The statement that Trinidadians are undisciplined has never sat comfortably with me.
The statement insinuates that we are unable to carefully control the way we work, live, or behave, especially to achieve our goals. My intuition is that, as a people, we do what the system allows and whatever we can get away with.
Think of our panyards; they are clear examples of communities being goal-oriented, observing strict division of labour, following the instructions of the leader and accepting the consequences. Bands are unlikely to succeed if they break these rules.
Think of Mas Bands and the traditional Carnival Mas Camps. They know the goal, organise to deliver the products and, in the majority of cases, hit the road on time and within budget.
Parallel these thoughts with our excellent handling of Covid-19 and what you see is that the goal was clear. It was to flatten the curve. The consequences were articulated by WHO and most international media houses.
You knew that you could become seriously ill, die or cause the death of your loved one. The context and remedy were communicated—close the borders and stay home.
It is the first time that I have seen our politicians take the advice of the scientists and follow it to the letter.
I hope this marks a new era in our development, an era in which our politicians and leaders will listen and take action based on science and data and not on their gut feelings.
But it is not as simple as following advice; a clear goal must be articulated and this is where we have failed big time over the past 62 years as an independent nation. Vision 2020 was an excellent effort but it fell by the wayside and Vision 2030 is a ‘gambage’—flashy but short on substance.
The ‘blue economy’ as articulated by the former People’s Partnership coalition government, like many other plans which were driven from the top, never really resonated with the population.
For example, if proper information is publicly provided, any citizen should be able to articulate the long term plans for any government project: like ‘flatten the curve’. But at the moment, those plans are not evident and the political rhetoric continues to be vitriolic and accusatory.
We have very little data to drive decision-making. And in this eleventh Parliament, no clear, strategic directions were articulated to ensure that the systems, structures and processes are put in place to strengthen our data-gathering capacity. We are not even sure which institution has the responsibility, and the Central Statistical Office (CSO) is lagging way behind.
Whoever forms the next government must focus on decision-making based on data. Otherwise our country will continue to lag behind on every indicator of development.
Worse than that, the already decades-long brain drain will continue, and those of us left to make sense of the continuing chaos will have an almost impossible task.
For us to change the backward direction of our country, citizens have a responsibility to demand that our systems, processes and structures are designed to work in the digital space of the 21st century.
This is one of the letters which I have written to Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years.
Dear Prime Minister
I began writing to you in July of 2016 from the perspective of a concerned citizen. So far I have made suggestions with regard to the following issues:
The absence of a 5-7 year Strategic Plan
The escalating crime situation
The absence of opportunities for recently graduated returning nationals
The Tourism Sector and our efforts at diversification
The need to provide a secondary school for the children of Carenage
The possibility of introducing a “Systems/Design Thinking” project in our schools
The idea of the walkable cities and the positive benefits to be derived
Making Chaguaramas into a “Bus only” zone
Transportation as a quality of life issue
May I suggest that in your capacity as Minister of Public Utilities with responsibility for T&TEC that you encourage the company to lead the charge of deriving cost savings from the reduced use of electricity by following these steps:
Do an audit of the cost of electricity utilized by various Ministries.
Invest in timing systems to take the lights off for identified periods especially during the night time.
Measure the cost over a period.
Boast about the cost savings and encourage consumers to do the same.
Implemented successfully you will look smart and connect with people on a real level.
Yours for our country!
Dennise Demming (Mrs.) MBA, BSc., Cert-Mass Comm Citizen
This is one of the letters which I have written to Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years.
Dear Prime Minister,
In your 21st month in office I wish to continue along the theme of Transportation.
I found the following bits of information on the IDB website where the “IDBG Country Strategy with the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago 2016-2020” is published and have lifted them verbatim for your consideration:
Estimated cost of time lost and fuel spent due to congestion is US$267- 345 million per year.
