Order in the House! Is Prime Minister Rowley a tone-deaf role model?

Originally published on Friday 25 March 2022 wired868

“Order!” shouted the Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George. “Order!”

“Prime Minister,” the Speaker had already said three times while on her feet. Ignoring her, the Prime Minister continued his rant in response to what seemed to me to be a reasonable question from Naparima MP Rodney Charles.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

The Speaker was not, however, moved to ask the Prime Minister to leave the House. Nor to adjourn the sitting.

That disconcerting sequence brought to my mind the 1967 Calypso Monarch the Mighty Cypher who sang ‘If the priest could play, who is me?’ If the Prime Minister disrespects the Speaker of the House in Parliament, then what are we to expect from the other members of Parliament?

What are we to expect from young men on the streets? What are we to expect from public servants in their daily interactions with the people they serve?

If the prime minister cannot control his anger, then what are we to expect of ordinary citizens?

I sincerely hope the Speaker has had the courage to have a private conversation with the Prime Minister, the very official who nominated her to her post. I sincerely hope she has advised him that any recurrence will be dealt with severely.

Photo: Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

But it also makes me wonder whether, if the speaker were male, such disrespect would have prevailed. The last male PNM speaker of the House was Barendra Sinanan, MP, who presided from 2002 to 2010 and I seem to recall a different tone and general ambiance in the House.

Am I viewing things through ‘rose-tinted’ lenses or did parliamentarians behave in a more dignified manner then? Were they or weren’t they more deferential and respectful in the way they conducted themselves?

The average citizen tends to look to the party in power for leadership. Therefore, those who hold the reins of power are obligated to set a tone that is calming and collaborative rather than aggressive and disrespectful. Instead, we frequently witness tones of aggression, anger, and violence.

In these times of uncertainty and turmoil, we need leadership that is calm and purposeful. What I saw in Parliament was a prime minister, an employee of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, who felt it necessary to remind us that he is the prime minister and to suggest that the opposition member should go to Guyana or Barbados.

Photo: UNC member and Naparima MP Rodney Charles.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

Had he been in complete control, he may have taken a deep breath and responded in a way that was much less aggressive and violent.

Almost simultaneously on television, the US Senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson was in progress. In stark contrast, I saw a female leader maintaining her grace and dignity for many hours while under severe provocation and pressure.

Many of us here in T&T feel stuck and hopeless. It is an ideal opportunity for the leadership to intervene and change the tone from hopelessness to optimism.

I seem to remember, Prime Minister, that when you were asking for our vote, you implied that you would take leadership down a different path. Instead, whether it is in the Parliament, at a political meeting or at a news conference, we continue to be subjected to your language of violence and aggression.

I shall continue monitoring the parliamentary proceedings and I sincerely hope never again to witness the Speaker calling repeatedly but in vain for order to be restored.

Photo: Dr. Keith Rowley is sworn in as prime minister for the second successive term on 19 August 2020.
(via Office of the President)

If we are to reduce the level of violence in our country, our leaders, indeed, all our politicians must begin to always show respect for each other, for their employers (the citizens of T&T), and pour soothing oil on already troubled waters.

Open letter to Bliss Seepersad on ‘hidden hand of power’ that manipulated CoP Merit List

Dennise Demming Originally published on Tuesday 15 March 2022 in Wired868

Dear Bliss,

On behalf of the Prime Minister and the people of Trinidad and Tobago, I apologise for any anxiety and pain you have experienced over the past six months because our Prime Minister refused to admit that he was the official who, on 12 August 2021, intervened and diverted your attention away from delivering the Merit List of candidates for the post of commissioner of police to the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes (right) presents Police Service Commission chair Bliss Seepersad with her letter of appointment
(Copyright Office of the President)

That single action on his part led to the collapse of the Police Service Commission which you chaired, the President’s Office being viewed with a strong ‘side-eye’ and the further undermining of our citizens’ trust in public office.

Many persons who accept government appointments expect to bring their knowledge and expertise to make a positive difference to the running of the institution. Their roles and responsibilities are clearly outlined either in a statute, a legal document or in the State Enterprise Performance Manual as is the case with appointments to state boards. So, when a Chair comes across overt interference, (s)he is often blindsided.

In this case, I am sure you read and understood the following statement contained in your appointment document about the safeguards. ‘Commissions,’ it says, ‘are free from ministerial control.’

You may also have taken seriously this statement: ‘The fundamental principles inherent in all the regulations are those of fairness, equality, and justice.’

Photo: Former Police Service Commission chair Bliss Seepersad takes the oath of office.
(Copyright Office of the President)

Well, Bliss, you now know that there is an expectation by whoever appoints citizens that you will not act according to the procedures outlined or according to what your board has decided but that you will simply carry out the instructions of the line minister.

You may not agree with me, but this action by our Prime Minister is a clear indication of how undemocratic our country has become. Led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, our politicians feel that, once elected to office, they can take whatever action they want and even attempt to avoid scrutiny by suggesting to the media that the ‘rahrah’ is just noise.

