This is one of the letters which I have written to Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years.
Dear Prime Minister
Happy Carnival to you?
This is your 17th month as the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and you are still underperforming in my survey of one.
I am particularly interested in us making positive strides in the area of tourism as a vehicle for diversification of the economy. In the short term, there are few quick wins but much can be done in the medium to long term. Here are two suggestions:
Publicise the terms and conditions being given to Sandals and offer the identical terms and conditions to all potential investors in building new plant. (This will serve to mute any dissenting voices about lack of transparency, favouritism and back room dealings).
Ensure that Sandals or their representatives begin the EIA process publicly leading to the publication of the final EIA when it is granted. (This will demonstrate your commitment to minimising long term environmental impacts and demonstrate your further commitment to transparency and accountability.)
Yours for our country!
Dennise Demming (Mrs.) MBA, BSc., Cert-Mass Comm Concerned Citizen
Today is the anniversary of your 14th month at the helm of our country and from all indications there is very little for us to celebrate.
On the campaign trail, you stated that the traffic situation is a quality of life issue which is intolerable. You further promised a mass transit solution and inspired the population with your rhetoric about what we could do if we did not spend 4 hours on the road.
I am requesting an update on the status of the mass transit plan as you promised.
Congratulations on your 16th month as the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
I am taking the time share my views with you because I am not a single voice. I represent hundreds of citizens who feel that you have neither re-assured us nor advised us of your plans and strategies.
I am hopeful that 2017 will be a year of action however it is necessary for you to communicate directly with us and communicate regularly. May I suggest a Monthly conversation with the Prime Minster. I am specifically suggesting that the conversation take a slightly informal or casual tone and be casted in different locations with different stakeholders at outdoor venues which are historic. For example, the February conversation could take place in the Grand Stand of the Queen’s Park Savannah and could talk about your dreams and hopes for culture and link those dreams and aspiration to the current economic circumstances.
May I suggest sir that your country needs an inspirational leader and that you have a short window to frame yourself as such.
Yours for our country
Dennise Demming (Mrs.) MBA, BSc., Cert-Mass Comm Citizen
We say we are pegging our future on the success of a strengthened Tourism Industry but we keep shooting ourselves in the foot by not strengthening Caribbean Airlines nor presenting our strategic plan. The current shouting about Sport Tourism will fail because there are NO bedrooms around the excellent facilities which have been built in Central Trinidad.
To borrow a phrase from Dr. Gabrielle Hosein, “If I was the Prime Minister” here is what I would do to make sports tourism a reality.
I would convert the Couva Children’s Hospital into a sports tourism complex which could house athletes and provide a service for the convalescence of international, regional and local athletes. (There is no facility where athletes can convalesce in the region).
I would invite accomplished sports doctors and physiotherapists to function there during the winter periods or periods which coincide with off-season training of athletes and cyclists.
I would go after the hosting of a major international swim or cycling activity to show off my facilities to the world.
The Couva Hospital is ideal because it has a good combination of wards (which can provide dormitory facilities for athletes), private rooms which can house officials and medics, cafeteria facilities, recreational facilities and medical facilities. More importantly, it is within an easy commute from our world class facilities. Without bedrooms and other amenities, the aquatic centre and the cycling centre would have a difficult time attracting the traffic that is needed to make them viable.
These suggestions will put us ahead of the curve in several ways.
Social unrest will continue without ‘solution-focused dialogue’
The location of the points of the civil disruption have one thing in common. They have voted solidly for the PNM for the past 29 years but they continue to be socially and economically under-served.
The seeds of the discontent were fertilised by the alleged police killing of three men in the Morvant area. Four days later, there is no word on the status of the party of policemen involved in the killings—other than an assurance that the matter will be investigated.
That line about such investigations has been so frequently peddled that it provides little comfort. In another jurisdiction, the men would have at least been removed from active duty!
The commissioner of police is singing his victory song of having suppressed the failed ‘plan of disruption’ while the minister of national security is peddling his story that they were all paid instigators. But 30 June 2020 will be remembered as a day of massive disruption, after three months of Covid-19 lockdown.
We are experiencing a period of extreme insecurity. Business continuity is at risk; and people are unsure of where their next paycheque is coming from and therefore doubtful about their future survival.
All over, including amongst the law enforcers, emotions are raw. This is a time for real leadership and collaboration. This is a potential point of inflection where the true leader will emerge.
One option is to continue the use of force, which will result in increased bloodshed and the sacrificing of the lives of young black persons. Another option is to create opportunities for open collaboration, aimed at finding solutions.
There is no simple solution to this problem which has been festering for years. The answer lies in collaborating to understand the issues which drive these expressions. Academics and social commentators have proffered different solutions, but this is too complex to exclude the participants.
Both the ‘oppressed’ and the ‘oppressor’ must give voice to their thoughts and emotions. Whoever invests time in creating solution-focused dialogue will emerge the leader and solver of these deep, sticky social problems.
