On Storming a Radio Show!

One year ago, on January 26, 2018 Minister Stuart Young called into a radio programme hosted by former Senator Marianno Brown and tried to read a prepared statement. Almost one year later on January 24, 2019, his colleague Minister Fitzgerald Hinds physically storms the radio programme co-hosted by former Minister Ralph Maharaj to respond to an article which the co-host had written for a newspaper. What is common about these two incidents is that Ministers of Government operate under the misguided notion that it is acceptable to barge in on independently operated programmes and have their way.

Well, Mr. Ministers, you are wrong. You do not own independently operated radio stations and you have to earn space in the print medium to communicate your messages.  Let us not forget the negative response given to the late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning for similar action. As a rule of thumb, turning up uninvited to anything is just impolite. My ghetto-born mother told me so and I wonder how goodly Minister Hinds didn’t hear his own mother saying the same thing. Or is it that power has consumed his mind to the extent that he feels he has a right to engage without invitation?

To say that the media landscape has changed is an understatement. This incident occurred in a radio station and a video clip of it was shared on social media. Because the sharing method is not easily trackable, the full extent of its reach is not known. Previously, this uncouth behaviour would only have been exposed to the listeners on the radio station but current media channels allow the incident to be shared, viewed and commented on privately and publicly anywhere in the world. The lesson here for Minister Hinds and his cohort is that you have to be on your best behaviour at all times. Big brother is always watching!

Minister Hinds is a successful role model for many young persons. I hope that they are discerning enough to understand that icons sometimes misstep. This was a misstep by the Minister, so don’t take the message of bullying which it portrays as one of the behaviours to be emulated.

Minister Hinds and this government continue to blunder their communications strategy and tactics. They select “low win” opportunities. Their key messages are not cogently framed. Their style of communication has become either harsh and overly aggressive or convoluted and confusing as evidenced by the lame attempt of Foreign Affairs Minister Moses in the Venezuela issue.

Communication 101 suggests that if there has been inaccurate reporting in one medium, do the strategic assessment and either seek a retraction or equal exposure of the correct information. There is also the opportunity to have a one-on-one discussion about the framing of the content and to provide the correct information directly. It speaks volumes to contemplate that former Ministerial colleagues cannot have an interpersonal exchange to resolve an issue. The unfortunate message to the population is “let’s fight this out on the public stage and show who is in charge now”. Well! Employed MPs, citizens want better from you. We long for intelligent discourse in measured tones. The time has come for civility to return and our elected leaders, whose salaries come from the wallets of citizens must lead the charge and embrace politeness and civility.

A Home for Despers …

A photograph by Maria Nunes stirred emotions in me that I thought I had quelled. I cry for Laventille when I remember the beauty of the people and the ambition and the sense of striving I grew up with. The callous may say, “Nostalgia!” But it was real. The memories are blurred, but the sense of being, living, knowing is as real as the moonlit sky with music in the background. It is as real as hanging over the pan stand and allowing the music to envelop your being ‘til the tenor pan rings in your heart … or stepping away and propping on a wall a little distance away, but close enough to feel every note. The panyard gave us hope!  We saw young men and boys who were “otherwise engaged” outside of the panyard performing at an exceptional standard and we respected them for their talent. Eventually some of them represented the country and therefore the community on the world stage. They “lifted our noses” as we used to say.

The Despers panyard was a communal space where we all felt safe. Visitors were protected and you believed that the Statue of the Virgin Mary atop the spire protected you from every evil.  For the 10 years I functioned as the Public Affairs Manager at Witco, going up the hill to lime was normal but then small incidents became bigger and bringing it to the attention of the Police was a waste of time.

How can a band with one of the longest sponsorship arrangements be homeless today – bouncing from vacant lot to vacant lot in the city of Port of Spain? How can a community which has elected the PNM solidly since 1956 be allowed to become so unsafe that it can no longer be home to its pride and joy? The children of Laventille have chased the band away from its own home and PNM Members of Parliament presided over this travesty. Had the Members of Parliament found ways for meaningful collaboration, maybe by now Despers would have been handed the keys to their new home.  Maybe, we would have had a functional, custom built pan theatre which is acoustically perfect for our national instrument. Maybe, we would have developed a blueprint for Pan Theaters throughout the country and indeed the world. Instead Despers continues to squat in their third (or is it fourth) location around the city. Or is it that I am just nostalgic?  Is Despers now an anachronism? Does the band still still connect with the community?

I think not.  Despers is as important as every other steelband in this country and it is time for us as a people to find a way to include steelband in our development.

My wish upon a Star

I believe many people want a leader who is able to form a human connection with them using both words and deeds. So my single wish for 2019 is a leader who communicates with us this way.

The last time I heard our leader speak was at the PNM Convention in Tobago and I got a sense that it was a checkbox item for him to place a tick next to and move on to the next item on his “to-do” list.

There are three reasons why I want our leader to communicate with us:

Firstly, the economic pundits predict that the economy is not going to be on an upswing anytime soon, so we need someone to rally the troops to convince us that we are “all in this together”. Our leader must help us understand that despite the massive layoffs, separations and firings over the past few years, there is a plan to collaborate to make things better. A leader who is good at communicating will convince us that his five years spent as Leader of the Opposition prepared him to lead us out of this predictable economic decline. He theoretically should have been intimately involved in analysing every budget presentation since 2010, so he should be fully aware of the state of the economy.

The second reason why I want our leader to communicate openly and honestly is that I am seeking reassurance that he is not simply acting in the interest of the “haves” in our society but that project formulation and implementation is being activated with a view towards long term sustainability. For example, I want to hear that the Beverage Container Bill has been completed and there will be a systemic approach to ensuring that single use plastics are separated at home and ready for curbside collection and recycling or disposal.

My third reason for wanting our leader to communicate effectively is that I believed him during the run-up to the 2015 election when he said that transportation is a quality-of-life issue and he encouraged me to imagine what life would be like when the commute from the east would be less than an hour. I want him to explain why nothing has been done to ease this burden. Maybe he should have consulted the Inter-American Development Bank before selling me that dream about a solution to the transportation problem.

Singapore, our starting-gate brother on the other side of the world, knows that without mineral resources, the only source of wealth is the people, and they have motivated, inspired and coerced their citizens to follow a dream which today positions them amongst the richest, most successful countries in the world. Their leader had (and continues to have) a vision of the future which was sold to its citizens. If we have a vision, then it needs to be communicated to us clearly. In the words of American philosopher, James Hume: “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” In Trinidad and Tobago, we have a leader installed but there is an absence of leadership. Had we been blessed with true leadership, we would have been inspired, persuaded and influenced to operate at our highest potential and maybe become the Singapore of the Caribbean.