Maria Daniel – Digital Transformation Strategist at EY. She comments that Trinidad and Tobago is about 10-12 years behind the curve in terms of digital development particularly towards becoming a cashless society. For Maria Covid has acted as an accelerant on our digitization journey. For example, the acceptance of electronic signatures has been advanced but Trinidad and Tobago needs to leap frog to get on the same page with the rest of the world with regard to digitization. She commented that it may not always be beneficial to rely on the western world for digital solutions but with enough research similar solutions from Eastern countries can be available. John Thomas – Teacher/Vocalist/Impresario. John sees art as life and wishes that we could focus greater effort on education including story telling and art appreciation which goes beyond drawing and painting. His discussion has an underlying theme of appreciation and the need for our society to move away from the culture of competition to an approach which focusses on sharing our experiences and stories. His Covid story is that because singing requires the expulsion of breath, he has had to re-imagine the possibilities of using technology to collaborate and change the way voices are brought to the world. John is heavily reliant on the spirit of community to bring us through what he described as this “failed state that we live in”.
I may be late to the party, but MX Prime has nailed it with his recent release Torture. He has demonstrated how our music has told our stories and records key moments in our history. When the history is written, this will be the defining story of early 21st century Trinidad and Tobago and how we dealt with Covid-19.
In one song he has captured the strong emotions of many of us who feel locked in jail since March 2020. His song comments on the deep inequalities which exist in our society. Almost every bar is analogous to real experiences we encounter daily.
From the ‘who know whom’ contact to receive an exemption to return home, to the allegedly ‘normal’ application process to bring in workers to provide labour for your business. When he sings about ‘justice and liberty’, he is singing about our inability to earn a living as the economy slowly grinds to a halt and we continue to pin our hopes on fossil fuel.
We are not seeing the plan about how to live with Covid-19 but how to run away from it.
He sings about locking the ‘carnival in a cell while all the criminals are doing well’. Isn’t that how we feel when we return to our burglar-proofed homes or clutch our purses closer when we have to walk through certain streets or see certain stereotypes approaching?
I certainly feel that the wrongdoers have an advantage over me. It sometimes feels like I am a sitting target waiting for an assault.
The commissioner of police continues to reference the downward trend in our crime statistics, but do we feel any safer? The North West Regional Health Authority boasts in their print advertising campaigns about no maternal deaths, while we read daily about the massive backlog in surgeries in all our health institutions.
We keep focusing on the optics and the pretty wins and not on what is required for us to collectively thrive as a people. Until we are Covid-immunised and we have systems and processes in place to ensure our collective safety, we are all at risk.
Columnist medical doctor David Bratt, president of the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago Patricia Ghany and several other influencers have all had one question: what is our comprehensive plan for immunisation against Covid-19? How are we purchasing the two million doses we need and where are we purchasing it from?
The population is awaiting a clear, comprehensive response to the primary question about the immunisation plan. We are awaiting the press advertisements advising of the details. We are hoping that it will not be a situation similar to the testing in which you can pay for your tests.
The prime minister’s uncertainty about the number of Covax vaccines does not inspire confidence in the population. Indeed, our notoriety for designing ineffective systems is likely to play out once again and those with the means will have access to a vaccine while others languish.
This will be disastrous because herd immunity requires that the majority of the population be immunised, and that will only happen under leadership that is forward-thinking and collaborative.
Published on Wired868, Wednesday 27 January 2021
A friend recently lamented the advantages people who live in the north of our island have over people who live in the south. My impatient response showed my disgust with these silly discussions about north v south, Indo v Afro, prestige v secondary schools, Westmoorings v Beetham and the full range of divisive discussions we have about a number of topics.
The futility of these binary discussions came to mind as I reflected on the deep wound inflicted by the people of Tobago on the leader of the 65-year-old People’s National Movement via the tied results of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections.
The fact that 50% of the population rejected the leadership provided by their own homeboy or ‘ah we buoy’, as they say, it sends a powerful message of discontent.
