Technology long ceased to be a sector

The official in another country laughed when I presented my driver’s permit because it was a simple laminated card which could be made at any print shop.  That was about 15 years ago and things have improved slightly.  I thought of this when I received my vaccine card which provides evidence that I received my first COVID-19 Jab.  My mind wondered even further when I considered that our celebrated first round of vaccinating 3% of our population will generate at least 80 thousand pieces of paper if the model at the Queens Park Savannah is replicated throughout the country.

A casual scrub through the Facebook page of the Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation (MPADT) throws up the following statement: “Our aim is to bridge the digital divide by providing free and easy to access Wi-Fi to citizens at their convenience.”  I therefore question the missed opportunity to digitize the administering of the COVID-19 vaccines.  

COVID-19 vaccination is an opportunity to interact digitally with the at-risk cohort and the senior citizens cohort.  It is an opportunity to send a message of transformation; to use technology to demonstrate that we can communicate effectively using a modern approach; to map where those 40,000 jabs reside and maybe help communicate the behaviour change which is necessary to transform our country.  So many unintended messages could have been sent had we taken the time to use technology in the vaccine roll-out.

The main document each person needed was their identification card.  The information was copied into a book when you made the appointment, then a form was filled out at the Vaccine Centre and after receiving your vaccine, you were given a vaccination card.  Couldn’t this have been done electronically and your certification emailed?

We have missed these opportunities in the first round, but thankfully it is not too late to develop the systems and processes necessary to digitize the second round.  Taking that bold step requires a forward thinking leadership that understands systemic thinking and behaviour change. The leadership on this giant step should come from the Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation (MPADT) which, as the name suggests, was established to lead our country’s digital transformation.

Finding one specific vaccing card without the use of technology.
Trinidad’s unhackable database. 🙂

Part of the COVID-19 conversation speaks about building back better and bouncing back.  As a developing country we need to go beyond bouncing back and figure out how to bounce forward and take our populations with us.  The world has moved forward to a different landscape where using technology is common, available and all over the place.  Trinidad and Tobago is far behind the curve but we need to find the means necessary to really transform our digital space and be part of the global conversation about sustainability and development. 

The only future wave we need to be on
is the one powered by technology. 

Energy dreamer Philip Julien and Ace Communicator Lisa Ghany are our guests on this edition.

We chat with Philip Julien about the possibility that Trinidad and Tobago could be the first on the planet to produce molecules of hydrogen from clean sources to power industrial plants. Just as our country used previously flared gas to fuel the Pt. Lisas Industry, we have another opportunity to transform another pesky gas into hydrogen for use as a clean energy source.

Phillip believes that we have the mindset to lead the world but citizens must once again believe in ourselves and nourish an independent mind set to believe that we can. Pt. Lisas and the invention of the steel-pan are merely examples of our creativity. We now are on the cusp of leading the world again with the NewGen facility which is likely to be the world’s first large scale producer of low carbon hydrogen from water.

At 16:01 mintues, the discussion shifts to Communciations Specialist and Event Management Entrepreneur Lisa Ghany. She notes the beauty of our environment and the uniqueness of our country while juxtaposing the absence of credible leadership which can change the negative narrative which dominates. Lisa expresses the hope that the leaders in each of us will emerge to communicate the positive values which are latent in our society.

She also focusses on the role of family and comments that our basic needs have not changed. People still long for love, companionships, respect and safety.

Stag can and should do better in its ‘move-men-to-respect’ campaign

How does one step back from the bold misogynistic claim of being ‘The Man’s Beer’? Do you flip the script and position yourself as being anti-violence against women?  

Do you attempt to engage womenfolk and position yourself as our protector by communicating repeated images of male power and strength smashing glasses and bottles in your advertisement? Do you establish a new bold claim in your tagline ‘move-men-to-respect’?  

Photo: A Stag advertisement in its ‘move-men-to-respect’ campaign.

None of the above will change  years of misogynistic posturing.

Our most accurate experience of the essence of your brand was in the low-brow moment of one ad where the protagonist, while purchasing an engagement ring, flirted with his ‘ex’ who worked at the jewellery store and apparently was ‘looking good’.  

