Urgent need to improve transportation system

Do you know that notification sound of an incoming text on a cell phone? That’s what happens in my head whenever I read about transportation plans or anything to do with public transport.  In this instance, I was excited to read that Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan told Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee (SFC), that tenders will soon go out for the development of a transportation plan for Trinidad and Tobago.  My excitement increased because I remembered that one of the selling points in the lead-up to the 2015 general elections was that transportation was a way of life issue and we were encouraged to dream of the 4+ hours we could save every day when an efficient transportation system was put in place if the PNM was elected to lead the government.

My excitement withered when I remembered a public statement by former Minister of Works Jack Warner who boasted that he used the box containing the rapid rail report as a footstool.  During a discussion in Parliament in 2010, then Minister Warner reminded the population that a former PNM administration had spent $27 million on the Comprehensive National Transportation Study (CNTS) and Mass Transit System Study.  All we have is a memory of the disappearance of $27 million.

My excitement transformed to cynicism because we are ignoring the recent work of Dr. Trevor Townsend and Katherine Agong, research assistant and Ph.D. student who carried out a scientific survey of households and developed a suite of travel demand models that can tell us about the daily travel behaviour of commuters.  

My cynicism became mistrust when I recalled the political model for awarding contracts.  This is my understanding of that political model: begin with selecting the intended awardee, craft the need to suit their stated competence, develop the invitation to tender, issue the tender, award the tender to the firm, wait for the variation or scope creep, and waste taxpayers’ money.

Of course, this political model for awarding contracts is never implemented because our politicians always act in the best interest of our country and the most transparent process will be utilized to procure these services. For those not paying attention, that sentence is sarcasm.

Minister Sinanan, there will be a long timeline between the award of the tender, the submission of the report, and the implementation of the recommendations.  Is it your expectation that the population will continue to silently suffer the daily grind of an unreliable transportation system?  We need some quick solutions to alleviate our transportation pain.

From my “ringside” seat you had a big spat with Transportation specialist Dr. Rae Furlonge so you are unlikely to engage him for professional advice.  PTSC may have some history with Dr. Trevor Townsend so we could run a redline through him as a subject matter expert.   So, your next best bet would be to engage Katherine Agong, a Ph.D. student who appears to be our most recent transportation advocate.  She is quoted in the Express Newspaper of August 02, 2022, as saying that the study found that a major need for improved transportation, was “more reliable and convenient public transportation systems to replace the use of the private car.”

I sincerely hope that some action will be taken quickly to improve our transportation system.

Guilty in Fact but not in Law …

“Guilty in fact and in law, and getting away with it!  For me, it took several days for this statement to sink in.  The Al Rawi/Nelson cockup is another confirming example for the person in the street that he/she can get away with breaking the law because our leaders are continuously sidestepping our laws.

If it is a fact that the Attorney General promised a “Presidential” pardon, then clearly our politicians believe that their backroom dealings, whether legal or not, will prevail.  I wonder what other wonky deals have been made that did not come to light.

We have witnessed so many examples of political interference in our rules and regulations that the popular view is that if you have access to the inner circle, you can get away with murder. 

The collapse of the Ramdeen/Ramlogan case is a big blow to the current administration because this was supposed to be the trailblazer in their quest to prove opposition corruption and misbehaviour in public office.  Now they must re-examine and try to avoid the allegation being turned back and exploding in their faces especially since the alleged “Presidential” pardon might also be regarded as misbehaviour in public office.

Is it that even at the level of the Attorney General, there is little faith in the justice system?  Or is it that the AG believes that the only way to get his desired outcome is by interfering with the justice system? 

Our state of injustice was captured in a recent statement by a relative of the deceased “road rage victim” who said: “We are unsure if justice is even possible. You would read this on the news, then hear nothing again. We do not expect justice.

This Al Rawi/Nelson cockup is bigger than the PNM.  It is akin to treating the black spot on your skin and not investigating for cancer. This is about how we as citizens have allowed the cancer of corruption to take root in our society.  It is about a judicial system that has become dysfunctional.  

Where do we go from here?  

We are collectively responsible, either as passive bystanders or active participants.  It is no longer acceptable to say: “I don’t discuss politics.”  The time is now for citizens to step into the ring and change our leadership.  Otherwise, according to the words of Express Columnist RAFFIQUE SHAH, the whole system will go “stark-staring-mad.”

POLICING by Vaps!

Photo courtesy Trinidad and Tobago Police website

More Municipal Police

“There will soon be 1,500 Municipal Police”, according to Minister of Rural Development and Local Government, Faris Al Rawi in a recent budget discussion.