IDB Analysis of Mass Transit Alternatives in Trinidad and Tobago prepared in 2016 found that the Western corridor is 8km long and it takes as much as 36 minutes to reach POS; on the Eastern Corridor POS to Sangre Grande is 45 km long and could take up to 2 hours to commute; and, on the Southern Corridor POS to San Fernando is 45 km long and could take as much as 2 hours to commute.
The National Climate Change Policy (2011) indicates that carbon dioxide emissions have doubled from 1990 levels of 1,313 Gg to 2,622 Gg in 2006, and highlights that this rising trend correlates with the increase in the number of registered vehicles from 150,000 to 275,000 over the same period.
These 3 facts rang alarm bells in my head and I wonder why despite your full knowledge of this, your government seems to be adopting the business as usual policy to the issue of transportation.
I once again suggest that you appoint a multi disciplinary committee including urban planners and young change makers to present modern solutions to our transportation issues. Taking this action will address 3 issues: congestion on the roads, reduction in commute time and vehicular congestion on the roads.
It will also add some credibility to your campaign trail commentary about “transportation being a quality of life issue”.
Yours for our country! Dennise Demming (Mrs.) MBA, BSc., Cert-Mass Comm Citizen
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
My first visit to the seaside was Carenage, and in particular, Williams Bay. We travelled by bus and eventually I would “borrow” my father’s Raleigh bicycle (before the permission was given), put the seat to its lowest position and ride to Carenage. I remember that Pier 1 was not even a thing. Today, its building is imposing and it is home to several boats spewing sewage into Williams Bay. If you look closely, there is a slight shimmer on the water around the boats providing further evidence that “stuff” is being disposed of in the water. This is the same location where families frolic in the sun oblivious of the sewage and pollutants.
Heading further west into the peninsula is depressing; you pass the dilapidated hoardings through which you catch glimpses of concrete structures at different stages of completion; the remnants of a dream of a museum, and on the right, the O2 Park where the hill is being or has been raped.
If you turn north and head to Macqueripe, you see a welcome sign saying “U Pick” which used to be a small business where you were able to pick your vegetables from the stem before buying them and recall that this very area was the home to recent Carnival Fetes. Other locations in Chaguaramas have also been used to host fetes including one constituency’s “Bush Party”.
Astonishingly, a geologist is presiding over this destruction of the Chaguaramas Peninsula and that is troubling. We may say that it is all in the interest of development, but I disagree. There are many instances in other countries where development was done in concert with nature. We cannot continue destroying the natural beauty with which this country has been blessed.
They tell me that Chaguaramas has some of the most arable agricultural lands in the country and I believe them because of what I have experienced. I have seen Howler monkeys swinging in the trees, butterflies flitting amongst the shrubs, parrots screeching atop bamboo clumps and the morning mist blanketing the golf course. These experiences are precious and available freely to any citizen but they will disappear if we continue to abuse nature in the way that we are doing. Indeed, the monkeys are not as plentiful and the fauna and flora not as rich as when I first started exercising in Chaguaramas.
We have a collective responsibility to ensure that our employees (the politicians) act in our collective interest and in this case, it means that they must declare and protect Chaguaramas as a National Park. It means stopping the continued destruction of the hills at O2, discontinuing the annual Carnival Fetes and Jouvert Parties which chase away all animal life and ensuring that the status of Chaguaramas as a National Park is attained.
Who would have thought that a Geologist would do otherwise?
I raised one brow when Colin Lucas moved from being Chairman of the National Carnival Commission to becoming the Acting Chief Executive Officer.