When asked by his ‘man friends’: “wha yuh do boy?” His boastful response was: “Yuh know yuh boy!”—which evoked a raucous round of hooting and table-slapping.

You followed this up with a 44-second advertisement which showed eight instances of a man’s hand crushing either a jug or a beer bottle and described at least five instances of violence against women.  

After 31 seconds, the voice-over and imagery spoke to the beer being reserved for men who protect women. In my opinion, the violence and the negative messaging are just overwhelming.

Photo: A Stag advertisement against gender-based violence.

Is it that you are so removed from our reality that you are tone-deaf to the likelihood that this imagery may simply reinforce the culture of violence perpetrated by men against women? Have you and your advisors not considered the context in which such a video will be released?

Assuming that your team created this ad to act as one of the antidotes to gender-based violence—and that increased market share is not your goal—be reminded that years of misogyny cannot be fixed by one advertising campaign.  

You need to do the work and take the time necessary to change your image.

If you want an easy fix, then recognise the clarity of your own misogyny, and use your profits to contribute to the many shelters for battered women. Take one dollar from each green beer you sell and contribute it to the shelters.  

Put up a countdown on your social media channels and challenge the nation to keep the donations rolling in; report the level of contribution to the nation on a quarterly basis and engage the many NGOs in working towards turning around the culture of violence. 

Photo: A demonstration against gender-based violence.
(Copyright Getty)

Challenge your parent organisation, which runs a psychological unit, to give free counselling to victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse—regardless of gender.

Being an alcohol company puts you in a difficult social space. Our love/hate relationship will continue. All we can expect is that you use your brand recognition and money to effectively alleviate some of our difficult problems, which you as a company unintentionally perpetuate.

There is one beer that, since 1988, has stopped production of its product a few times to package water in beer cans so as to help victims of natural disasters. Are you willing to show in a similar, tangible way that you are really committed to preventing domestic/gender-based violence? Or is this just window dressing for you—hoping your clientele is not savvy enough to see through it?

There is an epidemic of violence and gender-based violence plaguing this country and the Covid-19 pandemic has not helped.  As a matter of fact, one major alcohol company boasted that 2020 marked a 10-year record in its gross profits. 

Photo: Women protest against gender-based violence.

It is time for the green campaign to move from speaking out against gender-based violence to putting your big money behind specific, effective programmes.

Originally published on April 22, 2021:

ormer Head of the Public Service Reynold Cooper and Singer/Entrepreneur Vaughnette Bigford.

Former Head of the Public Service makes a case for Trinidad and Tobago to innovate rather than imitate. His dream for the future is that the Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation will achieve its mandate for economic transformation by 2030.
He notes that the ease of doing business and improved access to wifi are two key factors in propelling that transformation.
At 18:00 minutes, the conversation switches to singer/performer Vaugnette Bigford and the joy she gets from the beauty which surrounds us and reviving her old hobby of reading. Vaughnette is currently reading Becoming by Michelle Obama.
Opportunity, Investment and Mind Set are three concepts which she suggests should inform the thinking of our leaders at all levels as we shape the cultural landscape. The conversation ends on the hopeful note that a 25 year vision for the cultural landscape begins with creating the physical and social infrastructure because talent abounds throughout the country.

Dr. Terrence Farre & Activist Muhammad Muwakil on Demming Chronicles

Demming Chronicles chats with Dr. Terrence Farrell about the the concerns expressed about foreign exchange shortages in T&T and the fact that the Central Bank has over the past 6 years been injecting foreign exchange into the market. The conversation also took account of the black market, the Heritage and Stabilization Fund, the reserves and the possible concerns of foreign investors. Three takeaways from the conversation are that the country must adjust to suit the reduced income flows; the economy must be diversified away from the energy sector; and that the country needs deep transformation of key institutions including the transformation of our culture and attitudes.