If further confirmation were needed that there is a hidden hand of power manipulating every action taken in every sphere of life in our country, then this admission by our PM provides it.

No wonder the Procurement Act has been watered down. No wonder persons on boards are often lacking the basic competencies to lead anything. The fact that our PM felt empowered to stymie an official procedure and prevent the list from reaching the President of the Republic as provided makes me question his ethics and values.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and his wife Sharon Rowley (centre) are on hand to witness the country’s Independence Day Parade on 31 August 2018.
(Copyright Ministry of National Security)

Our democracy is under threat. Citizens need to take stock, take a stand and send a clear message that this is unacceptable.

The Prime Minister’s action in preventing the Merit List from reaching the President of the Republic came to public attention. But, I wonder, how many other legitimate actions have been thwarted by the Prime Minister or his ministers? How many contracts have been awarded because he so directed? How many appointments to prime jobs have been made because he took action?

My imagination can run wild.

Bliss, between 12 August 2021 and 14 March 2022, your reputation has taken a big hit. But, I wonder, has anything really changed after six months of a Shaggy-esque pretense that it wasn’t me and allowing speculation to run wild?

Yours in defence of our democracy,

Dennise Demming

LMCS blame game exposed lack of preparedness at both companies

Originally published on March 9, 2022 on https://wired868.com/2022/03/09/demming-paria-lmcs-blame-game-exposed-lack-of-preparedness-at-both-companies/?fbclid=IwAR0oIoKvQ-_-NK7ka1_cVpymbhxo8aSK3BF0SKFym6rVLnn0UlnUtMvfwrU

The blame game continues about what really caused the death of the four divers employed by LMCS Ltd (formerly Land and Marine Contracting Services Limited) on premises belonging to Paria Fuel Trading.

The public blaming and shaming are coming from all directions and continue to fuel confusion about what happened. All of this simply deepens my mistrust in our public institutions and confirms once again our broken systems and processes.

Photo: LMCS Ltd lost four divers to a workplace accident last month.

Since 1902 when Randolph Rust struck oil in the Guayaguayare forest, Trinidad and Tobago has been producing oil. Since 1902, it seems, we have repeatedly taken a non-collaborative approach to analysing our oil disasters.

It is high time we changed that and started cooperating to establish one investigative committee and livestream the proceedings for all to see. Step-by-step public accountability should be the best moral disinfectant to clear the air and provide information for the world to see.

I am stunned that the Opposition UNC appears to be lurking in the shadows, just waiting to pounce on any entry point to damage the government while the government appears to be standing still, almost as bystanders rather than as leaders. Meanwhile, the population is saddened and traumatised by this tragedy and the daily reminders of the death and the pain spawned by its continuing lead story status in the local media.

In my opinion, Paria and LMCS are equally to blame and have both demonstrated a total ignorance of or disregard for standard operating procedures in times of crisis. Had there been regular table-top exercises to simulate potential disasters, all concerned would have known their roles and responsibilities and lives would possibly have been saved.

Photo: Who’s to blame?

There would be no accusation that LMCS was not allowed entry because the disaster plan would have been activated and everyone would have been operating under emergency conditions.

The fact that LMCS issued a public statement full 11 days after the disaster leads me to conclude that there was no holding statement in place. In their media statement, they seek to take the moral high ground by affirming that their concern is for the families. I have no reason to doubt that. But, I ask, why so long a delay before making a public statement?

Might it be that in the 11 days since February 25, LMCS has been consulting with whoever they must in a bid to find sufficient fabric to cover their behind?

Paria did a little better. Still, their actions demonstrate a lack of preparedness to manage both the crisis and the communications about the crisis. It is painful for me to accept that, despite a 35-year career with companies like bptt, Methanex, and NewGen, the Paria CEO presided over such ineffectiveness.

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading CEO Mushtaq Mohammed.

Here is an opportunity for all to collaborate in the national interest. These players must have the courage to draw a line in the sand and say, “Let us come together and plan a way forward.” This bacchanalian approach is simply damaging our country and adding more pain to all involved.

I wonder how this is being viewed globally. I wonder how the energy companies on the ground are responding to this lack of professionalism and pre-planning. These deaths have already been recorded as a major disaster. That is highly unlikely to be the kind of message that encourages any conglomerate to say, “Ah! Here is a country where my venture can thrive and grow.”

If these multiple private investigations are held, I guarantee you that some premature, unfinished version of the report will be leaked, the public will get the wrong information, and the blaming and shaming will continue to be aimed in the wrong direction.

Ultimately, it is Trinidad and Tobago that will be the losers. Our collective pride will continue to suffer serious blows.

Sigh… How long before this era of incompetence comes to an end?

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.

Time to discuss proper use of our tax $$

Property taxes are necessary no matter who is in government.  The goal of property tax is to generate revenue to fund the government’s expenditure.  Prior to 2009, most homeowners paid their land and building taxes and would have dutifully continued paying into an improved, modernized, and efficient system.  Our country has lost more than 10 years of revenue and some new homeowners are convinced that the tax is burdensome, oppressive, and regressive so they refuse to cooperate with any efforts to implement the renewed version.

