Transportation is a quality of life issue …

Trinidad and Tobago is not a healthy place, so how do we expect to be productive?  We are leaders in the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the region.  Heart disease accounts for 25% of all deaths annually while diabetes and hypertension each account for 12% of the deaths.  The contributing factors include overweight/obesity, lack of regular exercise, and some completely avoidable stresses of a chaotic transportation system.

There are neither quick fixes nor easy solutions to these problems.  There is a World Health Organization (WHO) report titled: “What Ministries of Transport Need to Know” and I wonder if it is available to our cabinet Ministers because our Ministers have clearly missed the concept that “transport is strongly linked with health, development and the environment”.

Express May 22, 2022

There is no question that an effective transportation system that increases access to work, education, and health care will positively impact our population.  If students did not spend so much time getting to and from school, there would be more time available to engage in sports or other productive activities and just maybe redirect them away from drugs and crime.

If parents didn’t spend so much time in the traffic, they might just be motivated to prepare healthier meals for themselves and their families.  Healthy foods and a balanced diet directly result in improved health.

If we all spent less time on the roads and in traffic, we might all be encouraged to be active and become engaged in more physical activity.

If we had an organized transportation system, Trinidad and Tobago would reduce its carbon emissions and help mitigate climate change and environmental damage.

The government of Trinidad and Tobago has not even bothered to create a Transportation Authority to regulate the chaos which now prevails on our roads.  As recently as March 17, 201, Dr. Trevor Townsend, who was at the time a Senior Lecturer at UWI said that: “Trinidad and Tobago needs a national Transit Authority to govern the public transportation sector and protect commuters like 18-year-old Ashanti Riley, who it is alleged lost her life at the hands of a “PH” driver.” 

Our leaders continue to ignore the evidence that poorly managed transportation systems adversely impact safety, health, and productivity.

The National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) outlines the strategic direction but never references the role of transportation.  We continue to miss the mark when we take a siloed approach to governing.

If we truly believe that the health of a nation is a fundamental determinant of the quality of life of its citizens and therefore an instrument of development, then we must make every effort to create the policies and frameworks which will nudge our citizens in the direction of making positive lifestyle choices.   Transportation is a quality-of-life issue that can have a significant positive impact on our health and productivity.  

After World War Two (WW2) ended in 1945, Japan was hardly able to feed its population, but they realised the importance of transportation and re-focussed their journey to continue developing the dream train.  Today Japan leads the world in the development of fast trains.  I don’t expect us to do the same, but we must develop and implement a transportation framework that will positively impact our own development.

Caribbean Wellness in Focus

In this edition of Caribbean Wellness, Mental Health Counselor, Dennise Demming chats with Clinical Psychologist, Denise Jittan Johnson. The discussion focuses on mental wellness and the need to bring mental wellness to the forefront of our discussions.

Historically Trinidad and Tobago has stigmatized persons as either healthy or mad and this stigmatization limits people’s access to support and help. Conversations about mental well-being are important for us to understand that even if we are struggling emotionally, there is help available.

In commenting on the work environment, it was noted that healthy attitudes positively impact productivity and that workplace wellness activities should not be annual check box items but should be built into the day-to-day work environment. A simple recognition that there’s a human behind every job title can go a long way to changing our response to mental wellness.

Mental wellness begins with the individual taking time off to check-in with themselves and really approaching that self-recognition from a space of kindness. People who are kind to themselves can extend that kindness outward to others and recognize that others are also dealing with their own stuff.

The PNM will win the next elections unless????

There is a continuous stream of commentary about how badly the country is doing particularly in terms of the economy and crime.  Despite this dissatisfaction, if general elections were called in the morning, my prediction is that the People’s National Movement (PNM) will retain power.

Cultural commentator David Rudder was spot on when he sang: “…how we vote is not how we party!”  Except for The Organisation for National Reconstruction’s (ONR) defeat in 1981 and the 33/3 victory of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) in 1986, we have been stuck voting based on race, religion, and skepticism for anything new and different.  

Recall the 1981 general election where the ONR received the second-highest number of votes and failed to win one single seat (“Not a dam’ seat for them!” is the line from the calypso ringing in my ears).  These were exceptions and while one may argue that the mood of the people is changing, I am willing to put a little bit of money that the PNM will win.  The failed experiment of the People’s Partnership (PP) demonstrated the potential for coalition governments to succeed but there are too many “open wounds” for that partnership to be re-established and gain traction in the approximately 39 months left until the 2025 elections.