At 17 minutes, the conversation moved from economics to the cultural sector and a chat with Activist Muhammad Muwakil. He commented on the need to insert creatives and artists into every project being considered for development in order to design welcoming, functional spaces. In contemplating what is need for performers to thrive, Muhammad commented on the need for more medium and small performance spaces which cater for the artists who have outgrown the 50 person performance space but are not ready for the 400 person spaces. He ends on the note that if the artists are vibrant then the imagination the country will be vibrant so we need to set the artist’s imagination on fire or all will be lost.

The Covid-19 opportunity: how leaders can collaborate to develop T&T

Originally published in Wired868 Wednesday 24 March 2021

The opportunity provided by Covid-19 is transformational, but only if we remove the blinders of racial politics and the winner-take-all approach to developing our country, then engage a collaborative approach.

Before March 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the pause button on much of our activity, our systems were broken, and the society was in a negative freefall. Three examples come to mind: the continuous worsening of our debt to GDP ratio, the decreasing placement of our country on both the ease of doing business index and the corruption perception index, and the negative crime statistics and situations citizens navigate daily. We needed deep systemic change then, and it is even morecritical now.

Photo: The famous Debe doubles stretch is closed for business during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Our social systems are informed by the philosophy of giving a person a fish rather than teaching a person to fish. Hence our focus is on transfers and subsidies, which has only resulted in deepening the dependency syndrome.

To continue the fish metaphor, what is needed today is to revolutionise the entire fishing industry so the players understand that current behaviour like overfishing will ultimately destroy the entire ecosystem. The message must be communicated to the elusive ‘man in the street’ that he/she has a critical role to play in ensuring sustainability.

In addition to the hundreds of persons who rely on transfers and subsidies, several businesses would have to close their doors were it not for the government contracts that they enjoy. This business model is unsustainable. Development and transformation cannot occur on the basis of patronage.

If I could impact the Covid recovery strategy, I would focus on specifically creating a plan to focus on eliminating learning poverty for all children and deepening digitalisation across all sectors of the economy. I would ensure that on any committee or task force to do this, qualified women made up 50% of the group. It goes without saying that the men in the group should be qualified as well.

Our conversation is still dominated by the number of devices to be made available to children when we should be focusing on transforming all our schools to the status of prestige schools. After 60-plus years of various versions of our Ministry of Education, our general underperformance is a clear signal that deep systemic transformation is required to improve the outputs.

Image: Laptops (by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash)

We have to move away from talking about digital transformation and actually do it. I recently spent a total of three hours making a payment at the Ministry of Legal Affairs. Some of the process is online, but I still had to go into the ministry to make a payment that could have been done online.

The data from other countries, according to UN Women, suggest that only 13% of the Covid-19 fiscal, social protection and labour market measures target women’s economic security. I suspect that this statistic may be even lower for Trinidad and Tobago. Gender equality in decision-making helps the right decisions to be made in the interest of both women and children.

Countries with gender equality experience increased GDP and reduced family violence. There is an additional long-term beneficial impact for men sharing the formal decision-making table with women and a huge demonstrable impact on other men who see different genders collaborating.

Covid-19 is an opportunity to transform our economy, but it requires a strategy to engage women, a collaborative spirit to engage a diverse range of persons representing various interest groups and the humility to understand that it cannot be done alone.

Just as Covid safety requires global cooperation, surviving this pandemic locally also requires a new, different and intense form of cooperation and collaboration. My question remains: are our leaders mature, humble and brave enough to collaborate?

Marla Dukharan & Rubadiri Victor are our guests on Demming Chronicles

Marla suggests that after 6 years of borrowing to pay interest on loans the government of Trinidad and Tobago needs to engage a stringent debt management exercise; reimplement the foreign exchange auction mechanism which would allow for some slow and steady, manageable depreciation of the TT dollar relative to the U S dollar and reduce transfers and subsidies and the wage bill. In the absence of these and similar measures, she suggests that the country is heading for a balance of crisis.

