Politicians should collaborate across the aisle for the common good


Published on Wired868, Wednesday 27 January 2021

A friend recently lamented the advantages people who live in the north of our island have over people who live in the south. My impatient response showed my disgust with these silly discussions about north v south, Indo v Afro, prestige v secondary schools, Westmoorings v Beetham and the full range of divisive discussions we have about a number of topics.

The futility of these binary discussions came to mind as I reflected on the deep wound inflicted by the people of Tobago on the leader of the 65-year-old People’s National Movement via the tied results of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.

Photo: PNM Tobago Council political leader, Tracy Davidson-Celestine shows off her ink-stained finger after voting in the THA elections (via Facebook)

The fact that 50% of the population rejected the leadership provided by their own homeboy or ‘ah we buoy’, as they say, it sends a powerful message of discontent.

Sir Winston Churchill is credited with the saying ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ This provides the opportunity for the spotlight to shine on our leaders and beckon them to show their minions, and all the world, that we don’t have to like or agree with each other to work towards the common good.

Here is an opportunity for collaboration in the best interest of Tobago, but it will take maturity and commonality of purpose for egos to be set aside and a common agenda and road map to be established. Such an outcome will change the ‘winner takes all’ strategy that has over many years resulted in wastage of resources and animosity in political discourse.

It will break the facade of the public hate that our politicians display, while they privately share a beverage or two. It will signal that once the elections are over, the vitriol should end, and politicians will collaborate across the aisle in the interest of the citizens of our country.

Photo: Former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) and her successor, Prime Minister Keith Rowley, share a cupcake.
(Copyright Marcus Gonzales/Trinidad Guardian)

This idea that opponents can achieve a common purpose is informed by the work of author, academic and peace negotiator Adam Kahane of Reos Partners and the University of Oxford. For two decades they have successfully worked on troubling global issues like democracy and climate change and Kahane has concluded that ‘to get something done that really matters to us, we need to work with people we don’t agree with or like or trust.’

We hasten to reject ideas from other cultures and talk about our unique culture, but it is worth remembering that culture is learned behaviour and can be unlearned. If our population sees our leaders working towards a common good, the behaviour and ideas may trickle down and positively impact all, including trade unions, civil servants, gang leaders and every person who holds leadership positions at every level of our society.

Maybe this is the game-changing opportunity our society needs to wake up and reinvent ourselves with renewed vigour and vitality. Here is an opportunity for Prime Minister Keith Rowley to signal the very positive message that we can work together even if we disagree.

Does he have the courage to dare to be different? To quote young American poet Amanda Gorman: “To put our future first, we must put our differences aside.”

‘Covid Carnival’ a second thought; T&T can show world we aren’t cowering from virus

So Gregory Aboud jumped out of his corner and suggested that we have a carnival celebration and everybody wants to kill him because, primarily, they say it is too little too late. 

Is it possible that he is too far away from our perceptions of who can speak about carnival with authority? Are we being biased?  

Photo: DOMA president Gregory Aboud (left) talks to Elizabeth Montano at TedxPOS in September 2019.
(Copyright TedxPOS)

On this occasion, I am jumping up behind the ‘Textile King’ because he has a point.  Trinidad and Tobago must put down a marker and establish a placeholder if we are to live up to our boast of being ‘The Mecca of Carnival’.

While the notion of curating our carnival history is admirable and necessary it is insufficient. We need to think through how to have a carnival which provides the annual catharsis that more than 300,000 citizens voluntarily engage in.  More importantly, how to retain our place as the world carnival leader?

The issue of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival has been at the back of our minds for many years now and Covid has simply brought it, so to speak, right to the stage. Instead of writing it off as undoable, let’s dream of how it can be done safely.

In the absence of guidelines or conditions under which to have our Carnival, I assure you that there will continue to be ‘zesser’ and ‘wesser’ parties and other forms of gatherings that could result in more community Covid spread.  

Photo: Partygoers held by police in Kelly Village in November 2019.
(via TTPS)

We do not have enough police to police the people. Our leadership has obviously not bought into the notion that form follows function and may have taken the view that it is easier and cheaper to just write off Carnival. But is it?

We are unlikely to ever be able to calculate the psycho-social cost to the country of doing so.