Both eyebrows were raised when he was succeeded by former UNC Minister Winston Gypsy Peters. Seamlessly moving from Director to Executive is not a new phenomenon in sweet T&T but that doesn’t make it palatable. We have come to a new normal which flies in the face of good governance. From active politician to Commissioner of Police; from alleged “gang leader” to stormer of the President’s House and back to being arrested by the Police, the stench is suffocating and the behaviour shameful. The judges of the Extempo competition will have to engage in deep compartmentalisation to not see their Chairman on stage but to only see the Extempo artiste. They would have to forget on whose behalf they are judging the competition and see it as an art form that promotes one genre of the cultural milieu that is Carnival. They would be required to engage in a level of maturity and objectiveness that will not be influenced by their prior feelings or opinions about their Chairman. To be clear, here’s my concern. The Chairman according to the “STATE ENTERPRISES PERFORMANCE MONITORING MANUAL” is responsible for “Ensuring at all times the recognition by the Board of the distinction between Board issues and Management issues”. The judging of the Extempo competition is a management issue for which the Chairman has ultimate responsibility. As a participant in the competition, will he be able to carry out his responsibility if there is a challenge? Maybe he will, given the ease with which he has been able to traverse both the red and the yellow political parties. One unintended consequence is the sending of the message that once you are in power you can flaunt the rules to suit your every whim and fancy. Gypsy being in the extempo may be seen as “a small thing” because it really has little financial impact but it isn’t. The messaging is wrong from a governance viewpoint. It unfortunately represents a prevalent attitude by those in power that “we are in charge” and you can do whatever you wish, we will run this place as we see fit even if we run it into the ground. I do hope for his sake that Gypsy is NOT crowned the Extempo king but the data suggests otherwise. It is likely that the King and the Chairman will reign in 2019 in the same body.
A photograph by Maria Nunes stirred emotions in me that I thought I had quelled. I cry for Laventille when I remember the beauty of the people and the ambition and the sense of striving I grew up with. The callous may say, “Nostalgia!” But it was real. The memories are blurred, but the sense of being, living, knowing is as real as the moonlit sky with music in the background. It is as real as hanging over the pan stand and allowing the music to envelop your being ‘til the tenor pan rings in your heart … or stepping away and propping on a wall a little distance away, but close enough to feel every note. The panyard gave us hope! We saw young men and boys who were “otherwise engaged” outside of the panyard performing at an exceptional standard and we respected them for their talent. Eventually some of them represented the country and therefore the community on the world stage. They “lifted our noses” as we used to say.
The Despers panyard was a communal space where we all felt safe. Visitors were protected and you believed that the Statue of the Virgin Mary atop the spire protected you from every evil. For the 10 years I functioned as the Public Affairs Manager at Witco, going up the hill to lime was normal but then small incidents became bigger and bringing it to the attention of the Police was a waste of time.
How can a band with one of the longest sponsorship arrangements be homeless today – bouncing from vacant lot to vacant lot in the city of Port of Spain? How can a community which has elected the PNM solidly since 1956 be allowed to become so unsafe that it can no longer be home to its pride and joy? The children of Laventille have chased the band away from its own home and PNM Members of Parliament presided over this travesty. Had the Members of Parliament found ways for meaningful collaboration, maybe by now Despers would have been handed the keys to their new home. Maybe, we would have had a functional, custom built pan theatre which is acoustically perfect for our national instrument. Maybe, we would have developed a blueprint for Pan Theaters throughout the country and indeed the world. Instead Despers continues to squat in their third (or is it fourth) location around the city. Or is it that I am just nostalgic? Is Despers now an anachronism? Does the band still still connect with the community?
I think not. Despers is as important as every other steelband in this country and it is time for us as a people to find a way to include steelband in our development.
Recently I returned to the place of my childhood, Quarry Street, East Dry River. It was just 7:30 pm and the streets were quiet. No families sitting out … no fellas liming under the street light, just an eerie quiet. I noticed that there were several cars neatly parked on one side of the street. It struck me that this street of my childhood was no longer a neat row of houses with plants in the front, filled with the laughter of families enjoying the evening breeze from their galleries. The quiet was troubling and I wondered out loud, “Why people have stopped passing time under the streetlights and on the corners?” My passenger exclaimed, “Girlfriend, they fraid gun toting bandits!” Equally troubling was the dilapidated buildings which dotted this one-mile stretch from Observatory Street to the top of Quarry Street.