We got to this situation because, under the PNM administration which ended in 2009/2010, the law was withdrawn without a new one being fully implemented.  A clever “Axe de Tax” campaign helped to oust the PNM Government and from 2010 to 2015, the country was led by the People’s Partnership.  During this period, new legislation to regularize the tax was not put in place so we continued to be unable to collect property taxes.  Then came the PNM administration of 2015 to 2020 and again property tax was not implemented.  Now the 2020 PNM administration is trying to implement it and they are “ketching their nenen”. 

One way to guarantee the successful implementation of this new property tax approach is for us to see collaboration across the floor between the PNM and the UNC.  Agreement on this issue can send a strong message to John Public that we need to work together on issues of national interest. No matter who is in government, the collection of property taxes will positively impact the government’s coffers and provide the much-needed income to fund the government’s projects.  Once the government can fund necessary projects, we the citizens all benefit.

Our current reality is that there will be a continued significant decline in income from the energy sector and the government has limited options to raise revenues.  Property taxes, therefore, become even more important as a way of expanding income to fund recurrent expenditure.

While I support the re-introduction of Property Taxes, I am concerned that Taxes disappear into the abyss of the “Consolidated Fund” and citizens can make no direct correlation between their taxes and the delivery of services in their communities.  Maybe the time has come for a national discussion about a way to use property taxes to improve the geographic areas in which they are collected.  

A call to the Tsars of the Bottled Water Sector

Dennise Demming Tuesday 8 February 2022 Environment

After 22 years of passing the buck, the government has failed to pass the Beverage Container Bill which was intended to provide a structure for the collection and safe disposal of beverage containers. Their collective incompetence has facilitated the degradation of our environment, the clogging of our waterways, and litter on our footpaths, streets, rivers, and streams.

But what about the manufacturers of the beverages we purchase? What is their responsibility?

Photo: A beach littered with discarded plastic water bottles.

During the short 22 years of the rise of the bottled water culture, a few manufacturers have become multi-millionaires while presiding over the destruction of our island’s ecosystem. And during this time, WASA continued to shame us by their underperformance.

If the beverage container tsars cared about our country, they would have established the infrastructure to take care of the recycling of the plastic bottles which house their products. Instead, they sit on their hands waiting for the government to act.

According to the website of one such company: ‘The vision for the company is to provide one bottle a day of high-quality healthy beverages to every man, woman, and child in the English-speaking Caribbean.’

With a regional population of some seven million and a conservative estimate of one dollar profit on each bottle that is a daily profit of TT$7,000,000.

How much more money do you need?

Photo: A greedy businessman.
(Copyright iStockphoto)

In a Parliamentary debate in 2012, then Senator Faris Al-Rawi, the current attorney general, laid out the business case for a recycling business when he said: ‘If you do any conservative extrapolation of the numbers and you look at an average between 25 cents and one dollar, and you take it at 75 cents for plastic bottles alone, Mr President, you are looking at a half-a-billion-dollar industry for plastics alone.

‘Add on to that cans, add on to that packages by Nestlé, et cetera, anything that is a beverage under the terms of the Bill, you are looking at a billion-dollar industry.’

What is needed to solve this problem is a system and a process to incentivise the collection and recycling of beverage containers, especially plastics. The current players in the market have the expertise, competence and experiences to take advantage of this business opportunity but they just don’t care. And the government is happy to pussyfoot around while our island deteriorates.

The public is not without responsibility for the degradation of the condition of our island but we know that punitive measures seldom work. What is needed is the system, structure and process to make it easy for us to be part of recycling activities.

Photo: Bottled water is still encouraged by the government.

While our island continues to be covered with trash, here are three things I would love to see us do to help solve this wicked yet very preventable behavioural problem.

Firstly, find a reusable bottle; especially if you are going to exercise, then you will not be tempted to just throw away the bottle. More importantly, you will also be assured that the water you are drinking is free of microplastics.

A second though probably more important measure we can embrace is to separate all our plastics and take them to a neighbourhood recycling bin. Separating at home can go a long way towards preventing plastics from entering our waterways, rivers and streams, and also teach children that reusable is more desirable than disposable.

A third measure focuses on women and the shift towards reusable sanitary napkins and pads for menstruation.

Everyone has a part to play but bottled water is our biggest culprit and it’s time for the bottled water tsars to show that their caring includes taking leadership in the recycling sector.

Photo: A young man in Trinidad collects plastic bottles for recycling.

Sherri Mason, a sustainability researcher at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College commented: “If we took what we spend on bottled water just in the US and we used that instead on water infrastructure, every person on this planet could have access to clean water three times over.” 

Her essential point, I am sure, is also true of Trinidad and Tobago.

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

Originally published on Thursday 27 January 2022 https://wired868.com/

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, https://wired868.com/category/view-point/guest-columnists/

‘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.