Caribbean Games was the perfect forerunner for the Olympics – I’m still toting over the cancellation …

Originally published on Thursday 27 January 2022

Making mention of the canceled Caribbean Games, the Honourable Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, Jamaica’s minister of culture, gender, entertainment, and sport, wondered aloud why the event had not come off.

This happened at the two-day Community Development Partnership Forum (CDPM-V), during one of the sessions about more regional collaboration in sport.

Photo: Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange.

Congratulations are in order for the Honourable Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe, whose ministry hosted the online event.

Caribbean Games 2009 (CG09) was allegedly canceled because of the H1N1 virus and continues to be an unresolved issue with TT$10m dollars sitting in a bank account awaiting resolution while sporting disciplines and sports persons suffer for lack of funding.

By the time I was appointed chair of the inaugural CG09, the concept was fully developed, the event in position to kick off the quadrennial regional sporting activities leading up to the Olympic Games. The dream was for Caribbean nationals to see our sons and daughters perform in person before moving onto the international stage at the Olympics.

Trinidad and Tobago invested TT$36m in the inaugural Games. Thirteen years later, it remains unfinished business, with TT$10m sitting in a bank account and the only likely beneficiaries the bank and the liquidator, Brian Hackett of PWC, who was appointed by Board resolution in April 2012. In the original contract, he was scheduled to receive a regular monthly payment for his professional services.

Photo: Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson (centre), Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye (left) and Brazil’s Vitoria Christina Silva finished first, second and third respectively at the 2019 Pan American Games.
Thompson and Ahye compete at events across the globe but do not have a senior Caribbean tournament to participate in.
(Copyright EFE Agency)

The cancellation of these games represents my closest experience to being horned and experiencing a tabanca. Yes, I have a tabanca and I am ‘toting feelings’ because the resolution of this matter requires only two simple decisions.

The first is which non-profit sporting organisation should receive the TT$10m; the second, what arrangements are to be made for payment of retroactive fees to the board of directors, who served for 30 months without payment, not even for transportation and the use of their cell phones.

I am toting feelings because, at our last meeting to resolve this matter in April 2019, the liquidator showed his bias.

“It is unconscionable,” said Mr. Hackett, “to pay the 15 board members a total of $1m for canceled games.”

Where was Mr. Hackett when the following citizens were appointed to form the Board of Directors: David O’Brien (Vice-chair), Dr. Iva Gloudon, Douglas Camacho, Dr. Arthur Potts, Ashwin Creed, Dr. Basil Ince, Brian Lewis, Mushtaque Mohammed, and Nassar Racha?

Photo: SporTT chairman Douglas Camacho.
(via SporTT)

He shows a complete lack of concern for the personal sacrifices which any of these persons might have made.

The matter would not even have been on the agenda if it was the board of directors of an accounting company or association. But we trivialise sports and seek voluntarism until there is a potential win on the global stage.

I am toting feelings because I have written to the sport and finance ministers to bring the matter to their attention and seek a resolution. So far, I have not even had the courtesy of an acknowledgment of my correspondence.

I am toting feelings because I have brought this matter to the attention of our 41 Members of Parliament and only one opposition member troubled to contact me to get more information.

I am toting feelings because mine is the face of the forces that destroyed the dreams and aspirations of a cohort of sportspersons across the region. I remember being on a ferry on the way to a holiday in Bequia when Keith Mitchell, the current prime minister of Grenada, approached me to ask if I was the lady who had canceled the Caribbean Games.

Photo: Jamaica’s Usain Bolt (centre) finishes ahead of Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thomson (right) in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games 100m heats.
Bolt and Thompson would have been headline acts for the Caribbean Games.

I am toting feelings because Douglas Camacho has been deeply involved with the current Ministry of Sport and the matter remains unresolved.

I am toting feelings because Brian Lewis is enjoying an extended presidency of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) but has done little to resolve this matter.

I am toting feelings because it is an example of the systemic failures which surround us in both the private and the public sectors. The record shows that, globally, PWC’s average time for resolving liquidation matters is three years. We are entering our tenth year and the PWC liquidator continues to preside over this unresolved matter.

In addition, we are now experiencing our third change of government and the matter remains unresolved. Had that TT$10m sum been placed in an interest-bearing account all those years ago, it would today be worth conservatively TT$15m.

Photo: Communication strategist, ex-TDC chair, and Wired868 columnist Dennise Demming.

I shed metaphorical tears when I think of the positive impact a couple of million dollars can have on any sporting team. Not to mention sportsperson.

I pray that this matter will be resolved before I die.

Minister West’s persistence with dress code in gov’t bldgs betrays colonial hang-ups

Originally published Friday 14 January 2022 Guest Column

Minister of Public Administration Ms. Allyson West is reported as saying that Government has more important issues to deal with than a dress code.

Of course, you do, Minister West. Therein lies the problem.

Photo: Minister of Public Administration Allyson West.
(via MPA)

It is a problem of politicians losing touch with the needs of ordinary folks and forgetting the old adage that little things mean a lot. Most of us just want to live, follow the rules and keep out of trouble but the system works against us.

The dress code issue is just one example of how a simple fix can positively impact the lives of many, yet the Government’s colonial-era behaviour towards this remains mostly unchanged.

The global estimates are that 15% of young women give birth before age 18. That is therefore the percentage of our young women who are likely to be single, unemployed, and in need of government services and support.

Think of the young, unemployed mother who has to access government services. She has to find someone to take care of her child, dress appropriately and rely on unreliable transportation to head to the government office.