Here is an opportunity to engage the entire country, including businesses and schools, in addressing and answering the question: how can we celebrate Carnival 2021 safely and without government funding while following the rules of wearing a mask;  keeping sanitised; keeping in clusters of ‘x’ and maintaining a physical distance of ‘y’.   

We may not agree with the DOMA president’s view of two-metre-wide costumes, but what he is expressing is a feeling that many of us share. And that is our Carnival is as necessary as going to church.  

Let’s use our ingenuity to place a marker in the sand and really own the carnival space of the future.

Photo: Dancers parade during the Virtual Notting Hill Carnival in 2020.
(via The Blup)

The fly in the ointment of this kind of thinking is that there is no obvious way of making money and too many of our ‘Carnival czars’ can only create on the canvas of dollar bills. 2021 is not the year for making money. It is the year for making magic for future money.  

Let’s not simply consign Mr Aboud’s idea to the dump heap but find a way for it to stimulate us into re-thinking Carnival as a one love experience in which we engage in mutual respect and love for each other; and demonstrate that we can be disciplined in our behaviour and still find a way to have the catharsis that the festival gives us.  

It can be our opportunity to show the world that we are living with Covid without cowering from it.

I am reminded of a scene from the movie ‘Matrix’ where Neo and Morpheus are in an empty white area and Neo asked where they were. Morpheus said it’s called a ‘construct’, and they can put into it anything we want. 

We need to view Carnival in that space. It’s a construct into which the stakeholders can put anything

Photo: A carnival masquerader at the Toronto Caribana.
(via Torontoist.com)

We do not have to be tied to the traditional forms of Carnival which may no longer be as valid as 100 years ago. Mr Aboud is simply asking us to think!

Use Covid-19 lockdown to re-imagine our creative economy!

It’s January 2021, and I can only reminisce and fill the silence of pan-less evenings with musings about what can be done to make magic in 2022 or possibly 2023. January is usually my month for late evenings filled with the repetition of steelpan notes and chords, deciphering the phrases of soca artistes and exchanging warm hugs with friends who are home for Carnival.

But the silence of these long Carnival evenings has provided an opportunity to weave a new tapestry for our future Carnivals and festivals.

Photo: The Chord Masters Steelpan Orchestra let loose.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Alas, the distant sound of the oilfield pumping jack and the muted hiss of gas lines drown out our capacity to think of the potential of the creative economy. Trinidad and Tobago must pivot away from oil and gas and embrace our only true resource—the creativity of our people.

How easy it is for us to ‘puff up’ our collective chests and talk about the talent which abounds in this land, from the visual arts to the performing arts and every category in-between.

However, the harsh reality is that there is neither respect for nor recognition of the value of a creative economy. At the governmental level, on one hand, we continue to intentionally starve the arts sector of funding and other resources, favouring the purely academic and industrial. Meanwhile, on the other hand, we view the arts and the persons who drive it as continually needing hand-outs.

At the personal level, we refuse to honour the work of our musicians and their producers by freely uploading their music online without permission, so that they get no royalties whatsoever from this form of theft. We still ask graphic artists and photographers to do work for free or ‘exposure’.

What is needed is a plan for the all-round development and sustainability of the sector. We know now that the late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning had his finger on the pulse when he championed the creation of a framework for the development of the arts. Today, UTT and similar creations are rudderless and even being destroyed with little suggested as to possible replacements.

2019.01.13- Farmer Nappy and Machel Montano performance during Carnival 2019, TRIBE- Hydrate Wet Fete, at Five Islands Amusement Park, Chaguaramas. Photo: Allan V. Crane/CA-images

In this time of closed borders and an inward focus, we should be shaping the development of the creative sector and intensifying the programmes aimed at learning opportunities for teachers and students. The focus should be on evolving the creative sector into one which is sustainable and uses the talents of all of our people. We must be ready for business when the new world begins to open again.

Long before Covid and the isolation it requires, the UN General Assembly contemplated the rudiments of the creative economy. Indeed, it declared 2021 as the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. This declaration came in 2019 and today, we have an opportunity to live this pronouncement and make it our reality.

