“Kamla/Santa” must know!

Photograph courtesy the Office of the Prime Minister, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago on Flickr

A life shaping moment from my childhood occurred the day I brought home a pencil which I found on Nelson Street.  In response to my mother’s query about the owner of the pencil, I innocently said that I found it on the street.  She unhesitatingly “cut my tail” and walked me back to the spot so that I could replace the pencil.  You might think this an extreme example but growing up “Behind the Bridge” I could not take anything into my humble home without my mother knowing exactly where it came from, who gave it to me and why did I like it?

This story flooded my mind while observing Press reports on the “Kamla/Santa” antics.  First the lady did not know where the toys or media gifts came from; then she didn’t know that there was money and food vouchers in the media gifts.  Eventually sources revealed that some manufacturers provided the gifts and significant discounts.  That’s good, except for the fact that the companies all manufacture foods, beverages and other consumables.  The question remains, who imported the toys and at what cost?  Were State funds utilised?  Should the Government be accepting gifts from unknown donors?  In any “two bit” company you are required to operate within the boundaries of the gifting policy and for good reason.  There would also be a register so that gifts would be recorded and known to all.  Where is the transparency and accountability?

What is the difference between “Kamla/Santa” pleading ignorance to the source of the gifts/toys and the parent also pleading ignorance to how their unemployed son/daughter is able to live a lifestyle of the rich and famous?

When the dust settles

Image courtesy Flickr – Mark Morgan

That feeling of Christmas is hard to come by because lurking in the shadows of my mind is the nagging question: What will it be like in January?

2014 will be remembered as the year of giveaway and freeness.  Come 2015, the pensioners will have spent their extra $5,000.00 Christmas gift; the prices of staples would have crept up beyond their pre-Christmas-gift level; the price of oil and gas would be even lower and the “Kamla promotional giveaways” would be laying around the house.  In the world of marketing, branded promotional give aways are sometimes called consumables.

The Communication Gurus behind the UNC’s political campaign have invested their entire spend in the notion that good brand visibility signifies the ability of your products/services to attract the attention of your target audience and therefore stimulate re-sale.   In this case, the feeling is that the more you see of the Prime Minister and the UNC, the more likely you are to vote for them at the appointed hour.  The literature also suggests that there is a saturation point – that point at which the audience becomes numb to the message.  There is no formula to prescribe that point.  The decision is informed by data and a good dose of common sense.   All that is happening in this Yuletide season can be summed up as “voter inducement” and the society is paying a significant price.

After the dust settles on the 2015 general elections some leader will be responsible for changing the way we do business in T&T and that culture change is probably the single biggest headache that will be experienced for years to come.

How will we move away from an attitude of entitlement?  How will we recalibrate the society into remembering that work precedes success?  How will we get our leaders to live the value that people do what you do and not what you say?  How will we inspire our people to give a fair days work for their pay?

These are complicated questions with no silver bullet answers. Our single assurance is that these questions must be answered and provision made to ensure that they are answered in a way that will benefit our society.

Who am I and What am I about?

Sunity Maharaj spoke at the 2012 TEDxPortofSpain Conference.  Her talk was a reflection on our history and the courage of our forefathers to rise above their material circumstances and contribute to the development of what exists today in every nook and cranny of our beautiful nation.

She suggests that we must have the courage answer 2 basic questions: Who am I and What am I about?  Viewing this is worth 16 minutes of your time.   http://tedxportofspain.com/portfolio/sunity-maharaj/

Be Real Retired Judges

Many years ago when I joined TEXACO Trinidad, one of my assignments was to interviewScreen Shot 2014-12-05 at 10.45.54 pensioners wherever I could find them.  I met disgruntled, angry men because they could no longer support their life styles.  A couple of them revelled in their stories about drinking premium whiskey and supporting multiple homes in their day while I observed that their homes needed repairs.

20+ years later our retired judges are making out the same case for enhanced pensions. The question is: Who is responsible for your pension? Salaries are payed in exchange for service – it is a simple transaction.  Some employers arrange for part of that transaction to be allocated towards the payment of a pension in the future.  But the ultimate responsibility lies with the individual to put away for the rainy day.  Judges are persons of privilege in our society and they above all should understand the concept of “delayed gratification” so they “put things in place”.

I have no sympathy for the case of our retired judges because during employment their cash and non cash benefits were substantial including vacation travel, housing allowances and exemption from Income Taxes and taxes on the purchase of vehicles.  If you want to travel first class and maintain a chauffeur as a pensioner, then save for it but do not expect the state to help you maintain that unreal life style.

If the case for the Judges is that retirement must be indexed to the cost of living, then indexation should happen across the Board retirees from all sectors. What is the difference between the Nurse and the Judge?  Their contribution to the society is equally important but the judges are unequally rewarded.  If your case is that you can’t pay your medical bills, then welcome to the real world, none of us can.  It speaks to a necessary improvement across the health sector.

The big lesson that I took away from those interviews with Texaco retirees was that pensions as negotiated while employed are unlikely to be sufficient for retirement.

Retirement is a guarantee so we have personal responsibility to put aside a percentage of our current salaries as a pension for when we are no longer employed.