Demise of Refining – The Legacy of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley

I left the oil Industry in 1989 because I was impatient with the wait for the VSEP money which was rumoured to be on the way.  Since then, citizens of Trinidad and Tobago knew that Trintoc/Petrotrin needed dramatic restructuring, but our politicians continued to use the company as a reward centre for party faithfuls while organizational decay took root.

Petrotrin’s arrow to the heart occurred under the watch of the PNM with the failed gas to liquids deal. The principle of collective responsibility requires that the current Prime Minister and Minister of Finance take full responsibility and admit that they were part of that decision making.  They were part of the government of the day. Maybe this bold move by Prime Minister Rowley is such an admission and an attempt to redeem himself and the PNM. But this decision in his 35th month in office is problematic.  Does he have the time to recover from the fall out? 1,700 families will wake up with a cheque in hand, but little else.  Several other families of contractors, small businesses and suppliers will soon after realize the dagger to their hearts.  The “Wetman” and John Public will be asking … so how am I getting gas for my TIDA? The legacy voters of the PNM will be waiting to be told what the next move will be.  The Prime Minister is relying on the PNM faithful to help him ride this tumultuous wave.

Over the past 20 years, we have seen alternative administrations dismantle the decisions of their predecessors to the detriment of the country.  You and I, our children and our grandchildren will all have had to pay the price for the arrogance and lack of collaboration of these people. Not one Prime Minister over the past 20 years has demonstrated the ability to act in the national interest by doing whatever was necessary to collaborate on these huge decisions.  Prime Minister Rowley could have used this opportunity to “Collaborate With the Enemy” (the title of a book by Adam Kahane – ) with a vision of Trinidad and Tobago in 50+ years.  This issue is bigger than crime and money laundering because of its economic, social and political impact.  My memory of it will be how my generation failed after a 75-year experiment with the refining industry.

The founder of the PNM, the late Dr. Eric Williams sold me the concept of taking charge of the commanding heights of the economy.  His successor is now systematically dismantling every vestige of those commanding heights.

For more than two years, I have been writing about the need for accountability, transparency and collaboration and how it can potentially impact us positively.  This is another lost opportunity for true collaboration in order to change the conversation. Instead what prevails is the “winner take all” strategy and dominance of the patriarchy.

So far, your legacy, Mr. Prime Minister, is to dismantle the vision of our first Prime Minister.

I suppose, when you return to Mason Hall and the 3 golf courses, you will feel proud that it was not “From Mason Hall to White Hall” but From Mason Hall to Mason Hall!

Imbert … neither the love nor the likes!

Jamaican reggie artist Chronixx does it for the “love, not the likes”.  That is the line that dominated my mind in the recent hurricane of lashes that the Minister of Finance received from his post budget discussion.


I am convinced that Minister Imbert does it neither for the love nor the likes.  He has been returned to office by his constituents for the past 25 years and this reassures him (the way a battered woman reassures her abuser) that the population will always love him. But politics and spousal abuse are not the same and it is only a matter of time before his constituents say, “enough is enough.”  While I recognize that the vote is for the brand (ie. the party), the representative will either add value or diminish the brand by his actions and words, and at the moment the brand seems to be going in the wrong direction.

Minister Imbert, like the leadership of the current Cabinet represents a cohort which refuses to believe that our future politics will be determined on social media. He is stuck in a paradigm which died at the turn of the last century.  Public figures and indeed politicians whose salaries WE PAY, MUST engage us respectfully.  Communicating in an age of social media means that your every communication must be based on a wellthought through strategy that considers (a) your target audience and (b) the outcomes you wish.  Once your strategy is agreed, and the target audience identified, then you shape the message and decide on the messenger.

Communicating in a digital age means that audiences want quick, easily digestible messages.  They will not engage with the 3-hour budget presentation or the full clip of the exchange at the post-budget discussion.  They will receive whatever is trending and unfortunately in this instance, what was consumed was an articulate black women taking on a sullen faced white politician.  No legal threat or manoeuvre could erase that impact.

The current government has been weak at traditional Communications and they are even weaker at communicating in a digital age. What is needed is a total re-design of the engagement strategy of the government at every level, from the budget presentation to the employment practices of public servants.  Systems re-design is the only way to become effective.

Here’s a CNBC comment that could put some reality to the dinosaur-like thinking that is passing for communications and leadership.

