What I learned from PMs Rowley and Mottley on our environmental challenges

Originally published on Wired868 on Sunday 14 November 2021

Joy is often stolen by comparison. Trinbagonians continue to rob ourselves of potential joy because of the continued comparison of our prime minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, with the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley.  

I am also guilty because I want so much more for my country and I worry that I can see no clear direction.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley (left) and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

Both prime ministers recently addressed the 26th Annual Conference of the Parties (COP26) and discussed the impact of climate change on island economies. Ten days after their addresses, Prime Minister Mottley’s speech has had more than 335,000 views on YouTube, while Prime Minister Rowley’s speech has less than 3,000 views.

That data is instructive and should provide a moment for pause, reflection and hopefully redesigning of our strategy.

(Editor’s note: Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley gave a speech during the COP26 opening ceremony while Trinidad and Tobago Dr. Keith Rowley gave a national statement on behalf of Trinidad and Tobago, which meant both had different objectives. Barbados did not take up its opportunity to present a national speech.)

Mottley called for the leaders to ‘try harder. Try harder because our people, the climate army, the world, the planet, need our actions now—not next year, not in the next decade.

Photo: Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley speaks at the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021.
(via COP26)

How right she was then and continues to be. Trinidad and Tobago need to take action now to salvage our economy and therefore our country.

Our Prime Minister articulated a series of plans which we have embarked upon to get to net-zero carbon emissions. He reiterated that our economy is largely based on oil and gas and petrochemicals and stated that: 

“We in Trinidad and Tobago recognise our responsibility in transitioning, over reasonable and manageable time, to net zero. We have set very ambitious targets aimed at diversifying our economy. We have embarked upon ambitious plans to reduce emissions and build climate resilience, but we will need help.”

There is a lot to be joyful about here because it means that there are plans and proposals for the transformation of our economy. COP26 gave many of us a peek into the strategies of our country and the work that is being done for us to get to net zero.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley speaks at the World Leaders Summit on Climate Change in Glasgow, Scotland on 2 November 2021.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

Here’s what I learned about my country:

  • We are in the process of establishing the largest utility-scale solar renewable energy project in the Caribbean with a capacity of 112 megawatts, accounting for 10% of our power needs, and we plan to increase this complement to 30% by 2030;
  • We have developed an e-mobility policy and we are already implementing measures to phase-in electric vehicles;
  • We recognise the need to address the socio-economic issues associated with the energy transition and have developed a Just Transition of the Workforce Policy aimed at re-skilling, retooling, and developing new capacity for a low-carbon economy;
  • We are pursuing measures to facilitate investment in green hydrogen to provide green feedstock to our vibrant petrochemical industry.
  • We intend to explore the use of industry-generated CO₂ in possible carbon sequestration projects.
Photo: A young man strolls along Maracas Bay during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

The problem with these intentions is that the average citizen is unaware of them. All we see in Parliament is the daily cussing and blaming of the opposition for our current status.

Six years into the PNM’s current term in office, it is time to stop the blame game and sell us on the joy of achievement as we pursue these ambitious plans. Thank you Prime Minister Mottley for reminding us to ‘try a little harder.

Improving our Media Engagement

Originally published in https://wired868.com

In a recent media interview, the interviewee was asked this very direct question: ‘Have you ever accepted a bribe for a firearm?’

Gary Griffith, former commissioner of police, former government minister, former senator, a former captain in the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force who is now husband, father, and private citizen, was no less direct with his response, which I seriously doubt the interviewer would have anticipated:

“[…] Have you been involved in prostitution?”https://www.youtube.com/embed/4mV5y6vb6WE?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent

The exchange immediately put me in mind of my first entrepreneurial venture. It was inspired by a lackluster presentation made by Jules Bernard, who was at the time the country’s commissioner of police. Bernard’s presentation was so bad that, before he was through, I had already made up my mind to form a company to coach leaders to become more engaging presenters. 

Professional Presentations Limited failed spectacularly—do the reasons really matter?—and I pivoted to providing public relations services.

That was 30 years ago. Today, it is still the exception to experience an engaging presentation from a public official. I say ‘engaging’ rather than exciting because some of them sometimes seek to create excitement by resorting to folktales, which is reasonable, I suppose, as well as insults and naked aggression, which is decidedly not. 

The upshot of this lowering of the bar is that the media environment has been transformed from a space accepted and respected as a locus of acceptable behaviour and appropriate language into a wild space where media practitioners and the professional hobbyists who are often their guests feel that no subject is taboo, every public personality is fair game and the rules of grammar are little more than a completely unnecessary nuisance.

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) makes a point to TV6 Morning Show host Fazeer Mohammed.

One can be forgiven for wondering if today’s media practitioners are guided by any rules at all. Is there an overarching philosophy that has at its core the pursuit of truth and which recognizes that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to arrive at that destination?

Are there any rules of behaviour for invitees and guests?

The media simply would never get their job done if they declined to ask hard questions. The corollary is that if you prefer not to have to handle thorny questions, give media people a wide berth. Stay far away from all ovens and kitchens if you can’t handle the heat. Unless you want long-lasting notoriety—remember ‘That’s insulting!’?—trying to embarrass or abuse the interviewer is not the way to go.

So, to return to Griffith, given the varied portfolios that he has held, I would have expected him to resort to any number of strategies to keep the discussion positive, fruitful, and solutions-oriented.

