Paria Fuel’s shameful response to tragedy betrays absence of communications protocols


Let me begin by addressing myself directly to the families of the divers whose lives were snuffed out in the Paria incident: those of us who have lost family members and friends understand your pain. So we hope that eventually, you will remember those who were lost more with joy than with sorrow.

On the Paria Fuel Trading Company website, you can find these words: “We are looking for the right people with the talent and drive to deliver quality, every day.”

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading Company chairman Newman George.

Well, Paria, it looks like you found the wrong person to fill the post of communications lead. More than 24 hours after tragedy struck, there was no formal response about the fatalities which occurred under your watch. Your organisation chart suggests that the communications lead is a loner with no support or anyone reporting upwards.

It is shameful that yet another state company has been caught with no communications crisis plan and a newspaper editorial is inspired to comment on the apparent absence of protocols and plans for handling a crisis.

I wonder if there will be any accountability for this tragedy. I wonder if the CEO will be held accountable and what plan will be engaged to prevent a recurrence. I wonder if there will even be a report released about what happened and what plans are now in place to prevent it from happening again.

My first exposure to the concept of crisis communications occurred when I joined Texaco in 1979 and the exposure continued at its successor companies until 1989.

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading divers Christopher Boodram, Fyzal Kurban, Rishi Nagassar, Yusuf Henry, and Kazim Ali Jr.
Only Boodram (far left) is known to have survived last Friday’s tragic mishap.

When 14 people died in the explosion at Pointe-a-Pierre in 1985, I was called to report for duty and, within 24 hours, my colleague and I were driving to Port-of-Spain with news releases to be delivered to the then existing media: two newspapers, one television station, and two radio stations.

The world has evolved significantly since then and nowadays people can simultaneously issue news releases to our multiple newspapers, radio, and television stations as well as social media outlets without leaving their chairs.  The last news release on Paria’s website is dated 27 April 2021.

Communications professionals are fully aware of the importance of activating the communications crisis plan immediately upon being advised of a crisis. They know the importance of a quick, transparent response. They know that a dedicated spokesperson must be trained and holding prepared statements just waiting to be edited and released.

These are the fundamental activities to be launched when a crisis occurs. It is neither rocket science nor ground-breaking technology; it is basic. The fundamentals remain the same: plan ahead, respond quickly and be transparent in your engagement.

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading CEO Mushtaq Mohammed.

Our state companies and leaders in government continue to fumble and embarrass us with their lack of knowledge of the basics. I am convinced that the challenges faced by state organisations begin in the selection process.

How are people hired? What kind of screening do they go through? In the Private Sector, many jobs require a university degree as a prerequisite. Shouldn’t those handling public funds and other resources be equally well or better qualified?

Trinidad and Tobago is facing a crisis of leadership at all levels and we have tainted every process with our politics. Unless there is a fundamental redesign of our systems, processes and procedures, tragedy will continue to befall us. We have the talent but we seem to lack the political will to do what is right every time.

Hopefully, our leaders will all learn from this Paria tragedy.

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