Hemming and Hawing Over Procurement

IF I had one wish for my country, it would be to overcome the implementation deficit which plagues every aspect of our society. From the Litter Law to the Electronic Speeding Tickets to the Beverage Container Bill to the Procurement Legislation and the list goes on and on. We seem unable/unwilling to implement the ideas which will drag our country out of the morass of underdevelopment.

2005 White Paper

The idea behind reforming the public sector procurement regime predates the 2005 White Paper, but that August 2005 White Paper codifies what should be done, and how it should be done. It even outlines the preferred procurement model. The nine-member committee included representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association, the Tobago House of Assembly, Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, Central Tenders Board, Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and the Joint Consultative Council. This White Paper was created under the People’s National Movement (PNM)-led Manning administration which
included our current prime minister, so there is an intimate understanding of the importance of operationalising the legislation.  Is this lack of implementation deliberate or coincidental?

Manipulating the system

Seventeen years later the White Paper has transitioned to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, but our government continues to spend billions of dollars without the establishment of either the operational framework or the oversight institution. A major negative impact is that tendering and procurement procedures can still be manipulated according to what the leadership wants to achieve.

Removing loopholes

Morality and transparency were the clarions calls in the PNM’s 2015 bid for General Elections and page 21 of its manifesto states:  “We will move swiftly to make the necessary improvements to the Public Procurement Act, in order to remove loopholes, limitations, and weakness that currently exist in the legislation, and, in consultation with all stakeholders, establish and implement a realistic timetable for the full implementation of the Act.” Seven years later we are still wobbling and hemming and hawing over its operationalisation.

Is this truly an implementation deficit?  Or like so many other things, is it that the leadership is waiting for the right players to be lined up before pressing the approval button and ensuring implementation?

The public sector team which pushed for the transformation to a modern procurement system included:

  • The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association;
  • Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute;
  • Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and
  • The Joint Consultative Council.

Reigniting the procurement voices

These voices need to be collectively re-ignited to push the government to remove the bottlenecks that are preventing implementation.  Implementing a modern, efficient procurement system can only benefit our country.  Daily citizens str exposed to the effects of our poorly implemented procurement system and daily we see a lack of accountability.  For example, when the clippings on the side of the highway are not removed for more than six weeks, it is an example of weak implementation of a procurement system.

Backbone of a well-functioning government

An efficient and effective procurement system can result in money being available for drugs in our hospitals, money to pay teachers a living wage, money for the repair of our potholes, and money for all the areas we are underperforming.  An efficient and effective public procurement system can be the backbone of a well-functioning government and God knows that this government needs to begin to function in our collective interest.

Mental Wellness needs daily attention

Caribbean Wellness chats with Djavila Ho, Associate Clinical Psychologist and President of the Jamaican Psychological Society (JamPsych), the professional body for psychologists and counselors in Jamaica. Full membership in JamPsych is available to persons who have a degree in psychology, a psychology-related field, or counseling. Membership is also available to persons living aboard and to students who are in the process of becoming qualified.

The status of wellbeing in Jamaica

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health has added Wellness to its title and is now known as the Ministry of Health and Wellness. This is a clear indication that the Ministry is moving beyond the physical aspects of health to including mental health and mental well-being. It is also expected to have a positive impact on the population and help to reduce the feelings of discomfort and embarrassment that several people feel about mental wellness. While Djavila recognizes that mental wellness is stigmatized, she is confident that the attitude is changing, and more and more people are beginning to feel comfortable reaching out for help.

Mental well-being undergirds society

She comments that psychology and mental health undergird everything in society and suggests that psychologists and counselors, who understand and use psychological science in their everyday work should have a seat at the table when policy is being developed. This could go a long way toward improving mental health and mental wellness throughout society. Mental wellness in the workplace In discussing the role of employers in ensuring mental wellness, Djavila noted the importance of employers considering mental health and wellness when developing business plans. One way to create a culture that supports mental health and wellness is to ensure that Employee Assistance Programmes – (EAP) cover mental health and wellness activities and that insurance packages cover medications, doctor visits, and psychiatry or psychology visits.

Being intentional about mental wellness

While it is recognized that Mental Wellness is a personal decision, company policies can help nudge people into taking personal responsibility and moving away from the unfortunate culture of workaholism to intentionally creating work-life balance. That balance can begin with the simple question: “What have I done for my own mental wellness today?” This could lead to individuals taking a moment to enjoy their surroundings or reading something that is not related to work or just breathing in the fresh air. While being intentional about self-care is trendy, it is so important that self-care appointments should be scheduled into a person’s daily calendar so that it becomes an expectation and not an “if I have time” activity. Scheduling self-care into your calendar makes it something that you will show up for. Mental wellness does not have to be a grand luxurious thing. It should be made part of your daily routine and incorporated into everything else that you are involved in.