But alas, the timing may not be right for our formal leaders, because there is an election to be won. Kicking the problem down the road may be the preferred option at this time.
One thing the population is assured of is that, as we take this show-of-force approach, the problem will recur with increasing ferocity.
There has been a muted response by Commissioner Griffith to the incident in which 3 men were killed in a shoot out in Morvant. Contrast this with his response to the shooting of 2 year old Aniah and her father. The CoP mocked and jeered would be protestors about their absence of outrage. Well Mr. CoP, we have no outrage because our spirits are dampened and we are suffocating beneath the weight of the death of children and young men.
Once again, my stomach boiled although I know neither the pain of losing a child nor the pain of losing a child as a result of gun violence! Annually 500 women feel this gut wrenching pain of losing their child and we simply tick it off as someone known to the police or involved with guns, drugs and gangs. The anecdotal evidence is that for each murder, at least 5 persons are affected. Annually 2,500 persons suffer trauma from gun violence. Over the past 5 years it means that at least 12,500 persons have suffered mostly in silence.
Maybe, there has been no outrage because we have lost hope that the COP or the Leadership of the country are committed to taking any meaningful action against the scourge of crime. We remember the name calling, sarcasm and arrogance and juxtapose those remarks against the increasing crime statistics and retreat to our cubby holes to pray that home invasions do not continue an upward trend.
Subject matter experts on Crime remind us that the only approach to reducing crime is a strategic, long term, multi-sector approach. It is not simply about police, vehicles, guns, armoury and police stations. A clear vision is needed, followed by short, medium and long term goals and objectives. This is all management 101 but there is tremendous inertia and a view that we can talk our way into solving crime.
Gun violence in this country is out of control and there are a couple associated ironies. We do not manufacture guns in this country, so each gun comes in across our borders either formally or informally. How is it that despite having the electronic scanners in place, we seldom ever hear of a shipment of guns being intercepted. Is it that those electronic scanners do not work? How is it that often, when we hear of the seizure of a high powered gun, it was found in some field or barrel or some obscure place and not associated a specific person or importer?
Mr. CoP, citizens have no outrage because we fear for our own lives. We want to help but we are looking for a plan and a strategy aimed at changing the way we do things.
When did the dream of building a school for the children of Diego Martin morph into the reality of a sprawling building called the “Diego Martin Regional Corporation Administrative Complex (DMRC)?” I was there a couple election seasons ago when the then Member of Parliament for my area (our current Prime Minister) presented a persuasive argument to the constituents of Victoria Gardens for building a school for the children of Four Roads, La Puerta, Morne Coco Road, Powder Magazine, Pt. Cumana and even Victoria Gardens. The reality today is that there is a school on the other side of Western Main Road, but you must have deep pockets to attend. The non-monied children of Four Roads, La Puerta, Morne Coco Road, Powder Magazine, Pt. Cumana and the further-flung areas of Carenage try to thrive wherever they are planted; that is the reality they must live with until a more human-centered philosophy is engaged.
The site has been marked by controversy from ownership to usage. The current iteration is that it is now the site of a new DMRC building, will partly house the Diego Martin Vehicular Overpass and some recreational green space too close to the overpass. Residents have been lobbying for a green space and even came up with a site plan which envisioned West Park Savannah as a green space in the north west catering for joggers, walkers, cyclists, play areas, communal spaces and an amphitheatre. It could have been transformed into a modern day learning community. On November 1, 2019 resident Adam Raffoul posted on the West Park Savannah facebook page, that his effort to see the site plan was refused by Udecott on the basis that the information requested is not covered under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the plan is Udecott’s intellectual property. It boggles my mind that citizens continue to be refused access to information which will impact their wellbeing by people whom the citizens pay to administer over their wellbeing. It is indeed a conundrum!
On May 29, 2020 another resident Michael Scott made the following post: “It is apparent to all that have started to frequent the west park savannah that people are desperate for “green spaces” as families attend the west park savannah on a weekday afternoon for exercise, fresh air and a break from their daily pressures. The park is already proving congested and it is a travesty that the entire park is not committed for leisure purposes. The fact that the authorities have determined that a new Diego Martin Regional Corporation facility should be built on the premises is foolhardy. It should not be positioned as it is and it again demonstrates that no “needs assessment” has been carried out to define the basis for its existence. The authorities have once again demonstrated their disdain for the residents of Diego Martin”.
And what of the school? Dead silence. The educational plan for the children of Diego Martin is not easily available and I am not sure it even exists but the data from the 2011 census told me that 21 percent of the population of Diego Martin is under the age of 15 and any leader confronting this statistic should be inspired to point development in the direction of nurturing children and young adults. That leader would focus on improving the community, making more people self-reliant, ensuring that there is social justice and engaging the community in decision making. A significant lever to achieve these noble goals is education at all levels
There are always unintended consequences of our actions. The big picture lessons of the brouhaha around Gabriel Faria’s WhatsApp message are that the private views of public officials are seen as expressions of the organisation, and that business survival post-Covid-19 requires aggressive strategies by the government.
