People before bricks and mortar

Another Police Station has been commissioned, but crime and criminality continue to dig in.  In a year or so, the people of Carenage will have an improved structure and a few policemen will benefit from promotions or transfers, but what will be the impact on crime and lawlessness in the prime minister’s constituency, and indeed in the country?

The fact that he chose a police station instead of a secondary school signals to me that the prime minister’s focus is more on crime and punishment than on developing the human potential. Instead of awarding another multi-million dollar contract for the new police station the money could also have been invested in improving the training offered to the recruits to the police service.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is joined by Minister of National Security Stuart Young and Police Commissioner Gary Griffith at the Carenage Police Station Sod Turning Ceremony.

It is a harsh reality that the police and the bandits are drawn from the same pool.  In order to change the mindset of the police, we have to train them differently. Anything less than a three-year training programme inclusive of isolation from their communities will have little meaningful impact on changing their work ethos and ethics.  Integration of police officers into their communities is absolutely beneficial, but it can only work when officers have been re-trained and understand their primary roles and responsibilities to the wider community.

The police officer of tomorrow will have to be trained to become critical thinkers skilled in communications and instilled with integrity, service and empathy. Training these values requires long-term intense exposure to achieve the human transformation that is necessary.

The Prime Minister could have also allocated our limited resources to replicating the successful Bishop Anstey High School East (BAHSE) and Trinity College East (TCE) experiment. These schools opened in 2001 as ‘model schools’ under the auspices of the Anglican Church.  After 10 years in existence there is a low transfer rate out and a high parental perception that these schools are schools of choice for their children.

The replication of such model schools in the western peninsula could provide an exceptional educational experience for hundreds of young people. If you improve the quality of the educational experience of 1,000 people annually, that is 1,000 fewer people annually with the potential to turn to crime.  When will we understand that developing people is more useful than bricks and mortar?

Photo: Schoolboy in class.

The Carenage police station brings to three the number of police stations being constructed in the north-west with Diamond Vale and Saint Clair under construction.  Adding a new police station will improve the person-to-police-station ratio even though our experience is that increasing the number of police stations has not reversed the scourge of crime.

There are already nine police stations in the greater Port of Spain area, roughly bounded by the Morne Coco Road, Saddle Road and Piccadilly Street, and each of them is within a two-mile (3.2km) walking distance from another station.  Carenage is surrounded by the Army and Coast Guard on one end and the Four Road Police and Western Police stations and could be well served if these were effectively managed.  In this ‘guava crop season’ when money is scarce, my choice would have been to invest my resources in a school for Carenage rather than build another structure which focusses on punishment and incarceration.

These are the nine police stations to which I am referring:

  • Belmont
  • Besson Street
  • Diamond Vale
  • Four Roads
  • Maraval
  • Police Headquarters
  • Saint Clair
  • Woodbrook
  • Western
Photo: Besson Street Police Station (Copyright Ministry of National Security)

This list does not even include Traffic Branch, Criminal Investigation Division and the Police Barracks.  The lesson in this for me is that if we continue to focus on the bricks and mortar and not the people, the epidemic of crime and criminality will intensify.

In the short term, law-abiding citizens will continue to be ‘sitting ducks’ for the bandits while guns, drugs and murders continue to dominate the headlines.  What is missing for me is any signal that there is a planned, centralized strategy aimed at changing the way we do things. Our future will only be different if we change the present and that requires the articulation and communication of the strategy for change.  The current method of repeating past strategies will not have any impact. When our focus moves from bricks and mortar to behaviour change, our society will change.

Demming: Until PNM and UNC unite on crime, we are all sitting ducks.

The societal breakdown around us is palpable.

Everywhere you turn there is chaos, indiscipline and manifestations of a society about to implode. Once you leave your home, your senses are assaulted by aggressive driving, loud music, lack of courtesy and piles of garbage. These assaults are carried out by people who are confident that there are no consequences for their actions so they continue to push the envelope.

Photo: A young man kisses a high powered weapon.

They have received the memo that if you kill your neighbour it will take 15 years for the matter to be called in the courts; that like Ish, Steve and Jack, if the courts have pronounced against you in a matter, you can use the bureaucracy to avoid any consequences; that if you commit a home invasion, by the time the police arrive you would have moved on to your next heist; that you can commit traffic violations like driving in reverse for more than 3 kilometres and despite the evidence being on camera, you will not be prosecuted; that as a doctor, you can carry out surgery on a person to remove cocaine from his stomach, not report it, and if you’re found out, and no one will hold you accountable.

This is not a list of hypothetical scenarios but rather realities which empower wrongdoers to operate with impunity. We know that there is no silver bullet solution to the scourge of criminality which is stalking our land, and solutions are complex, but citizens want to feel confident that somewhere it is being addressed.

In the 2015 election battle, both political parties used ‘solving crime’ as a key pillar in their manifestos.  The People’s Partnership manifesto made 59 references to crime and committed to preserving law and order.  The PNM talked about a new approach which would modernise and transform the Police Service and ultimately operationalise the Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs).

Since both parties had solutions in 2015, isn’t it logical for the Government and the Opposition to collaborate now to tackle our most intractable problem?

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

As the saying goes, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

If I were the Leader of the Opposition I would write to the Prime Minister offering to work with him on a crime plan. I would also provide a list of 7 subject matter experts who could operate on a bi-partisan basis to provide solutions. Then I would make this all public to be transparent and demonstrate that leaders can collaborate on critical issues.

Such an offer would be extremely difficult for the Prime Minister to reject and it will signal to the wider community that the Opposition is responsible and willing to act in the national interest.