Making mental wellness part of your routine is also a great way to engage those around you and maybe help them to become intentional about their own mental wellness activities.

Djavila is optimistic that mental wellness will continue to be destigmatized and eventually be regarded as just another aspect of our total wellness agenda. As societies move towards understanding mental health based on data and facts, there should be a higher level of acceptance that mental illness is like physical illness and that persons should not be discriminated against because of any mental health conditions.

Progress and mental well-being are inextricably bound.

It is therefore necessary to ensure that wellness and mental health considerations are integrated into the delivery of primary and secondary general health care. All aspects of health and social policy and health-system planning must be considered if we want to live up to the notion of the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Brock Chisholm who famously stated that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health”.

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National Conversation on Agriculture

The Trade and Economic Development Unit of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, hosted a conversation on Agriculture Outcomes and Food Security Challenges in Trinidad and Tobago.

Key Presenters

The main Presenter was Prof Wayne G Ganpat, a Former Dean of the Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad. He was followed by Mr. Kent Viera, Aquaculture Entrepreneur, and owner of Kent Farms Ltd, the leading aquaculture farm in Trinidad and Tobago. Senior lecturer at UWI, Dr. Roger Hosein also contributed to the conversation.

Top Outcomes

  1. The agriculture sector needs a plan and a champion to achieve the transformation necessary for the industry to thrive and for the country to achieve the goal of food sustainability.

2. The country appears to be stuck and it is necessary for the population to be informed about the policy and strategy

3. Former Caroni lands provide an opportunity for farming but we need to assess the quantity of land that is actually still available.

4. There is a need to establish a database of graduates who have been trained and are interested in agriculture.

5. The population needs to be informed about the details of the food import bill so they can engage in the behaviour change required to help reduce imports.

6. There are examples of how technology is being used to modernize farming and agriculture and these success stories need to be popularized.

7. There is a need to implement a plan to reduce the incidents of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) using agriculture and farming.

8. Agriculture needs to be re-designed using an all-of-country approach to remove the former siloed approach.

Chatting with Dr. Karrian Hepburn Malcolm about Mental Health

Career Shift

Caribbean Wellness chats with Dr. Karrian Hepburn Malcolm who made a career shift from banking and finance to becoming the Managing Director of Guardian Media Limited (GML).
Her entry to Trinidad was in 2011 as General Manager of Scotia Investments Trinidad and Tobago Ltd with oversight of the Private Client Group operations.


Navigating Mental Stress


She was very intentional in this move to the media as she knew that it is naturally a stress-inducing environment. Karrian’s first 6 months as General Manager of GML was stressful. However, she was able to successfully navigate those mental stresses and has adapted to the different norms and expectations of the industry. She recognizes that it is a work in progress and continues her commitment to leading a new direction for GML.
This new role meant a disruption in her entire life including her sleeping patterns and being a “Mommy” with her son asking why is she coming home late every day.

Destigmatizing Mental Health


Karrian has also had to lead the adjustment of changing working patterns brought on by COVID. She comments that employers are critical stakeholders in ensuring the overall wellness of their employees. Employers can help destigmatize mental health by providing mental wellness opportunities for employees. Some companies have arranged employee assistance programmes as a free benefit. Just this availability might encourage persons to begin to see mental health in the same way as they see physical health. The end goal is for employees to not feel constrained if they need to speak to a psychologist or a counselor about a wellness concern.

Mentally well employees contribute to profitability

Employers need to remember that employee wellness contributes positively to productivity and hence profitability so they should invest in their employees physically, mentally, and psychologically.
Mental health is still highly stigmatized, and people often think that persons who are in counseling are different and not to be trusted because they are “crazy”. While our societies have come a long way towards accepting mental health issues, a lot more needs to be done to help people accept their issues and work towards normalizing their mental health.
According to Karrian, it is extremely progressive that across the region, we are beginning to have more open discussions about feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed.