Sir Winston Churchill is credited with the saying ‘never let a good crisis go to waste.’ This provides the opportunity for the spotlight to shine on our leaders and beckon them to show their minions, and all the world, that we don’t have to like or agree with each other to work towards the common good.
Here is an opportunity for collaboration in the best interest of Tobago, but it will take maturity and commonality of purpose for egos to be set aside and a common agenda and road map to be established. Such an outcome will change the ‘winner takes all’ strategy that has over many years resulted in wastage of resources and animosity in political discourse.
It will break the facade of the public hate that our politicians display, while they privately share a beverage or two. It will signal that once the elections are over, the vitriol should end, and politicians will collaborate across the aisle in the interest of the citizens of our country.
This idea that opponents can achieve a common purpose is informed by the work of author, academic and peace negotiator Adam Kahane of Reos Partners and the University of Oxford. For two decades they have successfully worked on troubling global issues like democracy and climate change and Kahane has concluded that ‘to get something done that really matters to us, we need to work with people we don’t agree with or like or trust.’
We hasten to reject ideas from other cultures and talk about our unique culture, but it is worth remembering that culture is learned behaviour and can be unlearned. If our population sees our leaders working towards a common good, the behaviour and ideas may trickle down and positively impact all, including trade unions, civil servants, gang leaders and every person who holds leadership positions at every level of our society.
Maybe this is the game-changing opportunity our society needs to wake up and reinvent ourselves with renewed vigour and vitality. Here is an opportunity for Prime Minister Keith Rowley to signal the very positive message that we can work together even if we disagree.
Does he have the courage to dare to be different? To quote young American poet Amanda Gorman: “To put our future first, we must put our differences aside.”
So Gregory Aboud jumped out of his corner and suggested that we have a carnival celebration and everybody wants to kill him because, primarily, they say it is too little too late.
Is it possible that he is too far away from our perceptions of who can speak about carnival with authority? Are we being biased?
On this occasion, I am jumping up behind the ‘Textile King’ because he has a point. Trinidad and Tobago must put down a marker and establish a placeholder if we are to live up to our boast of being ‘The Mecca of Carnival’.
While the notion of curating our carnival history is admirable and necessary it is insufficient. We need to think through how to have a carnival which provides the annual catharsis that more than 300,000 citizens voluntarily engage in. More importantly, how to retain our place as the world carnival leader?
The issue of the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival has been at the back of our minds for many years now and Covid has simply brought it, so to speak, right to the stage. Instead of writing it off as undoable, let’s dream of how it can be done safely.
In the absence of guidelines or conditions under which to have our Carnival, I assure you that there will continue to be ‘zesser’ and ‘wesser’ parties and other forms of gatherings that could result in more community Covid spread.
We do not have enough police to police the people. Our leadership has obviously not bought into the notion that form follows function and may have taken the view that it is easier and cheaper to just write off Carnival. But is it?
We are unlikely to ever be able to calculate the psycho-social cost to the country of doing so.
Here is an opportunity to engage the entire country, including businesses and schools, in addressing and answering the question: how can we celebrate Carnival 2021 safely and without government funding while following the rules of wearing a mask; keeping sanitised; keeping in clusters of ‘x’ and maintaining a physical distance of ‘y’.
We may not agree with the DOMA president’s view of two-metre-wide costumes, but what he is expressing is a feeling that many of us share. And that is our Carnival is as necessary as going to church.
Let’s use our ingenuity to place a marker in the sand and really own the carnival space of the future.
The fly in the ointment of this kind of thinking is that there is no obvious way of making money and too many of our ‘Carnival czars’ can only create on the canvas of dollar bills. 2021 is not the year for making money. It is the year for making magic for future money.
Let’s not simply consign Mr Aboud’s idea to the dump heap but find a way for it to stimulate us into re-thinking Carnival as a one love experience in which we engage in mutual respect and love for each other; and demonstrate that we can be disciplined in our behaviour and still find a way to have the catharsis that the festival gives us.
It can be our opportunity to show the world that we are living with Covid without cowering from it.
