Stop the Destruction of Chaguaramas!

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?

Where is good governance when NCC chairman, ‘Gypsy’, appears in Extempo final?

I raised one brow when Colin Lucas moved from being Chairman of the National Carnival Commission to becoming the Acting Chief Executive Officer.  

Former Chairman of NCC now 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.

Former People’s Partnership Minister Winston Gypsy Peters
receives his instrument of appointment from
PNM Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly,

Update required on the status of Sexual Harassment Legislation and Policies!

As we approach the annual recognition of International Women’s Day, (March 8, 2019), our government owes us an update on the following:

  1. The status of legislation outlawing Sexual Harassment in the workplace.
  2. The status of the protocols associated with the proposed Sexual Harassment legislation.
  3. The status of sensitivity training with regard to Sexual Harassment.

This is a call for women to demand the right to a workplace which is free of Sexual Harassment. What say you Minister of Labour and Small Enterprise Development, Senator Jennifer Baptiste-Primus?

Women’s Rights are Human Rights.

On Storming a Radio Show!

One year ago, on January 26, 2018 Minister Stuart Young called into a radio programme hosted by former Senator Marianno Brown and tried to read a prepared statement. Almost one year later on January 24, 2019, his colleague Minister Fitzgerald Hinds physically storms the radio programme co-hosted by former Minister Ralph Maharaj to respond to an article which the co-host had written for a newspaper. What is common about these two incidents is that Ministers of Government operate under the misguided notion that it is acceptable to barge in on independently operated programmes and have their way.

Well, Mr. Ministers, you are wrong. You do not own independently operated radio stations and you have to earn space in the print medium to communicate your messages.  Let us not forget the negative response given to the late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning for similar action. As a rule of thumb, turning up uninvited to anything is just impolite. My ghetto-born mother told me so and I wonder how goodly Minister Hinds didn’t hear his own mother saying the same thing. Or is it that power has consumed his mind to the extent that he feels he has a right to engage without invitation?

To say that the media landscape has changed is an understatement. This incident occurred in a radio station and a video clip of it was shared on social media. Because the sharing method is not easily trackable, the full extent of its reach is not known. Previously, this uncouth behaviour would only have been exposed to the listeners on the radio station but current media channels allow the incident to be shared, viewed and commented on privately and publicly anywhere in the world. The lesson here for Minister Hinds and his cohort is that you have to be on your best behaviour at all times. Big brother is always watching!

Minister Hinds is a successful role model for many young persons. I hope that they are discerning enough to understand that icons sometimes misstep. This was a misstep by the Minister, so don’t take the message of bullying which it portrays as one of the behaviours to be emulated.

Minister Hinds and this government continue to blunder their communications strategy and tactics. They select “low win” opportunities. Their key messages are not cogently framed. Their style of communication has become either harsh and overly aggressive or convoluted and confusing as evidenced by the lame attempt of Foreign Affairs Minister Moses in the Venezuela issue.

Communication 101 suggests that if there has been inaccurate reporting in one medium, do the strategic assessment and either seek a retraction or equal exposure of the correct information. There is also the opportunity to have a one-on-one discussion about the framing of the content and to provide the correct information directly. It speaks volumes to contemplate that former Ministerial colleagues cannot have an interpersonal exchange to resolve an issue. The unfortunate message to the population is “let’s fight this out on the public stage and show who is in charge now”. Well! Employed MPs, citizens want better from you. We long for intelligent discourse in measured tones. The time has come for civility to return and our elected leaders, whose salaries come from the wallets of citizens must lead the charge and embrace politeness and civility.

A Home for Despers …

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.

My wish upon a Star

I believe many people want a leader who is able to form a human connection with them using both words and deeds. So my single wish for 2019 is a leader who communicates with us this way.

The last time I heard our leader speak was at the PNM Convention in Tobago and I got a sense that it was a checkbox item for him to place a tick next to and move on to the next item on his “to-do” list.

There are three reasons why I want our leader to communicate with us:

Firstly, the economic pundits predict that the economy is not going to be on an upswing anytime soon, so we need someone to rally the troops to convince us that we are “all in this together”. Our leader must help us understand that despite the massive layoffs, separations and firings over the past few years, there is a plan to collaborate to make things better. A leader who is good at communicating will convince us that his five years spent as Leader of the Opposition prepared him to lead us out of this predictable economic decline. He theoretically should have been intimately involved in analysing every budget presentation since 2010, so he should be fully aware of the state of the economy.

The second reason why I want our leader to communicate openly and honestly is that I am seeking reassurance that he is not simply acting in the interest of the “haves” in our society but that project formulation and implementation is being activated with a view towards long term sustainability. For example, I want to hear that the Beverage Container Bill has been completed and there will be a systemic approach to ensuring that single use plastics are separated at home and ready for curbside collection and recycling or disposal.

My third reason for wanting our leader to communicate effectively is that I believed him during the run-up to the 2015 election when he said that transportation is a quality-of-life issue and he encouraged me to imagine what life would be like when the commute from the east would be less than an hour. I want him to explain why nothing has been done to ease this burden. Maybe he should have consulted the Inter-American Development Bank before selling me that dream about a solution to the transportation problem.