In the absence of collaboration to solve crime, citizens will continue to operate in chaos and be happy that we survived another moment without being a victim. Living in fear and praying that you will not be the next victim is unacceptable and inhumane.

We deserve better than this.

Peddle Hope Not Despair!

Sometimes a song, phrase or expression lodges itself in your mind as if on repeat play.  The one that is in my mind is the recent statement by former CEO of SWMCOL, Ronald Roach which was reported in the Trinidad Guardian on July 7: “We have not placed suf­fi­cient em­pha­sis on waste dis­pos­al. Our waste dis­pos­al meth­ods are very prim­i­tive and it has been so for a long time. I have been try­ing to change that. There is so much that needs to be done. We don’t get it as a coun­try. We don’t get it as a peo­ple.”

He was referring to “waste disposal” but I can replace “waste disposal” with “tourism sector”, “crime”, “education”, “sexual harassment” etc and the same sentiment will be valid.  We are at a place where the tourism sector has crashed; we can’t even afford to paint the white lines on our rapidly deteriorating roads; crime is out of control; 80% of students are unhappy their SEA placing; the Prime Minister continues to keep from the public the details of a report on how a sexual harassment charge about a Minister was handled and I can go on and on.

For the past 45 months we have been bombarded with the propaganda that there is not enough of anything; from money to pay public servants to hospital beds for the sick but the huge capital expenditure projects continue to be implemented.  There seems to be an insatiable appetite for building buildings and soon the road paving frenzy will unfold.

When households experience a money crunch, we do things like: repair and refurbish our furniture; spend only on what is essential; gather around the kitchen table and talk about how we are going to get out of this difficult space.  We hug each other and provide the reassurance that tomorrow will be a brighter day. In other words we take the necessary action and provide the inspiration, emotional support and hope.

It is no different for a country.  Our leader should be explaining that while our world has changed permanently we are creating a new and different space for Trinidad and Tobago.  He should be appealing to our aspirational selves and helping all of us believe that things can and will be better if we collaborate and take action to make our lives better.

Our leader could have identified three actions which citizens can take to make a difference.  Our leader could be peddling hope instead of wasting precious communication time either cussing the opposition, defending a poor decision or lamenting that we have no money while finding money to allocate to a commission of enquiry which is unlikely to finish in the remaining 15 months.

The author Tom Bodett said “a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do and something to hope for.”  My Prime Minister has a responsibility to provide our country with something to hope for.

Tourism Flounders

The recent termination of the CEO of Tourism Trinidad Limited is indicative of a wider systemic failure being experienced in every institution in the country.  It brings into focus the unreadiness of this current administration to do the job for which they applied. Under the stewardship of Dr. Rowley, we have burned down former TDC, created 2 new companies and the tourist arrivals continue on a downward spiral.  After 45 months, the decline in arrivals has not even levelled off while arrivals in the region move in the opposite direction.

The Minister, The Fired CEO and the Fearless Chair of Trinidad Tourism Ltd

Who will have the confidence to take on the responsibility of leading a company in which the Chairman fired her selection for CEO after 6 months; the Minister is “awaiting information” and leaked Board papers suggest that the CEO acted on her own volition and there is infighting amongst board members?

Clear, strong strategic direction must be taken immediately to begin the process of stabilizing the Tourism sector.  There are no quick fixes for the systemic failure of tourism in Trinidad and Tobago and whatever is done now needs a 6 – 9 month period before any results are seen.  In the short term whomever is left on the Board should urgently recommend the implementation of the Trinidad Tourism Sector Development Tourism Road Map 2016-2020 – Policy Proposal.  This will be a short-term measure while the Tourism Master Plan of 1995 is upgraded and modernized in keeping with current day trends.

A second action which can be taken is to appoint an interim action team comprising representatives from the tourism stakeholders to implement the top 5 priority actions which might stabilize the Sector.  These persons should be on short term contract and be given KPIs and deliverables tied to their remuneration.

Simultaneously, it is necessary to continue to build the new TTL according to its mandate and byelaws.  I disagreed with the closure of former TDC because the closure strategy has failed time and again in Trinidad and Tobago.  What is needed is transformative change to fix our institutions and for the Politicians to STOP trying to use State Enterprises and other Institutions to advance their myopic political agenda.

The Tourism Sector will not thrive under a heavy-handed government either PNM or UNC.   As visitors move along the tourism value chain, they interact with almost all sectors of the society and their experience is directly impacted by all sectors. For Tourism to work there must be complete collaboration –   from entry systems at the ports of entry to every other point of hand-off until the visitor leaves the country or moves on to the next destination. If people understood the direct relationship between their income and the product or service they offer, they would be energized to give of their best but nobody is explaining that to the Immigration Officer, the Taxi Driver, the Tour Guide etc. 

The current situation is that the Sector is in shambles and there are small and medium sized businesses which continue to suffer daily.  They are the ones who must demand clear, decisive actions because they stand to lose the most. Like many other things in this country, the sector is “fixable” but it requires leadership which is even-handed and focussed on a long term result.  We cannot continue to look at the election cycle because that is what has caused the perpetual mis-management, waste and corruption. For our nation to thrive we must be looking at a 50-to-100 year strategy which will build institutions which are robust and able to withstand the vagaries of modern day living.

The World Tourism Organisation projects international tourist arrivals to the Caribbean to increase by 2.2% a year to 25 million in 2020.  Trinidad and Tobago must carve out the section of that growth we are going after and place a laser like focus on how we are going to get the market share.  Without a clearly articulated vision, we are guaranteed to get to continue along this current path to underdevelopment.