Property Matters – Sandals Shuffle

“…we are running a country, not a Company…”
—Mia Mottley QC MP, Barbados PM – from her inaugural budget Wednesday, 20 March 2019

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“…we are running a country, not a Company…”
—Mia Mottley QC MP, Barbados PM – from her inaugural budget Wednesday, 20 March 2019

This title occurred to me due to the quiet backsliding of the main supporters of the Tobago Sandals project. This is the kind of situation where people thought they were operating safely in the dark, until someone suddenly opens the door and turns on the lights. The emergence of Sandals’ recent skirmishes have also reminded me of a shuffle.

Those shameless promoters told the public repeatedly about how satisfactory the existing arrangements were for State-owned hotels and went on to explain the special benefits of Sandals and so on and so forth. The steady exposure of the rickety arrangements for the existing hotels and the publication of the Tobago Sandals MoU have combined to end the scheme. Sunlight is really the best disinfectant.

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Demming: Rend your hearts and not thy garments! Legal Affairs should loosen dress code — Wired868

Recently I witnessed an act of discrimination at the Ministry of Legal Affairs. Two people were not allowed to enter the building because of their dress. One was wearing mid-calf jeans and the other had jeans with horizontal tears. In my own case I was only allowed in because I had a shawl to place…

Demming: Rend your hearts and not thy garments! Legal Affairs should loosen dress code — Wired868

Reflections on Pan and Its Potential!

I took a chance and agreed to an assignment with Invaders for Carnival 2019.  The result is a new, sweet, exciting love which is so emotionally conflicting that I break out in cold sweat.  My “puppy love” had been for the band of my birthplace in East Dry River: Despers. Then history unfolded and I accepted the position of Corporate communications Manager at WITCO (West Indian Tobacco Company) where I had responsibility for Desperadoes.  I attempted to mold that puppy love into the perfection that existed only in my own head. The result, a failure that continues to haunt my existence. It was like a novice trying to ride and tame a wild horse. Despite the availability of money and huge passion, my Despers experiment failed mainly because the band was in search of a “new man with a hammer”.  At the end of my tour of duty, I had a palpable dislike for pan except for the adrenaline rush which Panorama produces, complete with increased heart beat and increased physical capacity.

Over the years, I have kept a distance from pan except for the annual foray into the panyards which always ended with me proudly wearing my Despers T-Shirt at Panorama semi finals in the North Stand pretending to be some kind of “bad john” Despers supporter.  Over the years my love has been growing cold because the band has not changed and has become what I describe as the “vagrant brand” bouncing from one home to another in Port of Spain, running from their own children. What adds to my anxiety is the knowledge that the generosity of the sponsor, WITCO is tenuous; they are a company operating without the legal opportunity to advertise, and I am surprised that they continue the sponsorship.  The future of Despers is in jeopardy but their capacity for music is unquestionable.

Carnival 2019 found me flirting with a new “man” and the relationship was consummated at the Panorama Semi Finals with me wearing an Invaders T-Shirt on the “drag”.  This caused enough taunting from friends who knew me well including Noreen who said: “Well look meh crosses!”. Invaders has been a truly inspiring experience for me and I have learned several lessons which needs further formal refinement.

Lean management structure is alive and continuously implemented at Invaders Pan Yard.  Their structure comprises a Board of Management, an Executive (of which the three most active Leaders are the Manager, the Captain and the Operations Manager) and the players.  To the observer, there is a seamless interplay which causes things to happen every night of practice. It becomes even more intense and seamless when all the racks are moved from their small panyard to the neighbouring car park without voices being raised or the use of expletives.  Most players simply push their racks from one venue to the other and the practice begins in earnest. Maybe the presence of so many young people is responsible for this civility but “de cussing” was just not evident to me.

Placing a value on productivity is another key lesson.  When players turn up, they get to their positions, begin to practice by rote  and do so until they get the music which means being able to play the piece as demonstrated by someone who “got it”.  It requires repetition and a level of dedication which I have only seen in athletes, highly motivated students or perhaps classical musicians.  Several nights I asked the question: what would it take to transfer this productivity and dedication to the Public Service or CEPEP or any other State Enterprise? Maybe it is the instant gratification of getting the tune because every practice ended on several “run-throughs” of the tune from start to finish or wherever they reached so the player felt accomplished or understood the unassigned homework that was required.  For at least four weeks, the end or the completeness of the tune is a moving target which can change at any time and the players unquestioningly work with this ambiguity. Conversely, changing an instruction for a Public Servant requires an effort similar to that required for changing national legislation.