‘Acknowledge, bridge and go to your key message’ is a commonly used technique when the interview takes a nasty turn—or threatens to—and you know, thanks to Michelle Obama, that your best option is to go high.

Photo: Former USA first lady Michelle Obama.

Disrespect and abuse are rampant in our society and women are often on the receiving end of this toxicity. Why don’t we simply connect the dots and stop wondering why the scourge of gender-based violence is not in retreat in our country?

Griffith’s knee-jerk reaction was to opt to go low, preferring to ask about the interviewer’s experience of prostitution. 

Some would be tempted to normalise this behaviour by saying, ‘well, that’s Gary.’ Not I. 

What I see is a high-profile—not necessarily ‘responsible’ but certainly ‘with responsibilities’—public personality with an excellent opportunity for a teaching moment. But instead of seeking to reduce the aggro potentially contained in the interviewer’s question, he opted to fight fire with fire. 

I think this response is indicative of the systemic decline we are experiencing throughout our society. I also think that traditional and social media spaces provide an opportunity to collectively change the conversation from its current base level and create a more aspirational discussion.

Photo: Then Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith talks to the media during a function for the Soca Warriors at the commissioner’s residence on 5 March 2021.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/Wired868)

Media owners have to become intolerant of talk show hosts who repeatedly insult callers by telling them to ‘go ask your mother’. Or who make slapping sounds on-air while eating and talking. Or who seriously asks the question ‘so what are we doing this morning?’ Or who, as in the case of one television presenter, accepts a personal telephone call on live television.

And the list goes on.

So, 30 years later, I am thinking maybe I should re-open the company. This time, however, the focus will not be on coaching leaders to do anything; the much more urgent need is to get all of us, high and low, to show one another kindness. 

And respect.

Time to Introduce Term Limits

All MPs who’ve served for more than a decade should resign now—you’ve failed!

Originally published on Wired 868 Tuesday 2 November 2021 Guest Columns

Black Stalin’s lyrics in his 1988 calypso ‘We could make it if we try’  have been occupying a space in my brain.

He sang: ‘So the Treasury broke and they say that recession jamming/
And so to foreign countries Trinis start migrating/
They lose faith in their country, they say we gone down the drain…

Photo: Five-time Calypso Monarch, the Black Stalin.
(Courtesy NCCTT.org)

I can think of three waves of migration from Trinidad and Tobago. People left after the 1970 revolution, after the 1990 uprising and there has been an uptick over the past three or four years. This uptick in migration will continue because the country has flatlined and, again in the words of Stalin: ‘Now the Treasury flat and the country come back to Square One’.

Once people leave, they are unlikely to return.

Covid has brought us to a different ‘square one’ where we need a combination of good people, ideas and innovation to reset and rebound our economy and country. However, when I tune into the Parliament Channel, I am confronted with a phalanx of persons who display arrogance and a passion for destroying those ‘on the other side’—seemingly at any cost, with the entire country as collateral damage.

Taxpayers (the vendors in the street, the office worker, pensioners, others and myself) have funded the lifestyle of these members for more than 10 years.

And I question: to what end?

Photo: Members of Parliament and Senators gather for during an extraordinary sitting of the House on 21 October to vote on the impeachment of President Paula-Mae Weekes.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2021)

Every year through an oppressive web of taxes, we surrender more than a third of our income—which we earn at significant cost to our physical and mental well-being—for nearly non-existent government services. In some cases, we are paying for our own abuse, as government offices have us going back-and-forth all over the city for simple transactions.

There is neither vibrancy nor eagerness for tackling our deep problems. More than 25% have been members of Parliament for more than 10 years and they appear stuck, unable to pivot in a different direction.

The private sector has a term for employees who have this very syndrome: Incompetent.

In the corporate world, there is continuous assessment of the performance of leaders and if you have not delivered according to your KPIs (key performance indicators) there are consequences.

Unfortunately, our population has no opportunity to assess performance other than the ritual of quinquennial general elections. And, like a dishonest employee, your MP promises to do better ‘next time’.

Photo: A woman responds to the fiery atmosphere during protests in Barrackpore in October 2021.

So this moribund group continues a weekly parliamentary charade, pretending to be going about the country’s business. In the corporate world, a contractor who behaved like that would very likely be taken to court for fraud.

If you have been in Parliament for more than 10 years, you have presided over economic decline which began long before the Covid pandemic took root. You are responsible for the annual 500+ murders we have been experiencing, either because you created the cumbersome system to select a commissioner of police or you interfered with the selection process.

You have either ignored or facilitated the transformation of our society into the alleged ‘narco state’ some say we have become. You have contributed to the collective decay we are all experiencing. You have contributed to the brain drain.

Worst of all, your conscience doesn’t seem to be bothered or you don’t think you are doing something wrong.

In some places, you would have been escorted out of the building for failure to perform. You would have been required to go home and enjoy the permanent pension which you are guaranteed for the rest of your life.

Photo: An employee is ‘let go’ by his boss.

In other places, you might have been taken to court, stripped of your benefits, or even jailed for gross mismanagement of public funds.

From your own personal reflection, you should have accepted that if you have not made a difference over more than 10 years, you have failed and should allow someone else the opportunity to make a difference.

Your conscience should tell you to resign but since it appears you no longer have a conscience, here’s my ask on behalf of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago:

All members of Parliament who have served for more than 10 years, either as a member of Parliament in the Senate or both, please submit your resignation—with immediate effect.

PS: Stay out of politics, permanently.