No outrage about Police killing Mr. CoP!

There has been a muted response by Commissioner Griffith to the incident in which 3 men were killed in a shoot out in Morvant.  Contrast this with his response to the shooting of 2 year old Aniah and her father.  The CoP mocked and jeered would be protestors about their absence of outrage.  Well Mr. CoP, we have no outrage because our spirits are dampened and we are suffocating beneath the weight of the death of children and young men. 

Once again, my stomach boiled although I know neither the pain of losing a child nor the pain of losing a child as a result of gun violence!  Annually 500 women feel this gut wrenching pain of losing their child and we simply tick it off as someone known to the police or involved with guns, drugs and gangs.  The anecdotal evidence is that for each murder, at least 5 persons are affected.  Annually 2,500 persons suffer trauma from gun violence.  Over the past 5 years it means that at least 12,500 persons have suffered mostly in silence.

Courtesy Trinidad Express

Maybe, there has been no outrage because we have lost hope that the COP or the Leadership of the country are committed to taking any meaningful action against the scourge of crime.  We remember the name calling, sarcasm and arrogance and juxtapose those remarks against the increasing crime statistics and retreat to our cubby holes to pray that home invasions do not continue an upward trend.

Subject matter experts on Crime remind us that the only approach to reducing crime is a strategic, long term, multi-sector approach. It is not simply about police, vehicles, guns, armoury and police stations.  A clear vision is needed, followed by short, medium and long term goals and objectives.  This is all management 101 but there is tremendous inertia and a view that we can talk our way into solving crime.

Gun violence in this country is out of control and there are a couple associated ironies.  We do not manufacture guns in this country, so each gun comes in across our borders either formally or informally. How is it that despite having the electronic scanners in place, we seldom ever hear of a shipment of guns being intercepted.  Is it that those electronic scanners do not work?  How is it that often, when we hear of the seizure of a high powered gun, it was found in some field or barrel or some obscure place and not associated a specific person or importer?

Mr. CoP, citizens have no outrage because we fear for our own lives.  We want to help but we are looking for a plan and a strategy aimed at changing the way we do things.   

Build Minds not Concrete Structures …

When did the dream of building a school for the children of Diego Martin morph into the reality of a sprawling building called the “Diego Martin Regional Corporation Administrative Complex (DMRC)?”  I was there a couple election seasons ago when the then Member of Parliament for my area (our current Prime Minister) presented a persuasive argument to the constituents of Victoria Gardens for building a school for the children of Four Roads, La Puerta, Morne Coco Road, Powder Magazine, Pt. Cumana and even Victoria Gardens.  The reality today is that there is a school on the other side of Western Main Road, but you must have deep pockets to attend.  The non-monied children of Four Roads, La Puerta, Morne Coco Road, Powder Magazine, Pt. Cumana and the further-flung areas of Carenage try to thrive wherever they are planted; that is the reality they must live with until a more human-centered philosophy is engaged.

Courtesy Reginald Mac Lean

The site has been marked by controversy from ownership to usage.  The current iteration is that it is now the site of a new DMRC building, will partly house the Diego Martin Vehicular Overpass and some recreational green space too close to the overpass.  Residents have been lobbying for a green space and even came up with a site plan which envisioned West Park Savannah as a green space in the north west catering for joggers, walkers, cyclists, play areas, communal spaces and an amphitheatre.  It could have been transformed into a modern day learning community.  On November 1, 2019 resident Adam Raffoul posted on the West Park Savannah facebook page, that his effort to see the site plan was refused by Udecott on the basis that the information requested is not covered under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the plan is Udecott’s intellectual property.  It boggles my mind that citizens continue to be refused access to information which will impact their wellbeing by people whom the citizens pay to administer over their wellbeing.  It is indeed a conundrum!

Courtesy Reginald Mac Lean

On May 29, 2020 another resident Michael Scott made the following post: “It is apparent to all that have started to frequent the west park savannah that people are desperate for “green spaces” as families attend the west park savannah on a weekday afternoon for exercise, fresh air and a break from their daily pressures.  The park is already proving congested and it is a travesty that the entire park is not committed for leisure purposes. The fact that the authorities have determined that a new Diego Martin Regional Corporation facility should be built on the premises is foolhardy. It should not be positioned as it is and it again demonstrates that no “needs assessment” has been carried out to define the basis for its existence.  The authorities have once again demonstrated their disdain for the residents of Diego Martin”.

