.  

Where do we go from here?  

We are collectively responsible, either as passive bystanders or active participants.  It is no longer acceptable to say: “I don’t discuss politics.”  The time is now for citizens to step into the ring and change our leadership.  Otherwise, according to the words of Express Columnist RAFFIQUE SHAH, the whole system will go “stark-staring-mad.”

POLICING by Vaps!

Photo courtesy Trinidad and Tobago Police website

More Municipal Police

“There will soon be 1,500 Municipal Police”, according to Minister of Rural Development and Local Government, Faris Al Rawi in a recent budget discussion.

Mr. Minister, nothing will change unless there is consistent enforcement of the law at ALL levels, including our politicians. Surprise sting operations are necessary, but this “vaps policing” will not work.  Another way of describing this “vaps policing” is  “sporadic policing”.  Sporadic policing is when police engage in a particular law enforcement exercise in an impulsive manner.  Recently, on some random day, the TTPS issued a flurry of parking tickets in St James.  The following day and subsequently, citizens continued to park incorrectly and make “U” turns randomly with little or no consequences.

What was the objective of that day? To issue their quota of tickets or to nudge citizens into obeying the laws?

We talk about how Trinis obey the laws abroad as if it is in our DNA to do so, but we obey them abroad because there are immediate, consistent consequences. People would be less inclined to “take a chance” if they felt that the odds of being caught were high.

Taking a Chance

This attitude of “taking a chance” has become prevalent. From the illegal construction of buildings to breaking traffic lights, people are just prepared to take a chance because they are confident that even if the matter went to court, the consequences would be minimal.  I am yet to know someone who has received a traffic ticket in the mail.

Sporadic policing is annoying, and wearisome, and causes citizens to feel singled out when confronted by a police officer especially if several others are committing the same offense and getting away.  Sporadic policing will not create the behaviour change we need.  What is required is the consistent implementation of the laws at all levels of our society.

Sporadic Polciing

Our country can pull itself back from the brink of social collapse if we commit to both implementing and obeying the laws.  The rules and laws were created to ensure that things run smoothly.  When there is an inconsistent application, it leads to chaos, mismanagement, and corruption.

The current sporadic policing is having far more negative than positive consequences.  Citizens need to know that if they break a red light they will be punished; if they park on the wrong side of the road, they will receive a ticket; if they litter there is a litter warden to administer the penalties.

Without the consistent implementation of the laws of the land, we shall continue to lean towards breaking all the laws with the confidence that punishment is unlikely.  This “Vaps Policing” is not working.

Hemming and Hawing Over Procurement

IF I had one wish for my country, it would be to overcome the implementation deficit which plagues every aspect of our society. From the Litter Law to the Electronic Speeding Tickets to the Beverage Container Bill to the Procurement Legislation and the list goes on and on. We seem unable/unwilling to implement the ideas which will drag our country out of the morass of underdevelopment.

2005 White Paper

The idea behind reforming the public sector procurement regime predates the 2005 White Paper, but that August 2005 White Paper codifies what should be done, and how it should be done. It even outlines the preferred procurement model. The nine-member committee included representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association, the Tobago House of Assembly, Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, Central Tenders Board, Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and the Joint Consultative Council. This White Paper was created under the People’s National Movement (PNM)-led Manning administration which
included our current prime minister, so there is an intimate understanding of the importance of operationalising the legislation.  Is this lack of implementation deliberate or coincidental?

Manipulating the system

Seventeen years later the White Paper has transitioned to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, but our government continues to spend billions of dollars without the establishment of either the operational framework or the oversight institution. A major negative impact is that tendering and procurement procedures can still be manipulated according to what the leadership wants to achieve.

Removing loopholes

Morality and transparency were the clarions calls in the PNM’s 2015 bid for General Elections and page 21 of its manifesto states:  “We will move swiftly to make the necessary improvements to the Public Procurement Act, in order to remove loopholes, limitations, and weakness that currently exist in the legislation, and, in consultation with all stakeholders, establish and implement a realistic timetable for the full implementation of the Act.” Seven years later we are still wobbling and hemming and hawing over its operationalisation.

Is this truly an implementation deficit?  Or like so many other things, is it that the leadership is waiting for the right players to be lined up before pressing the approval button and ensuring implementation?

The public sector team which pushed for the transformation to a modern procurement system included:

  • The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association;
  • Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute;
  • Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and
  • The Joint Consultative Council.

Reigniting the procurement voices

These voices need to be collectively re-ignited to push the government to remove the bottlenecks that are preventing implementation.  Implementing a modern, efficient procurement system can only benefit our country.  Daily citizens str exposed to the effects of our poorly implemented procurement system and daily we see a lack of accountability.  For example, when the clippings on the side of the highway are not removed for more than six weeks, it is an example of weak implementation of a procurement system.