Traditional economies were built on the exploitation of land, labour and capital. We have oil and gas as natural resources, but although they have been a blessing by providing us with income far beyond our expectations, they’ve also been a curse because we were not grown-up enough to use the income wisely.

Thus its haphazard exploitation has shaped our current day reality. Sadly for us, the time for such fossil fuel use appears to be coming to a fast end.

Photo: Soca singer Nailah Blackman.
(Copyright Buzz-Caribbean)

It is time to pivot towards the development of the creative industries. This means exploiting the interplay between ‘human creativity, intellectual property, knowledge and technology’ to achieve and maintain sustainable development.

It may be difficult to conceptualise that creativity is an answer, but a rethink of the possibilities will open a new range of jobs and industries as we transform Trinidad and Tobago into a creative economy powered by people.

Let’s use the isolation of 2021 to begin the transformation to a creative economy powered by our people.

Demming Chronicles focusses on Technology and Creativity…

Conversations with Infolink General Manager Glynis Alexander-Tam and Creative Guru Wendell Manwarren. As a leader in the technology space, Glynis speaks about the intersection between Technology, Project Management and Sustainability. She concludes that technology is an enabler which can be used to enhance our lives and livelihoods. Wendell Manwarren speaks to how our creative endeavours define us as a people. He comments that while every profession is tasked to be creative, we need to recoginize our interconnectivity and reciprocal values. One area of focus is on telling our own stories and bringing on own TV based on our knowledge of self.

Turn your strident words into action, madame president

Published on Wired868.com Monday 4 January 2021 

A little more than 33 months ago, before Ms Paula-Mae Weeks was elected president of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, she was at the top of her game serving in another jurisdiction.  

Today she is publicly expressing her disappointment at the absence of good governance for the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and runs the risk of being yet another complainer using her office as a soapbox.  

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes.
(via Office of the President)

The tone and mood of the New Year’s message to the people of Trinidad and Tobago from our president came as no surprise to me. The president has on several other occasions had some harsh comments to make to members of parliament. Indeed, the sobriquet ‘Auntie-Tantie’ was given to her because of such a tendency.

Recall her address to the Twelfth Parliament, when she asked:

“Can we trust you? I am asking for a friend. Or more precisely, firstly, for the roughly 658,000 citizens who on August the 10th did their civic duty, hoping that you prove ready, willing and able to ensure their security, prosperity and future, as well as for the rest of the population. 

“Honourable members, can we trust you to discharge your functions in accordance with your oath?”  

This was a poignant question and indicated a serious cause for concern which has continued.

Some may react by suggesting that the president has her own responsibilities to take care of, and until her house is in order she should shut up. Others may comment that since the role is merely ceremonial, she should just go with the flow.  

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes walks the red carpet at the re-opening of the Red House in Port of Spain.
(Courtesy Office of the President)

The point is that until the office is removed, the office holder has a responsibility not only to express areas of disenchantment but also to suggest some solutions—and this is where I take issue with the continued bouffing.

The fact that the president continues to speak publicly about the shortcomings of the government is worrisome. It indicates to me that she may have either given up on finding solutions, or she has been worn down by the systems and processes which are archaic and unproductive. 

Is it that the systems and structures through which she can engage in meaningful dialogue are not functioning? If so, why are they not functioning? Is it that the president has thus far expressed her views to no avail? 

Section 81 of the Constitution states that: ‘the prime minister shall keep the president fully informed concerning the general conduct of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’. Is it that Section 81 is being ignored?

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes (right) is applauded by Prime Minister Keith Rowley (centre) as Chief Justice Ivor Archie looks on.
(Courtesy Office of the President)

Whatever the reason, here is an opportunity for the president to work tirelessly to ensure that the systems and processes are re-designed to ensure positive collaboration.

The first step towards implementing meaningful change is awareness, and her continued articulation of her discomfort tells me that she is aware of some of the problems. What is needed now is the development and implementation of a strategy to resolve the problem.

I suggest that madame president takes counsel in her own words and: ‘with urgency have those national conversations followed by the necessary action’ with the members of parliament whom she swore in, just five months ago.  

To do otherwise her statement as follows will become our reality: ‘although from today the dates on our diaries and cheques read 2021, we will still be haunted by the ghosts of 2020’.