I am reminded of a scene from the movie ‘Matrix’ where Neo and Morpheus are in an empty white area and Neo asked where they were. Morpheus said it’s called a ‘construct’, and they can put into it anything we want.
We need to view Carnival in that space. It’s a construct into which the stakeholders can put anything.
We do not have to be tied to the traditional forms of Carnival which may no longer be as valid as 100 years ago. Mr Aboud is simply asking us to think!
It’s January 2021, and I can only reminisce and fill the silence of pan-less evenings with musings about what can be done to make magic in 2022 or possibly 2023. January is usually my month for late evenings filled with the repetition of steelpan notes and chords, deciphering the phrases of soca artistes and exchanging warm hugs with friends who are home for Carnival.
But the silence of these long Carnival evenings has provided an opportunity to weave a new tapestry for our future Carnivals and festivals.
Alas, the distant sound of the oilfield pumping jack and the muted hiss of gas lines drown out our capacity to think of the potential of the creative economy. Trinidad and Tobago must pivot away from oil and gas and embrace our only true resource—the creativity of our people.
How easy it is for us to ‘puff up’ our collective chests and talk about the talent which abounds in this land, from the visual arts to the performing arts and every category in-between.
However, the harsh reality is that there is neither respect for nor recognition of the value of a creative economy. At the governmental level, on one hand, we continue to intentionally starve the arts sector of funding and other resources, favouring the purely academic and industrial. Meanwhile, on the other hand, we view the arts and the persons who drive it as continually needing hand-outs.
At the personal level, we refuse to honour the work of our musicians and their producers by freely uploading their music online without permission, so that they get no royalties whatsoever from this form of theft. We still ask graphic artists and photographers to do work for free or ‘exposure’.
What is needed is a plan for the all-round development and sustainability of the sector. We know now that the late former Prime Minister Patrick Manning had his finger on the pulse when he championed the creation of a framework for the development of the arts. Today, UTT and similar creations are rudderless and even being destroyed with little suggested as to possible replacements.
In this time of closed borders and an inward focus, we should be shaping the development of the creative sector and intensifying the programmes aimed at learning opportunities for teachers and students. The focus should be on evolving the creative sector into one which is sustainable and uses the talents of all of our people. We must be ready for business when the new world begins to open again.
Long before Covid and the isolation it requires, the UN General Assembly contemplated the rudiments of the creative economy. Indeed, it declared 2021 as the International Year of the Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. This declaration came in 2019 and today, we have an opportunity to live this pronouncement and make it our reality.
Traditional economies were built on the exploitation of land, labour and capital. We have oil and gas as natural resources, but although they have been a blessing by providing us with income far beyond our expectations, they’ve also been a curse because we were not grown-up enough to use the income wisely.
Thus its haphazard exploitation has shaped our current day reality. Sadly for us, the time for such fossil fuel use appears to be coming to a fast end.
It is time to pivot towards the development of the creative industries. This means exploiting the interplay between ‘human creativity, intellectual property, knowledge and technology’ to achieve and maintain sustainable development.
It may be difficult to conceptualise that creativity is an answer, but a rethink of the possibilities will open a new range of jobs and industries as we transform Trinidad and Tobago into a creative economy powered by people.
Let’s use the isolation of 2021 to begin the transformation to a creative economy powered by our people.
Published on Wired868.com Monday 4 January 2021
A little more than 33 months ago, before Ms Paula-Mae Weeks was elected president of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, she was at the top of her game serving in another jurisdiction.
Today she is publicly expressing her disappointment at the absence of good governance for the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and runs the risk of being yet another complainer using her office as a soapbox.
The tone and mood of the New Year’s message to the people of Trinidad and Tobago from our president came as no surprise to me. The president has on several other occasions had some harsh comments to make to members of parliament. Indeed, the sobriquet ‘Auntie-Tantie’ was given to her because of such a tendency.
Recall her address to the Twelfth Parliament, when she asked:
“Can we trust you? I am asking for a friend. Or more precisely, firstly, for the roughly 658,000 citizens who on August the 10th did their civic duty, hoping that you prove ready, willing and able to ensure their security, prosperity and future, as well as for the rest of the population.