In traditional management we talk about PESOS as an approach for training persons to master a task.  PESOS is an acronym for prepare, explain, show, observe and supervise.  In each section of the band, I saw this happening over and over and without push-back.  Imagine if this occurred every day in the public service, we would have such smooth running institutions.

This assignment re-energized my hope not only for steelband but for my country.  If I had the opportunity I would redirect the money which is allocated to creating temporary Carnival infrastructure, to setting up a task force to identify the transferable lessons from the steelband yards with the purpose of finding a way to implement these lessons in the Public Service and All State Enterprises.  

In the same way that the Total Quality Movement was initiated in the 1940s and became a way of doing business, maybe we can establish a steelband approach to doing business in developing countries but it would have to begin in the panyards and backstreets of our countries.  Annually at least 5,000 persons live a panyard experience of being goal oriented, highly productive and disciplined. Economic diversification is not just a thing, but must become a way of life and sport and culture provides a rich opportunity for the brave.

Thank you, Invaders.

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,

Walkable Panorama City

There is a kind of positive energy associated with Carnival and particularly with the steelband movement. Players survive on less sleep and exhibit discipline and high levels of productivity in order to learn their Panorama tune. There is something we need to understand about Carnival, Pan and Panyards and their social impact. I see several positives in the approach by the ordinary panman and panwoman, and this year the number of youngsters who populate the bands.

A few years ago, Pan Trinbago introduced Preliminary judging at the panyards. This has morphed into busloads of supporters riding privately contracted maxi taxis from one panyard to the next, following the judges and attempting to maximize their experience of how each band is approaching their tune of choice. Hundreds of people move from panyard to panyard on these judging nights and there is an atmosphere of happiness and peace.

An unintended consequence of this desire to follow the judges is the horrendous traffic jams along the judging route. Some brave souls will walk in the Woodbrook area, but generally supporters drive and this just adds to the traffic congestion along the route.

Here’s an opportunity for a thinking Mayor of Port of Spain, the Minister of Works and Transport and Commissioner of Police. We can experiment with “a walkable city” with a park-and-ride transit system just for the night. This would keep hundreds of cars off the street and introduce a healthy approach to this fun-filled evening. If it works, we can then expand it so little by little we can demonstrate to our citizenry that we have to take a different approach to transportation, and that it can work.  

This idea was taken from a book called “Walkable City” by Urbanist Jeff Speck. He answers the question: “How do we solve the problem of the suburbs?” In this case, substitute “congested cities” for “suburbs”. He suggests that we free ourselves from our dependence on the car “by making our cities more walkable and more pleasant for people”.

I recall the stridency of the current Prime Minister on the campaign trail talking about transportation being a quality of life issue. Since his assumption of office, the stridency has turned to a meek cry that the IADB study says it would be too expensive. Ok, a mass transit system may be expensive but there are other things we can do. We can invite Mr. Speck to give us some advice or we can retrieve the transportation plan for which the country has paid millions and see if there is anything in there worth implementing. We can even ask advice from locals, Dr. Trevor Townsend and Dr. Ray Furlonge or we can even set up a think-tank of urban planners with a brief to provide some short-term solutions. But instead, we do nothing and the traffic continues to be murderous. I wonder when was the last time any of the “big boys” travelled from Arima to Port of Spain at peak traffic without their sirens blaring to rush past their forlorn employers stuck in sweltering heat. I guarantee you that it takes at least two hours so that’s a four hour commute every day for women and children.

There is ample data that walkable cities will positively impact lifestyle diseases like obesity and hypertension because people will have to walk and that alone has a positive impact. Instead, what I continue to see is an absence of thought, leadership and innovation.

We know the date for Carnival 2020 and I hope that Mayor of Port of Spain, the Minister of Works and Transport and Commissioner of Police will collaborate to try a walkable city for the judging of Panorama 2020.

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.