And what of the school? Dead silence.  The educational plan for the children of Diego Martin is not easily available and I am not sure it even exists but the data from the 2011 census told me that 21 percent of the population of Diego Martin is under the age of 15 and any leader confronting this statistic should be inspired to point development in the direction of nurturing children and young adults.  That leader would focus on improving the community, making more people self-reliant, ensuring that there is social justice and engaging the community in decision making.  A significant lever to achieve these noble goals is education at all levels

The Faria Brouhaha; data, discussion and deception …

There are always unintended consequences of our actions. The big picture lessons of the brouhaha around Gabriel Faria’s WhatsApp message are that the private views of public officials are seen as expressions of the organisation, and that business survival post-Covid-19 requires aggressive strategies by the government.

Gabriel Faria spoke his truth inappropriately and he is enjoying (sic) the consequences of his action. His truth however, has once again highlighted a number of issues which require urgent consideration and a plan for business continuity.

Photo: T&T Chamber of Commerce CEO Gabriel Faria speaks to students during the UTT Business Incubator Master Class series.
(via UTT)

First, it is unreasonable to calculate second quarter 2020 taxes using 2019 data because there was no income in 2020. We were all hiding from Covid-19 and carefully obeying the government’s instructions, so demand for goods and services was significantly reduced or non-existent.

The same government who asked landlords to be reasonable with their tenants is now being unreasonable with respect to quarterly taxes from the business community.

Second is the issue of unpaid VAT, which is now being compounded by the fact that businesses have issued invoices but the money is not being received. They are however expected to pay the VAT on those invoices.
VAT guidelines were set up in happier times when a complete lock down of the country was not anticipated.

The government has an opportunity to review their position and take urgent action to throw a lifeline for businesses to continue operating.

The government has identified a number of initiatives aimed at supporting businesses which have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic—but the roll out has been painfully slow while the bank charges are accumulating.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) is interviewed by CNC3 News anchor Khamal Georges.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

Many landlords have also not been accommodating with their rental expectations, as suggested by the government. The point is that expenses have continued while income has not, so it’s almost impossible to honour commitments.

If we are serious about recovery, our most important task is do what we can to keep businesses alive. That begins with an open discussion in a safe space where business people feel no fear of repercussions for their honesty. A collaborative approach may yield an outcome which has so far not been contemplated.

To the person who shared that WhatsApp message with the Prime Minister: I hope you are sleeping well and can look Gabriel Faria in the eyes next time you see him. Several WhatsApp groups operate according to Chatham House rules which date back to 1927 and were designed to encourage a free flow of information and discussion, with participants being duty-bound to protect the identity and affiliation of the authors.

Maybe you are unaware of the expectations of honourable persons and felt the need to ingratiate yourself to the prime minister; but right now you should be on edge because it is only a matter of time before the ‘truth is out’ and you are identified.

As for the prime minister, his actions have cut off the potential for future supply of critical information which could be used strategically.

A Trumpian Rant vs Clear Communications

Minister of Communication Donna Cox delivered a masterful stroke when she responded to Media inquiries about her health.  In less than 30 seconds, she was concise, clear, complete and achieved the objective of closing the communications loop.  Her response shut down any thoughts or attempts to explore the matter any further. Well done Minister Cox!

As a communications exercise, contrast such mastery with the Prime Minister’s facebook rant about head of the Chamber of Commerce Gabriel Faria and you see an attack on someone in a position of leadership who is simply speaking his truth about the business community and the government’s lack of action.  Faria has consistently spoken and written about outstanding VAT and how it negatively impacts the business community. The Prime Minister’s “Trumpian” rant reminded me of the “bullishness” he was accused of by the late former Prime Minister, Mr. Patrick Manning.

Let’s examine this rant based on the rules of communication.  In one concise missive he accused the Chamber head of: trying to influence voters; being very disrespectful to the country’s leadership; disdainful of all the people who offer themselves for office and having a disrespectful mouth.   It was concise.  On the rule of clarity, the reader is left wondering about what caused this!  What was motivating the Prime Minister?  On the rule of completeness, the rant is incomplete.  I have to concede that he may have achieved his objective but that was not apparent.

The Prime Minister would do well to embrace the counsel of his Minister of Communications while pausing any inclinations to revive the “raging bull, wagang or rottweiler” behaviors of which he has been rightfully accused in the past.