There are currently 3 clear entities out on the streets: Watson Duke’s Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP);  Gary Griffith’s National Transformation Alliance (NTA) and Phillip Alexander’s Progressive Empowerment Party (PEA).  So far, Makela Panday has not indicated her intentions for the next general elections and I won’t be surprised at anything she and her daddy, former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday might dream up.  Given our history, it is simple to conclude that neither of these entities on their own will cause the groundswell necessary to remove the incumbent.

If this were a movie, all that would be necessary is to identify a figurehead under whose leadership they could all function and provide a third choice to the voting public.  But this is the politically complex Trinidad and Tobago, so that is unlikely to happen

In the 2020 general elections, the PNM received 322,180 votes which represented 49.05% of the voter turnout while the United National Congress (UNC) received 309,654 representing 47.14% of the votes.  Since then, the PNM has been working hard to keep its supporters happy and while they are in control of the treasury, there isn’t enough money to trickle down.  Once things remain the same, that 49.05% of the voter turnout will vote as they are accustomed to, and we are likely to continue along this slippery slope. 

The “wild card” in the equation is the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) who boldly left their hometown in Tobago to brazenly challenge homeboy “Rowley” in Trinidad in the upcoming local government elections.  A good thrashing in those elections is likely to send the PDP leader Watson Duke back home to focus on repeating the strategic success that A. N. R. Robinson and Winston Murray experienced because of their retention of the Tobago seats.

There is another possible scenario. The UNC can experiment with a major change in its leadership, but that is problematic because, since former Minister of Trade, Vasant Bharath lost the campaign for political leadership to Kamla Persad Bissessar, he has spoken out in an individual capacity.  The other name whispered under one’s breath is Dr. Roodal Moonilal but he appears to not have a high level of trust within the Party.

Politics is not T20 cricket.  It can be more likened to a test match, which is won based on strategy and building partnerships.  With each passing over, the required run rate increases, leading to risky strokes and increasing the likelihood of wickets falling rapidly.

The PNM just needs to be patient and bowl a reasonable line and length and they will win the game.  There is power in incumbency.  A PNM win will be unfortunate for the country because thus far Dr. Rowley and his team have not demonstrated the intellectual competence to change the trajectory of our country.

The local government elections will indeed provide a good sense of the temperature of the country and if the PNM is successful, it might just provide an opportunity to call early general elections and therefore allow the PNM to extend its stay in office.  Either way, the road will be rough. 

Lessons from the Board Room (April 28, 2022)

Oliver Jordan and I discuss lessons from the board room at a conference hosted by @TheCaribbeanCorporateGovernanceInstitute.

In this candid discussion about governance, the presenters comment that private sector organizations are motivated by the return on investment for the shareholders while State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) often operate on the basis of subventions. The point is made that there is an even greater need for adherence to the highest accounting and investment principles because SOEs are using taxpayer funds.

Please, PNM, we need an efficient transportation system if we are to move forward

Dennise Demming Friday 29 April 2022 originally published in @wired868

Public transportation is a quality-of-life issue.

Sometime in 2015, this statement caught my attention and gave me hope that Trinidad and Tobago was finally beginning to take action to bring our country out of the doldrums of the 20th Century.

Photo: A maxi taxi waits for passengers.

Seven years later, transportation continues to be chaotic, dangerous, and energy-draining—both mental and physical energy as well as fossil fuel. We have disregarded the fact that our almost completely unplanned and very disorganised transit systems result in significant social and economic challenges for all citizens, from toddlers to the elderly.

It is noteworthy that in the western peninsula, there is an increased presence of buses on the routes into Diego Martin and Chaguaramas. But without easily accessible information about their expected times of arrival, very few persons will be attracted to hop on a bus.

Meanwhile, the region is beginning to act on transforming its transportation systems and exploring private/public sector arrangements. Audley Shaw, Jamaica’s Minister of Transport & Mining, recently indicated that his government is actively contemplating an arrangement to lease railway lines in the Montego Bay area for the transportation of tourists.

If this is successful, it will be an addition to the current arrangement that now obtains with the Jamaica Railway Corporation (JRC) and the bauxite companies that utilise the railway lines to transport bauxite.

Saint Lucia recently invited companies to tender for the formulation of an ‘Integrated, Sustainable Road Transport Policy and Strategic Roadmap for Implementation’.

Photo: A commuter waits for a maxi taxi on the Bus Route in D’Abadie.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/ Wired868)

The Barbados-based Caribbean Transit Solutions is working hard to provide real-time and on-demand information on public transport vehicles as well as private fleets of vehicles for citizens as well as tourists.

In Trinidad and Tobago, we are ignoring the bigger problem and focusing on fuel subsidies and the allocation of scarce foreign exchange for the importation of more cars.

The politicians know the problem and, in their manifestos, they have outlined several solutions. But when they occupy the corridors of power, something happens that causes amnesia.