“At 2.01 billion, Facebook has more monthly active users than WhatsApp (500 million), Twitter (284 million) and Instagram (200 million)—combined.  (Source: CNBC)”.

Minister Imbert doesn’t seem to care for the love nor the likes so it’s licks for the population.


Sans Website?

office-of-the-prime-ministerLong time ago, when the internet was in the toddler stage, I asked a “techie guru” why do I need a website?  His response – “it’s like your home address”.  In today’s world everything on social media pivots to your website where you essence is communicated.  It is the place where you invite people to learn about you and  decide if they want to do business with you.  That rationale has not changed.

Why then when I google “Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago” I get an under construction message.  But when I google “Office of the Prime Minister of Canada” I get a dynamic website which even includes his itinerary.


In today’s world if you are interested in communicating with your population, you have to use the internet and the range of online tools which it offers.  Inviting yourself to a radio programme just allows you to speak to 18 percent of the population.  What about the other 82 percent?  And what about the youth cohort for whom the internet is their sand box?  Recently I was able to hear the Valedictorian on Facebook Live broadcast from one of the the graduation ceremonies at the University of the West Indies.  This just shows the power of the internet if used sensibly.

I can’t think of one reason why the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago does not have a functioning website.  It must be a new deliberate strategy to not communicate.  It must be because my Prime Minister and his advisers have no desire to engage  “Pradeep Public”.  It must be because they are have no interest in being inclusive.  It must be because they think they have all the answers.  It must be that the Government just does not understand that the future we must create requires an ICT strategy which enables our people to have information at their finger tips.

We keep talking about diversification.  If ICT does not form the backbone of the diversification strategy then we’ll be saying welcome to the past”. 

Our country has the potential, the people and the creativity.  What we lack is the leadership!

Agree or perish …

Imagine the outcome if all government decisions were made on the basis of unanimity.  The people would benefit in unimaginable ways.  Instead what exists is government based on consensus which for some leaders means “I’ve listened to your views and will let you know what is your opinion”.  This happens in business organizations of varying sizes and objectives as well.  The difference is that in commercial organizations the business owner operates in his own interest, with his own funding, but in government, you are operating on behalf of the people who elected you so your decisions have intergenerational implications.

A world based on unanimity means we would all be of one mind.  It will make compliance so much easier.  The Greek philosopher Marcus Cicero said, “Great is the power, great is the authority of a senate that is unanimous in its opinions.”  Substitute senate with government. Unanimity means total agreement before we move on whereas  consensus means we have general agreement or accord.   Time and time again we have seen decision making by consensus fall apart and when it falls apart there are dire consequences. Coalition governments are notorious for decision making by consensus and it leads to weak decisions.

Dream with me for a moment: how would crime be impacted if the government, meaning party in power and the opposition agreed on a crime plan?  I guarantee you that crime would be reduced in a short time. Or if they agreed a method for party financing.  Then no financier would be able to hold anyone to ransom.

Unanimity as a method of operating is difficult.  Just imagine, planning your family vacation on the basis of unanimity.  It will be nightmarish but when you come to agreement it will make sense and be binding.  Our country has suffered tremendously because there is no mechanism for agreeing on the imperatives for development.  A Bajan friend lamented that elections in T&T mean starting over the race whereas in other countries it means passing on the baton.  I had no answer for this because it is so true.

Over the years we have lost tons of money on so many initiatives like building the Interchange, halting Vision 20:20 and building a mass transit system.  New governments feel compelled to stop whatever is in progress, repackage it and start over.  Boards change in private sector organizations but the strategic direction remains.  When it is time to change strategy, it is approached in a systematic manner.  When governments change strategy the population is hardly ever included. One can argue that the manifesto is the opportunity for inclusion of the population but the practice would not support such a thesis.  The need for a mechanism through which there is agreement is critical.

The next true leader to distinguish himself or herself in our country will do so by seeking unanimity on a few big ticket items.   The country is yearning for a different kind of leader with a style that is even handed, transparent and visionary.   Fifty years ago the Eric Williams vision transitioned us from colonialism to independence.  The leader of the future has to take us to the next stage -interdependence.

In an interdependent world we will have to focus more on broad interests and less on small niches of people who will benefit.  This means that objective criteria will have to guide decision making.  Technology continues to shrink our global village while events in the remotes places have huge impacts locally.   Our future survival requires a different approach.  Decision making based on unanimity is a doable option in a country of our size.