“Honourable members, can we trust you to discharge your functions in accordance with your oath?”
This was a poignant question and indicated a serious cause for concern which has continued.
Some may react by suggesting that the president has her own responsibilities to take care of, and until her house is in order she should shut up. Others may comment that since the role is merely ceremonial, she should just go with the flow.
The point is that until the office is removed, the office holder has a responsibility not only to express areas of disenchantment but also to suggest some solutions—and this is where I take issue with the continued bouffing.
The fact that the president continues to speak publicly about the shortcomings of the government is worrisome. It indicates to me that she may have either given up on finding solutions, or she has been worn down by the systems and processes which are archaic and unproductive.
Is it that the systems and structures through which she can engage in meaningful dialogue are not functioning? If so, why are they not functioning? Is it that the president has thus far expressed her views to no avail?
Section 81 of the Constitution states that: ‘the prime minister shall keep the president fully informed concerning the general conduct of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’. Is it that Section 81 is being ignored?
Whatever the reason, here is an opportunity for the president to work tirelessly to ensure that the systems and processes are re-designed to ensure positive collaboration.
The first step towards implementing meaningful change is awareness, and her continued articulation of her discomfort tells me that she is aware of some of the problems. What is needed now is the development and implementation of a strategy to resolve the problem.
I suggest that madame president takes counsel in her own words and: ‘with urgency have those national conversations followed by the necessary action’ with the members of parliament whom she swore in, just five months ago.
To do otherwise her statement as follows will become our reality: ‘although from today the dates on our diaries and cheques read 2021, we will still be haunted by the ghosts of 2020’.
It is easy to blame public servants’ ‘mistakes’ for an eight-month delay in appointing the Board of the Trinidad and Tobago Securities and Exchange Commission (TTSEC) as reported in a recent newspaper article.
Public servants have become the most recent whipping horse of a government whose inaction contributes to the poor quality performance of the public service. Between 2015 and today, there is no discernible improvement in service delivery at our government offices.
As an aside, I recently tried to make an appointment with the Companies Registry and discovered that there is a difference between ‘unavailable, not available and not yet available’. The result is that I cannot make an online appointment for the foreseeable future.
This is not simply Public Service inefficiency, it is an example of systemic failure. If you take a poor analog system and put it online, it will result in a worse online system.
Our systems are crumbling and there is no clear indication of when and how they will be re-designed or improved. There is a lot of chatter about digital transformation but specific attention must be paid to the people who will continue to underpin the systemic changes upon which we must embark.
Public blaming and shaming of the public servants is actually counterproductive and will not inspire people to make their best contribution. Instead of blaming, leaders must take responsibility and reflect on the role they played—in what was, in this case, an eight-month delay.
Oftentimes, it is not the public servant to be blamed, but the leaders who still believe in command-and-control as an appropriate leadership strategy and refuse to allow public servants to get on with the job as best as they can.
The public blaming and shaming simply communicated the mindset of the Minister of Finance and underlined his disrespect for the public servants who have to continue to turn up and try to do their best, while cognisant of his disdain for them.
It is standard operating procedure for a file to have been created which tracks how this eight-month delay occurred. It would be useful to use that file as a case study to improve the system rather than using the whip in an attempt to change behaviour.
Public servants are the link between the government and the public. Without them, the government absolutely cannot function.
No minister can handle all the work generated by their mission. Capable people must act as buffers and translators between the public and any minister. So public servants must be led in a manner that facilitates productivity and goal attainment.
Effective leaders accept responsibility for the decisions and outcomes of their organisation. It is time for our leaders to stop the blame game and begin to nurture a culture of taking responsibility and being accountable; but it begins with them demonstrating their willingness to be accountable and transparent.
Just as the leader is smug and boastful when there is success, he/she must step up to the plate and accept that the buck stops with them.
The 33rd president of the United States, Harry S Truman, is credited with a desk sign that read “The buck stops here”, which was his motto.
Our current politicians would be well advised to embrace that notion and take full responsibility, especially when things go wrong, instead of blaming others.