In 2015, we knew that our road network was clogged with over 750,000 motor vehicles, crawling in endless bumper-to-bumper traffic. We knew that thousands of productive man-hours were being wasted every day in non-stop, grinding traffic jams, even at non-peak hours. We knew that there were neither traffic management plans nor mass-transit national transportation.

In 2019, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert commented that “Vehicle sales continue to charge along at an average rate of over 25,000 new registrations per year, with the total number of vehicles now well over the one million mark.”

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and Minister of Finance Colm Imbert.
(via Trinidad Express)

Now, seven years after the revelation about the quality-of-life nature of the public transportation issue, we are still stuck with no clear direction regarding the future prospects for transportation. There is one recurrent recommendation urging that we establish a Transit Authority to regulate all forms of public transportation.

The PNM manifesto of 2015 boasted thus:

It is a matter of record that virtually every institution in this country was created, nurtured and developed by the PNM. Our education system, our manufacturing, industrial and energy sectors, our road network, transportation systems, primary infrastructure, social services, public sector, state enterprise sector, creative industries, health services, public housing, and system of governance, among so many other things, were all given life by the PNM …

I note that ‘transportation systems’ was included in this proud boast about PNM accomplishments. So I wonder why, with the same party holding the reins of power since 2015, there has been no significant improvement in the system in all of seven years.

Photo: A taxi driver in San Fernando waits for passengers during the Covid-19 pandemic on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/ GhanShyam Photography/ Wired868)

The recent protests over the hike in the price of gasoline may just be the tip of the iceberg. It is my considered view that, in order to move forward as a society, we have little or no choice.

We—read Government—have to act now to ensure that the transportation system has no major negative impact on our quality of life.

We need to fix the system, not subvert it to suit our friends

Originally published in @wired868 on Monday 11 April 2022

The perception that if you are within the inner circle of the government, you can get anything you want was solidified in my mind with the recent announcement by the Prime Minister.

Clarence Rambharat, former agriculture, lands, and fisheries minister, we were told, is coming back into government and will take up a position in the yet-to-be-created Single Point Land Management Authority (SPMA) and his terms and conditions of employment will be determined by the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO).

Photo: Clarence Rambharat on the campaign trail in the lead-up to the 2020 general elections.
(via PNM)

In other words, the Prime Minister is seeking Cabinet’s support in forming a company while simultaneously instructing the CPO to determine the terms and conditions of employment of his nominee for the leadership role. In one announcement, we have thrown out any idea that there is a process to form a company and that the hiring procedure is fair and transparent and allows all suitably qualified citizens to access the opportunity.

In the normal course of things, forming a company, state enterprise or entity requires a clear articulation of the problem to be solved or the service to be offered followed by a careful definition of the core values and the mission of the organisation, development of the job description of the leaders before engaging the hiring process.

If the Prime Minister publicly throws all the rules of engagement out of the window, what are we to expect of the public servant when his friend asks a favour? What will motivate a junior person to feel a commitment to following the rules?

Successful organisations seek to recruit persons who can advance the mission of the organisation and often use a transparent process to invite persons who are inspired to help solve the problem. The failure of the SPMA is almost written on the cards because of the way the company was introduced to the public.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Office of the Prime Minister)

The SPMA is envisioned as solving a critical problem where state lands often end up being occupied without authorisation by persons who are bold and savvy enough to outfox the system. The entity is intended to eliminate corruption associated with the management of state lands.

A reasonable person cannot deny the need for regularisation and management of what happens with state lands. And given the historical inequity in the distribution of state lands, this issue must be managed transparently.

How will the SPMA differ in its role and responsibilities from the Land Management Division?

According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s website:

“The Office of the Commissioner of State Lands (COSL) is charged with the overall management, distribution, and allocation of all State Lands, which includes all shoreline below the high water mark and the seabed within the waters of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Photo: Former Minister of Agriculture, Land, and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2021)

If this is not working and you have found corrupt practices, we should be investing time and effort in fixing the system, not creating another bureaucratic structure. The message of repair can be deeply fulfilling and will necessitate hard work and dedication.

Instead of engaging in the hard work, our government has once again thrown up its hands and looked for a shining new entity in the hope that it will solve the problem.

We have not yet learned that workarounds have not worked and that, to regain the trust that people outside of the inner circle will be considered, what is needed is deep systemic change.

Order in the House! Is Prime Minister Rowley a tone-deaf role model?

Originally published on Friday 25 March 2022 wired868

“Order!” shouted the Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George. “Order!”

“Prime Minister,” the Speaker had already said three times while on her feet. Ignoring her, the Prime Minister continued his rant in response to what seemed to me to be a reasonable question from Naparima MP Rodney Charles.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

The Speaker was not, however, moved to ask the Prime Minister to leave the House. Nor to adjourn the sitting.

