Hostage to Oil

oil.barrel.waste,money_graphicOur country has been in the oil business for more than 100 years.  We are an old oil producer.  In the more recent past, we have played a major role in the global LNG and fertilizer markets.  Despite these impressive statements, there is a nagging feeling that there has been little real impact on national development, or quality of life or the level of happiness experienced by our citizens.  If asked how has the energy boom impacted us, my subjective response is that we are“OK-ish”.  However measured against really hard criteria, our performance would be described as abysmal.

Despite energy richness, our infant mortality rate is among the highest in the world, this is so according to Dr. Anton Cumberbatch who appeared before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament.  We were recently singled out amongst the fattest countries in the world.  Our crime statistics are horrendous and I am sure we would fail on any happiness assessment.

But there is one other indicator which causes concern – carbon emissions.  In the per capita global measurement we are ranked among the top 5 offenders.

A Camille Bethel story in the Trinidad Express of November 12, 2012, quoted the Minister of Energy Kevin Ramnarine as saying:  “The sad reality is the World Bank has ranked Trinidad as one of the worst energy-efficient countries in the world, so we have to get our act together.  It (energy) affects our everyday life and I think the culture has to change in Trinidad with regards to how we treat with energy. There has to be a culture of conservation in Trinidad and Tobago”.  The Minister is spot on, however this is no time for platitudes about conservation, it is time for drastic action.

In 2008, multiple Putlizer prize winner, Thomas Freidman published“Hot, Flat, and Crowded which brought a fresh outlook to the crises of destabilizing climate change and rising competition for energy”.  Friedman proposed an ambitious American strategy called “Geo-Greenisn” to save the planet from overheating while making America healthier, richer, more innovative, more productive, and more secure.  

This book should be required reading for our energy czars and decision makers.

While reading Hot, Flat, and Crowded, I questioned what could be a “stand out”action taken to communicate this message of conservation to our population while improving productivity on a national scale.  My conclusion, make owning a car and driving unattractive.  That translates into charging the economic price for gasoline which is sold at US 36 cents per litre compared with  US 76 cents per litre in the United States, US 192 cents in the United Kingdom and US 2.12 cents in Norway.

Maintaining such a low price for gasoline is simply deferring our death sentence.  However implementing a drastic measure will require us to think through the impact on all the drivers of inflation since it will have a major impact on mass transportation, vehicular congestion, productivity, wellness and even happiness.  Tackling this one big problem will ripple through the country and be the economic and social game changer we need.

Given the enormity of such an action, it would be necessary to take a bi-partisan, populace approach to the final decision and its implementation.  It could provide an opportunity for the population to take part in long term decision making and lock the decision making into place so that changing political parties will have no impact.

We have over the years seen what happens when there is no citizen participation in decision making.  It has generally resulted in wastage, corruption,   multiple lost opportunities and the most senseless attempts at the blame game.   Paying a real price for gasoline is significant because we are simply burning up our future every time we fill up the tank. The fact that oil is a finite resource and every barrel extracted is one barrel less for future consumption should frighten us into real efforts at monetization.  The notion of diversification has been on the national agenda for many years and we pat ourselves on the backs saying how well we are doing when compared with our Caribbean neighbours but having a ready supply of cheap energy is helpful to any manufacturing sector.

We need to look at our future through a different lens, the lens of energy conservation and energy efficiency.  Time and time again I have learned that people only take action when there is a consequence.  The time has come to send a major signal to the population.  Until such a major price signal is sent, citizens will continue to consume gasoline“willy nilly” and as a country we will continue to be hostage to this depleting, finite resource “Oil”.


Mrs. D, dey send me home!” … this was the mournful cry of a young Communications Professional whose services had been unceremoniously terminated. Why should a change in political party translate into dismissals of career professionals?

Board appointments are generally given as rewards for supporting the party while career professionals are persons whose livelihoods depend on their employment. Indeed the government has a social responsibility to protect persons from discrimination. Political affiliation should not determine whether or not you retain a job. Maintenance of employment should only be based on performance and merit.

It is unfortunate that the long arms of politics now reach into the bowels of organizations and negatively impact well-intentioned career professionals. Don’t tell me “that’s what Governments do” because that is exactly what the population voted against. It is well understood that members of Boards will be terminated because these Boards are installed to carry out the policies of the government and when the government changes, there is a need to change the people who acted on behalf of the previous government. In our political system, there is an expectation however that Permanent Secretaries – career professionals that they are – will ensure that the legitimate, legal wishes of the new government are carried out.

For our society to grow and develop, there must be a paradigm shift in this way of thinking. Professionals who lead organizations must firstly be selected on the basis of merit. Once there is demonstrated competence then professionals must be protected from the vagaries of the politics. In other words every effort must be made to distinguish between policy formulation and policy implementation. If those lines become blurred, continuity will be affected and negatively impact the capacity of the organization to achieve its objectives.

Organizational theory suggests that turnaround or serious change requires 3-5 years and in some cases even 5-10 years. If we throw professionals out every time there is a change of government, we will in fact be sending an unfortunate message throughout our public sector organizations. It will institutionalize the unfortunate notion that “is we time now” and cement the view that public sector employees are expected to anticipate the politicians and act in a way they think the politicians intend. That kind of thinking can translate into the polarization of the public sector into political camps. In a small society like ours, we can’t afford to function on the basis of political affiliation. This implies that every five years, public sector workers will be looking for jobs.

This is a time for the demonstration of mature leadership and three messages are imperative – this is a government of the people … there is room at the table for everyone and … the government will provide the transformational leadership that is required to make this place successful. These messages are neither unique nor specifically tailored. They are messages of good common sense that are required to achieve positive results.

If we accept that the Government is a government of the people then it is expected that workers will be included in major decision-making. A generation ago, the workforce was compliant and prepared to simply obey instructions. Today, the question of WHY looms larger than life. Employees want to know why are we taking this action? Why are we doing this now? Why are we changing the procedure? Why have we reached this decision? Why have we decided that this alternative is preferable? These are not unreasonable questions as they lead to creativity and worker engagement.

In a recent Ernst & Young survey of 400 senior managers and employees in one thousand US companies, 60 percent of the respondents indicated that they would be more motivated if they were treated more as partners than as hired hands.

Consider that the average worker is engaged in serious decision making for his family, for himself and even for his community. Why can’t he be trusted to contribute to organizational decision-making?

The solutions to organizational problems lie with the workers and will not be found at some management retreat in a far away place.

The second message … there is room at the table for everyone is really a message to reassure people including career professionals that the system is unbiased and will protect them from any kind of discrimination.

The third message has to do with the transformational leadership that is required to positively impact the public sector. This is where the interface between the policy makers and the implementers becomes critical. This is where the agenda and direction for the organization is set. Once this is completed, then the Career Professionals take over to implement the goals and objectives.

The transformation of public sector organizations requires a de-linking from the politics. Political punishment must be a thing of the past. Utopian you say .. Essential – I say!

By Dennise Demming – Public Relations and Training Consultant