Cultural advocate Rubadiri Victor comments that a 2016 Unesco report identified the global creative sector as an annual $2.2 trillion dollar industry and that Trinidad and Tobago has the potential to generate substantial income if the enabling environment is carefully curated. His advice to younger creatives is to understand our history and build their craft carefully and intentionally. In his words: “creatives have to apprentice, you align your brain, your head, your hand, to the geniuses of that craft locally”. He makes a plea for government to invest in the national trust and substantially increase their TT$ 1 million allocation to the film sector.

Collaboration, spirituality and humility are key themes in this interview.

We chat with Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie (Former Minister of Planning and Principal, UWI) and artist/creative/entrepreneur Mr. Fitzroy Hoyte.

Dr. Tewarie reflects on a question from Dr. Peter Senge: “How does leadership tap into spirit and energy?” This question has challenged his thinking over many years and highlighted to him the importance of collaboration, cooperation and measurement and evaluation in delivering on our country’s goals and objectives.

He concludes that leadership is the secret sauce to our development and opines that a collaborative approach is possible but it will require a Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition with the disposition and willingness to experiment with the philosophy of collaboration. If such an experiment is engaged by any leadership it will result in behaviour change in the followership and be a game changer the country needs.

Fitzroy Hoyte – artist and visionary behind the gallery ThinkArtTT shares his story that art chose him and that his work is a visual reflection of our society. He comments that art needs more spaces and in particular a modern museum which can curate our journey as a people and maybe help us to understand our history. He lamented that our Art is centred around carnival and the performing arts and it should be expanded to capture other genres. His future vision in a post pandemic era is for all entry points into our country to reflect us as a people.

To the aspiring arts the key characteristics should be humility and a spirit of collaboration.

The real-life drama between trade unions and the government

Originally published on Wired868, March 12, 2021

We ‘love up’ on Tuesday night and on Wednesday, you tell the world that you are no longer in a relationship with me. That is a description of the real-life drama that unfolded as the leaders of the trade union federations exited the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC).

It is reminiscent of those women who cleared out their marital home while their partners were at work, and the partner returned to find an empty space with their clothes on the bedroom floor. Most times the women cite disrespect, abuse and neglect as the reasons for their departure. It is almost the same reasons given by the national trade union movement for why they left the NTAC organisation.

Photo: Minister of Labour Stephen Mc Clashie (via

The hapless husband, in this case, the newly minted minister of labour, Stephen Mc Clashie, admitted that barely 24 hours before, he had chaired a meeting and discussed how to foster stronger relationships between the government, labour and business, so he was surprised by this move.

In the lead up to the 2015 general elections, the Ambassador Hotel was often the venue for joint talks with the now prime minister and the leaders of the trade union movement, so it was no surprise that NTAC was established to ensure a unity of purpose between the government, business sector and labour.

At that time there was a clear vision that national development required dialogue and agreement by these strange bedfellows. By 2020, disgruntlement had set in, and the former senator/minister of labour slid out of office, unlikely to return.

The 60-month existence of NTAC has been brutal for workers, with no legislation being brought before parliament and thousands of workers being retrenched, laid off or having their contracts terminated. The biggest insult to the trade unions was when the former chairman of Petrotrin agitatedly responded to a question about the number of persons who would be retrenched from Petrotrin by saying: ‘All … Alll … Allllll.’

Labour’s insecurity has been intensified by the ongoing pandemic, which provides the government with an excellent excuse, and maybe an opportunity, to once and for all annihilate the trade unions.

Photo: The Joint Trade Union Movement protests against Section 34 during the People’s Partnership Government’s administration.

Let me caution, that the same 10 or 20 thousand workers who were mobilised with the help of the trade unions to march with the current prime minister against the People’s Partnership government can again be mobilised to take action against his People’s National Movement government.

To add to the misery of the minister of labour, the minister of planning and development also indicated her surprise by labour’s walk away. ‘Houston … we have a problem’ can be changed to ‘Houston … we have an opportunity’, but it will require humility, respect, care and collaboration.

For the sake of the country’s development, I hope that the unions will soften and facilitate the reconciliation of the relationship. Sometimes strong action is needed to communicate a point, but often, empathy, understanding and a spirit of collaboration can ensure a resolution.