Gabriel Faria spoke his truth inappropriately and he is enjoying (sic) the consequences of his action. His truth however, has once again highlighted a number of issues which require urgent consideration and a plan for business continuity.
First, it is unreasonable to calculate second quarter 2020 taxes using 2019 data because there was no income in 2020. We were all hiding from Covid-19 and carefully obeying the government’s instructions, so demand for goods and services was significantly reduced or non-existent.
The same government who asked landlords to be reasonable with their tenants is now being unreasonable with respect to quarterly taxes from the business community.
Second is the issue of unpaid VAT, which is now being compounded by the fact that businesses have issued invoices but the money is not being received. They are however expected to pay the VAT on those invoices. VAT guidelines were set up in happier times when a complete lock down of the country was not anticipated.
The government has an opportunity to review their position and take urgent action to throw a lifeline for businesses to continue operating.
The government has identified a number of initiatives aimed at supporting businesses which have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic—but the roll out has been painfully slow while the bank charges are accumulating.
Many landlords have also not been accommodating with their rental expectations, as suggested by the government. The point is that expenses have continued while income has not, so it’s almost impossible to honour commitments.
If we are serious about recovery, our most important task is do what we can to keep businesses alive. That begins with an open discussion in a safe space where business people feel no fear of repercussions for their honesty. A collaborative approach may yield an outcome which has so far not been contemplated.
To the person who shared that WhatsApp message with the Prime Minister: I hope you are sleeping well and can look Gabriel Faria in the eyes next time you see him. Several WhatsApp groups operate according to Chatham House rules which date back to 1927 and were designed to encourage a free flow of information and discussion, with participants being duty-bound to protect the identity and affiliation of the authors.
Maybe you are unaware of the expectations of honourable persons and felt the need to ingratiate yourself to the prime minister; but right now you should be on edge because it is only a matter of time before the ‘truth is out’ and you are identified.
As for the prime minister, his actions have cut off the potential for future supply of critical information which could be used strategically.
Minister of Communication Donna Cox delivered a masterful stroke when she responded to Media inquiries about her health. In less than 30 seconds, she was concise, clear, complete and achieved the objective of closing the communications loop. Her response shut down any thoughts or attempts to explore the matter any further. Well done Minister Cox!
As a communications exercise, contrast such mastery with the Prime Minister’s facebook rant about head of the Chamber of Commerce Gabriel Faria and you see an attack on someone in a position of leadership who is simply speaking his truth about the business community and the government’s lack of action. Faria has consistently spoken and written about outstanding VAT and how it negatively impacts the business community. The Prime Minister’s “Trumpian” rant reminded me of the “bullishness” he was accused of by the late former Prime Minister, Mr. Patrick Manning.
Let’s examine this rant based on the rules of communication. In one concise missive he accused the Chamber head of: trying to influence voters; being very disrespectful to the country’s leadership; disdainful of all the people who offer themselves for office and having a disrespectful mouth. It was concise. On the rule of clarity, the reader is left wondering about what caused this! What was motivating the Prime Minister? On the rule of completeness, the rant is incomplete. I have to concede that he may have achieved his objective but that was not apparent.
The Prime Minister would do well to embrace the counsel of his Minister of Communications while pausing any inclinations to revive the “raging bull, wagang or rottweiler” behaviors of which he has been rightfully accused in the past.
When the crowd took a knee and held it in silence for 9 minutes I knew I was amidst a sea of young persons who were sending a message that the time for change is now. The #ttblm movement gathered peacefully in the Queens Park Savannah, chanted and spoke their truth. For 3 ½ hours the young campaigners shared stories with the crowd and in the background drivers popped their horns in solidarity as they drove past the US Embassy.
I have nothing but admiration for these young people who dared to uncover the pus-filled lesion which their parents and grandparents have plastered over for many years. Looking around the crowd the variation in the hue of the campaigners gave me a peek into what the future of Trinidad and Tobago will look like.
As an older person, I felt proud of their bravery. The only low point to the demonstration was the absolute show of force by the TTPS who lined the pavement opposite the US Embassy with their guns and horses on display clearly intending to show off their power. One cannot help but feel intimidated in the presence of such a show of weapons. This was aggravated by the “gayelle styled” movie crew who began videotaping the crowd. The Speaker on the megahorn asked the videographers to stop but this request was ignored. The videotaping continued albeit appearing to take low shots so that faces may not have been identified. There was no attempt to de-escalate the situation. As a matter of fact, I felt that actions of the TTPS were unfortunate and could have infuriated the crowd. The presence of the Commissioner of Police made no difference.
I have learned from other situations that protests and demonstrations can be quickly become volatile. I commend the young people for their exemplary behaviour and hope that in the future, the TTPS will respect their wishes not to be documented and dial back on this need to show force. Peace and non-violence were recurrent themes of the demonstration and every effort should be made to keep it peaceful. I noted that not one piece of garbage was left in the area. Our future is looking bright.