You Can’t Give from an Empty Cup


She maintains her own wellness by remembering the advice of one of her mentors that you cannot give from an empty cup. Often, we are so frustrated that any attempt to support others in need will have a negative result. So Karrian invests a lot of time ensuring that she leads a well-balanced life, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. She reminds us that we are all human and our human experience includes feeling stressed, tired, and frustrated so it is important to kind to ourselves and to understand our personal limitations. A big factor in ensuring that our cup is full after we have listened to our own needs, listen carefully to the concerns and comments of others. She has learned and accepted that we all need to focus on mental wellness and stop stigmatizing persons with mental health issues.
Her advice is twofold – maintain your own space of well-being while keeping in tune with those around you whether it be your loved ones or colleagues or other random individuals who may just need a positive word
Her daily mantra continues to be: “I have to absolutely pour from a full cup so I must afford, the time to replenish mentally and emotionally, and psychologically.”

We recall Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), who famously stated: “without mental health, there can be no true physical health”.

Paving Our Parks

 Commentary: Paving Our Parks

Originally published in AZP News/Azlan Mohammed on August 12, 2022.

The sun rises over the Queen’s Park Savannah.

A WALK-through Port of Spain, Newtown, and Woodbrook can take you to several beautiful green spaces which we call parks and squares. These are all in danger of disappearing to be replaced by paved areas and buildings.

 Two examples to support this statement are the fact that approximately three acres of the Queens Park Savannah are now paved and a building is being constructed on Adam Smith Square on Carlos Street.

Our forefathers understood the importance of green spaces. Many of us have childhood memories of playing in Tamarind Square on the way to and from school or playing in Adam Smith Square or liming at horse racing in the Queens Park Savannah.  These are just three examples of the number of green spaces which must be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Trinidad Express story (September 9, 1999, by the late Terry Joseph) quoted former minister of works in the United National Congress (UNC) Government Carlos John admitting that he decided on his own and without government consultation to pave three acres of the Savannah. This was done in preparation for the Independence Day parade so that the members of the army would not have to march in mud.

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The minister boldly advised that because of the urgency of the job, it was not put out for tender but did not share the cost of the job with the public at the time.

Former environmentalist and National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government minister Eden Shand staged a one-man protest and was almost buried with gravel.

 Olga J Mavrogordato in an article writes: “The Savannah is listed as one of the biggest parks in the Western Hemisphere and also by the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest roundabout in the world.”

In 60 short years, citizens have allowed the gradual encroachment on the lungs of Port of Spain. Now the Government has trained its construction guns on Adam Smith Square and we don’t know which other green spaces. Barbados has Garrison Savannah, London has Hyde Park, New York has Central Park. We must ensure that our parks and green spaces are preserved.

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If we do nothing it will be a matter of time before the plans for the savannah are reclaimed from the shelf.  Here’s what was planned for the savannah as revealed by former minister of culture Joan Yuille-Williams: “a below the ground level facility, with only the entrance and exits visible from the streets, it will have a seating capacity for up to 18,000 persons and will house a museum, offices, training rooms, studios, Carnival offices, event management rooms, security booths and parking spaces for 3,500 vehicles. A ten-tiered retractable roof will provide for all weather conditions to protect patrons.

“Construction will be done by the state-owned Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (Udecott) and carried out on a 24/7 shift, once labour is available so that the facility could be completed by 2008.”

This is an interesting concept but if we cannot manage surface flooding, how are we going to manage potential underground flooding?

The American writer and novelist Sai Zhenzhu or Pearl S Buck is credited with the statement: “When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.”

Chatting with Digital Strategist Keron Rose

Wellness and Mental Health

In this conversation about wellness and mental health, Online Business Strategist Keron Rose commented that the Caribbean region has a very low digital presence when searches are done for mental health. This low presence suggests that platforms related to mental health and wellness are not optimizing their websites for inclusion in data searches.

SEO Optimization

From a technical standpoint, search engine optimization (SEO) is important in the field of mental health and wellness because the results can provide insights into the questions people are asking and the problems which need solutions. Understanding those voids can lead to targeted content creation and resource development.

He commented that platforms that are trying to push out products and information about mental health and wellness should have basic things like a website and they should take the opportunity to learn from existing best practices around search engine optimization. Used efficiently, your SEO will show what people are searching for in relation to mental health and wellness as well as provide other information for example a map showing which countries in the Caribbean are searching for mental health and wellness.

Awareness about Mental Health

In responding to a question about raising awareness around mental health Keron commented that a useful starting point is to have open, public conversations and move away from only discussing mental health and wellness when there has been a negative incident in which someone’s personal experience becomes the talk of the day.