Mr. Minister, nothing will change unless there is consistent enforcement of the law at ALL levels, including our politicians. Surprise sting operations are necessary, but this “vaps policing” will not work.  Another way of describing this “vaps policing” is  “sporadic policing”.  Sporadic policing is when police engage in a particular law enforcement exercise in an impulsive manner.  Recently, on some random day, the TTPS issued a flurry of parking tickets in St James.  The following day and subsequently, citizens continued to park incorrectly and make “U” turns randomly with little or no consequences.

What was the objective of that day? To issue their quota of tickets or to nudge citizens into obeying the laws?

We talk about how Trinis obey the laws abroad as if it is in our DNA to do so, but we obey them abroad because there are immediate, consistent consequences. People would be less inclined to “take a chance” if they felt that the odds of being caught were high.

Taking a Chance

This attitude of “taking a chance” has become prevalent. From the illegal construction of buildings to breaking traffic lights, people are just prepared to take a chance because they are confident that even if the matter went to court, the consequences would be minimal.  I am yet to know someone who has received a traffic ticket in the mail.

Sporadic policing is annoying, and wearisome, and causes citizens to feel singled out when confronted by a police officer especially if several others are committing the same offense and getting away.  Sporadic policing will not create the behaviour change we need.  What is required is the consistent implementation of the laws at all levels of our society.

Sporadic Polciing

Our country can pull itself back from the brink of social collapse if we commit to both implementing and obeying the laws.  The rules and laws were created to ensure that things run smoothly.  When there is an inconsistent application, it leads to chaos, mismanagement, and corruption.

The current sporadic policing is having far more negative than positive consequences.  Citizens need to know that if they break a red light they will be punished; if they park on the wrong side of the road, they will receive a ticket; if they litter there is a litter warden to administer the penalties.

Without the consistent implementation of the laws of the land, we shall continue to lean towards breaking all the laws with the confidence that punishment is unlikely.  This “Vaps Policing” is not working.

Hemming and Hawing Over Procurement

IF I had one wish for my country, it would be to overcome the implementation deficit which plagues every aspect of our society. From the Litter Law to the Electronic Speeding Tickets to the Beverage Container Bill to the Procurement Legislation and the list goes on and on. We seem unable/unwilling to implement the ideas which will drag our country out of the morass of underdevelopment.

2005 White Paper

The idea behind reforming the public sector procurement regime predates the 2005 White Paper, but that August 2005 White Paper codifies what should be done, and how it should be done. It even outlines the preferred procurement model. The nine-member committee included representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association, the Tobago House of Assembly, Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, Central Tenders Board, Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and the Joint Consultative Council. This White Paper was created under the People’s National Movement (PNM)-led Manning administration which
included our current prime minister, so there is an intimate understanding of the importance of operationalising the legislation.  Is this lack of implementation deliberate or coincidental?

Manipulating the system

Seventeen years later the White Paper has transitioned to the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, but our government continues to spend billions of dollars without the establishment of either the operational framework or the oversight institution. A major negative impact is that tendering and procurement procedures can still be manipulated according to what the leadership wants to achieve.

Removing loopholes

Morality and transparency were the clarions calls in the PNM’s 2015 bid for General Elections and page 21 of its manifesto states:  “We will move swiftly to make the necessary improvements to the Public Procurement Act, in order to remove loopholes, limitations, and weakness that currently exist in the legislation, and, in consultation with all stakeholders, establish and implement a realistic timetable for the full implementation of the Act.” Seven years later we are still wobbling and hemming and hawing over its operationalisation.

Is this truly an implementation deficit?  Or like so many other things, is it that the leadership is waiting for the right players to be lined up before pressing the approval button and ensuring implementation?

The public sector team which pushed for the transformation to a modern procurement system included:

  • The Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers Association;
  • Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute;
  • Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and
  • The Joint Consultative Council.

Reigniting the procurement voices

These voices need to be collectively re-ignited to push the government to remove the bottlenecks that are preventing implementation.  Implementing a modern, efficient procurement system can only benefit our country.  Daily citizens str exposed to the effects of our poorly implemented procurement system and daily we see a lack of accountability.  For example, when the clippings on the side of the highway are not removed for more than six weeks, it is an example of weak implementation of a procurement system.

Backbone of a well-functioning government

An efficient and effective procurement system can result in money being available for drugs in our hospitals, money to pay teachers a living wage, money for the repair of our potholes, and money for all the areas we are underperforming.  An efficient and effective public procurement system can be the backbone of a well-functioning government and God knows that this government needs to begin to function in our collective interest.

Mental Wellness needs daily attention

Caribbean Wellness chats with Djavila Ho, Associate Clinical Psychologist and President of the Jamaican Psychological Society (JamPsych), the professional body for psychologists and counselors in Jamaica. Full membership in JamPsych is available to persons who have a degree in psychology, a psychology-related field, or counseling. Membership is also available to persons living aboard and to students who are in the process of becoming qualified.