If all she owns is a pair of slippers, she will be turned away to begin the process all over. But the second time around, she has to find money to purchase a pair of shoes.

Depending on the location of the service she is accessing, the workaround is to go across the street and rent a pair of shoes, or a shawl, or a jacket. This was a pre-Covid solution which I only became aware of because I was wearing a cap-sleeved dress and was denied entry to the Inland Revenue Office.
Photo: A woman wears a distressed jeans.

Depending on the location of the service she is accessing, the workaround is to go across the street and rent a pair of shoes, or a shawl, or a jacket. This was a pre-Covid solution which I only became aware of because I was wearing a cap-sleeved dress and was denied entry to the Inland Revenue Office.

Replicate this same scenario for persons who are running small businesses or just operating ‘a lil’ hustle’. Accessing government services becomes a project which you have to prepare for and put in place a contingency plan for when the attempt fails since it is highly likely that you will have to return on another occasion to complete your transaction. This, despite repeated promises to make several services available online.

The newly minted Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine has demonstrated that this little irritant in the system can be changed by the stroke of a pen without any negative consequences for the way business is conducted.

He has taken advantage of low-hanging fruit and his action has resonated with the average citizen. Hopefully, he will continue to harvest the low-hanging fruit, which makes life easier, and demonstrates to his counterparts in Trinidad that governance is about delivering services to the population.

Photo: THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine.
(via PDP)

What I saw in Minister West’s response is arrogance and lack of care. She could have acknowledged the issue and promised to look into it.

After six years in office, this PNM administration has not even delivered on a change in the dress code.

Is it that our officials do not access services? Is it that they don’t have to hustle for transportation? Is it that they don’t see the daily struggles citizens face? Or is it that, through their SUVs with windows and windscreens perhaps tinted darker than the legal limit, everything looks rosy?

Whatever the answers, Government should take example from the THA Chief Secretary and remove some of the small irritants which confront us daily.

Rapso Rebel is no more …

Fare thee well Rapso Rebel (1951-1922)

My brother Everard Romany passed away in Sweden.  He was known as Brother Shortman, Rapso Rebel, Romany, and many other names.  My memory of him is of a protective brother but our paths diverged when I passed common entrance for Holy Name Convent and got the name “bourgeois” and he continued to be on the block.

The relationship drifted further apart because of his years of cocaine addiction, but then entered an angel and he had an opportunity to emigrate to Sweden and change his life.  Both his son and daughter benefited from this opportunity.

I am thankful for having had the opportunity to reconnect with him and develop a mutually respectful relationship in his later years.

I will miss you, my brother.

Thanks for transparency, Imbert; now we need repercussions for Scoon party boat

Originally published Wired868, Jan 03, 2022,

‘When the lights go on, the cockroaches scatter’, is what popped into my mind when I read about the Ministers of Finance, Health and Trade and Industry, the Attorney General, and the Adrian Scoon party boat issue.

A special restaurant licence was issued to businessman Scoon without the approval of Finance Minister Colm Imbert. Surely the granting of such licences is the job of the Comptroller of Customs, so I don’t understand the problem.

Photo: Party promoter Adrian Scoon, the son of Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon, is under investigation for a Boxing Day party held on the MV Ocean Pelican.

Was it that the 100 Boxing Day partygoers aboard the MV Ocean Pelican could have broken the Public Health Ordinance and begun a super-spreader Covid activity? What triggered the police to board the vessel?

Whatever the reason, the Minister of Finance is not taking one for the team and supporting the view that the MV Ocean Pelican was a floating restaurant docked at Chaguaramas. 

He has broken ranks with three of his cabinet colleagues and has launched an investigation to find out how ‘…despite clear written instructions to the contrary on 3 December 2021, the Customs and Excise Division issued the said licences, without the approval of the Minister’.

One can just imagine the tension at the next cabinet meeting and the implications for those other ministers who may be in the process of finalising their workarounds. 

The party boat issue is not new in our society. As a matter of fact, it is symptomatic of the systemic breakdown that has occurred in every institution. For everything, the go-to strategy is to find the workaround.

Photo: A teaser on YUP Life’s Facebook page on 29 November 2021.
At that time, Adrian Scoon was waiting for a special restaurant license from the Ministry of Finance.
Despite being blanked by the Ministry, Scoon was still able to get a licence before holding his ‘Seaside Brunch Party’ on Boxing Day.

Scale up the shenanigans of this party boat issue and we see how the system can be manipulated and how people in the circle can be confident and believe that, as long as they are in the know, they can engage the workaround.

What businessman Scoon did has unfortunately come to exemplify the way we do business by using workarounds. His mother, the Minister of Trade and Industry, may have publicly washed her hands and said that her son ‘is a big man’—but that does not change the fact that she has some responsibility for nurturing a young man, whose entrenched value is to default to working around the rules. 

His alleged phone call to the Attorney General while being questioned by the police is instructive.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh peeped out from behind the curtain and said that his legal advice was not to comment since ‘the matter is now the subject of a police investigation’.

The optimistic side of me is saying that the Minister of Finance has placed a stake in the road because it is the first time in this administration that we are publicly seeing disagreement within the Cabinet. His ego is so large that he is unlikely to leave this investigation open-ended and will see it through to some conclusion. 

Photo: Minister of Finance Colm Imbert.

Hopefully, someone will be charged with misbehaviour in public office or some other breach.

If this happens, then 2022 will be a good year. It began with the Minister of Finance taking a stand by not agreeing to take one for the team by saying that he did not approve the party boat and launching an investigation. 

I look forward to seeing more of this kind of behaviour, which is transparent and focused on consequence management.