Keron shared that his awareness level of mental health and wellness skyrocketed when he had to support a close relative who experienced a manic episode and was institutionalized to begin the recovery process. His intimate involvement with that process made him very aware that people with major mental health issues can appear as normal and high functioning but that does not mean that their symptoms are not present.

Self Education

This experience led to a deep process of educating himself and beginning to understand his stressors. He had to accept that he was stressed by being in Canada, working in corporate, having a poor diet, and not exercising.

He returned to Trinidad and removed every stressor that surround him. Today he proudly states that he is stress-free and his mental health is much better. He acknowledged that running a business has ups and downs, but he is not stressed and is now on the road to continuous improvement. Keron is working on improving his nutrition, being more consistent with his exercise routine, and getting sufficient rest but that is really his daily challenge.

Focus on your mental health

His advice is to begin your journey to improving your life by focussing on your mental health, your knowledge of mental health, and your self-awareness. He highly recommends the book “How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past, and Create Your Self” by Nicole LePera. It was published in 2021 and became the #1 New York Times Bestseller.

It is a book that Keron reads because it gave him a great starting point to embark on the journey of reflecting and thinking about his life, how he was brought up and how he would like to be.

Mental health is prevalent in Trinidad and Tobago and according to the Sixth Report of the Joint Select Committee on Social Services and Public Administration: “as of April 2017, we are ranked as the third highest in the Caribbean with respect to the prevalence of mental illness.” Furthermore, it stated that the stigmas associated with mental health deterred persons from seeking and utilizing mental health services.

Thank you, Keron for your openness in discussing mental health.

State housing equals vote bartering!

La Riviera, La Fontaine, and La Renaissance are three high-rise towers in the West of Trinidad where some of the rich and famous reside.  I can assure you that payment delinquency is not even a conversation and if it is, 40% delinquency is not the rate being discussed.  It is likely to be less than 1%.

Why then is Minister Camille Robinson Regis crying about the 40% delinquency rate for state housing.  Isn’t it the same society in which the behaviours are different?  The difference in the individual responses lies in the systems, processes, and procedures implemented in both circumstances.  The residents of La Riviera, La Fontaine, and La Renaissance know that they would have to find alternative accommodation if they defaulted on payments. 

Published in the Trinidad Express on July 24, 2022.

On the other hand, beneficiaries of state accommodation believe that they have bartered their rental payment in exchange for their vote so they can do whatever they want. A close look at polling division voting results will support this statement.  They are also very aware that they will not be evicted for nonpayment of rent.

In a report in the Trinidad Express (July 20, 2022) Minister Robinson Regis showed an example of how the bartering occurs when she said: “homeowners believe as it’s the Government, they do not have to pay” and provided this example in support of her conclusion: “people in my own constituency, whose rental is between $100-$250, and yet they owing $50,000, which means from the day they got the unit, they have not paid.”   If the Minister knows this, then what has she done to correct this exploitation of the state and therefore the taxpayer by her constituents.

The concept of vote bartering continued when the Minister talked about wanting homeowners to feel the commitment to pay and announced that the Government will embark on a public education programme and use the strategies used by the former Housing Minister Randall Mitchell, where “customers felt the ease to pay up their arrears and not left to feel hounded.”  Had those soft strategies been successful, the Minister would not be revealing this current 40% delinquency today, so what is her point?

With local government elections on the near horizon, my interpretation is that this is just another way to send a message to those 40% delinquents that the status quo has their backs and will be gentle on any hounding for legitimate payments. Once again we are reinforcing a culture of delinquency.

The Minister is also making a soft call to the contractors by suggesting that if only they collected the approximately one billion dollars in arrears, they would be able to pay them the more than one billion they own.

Accounting is not as simple as this Madam Minister so please try another explanation of the government’s failure to honour its commitment to the contractors.

The real issue here is your government’s failure to put in place systems, processes, and procedures that would encourage a cultural shift and force occupants to pay their rent.  If there are no consequences, then why should they make any payments?

For the umpteenth time, citizens are hearing that there is a new application system but for the word “revolutionized” to be associated with it is to insult our intelligence because digital application systems are the norm globally.

Despite this backwardness, it is however encouraging that a digital system was launched. This iteration of the PNM government has simply dropped the ball on managing and leading this country.  Seven years into your term in office, you should be ashamed to be promising many ICT solutions.  We should be living those solutions.  Your colleagues at the Ministry of Legal Affairs are still emailing citizens telling us to visit their offices to pay the $40.00 for annual returns.