The status of wellbeing in Jamaica

Jamaica’s Ministry of Health has added Wellness to its title and is now known as the Ministry of Health and Wellness. This is a clear indication that the Ministry is moving beyond the physical aspects of health to including mental health and mental well-being. It is also expected to have a positive impact on the population and help to reduce the feelings of discomfort and embarrassment that several people feel about mental wellness. While Djavila recognizes that mental wellness is stigmatized, she is confident that the attitude is changing, and more and more people are beginning to feel comfortable reaching out for help.

Mental well-being undergirds society

She comments that psychology and mental health undergird everything in society and suggests that psychologists and counselors, who understand and use psychological science in their everyday work should have a seat at the table when policy is being developed. This could go a long way toward improving mental health and mental wellness throughout society. Mental wellness in the workplace In discussing the role of employers in ensuring mental wellness, Djavila noted the importance of employers considering mental health and wellness when developing business plans. One way to create a culture that supports mental health and wellness is to ensure that Employee Assistance Programmes – (EAP) cover mental health and wellness activities and that insurance packages cover medications, doctor visits, and psychiatry or psychology visits.

Being intentional about mental wellness

While it is recognized that Mental Wellness is a personal decision, company policies can help nudge people into taking personal responsibility and moving away from the unfortunate culture of workaholism to intentionally creating work-life balance. That balance can begin with the simple question: “What have I done for my own mental wellness today?” This could lead to individuals taking a moment to enjoy their surroundings or reading something that is not related to work or just breathing in the fresh air. While being intentional about self-care is trendy, it is so important that self-care appointments should be scheduled into a person’s daily calendar so that it becomes an expectation and not an “if I have time” activity. Scheduling self-care into your calendar makes it something that you will show up for. Mental wellness does not have to be a grand luxurious thing. It should be made part of your daily routine and incorporated into everything else that you are involved in.

Making mental wellness part of your routine is also a great way to engage those around you and maybe help them to become intentional about their own mental wellness activities.

Djavila is optimistic that mental wellness will continue to be destigmatized and eventually be regarded as just another aspect of our total wellness agenda. As societies move towards understanding mental health based on data and facts, there should be a higher level of acceptance that mental illness is like physical illness and that persons should not be discriminated against because of any mental health conditions.

Progress and mental well-being are inextricably bound.

It is therefore necessary to ensure that wellness and mental health considerations are integrated into the delivery of primary and secondary general health care. All aspects of health and social policy and health-system planning must be considered if we want to live up to the notion of the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Brock Chisholm who famously stated that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health”.

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National Conversation on Agriculture

The Trade and Economic Development Unit of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, hosted a conversation on Agriculture Outcomes and Food Security Challenges in Trinidad and Tobago.

Key Presenters

The main Presenter was Prof Wayne G Ganpat, a Former Dean of the Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad. He was followed by Mr. Kent Viera, Aquaculture Entrepreneur, and owner of Kent Farms Ltd, the leading aquaculture farm in Trinidad and Tobago. Senior lecturer at UWI, Dr. Roger Hosein also contributed to the conversation.

Top Outcomes

  1. The agriculture sector needs a plan and a champion to achieve the transformation necessary for the industry to thrive and for the country to achieve the goal of food sustainability.

2. The country appears to be stuck and it is necessary for the population to be informed about the policy and strategy

3. Former Caroni lands provide an opportunity for farming but we need to assess the quantity of land that is actually still available.

4. There is a need to establish a database of graduates who have been trained and are interested in agriculture.

5. The population needs to be informed about the details of the food import bill so they can engage in the behaviour change required to help reduce imports.

6. There are examples of how technology is being used to modernize farming and agriculture and these success stories need to be popularized.

7. There is a need to implement a plan to reduce the incidents of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) using agriculture and farming.

8. Agriculture needs to be re-designed using an all-of-country approach to remove the former siloed approach.

Chatting with Dr. Karrian Hepburn Malcolm about Mental Health

Career Shift

Caribbean Wellness chats with Dr. Karrian Hepburn Malcolm who made a career shift from banking and finance to becoming the Managing Director of Guardian Media Limited (GML).
Her entry to Trinidad was in 2011 as General Manager of Scotia Investments Trinidad and Tobago Ltd with oversight of the Private Client Group operations.


Navigating Mental Stress


She was very intentional in this move to the media as she knew that it is naturally a stress-inducing environment. Karrian’s first 6 months as General Manager of GML was stressful. However, she was able to successfully navigate those mental stresses and has adapted to the different norms and expectations of the industry. She recognizes that it is a work in progress and continues her commitment to leading a new direction for GML.
This new role meant a disruption in her entire life including her sleeping patterns and being a “Mommy” with her son asking why is she coming home late every day.