Singapore, our starting-gate brother on the other side of the world, knows that without mineral resources, the only source of wealth is the people, and they have motivated, inspired and coerced their citizens to follow a dream which today positions them amongst the richest, most successful countries in the world. Their leader had (and continues to have) a vision of the future which was sold to its citizens. If we have a vision, then it needs to be communicated to us clearly. In the words of American philosopher, James Hume: “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” In Trinidad and Tobago, we have a leader installed but there is an absence of leadership. Had we been blessed with true leadership, we would have been inspired, persuaded and influenced to operate at our highest potential and maybe become the Singapore of the Caribbean.

Urban Renewal PNM style!

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.

Gary needs more lightning, less thunder!

Brace yourself for heightened aggression from the police! That’s the message I received from the recent television interview with Commissioner of Police (CoP) Gary Griffith about the alleged Police killing of five young men in Laventille. To paraphrase this very powerful citizen – anyone who objects to his approach either has not been impacted by crime or benefits from the criminal elements. Additionally, this leader resorted to sarcasm and ridicule to respond to legitimate concerns being raised by the interviewer. In a direct jab at his predecessor’s failure to impact the level of crime, the CoP questioned: has it really worked well for the last few years? In a direct ridicule of the grandmother of one of the slain victims who said that the boys held their hands up, the CoP described her as “Super Granny flying through the air”. Super Gary is confident that he has 95% of the population backing him so feels emboldened to insult citizens.

If I were his boss, I would muzzle him for the next 90 days and only allow the Communications Officer to speak to the Media. My first reason for muzzling him is that we have not really seen the impact of his gun talk as yet. As I write, we are counting the number of murders committed for the weekend. Commissioner Gary needs to give his plans time to work before boasting about how he will peg back the criminals because the evidence is that so far, he has not.

My second reason for muzzling him is that he has to be taught what to say. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind is the saying: “not all talk good tuh talk”. His boast that he will fire anyone caught in wrongdoing simply confirms his ignorance of process and procedure. He cannot do so without following a specific procedure, but the Police Association will teach him that lesson. You may say, “That is not what he meant,” but a true leader would have responded from a position of knowledge. That kind of activity is best dealt with by your actions and not your statement of intent.

My third reason for muzzling him is that as a person in a position of leadership, sarcasm cannot be your “go to” approach. Sarcasm as a literary device is often used when intended to mock or insult. The Commissioner of Police should not be intending to mock or insult any member of the public, particularly the media and, in a media interview. His response “Oh Jesus Lord Fadder…” was simply out of place for a leader.

If the CoP’s boss takes my advice, he would have Gary work tirelessly on finding out exactly what happened with the killing of five youths in Laventille and provide an account to John Public. That would demonstrate his commitment to being accountable. His second task would be to identify a collaborative approach for members of the public to work with the police on providing the information they so desperately need and, thirdly I would make the process of promotion transparent.

And while Gary is on lock-down, his boss needs to remind him of the old Apache saying: “It is better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hand”

Less Testosterone needed to solve the Petrotrin Issue!

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?Collaboration Image
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).

Requiem for Victims of Sexual Harassment

Disaster Concept. Desaster Ahead Roadsign.

You are cordially invited to

The Daily Requiem for all victims of sexual harassment at

Angostura Holdings Limited and indeed throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

The chief celebrant will be

Mr. Terrence Bharath,

Chairman, Angostura Holdings Limited.

In anticipation of his sermon here are two quotes from previous sermons. On July 17th, 2018, his response to my letter said in part:

“In any event, this matter has engaged the attention of the Company, its Attorneys and Board, for a sufficiently long period and the matter is now considered closed”.  Ltr to DDemming 17July2018 SIGNED

His response dated September 18, 2018 said in part:

“Angostura is a company registered under the Companies Act, there are rules and regulations which govern it its operations and dissemination of information. As a member of the Public I’m afraid that you are not entitled to the information which you seek in your letter of 10th September.”  T. Bharath September 18

Here are the questions I posed to the Chief Celebrant:

  1. Is there a sexual harassment policy at Angostura?
  2. When was it implemented?
  3. Was it accompanied by sensitivity/awareness training?
  4. How can a member of the public (an indirect shareholder) access the policy?
  5. What specific actions have the Board taken to ensure that the issue of sexual harassment is ventilated throughout the organization, taking into consideration that sexual harassment is not gender-specific.
  6. What is the clear process for an employee to bring a claim of sexual harassment to the management?

These are simple questions, the provision of whose answers could be easily dispensed with in order to close the matter.

But maybe, just maybe, if he answered the questions, it would be clear that the sexual harassment policy was not implemented until after the claim was made under the Whistle Blower policy. It was a situation of post facto implementation.

Maybe, just maybe, if he answered the questions, it would become obvious that there has been no sensitivity training for employees at Angostura Holdings Limited.

Maybe, just maybe, if he answered the questions, we would realize that the sexual harassment policy is opaque.

Mr. Terrence Bharath was a member of the Board of Directors which presided over three failed attempts to investigate exactly what happened. He is now slapping his female workers in the face by using the Company’s Act as a shield against the legitimate questions and he might be right, but there is a larger dilemma to be considered.

What is the responsibility of companies which are partly owned by the State? Was the Prime Minister not acting on behalf of the people of Trinidad and Tobago when he appointed the Board of Directors? Shouldn’t the tenets of accountability and transparency apply? Don’t we (members of the Public) have a right to be informed of the policies of companies which are partly purchased by our tax dollars?