By not putting the proper systems, processes, and procedures in place, you are supporting the culture which accepts nonpayment of rent as a norm.

My question is: Are citizens voting for you because you know how to manage the country’s business or are they voting for you because you let all of us get away with slackness?”  I want to vote for people who can manage the resources of the country in the best interest of the collective.

Toting feelings for 15 years … Really?

Published Trinidad Guardian July 6, 2022.

“Keep the good memories and throw out the bad ones” is a quotation by Norhafsah Hamid, from the book “Back to Basics”. 

Our prime minister has been toting a bad memory for 15 years about the headline of a story written by reporter Darren Bahaw about his first court appearance in his Landate lawsuit.  At a recently held news conference, he waded into Newsday Report Darren Bahaw and even refused to answer his question on the current day issue of Reginald Armour’s appointment as Attorney General.  

I wonder what the Prime Minister and his communications advisors intended to achieve by recalling this 15-year-old grudge especially since the reporter is unlikely to have been the one who wrote the headline.  What are the messages they expected the media and the population to take away from this negative journey down memory lane?

Memories are a database of ideas and thoughts from which we can draw either positive or negative conclusions.  I wonder what other memories our Prime Minister is toting negatively against persons and how and when they will be revealed.  

Citizens are all engaged in a moment-by-moment struggle to survive let alone thrive.  The last thing we want to see is our leader spewing venom based on his unresolved issues.  We want to be inspired to reach out to someone who hurt us 15 years ago and say, “I forgive you, let’s move on”.  Maybe if our Prime Minister demonstrated a capacity for forgiveness some citizens might follow his lead and try to de-escalate moments of conflict. 

Maybe if he kept with the key messages which must have been prepared for the news conference, we would have heard more details about the action plan which has been developed to deal with the violence, now being described as a public health emergency.

Maybe if his tone was warmer and more welcoming, we would be reassured that we can awake every morning and look forward to a brighter day even when there are clouds above.

Our youths need to experience our Prime Minister being always his best self, using language, which is inspirational, and tackling issues that will positively impact their future.  Something has happened to our Prime Minister and his advisors because we are seeing someone who is angry and full of venom.

What we need is a leader who is prepared to focus on respectful engagement.   A leader who continues to tote feelings from as far back as 15 years will not take us where we need to go.  Throwing out bad memories might be difficult, but it is necessary for us to move forward.  The most useful part of bad memories is the teaching that they provide. 

End the stigmatization of mental health

Hans de Vignes chats with Mental Health Counselor Dennise Demming

Hans de Vignes sees himself as a change advocate using his voice to create positive change. He entered the entertainment industry as a host/hype man and today is one of our most sought-after communication voices.
Hans talks in general about his concern for mental wellness and specifically reflects on his own experiences with counseling. He comments that: “we need to stop putting a stigma behind going to a psychiatrist and a psychologist” and accept that it is equal to a medical check-in and does not mean that the person is “mad” or “crazy”.
There is a generational issue where older persons feel that the family can provide whatever support is needed but family structures have changed and mental health counseling is now necessary for persons to thrive.
As an example of a group of persons who will benefit from counseling, Hans refers to members of our protective services and the social and personal pressure they constantly face. He also references the entertainment sector where it is so easy to get caught up in the praise element and for entertainers to see themselves as greater than their reality.
He commented that in a recent group session he said: “As entertainers, we are not inferior. We are not superior. We are different. And embracing those differences is such an important part of life in general inside or outside of entertainment.”
Hans explains that his first encounter with a mental health therapist was because he wanted to get his mind right to move on to the next stage of life. The interview ends with a passionate call for people, particularly in entertainment to go to someone for professional help especially because entertainment comes with a lot of criticism and a lot of praise.”

No Health Without Mental Health

“There is no health without mental health” is the phrase that dominated this conversation with Psychotherapist Marcia Celestine. She has been in practice since the 1980s and specializes in Couple and Family Therapy. Her training and practice span 3 countries – Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and England.

Marcia is concerned that many of our children and young people are not experiencing the best of their childhood and noted the important role of parents in responding to their children’s needs throughout their stages of development.

She urged the business community to focus on raising awareness of mental illness recognizing that unhealthy workers, whether physically or mentally negatively impact productivity. Once an employer recognizes the special needs of an employee, they must be prepared to provide that employee with the space and time to heal.

The conversation shifted to the national community and the need to improve communications about different aspects of mental illness, from self-care to showing empathy and consideration for each other.

Psychotherapist, Marcia Celestine reminds us that there is no health without mental health.