Destigmatizing Mental Health


Karrian has also had to lead the adjustment of changing working patterns brought on by COVID. She comments that employers are critical stakeholders in ensuring the overall wellness of their employees. Employers can help destigmatize mental health by providing mental wellness opportunities for employees. Some companies have arranged employee assistance programmes as a free benefit. Just this availability might encourage persons to begin to see mental health in the same way as they see physical health. The end goal is for employees to not feel constrained if they need to speak to a psychologist or a counselor about a wellness concern.

Mentally well employees contribute to profitability

Employers need to remember that employee wellness contributes positively to productivity and hence profitability so they should invest in their employees physically, mentally, and psychologically.
Mental health is still highly stigmatized, and people often think that persons who are in counseling are different and not to be trusted because they are “crazy”. While our societies have come a long way towards accepting mental health issues, a lot more needs to be done to help people accept their issues and work towards normalizing their mental health.
According to Karrian, it is extremely progressive that across the region, we are beginning to have more open discussions about feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed.

You Can’t Give from an Empty Cup


She maintains her own wellness by remembering the advice of one of her mentors that you cannot give from an empty cup. Often, we are so frustrated that any attempt to support others in need will have a negative result. So Karrian invests a lot of time ensuring that she leads a well-balanced life, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. She reminds us that we are all human and our human experience includes feeling stressed, tired, and frustrated so it is important to kind to ourselves and to understand our personal limitations. A big factor in ensuring that our cup is full after we have listened to our own needs, listen carefully to the concerns and comments of others. She has learned and accepted that we all need to focus on mental wellness and stop stigmatizing persons with mental health issues.
Her advice is twofold – maintain your own space of well-being while keeping in tune with those around you whether it be your loved ones or colleagues or other random individuals who may just need a positive word
Her daily mantra continues to be: “I have to absolutely pour from a full cup so I must afford, the time to replenish mentally and emotionally, and psychologically.”

We recall Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), who famously stated: “without mental health, there can be no true physical health”.

Paving Our Parks

 Commentary: Paving Our Parks

Originally published in AZP News/Azlan Mohammed on August 12, 2022.

The sun rises over the Queen’s Park Savannah.

A WALK-through Port of Spain, Newtown, and Woodbrook can take you to several beautiful green spaces which we call parks and squares. These are all in danger of disappearing to be replaced by paved areas and buildings.

 Two examples to support this statement are the fact that approximately three acres of the Queens Park Savannah are now paved and a building is being constructed on Adam Smith Square on Carlos Street.

Our forefathers understood the importance of green spaces. Many of us have childhood memories of playing in Tamarind Square on the way to and from school or playing in Adam Smith Square or liming at horse racing in the Queens Park Savannah.  These are just three examples of the number of green spaces which must be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Trinidad Express story (September 9, 1999, by the late Terry Joseph) quoted former minister of works in the United National Congress (UNC) Government Carlos John admitting that he decided on his own and without government consultation to pave three acres of the Savannah. This was done in preparation for the Independence Day parade so that the members of the army would not have to march in mud.

https://www.pestextt.com/

The minister boldly advised that because of the urgency of the job, it was not put out for tender but did not share the cost of the job with the public at the time.

Former environmentalist and National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) government minister Eden Shand staged a one-man protest and was almost buried with gravel.

 Olga J Mavrogordato in an article writes: “The Savannah is listed as one of the biggest parks in the Western Hemisphere and also by the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest roundabout in the world.”

In 60 short years, citizens have allowed the gradual encroachment on the lungs of Port of Spain. Now the Government has trained its construction guns on Adam Smith Square and we don’t know which other green spaces. Barbados has Garrison Savannah, London has Hyde Park, New York has Central Park. We must ensure that our parks and green spaces are preserved.

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If we do nothing it will be a matter of time before the plans for the savannah are reclaimed from the shelf.  Here’s what was planned for the savannah as revealed by former minister of culture Joan Yuille-Williams: “a below the ground level facility, with only the entrance and exits visible from the streets, it will have a seating capacity for up to 18,000 persons and will house a museum, offices, training rooms, studios, Carnival offices, event management rooms, security booths and parking spaces for 3,500 vehicles. A ten-tiered retractable roof will provide for all weather conditions to protect patrons.

“Construction will be done by the state-owned Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (Udecott) and carried out on a 24/7 shift, once labour is available so that the facility could be completed by 2008.”

This is an interesting concept but if we cannot manage surface flooding, how are we going to manage potential underground flooding?

The American writer and novelist Sai Zhenzhu or Pearl S Buck is credited with the statement: “When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.”