Backbone of a well-functioning government

An efficient and effective procurement system can result in money being available for drugs in our hospitals, money to pay teachers a living wage, money for the repair of our potholes, and money for all the areas we are underperforming.  An efficient and effective public procurement system can be the backbone of a well-functioning government and God knows that this government needs to begin to function in our collective interest.

Mental Wellness needs daily attention

Caribbean Wellness chats with Djavila Ho, Associate Clinical Psychologist and President of the Jamaican Psychological Society (JamPsych), the professional body for psychologists and counselors in Jamaica. Full membership in JamPsych is available to persons who have a degree in psychology, a psychology-related field, or counseling. Membership is also available to persons living aboard and to students who are in the process of becoming qualified.

The status of wellbeing in Jamaica

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health has added Wellness to its title and is now known as the Ministry of Health and Wellness. This is a clear indication that the Ministry is moving beyond the physical aspects of health to including mental health and mental well-being. It is also expected to have a positive impact on the population and help to reduce the feelings of discomfort and embarrassment that several people feel about mental wellness. While Djavila recognizes that mental wellness is stigmatized, she is confident that the attitude is changing, and more and more people are beginning to feel comfortable reaching out for help.

Mental well-being undergirds society

She comments that psychology and mental health undergird everything in society and suggests that psychologists and counselors, who understand and use psychological science in their everyday work should have a seat at the table when policy is being developed. This could go a long way toward improving mental health and mental wellness throughout society. Mental wellness in the workplace In discussing the role of employers in ensuring mental wellness, Djavila noted the importance of employers considering mental health and wellness when developing business plans. One way to create a culture that supports mental health and wellness is to ensure that Employee Assistance Programmes – (EAP) cover mental health and wellness activities and that insurance packages cover medications, doctor visits, and psychiatry or psychology visits.

Being intentional about mental wellness

While it is recognized that Mental Wellness is a personal decision, company policies can help nudge people into taking personal responsibility and moving away from the unfortunate culture of workaholism to intentionally creating work-life balance. That balance can begin with the simple question: “What have I done for my own mental wellness today?” This could lead to individuals taking a moment to enjoy their surroundings or reading something that is not related to work or just breathing in the fresh air. While being intentional about self-care is trendy, it is so important that self-care appointments should be scheduled into a person’s daily calendar so that it becomes an expectation and not an “if I have time” activity. Scheduling self-care into your calendar makes it something that you will show up for. Mental wellness does not have to be a grand luxurious thing. It should be made part of your daily routine and incorporated into everything else that you are involved in.

Making mental wellness part of your routine is also a great way to engage those around you and maybe help them to become intentional about their own mental wellness activities.

Djavila is optimistic that mental wellness will continue to be destigmatized and eventually be regarded as just another aspect of our total wellness agenda. As societies move towards understanding mental health based on data and facts, there should be a higher level of acceptance that mental illness is like physical illness and that persons should not be discriminated against because of any mental health conditions.

Progress and mental well-being are inextricably bound.

It is therefore necessary to ensure that wellness and mental health considerations are integrated into the delivery of primary and secondary general health care. All aspects of health and social policy and health-system planning must be considered if we want to live up to the notion of the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Brock Chisholm who famously stated that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health”.

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National Conversation on Agriculture

The Trade and Economic Development Unit of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, hosted a conversation on Agriculture Outcomes and Food Security Challenges in Trinidad and Tobago.

Key Presenters

The main Presenter was Prof Wayne G Ganpat, a Former Dean of the Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad. He was followed by Mr. Kent Viera, Aquaculture Entrepreneur, and owner of Kent Farms Ltd, the leading aquaculture farm in Trinidad and Tobago. Senior lecturer at UWI, Dr. Roger Hosein also contributed to the conversation.

Top Outcomes

  1. The agriculture sector needs a plan and a champion to achieve the transformation necessary for the industry to thrive and for the country to achieve the goal of food sustainability.

2. The country appears to be stuck and it is necessary for the population to be informed about the policy and strategy

3. Former Caroni lands provide an opportunity for farming but we need to assess the quantity of land that is actually still available.

4. There is a need to establish a database of graduates who have been trained and are interested in agriculture.

5. The population needs to be informed about the details of the food import bill so they can engage in the behaviour change required to help reduce imports.

6. There are examples of how technology is being used to modernize farming and agriculture and these success stories need to be popularized.

7. There is a need to implement a plan to reduce the incidents of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) using agriculture and farming.

8. Agriculture needs to be re-designed using an all-of-country approach to remove the former siloed approach.