#ttblm signals a wind of change …

When the crowd took a knee and held it in silence for 9 minutes I knew I was amidst a sea of young persons who were sending a message that the time for change is now.  The #ttblm movement gathered peacefully in the Queens Park Savannah, chanted and spoke their truth.  For 3 ½ hours the young campaigners shared stories with the crowd and in the background drivers popped their horns in solidarity as they drove past the US Embassy. 

I have nothing but admiration for these young people who dared to uncover the pus-filled lesion which their parents and grandparents have plastered over for many years. Looking around the crowd the variation in the hue of the campaigners gave me a peek into what the future of Trinidad and Tobago will look like.

As an older person, I felt proud of their bravery.  The only low point to the demonstration was the absolute show of force by the TTPS who lined the pavement opposite the US Embassy with their guns and horses on display clearly intending to show off their power. One cannot help but feel intimidated in the presence of such a show of weapons.   This was aggravated by the “gayelle styled” movie crew who began videotaping the crowd.  The Speaker on the megahorn asked the videographers to stop but this request was ignored. The videotaping continued albeit appearing to take low shots so that faces may not have been identified.  There was no attempt to de-escalate the situation.  As a matter of fact, I felt that actions of the TTPS were unfortunate and could have infuriated the crowd.  The presence of the Commissioner of Police made no difference.

I have learned from other situations that protests and demonstrations can be quickly become volatile.  I commend the young people for their exemplary behaviour and hope that in the future, the TTPS will respect their wishes not to be documented and dial back on this need to show force.  Peace and non-violence were recurrent themes of the demonstration and every effort should be made to keep it peaceful. I noted that not one piece of garbage was left in the area. Our future is looking bright.

You can’t separate private and public life in communications; Ligoure let herself and CAL down

Years ago, one of my mentors advised me that as a then public relations professional, I could not separate my private life from my public persona—so I had to be on my guard at all times.

There is timeless value in this advice and it is even more important as we live our lives under the microscope of social media in a deeply divided small state.  The recent post by head of corporate communications at taxpayer-owned Caribbean Airlines Ltd (CAL) was unfortunate and unnecessary.

Photo: CAL head of corporate communications Dionne Ligoure.

Professionals know that actions on Facebook often end up in traditional media, so they must be wary of what is intended for public consumption. It is reported that Miss Dionne Ligoure said: “it will be unpretty when I start to pelt out facts and quote some of yuh high ranking officials…”

She is now reminded that approximately 350,000 taxpayers who contribute to her salary voted for the UNC, and, like the PNM supporters, there is an expectation of neutrality.

This expectation of political neutrality for public servants and persons employed in publicly-funded organisations is a long-standing tradition. In one action, Ligoure has brought attention to a deep flaw in our political system, which is the reality that some people believe that when their party is in charge they can do anything without consequences.

We have become accustomed to party supporters being appointed to boards but some of us still hope that executives and employees find their way into state corporations based on merit, and that they keep their jobs based on performance.

The reality though is that the long arms of politics reach into the bowels of organisations, resulting in some employees feeling the need to spout their partisan support for the world to know. Had this exact situation occurred in the private sector, I assure you that she would have had to explain herself to her supervisor—as former employee of US firm Franklin Templeton Amy Cooper found out, though not for political reasons.

Photo: Amy Cooper was fired by investment management company, Franklin Templeton, after filing a false police report against a black man, Christian Cooper (no relation).

Spouting your political views on your personal page is neither a smart nor strategic move. Bosses and others take note and wait for the opportunity to use your statements against you. They apply labels which are hard if not impossible to remove. They may even actively prevent you from benefiting from certain opportunities.

Carrying the title ‘head of corporate communications’ has tremendous responsibility. The incumbent plays a key role in shaping the perception of the company in the minds of shareholders, employees, customers and the general public. The reporting relationship is often to the Chief Executive Officer and the Board of Directors.

The communications professional is expected to help the company craft key messages and keep on the cutting edge of the field. These are not responsibilities to be taken lightly. They are also  responsible for building customer loyalty, growing brand awareness and engaging stakeholders at different levels.

In one rant on social media, Ligoure has diminished her role and reputation amongst a large section of the population. She will be labelled as anti-UNC with an agenda to use information attained through her formal role to throw shade or even cause reputational damage to unsuspecting citizens.

Communications professionals develop trusting relationships with their stakeholders to foster mutual understanding—to act otherwise is to destroy countless years of hard work by persons who have gone before.

We must do better.

Photo: A Caribbean Airlines advert.
(via CAL)