It’s true that things are always changing, but I expected that things would have been better. Instead the evidence of poverty and decline is “in yuh face”. The halfway “falling down” former family homes, the piles of garbage on the corners, the roaming stray dogs, the vine-covered trailer truck which once housed Syncopaters steelband — all tell a story of a community in decline. I wondered about the plan for resuscitation and renewal.
My reason for being there was to drop someone home. Our journey was filled with nervous chatter about the dangers of living in such an area and having to rely on the informal public transportation (unregistered drivers using their cars as taxis) which exists in the absence of any formal system in that area. Transportation there has always been problematic, and for the past 50 years, no government has worked on finding solutions.
This is just one example of a wicked problem crying out for a solution. This areas has voted solidly for the PNM except for the 1986 election when they temporarily voted for the NAR. It is not surprising that this community has been ghettoised over the past 40-something years, but it is time to try a different engagement strategy which takes the residents into consideration. A strategy of collaboration across the community with all stakeholders being accountable for the outcomes. The people who live in this community enjoy easy access to the city and are often not interested in moving out. They just want basic opportunities to live a safe life.
Breathing new life into that community can begin by simply helping residents unravel the ownership of the lands on which their houses are built. The rebirth and revitalization of our troubled communities is not only a government responsibility, it is an opportunity for collaboration and once it is successful in one area, has the potential to spread like wildfire to other communities. Two important quality of life factors are housing and transportation, both of which have proved to be unsolvable by our current politicians.
What we need are politicians with vision, empathy and backbone who are prepared to provide inspired leadership.
The Petrotrin story could have had a better outcome if only there was less testosterone being thrown about. This is clearly a situation of, “I am in charge and I will do what I want.” Considering that you have been a large part of the decision making over the past 20 years and are therefore responsible, do you believe that this how to run a company a (or country) competently? The PNM has presided over bad decision making and politicking at Petrotrin for decades, but now the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance only want to express this situation purely with economics. The crucial facet being missed by purely economic argument is that this is also a socio-cultural issue and a human development issue. It is about changing the way labour and business interact to produce outcomes, moving from the futility of adversarial stance to a collaborative one.
Once again, the government isis also missing the “boat” by turning its back on an opportunity to be a game-changer. There could have been two outcomes; first, a message to “John and Kavita Public” that we have to give a fair day’s labour for a fair day’s pay and second, negotiated (ie. mutually agreed) outcomes are more likely to succeed than those which are adversarial. For either of these outcomes to be achieved, deep dialogue and collaboration would have been required.
The leadership keeps missing the potential demonstration effect that can impact every part of our country. Instead they choose the worn-out power play informed by “might is right” and the power of the patriarchy. Our country needs to see good minds get together (regardless of gender or socioeconomic status), and have a robust exchange of ideas to emerge with solutions which they all agree to uphold. If that happens it will signal that we are really “all in this together”. How can this autocratic display of power be allowed to occur in the lead up to elections? I keep hearing a line from Sparrow’s little ditty – “Who ain’t like it could get the hell out of here”.
The leadership is also missing the “boat” which can signal that there is always a middle ground that could be attained but it requires accountability, collaboration and transparency. How could you sign a Memorandum of Agreement in April and less than six months later, pretend that it never existed? There was a time when a person’s word was his bond and we had gentlemen’s agreements. Well, if a written agreement can be broken at this level, then what do you expect from the ordinary citizens? They will behave exactly as the leadership and speak with “forked tongues”.
The anecdotal evidence suggests that this population is waiting and anxious to follow anyone whom they believe will be honest and act in their common interest and not in the interest of certain cliques of people. What the Prime Minister and his circle should be doing is figuring out how to get Roget and his aggressors to sit around a table and hammer out an agreement. They will all then have the moral authority to tackle WASA, the Police, the Health Sector and anywhere there is public expenditure in the provision of goods and services.
The industrial court has given us an opportunity and it is up to us to grasp it, run with it and be guided by the notions of Accountability, Collaboration and Transparency (ACT).