That disconcerting sequence brought to my mind the 1967 Calypso Monarch the Mighty Cypher who sang ‘If the priest could play, who is me?’ If the Prime Minister disrespects the Speaker of the House in Parliament, then what are we to expect from the other members of Parliament?

What are we to expect from young men on the streets? What are we to expect from public servants in their daily interactions with the people they serve?

If the prime minister cannot control his anger, then what are we to expect of ordinary citizens?

I sincerely hope the Speaker has had the courage to have a private conversation with the Prime Minister, the very official who nominated her to her post. I sincerely hope she has advised him that any recurrence will be dealt with severely.

Photo: Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

But it also makes me wonder whether, if the speaker were male, such disrespect would have prevailed. The last male PNM speaker of the House was Barendra Sinanan, MP, who presided from 2002 to 2010 and I seem to recall a different tone and general ambiance in the House.

Am I viewing things through ‘rose-tinted’ lenses or did parliamentarians behave in a more dignified manner then? Were they or weren’t they more deferential and respectful in the way they conducted themselves?

The average citizen tends to look to the party in power for leadership. Therefore, those who hold the reins of power are obligated to set a tone that is calming and collaborative rather than aggressive and disrespectful. Instead, we frequently witness tones of aggression, anger, and violence.

In these times of uncertainty and turmoil, we need leadership that is calm and purposeful. What I saw in Parliament was a prime minister, an employee of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, who felt it necessary to remind us that he is the prime minister and to suggest that the opposition member should go to Guyana or Barbados.

Photo: UNC member and Naparima MP Rodney Charles.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2022)

Had he been in complete control, he may have taken a deep breath and responded in a way that was much less aggressive and violent.

Almost simultaneously on television, the US Senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson was in progress. In stark contrast, I saw a female leader maintaining her grace and dignity for many hours while under severe provocation and pressure.

Many of us here in T&T feel stuck and hopeless. It is an ideal opportunity for the leadership to intervene and change the tone from hopelessness to optimism.

I seem to remember, Prime Minister, that when you were asking for our vote, you implied that you would take leadership down a different path. Instead, whether it is in the Parliament, at a political meeting or at a news conference, we continue to be subjected to your language of violence and aggression.

I shall continue monitoring the parliamentary proceedings and I sincerely hope never again to witness the Speaker calling repeatedly but in vain for order to be restored.

Photo: Dr. Keith Rowley is sworn in as prime minister for the second successive term on 19 August 2020.
(via Office of the President)

If we are to reduce the level of violence in our country, our leaders, indeed, all our politicians must begin to always show respect for each other, for their employers (the citizens of T&T), and pour soothing oil on already troubled waters.

Open letter to Bliss Seepersad on ‘hidden hand of power’ that manipulated CoP Merit List

Dennise Demming Originally published on Tuesday 15 March 2022 in Wired868

Dear Bliss,

On behalf of the Prime Minister and the people of Trinidad and Tobago, I apologise for any anxiety and pain you have experienced over the past six months because our Prime Minister refused to admit that he was the official who, on 12 August 2021, intervened and diverted your attention away from delivering the Merit List of candidates for the post of commissioner of police to the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes (right) presents Police Service Commission chair Bliss Seepersad with her letter of appointment
(Copyright Office of the President)

That single action on his part led to the collapse of the Police Service Commission which you chaired, the President’s Office being viewed with a strong ‘side-eye’ and the further undermining of our citizens’ trust in public office.

Many persons who accept government appointments expect to bring their knowledge and expertise to make a positive difference to the running of the institution. Their roles and responsibilities are clearly outlined either in a statute, a legal document or in the State Enterprise Performance Manual as is the case with appointments to state boards. So, when a Chair comes across overt interference, (s)he is often blindsided.

In this case, I am sure you read and understood the following statement contained in your appointment document about the safeguards. ‘Commissions,’ it says, ‘are free from ministerial control.’

You may also have taken seriously this statement: ‘The fundamental principles inherent in all the regulations are those of fairness, equality, and justice.’

Photo: Former Police Service Commission chair Bliss Seepersad takes the oath of office.
(Copyright Office of the President)

Well, Bliss, you now know that there is an expectation by whoever appoints citizens that you will not act according to the procedures outlined or according to what your board has decided but that you will simply carry out the instructions of the line minister.

You may not agree with me, but this action by our Prime Minister is a clear indication of how undemocratic our country has become. Led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, our politicians feel that, once elected to office, they can take whatever action they want and even attempt to avoid scrutiny by suggesting to the media that the ‘rahrah’ is just noise.

If further confirmation were needed that there is a hidden hand of power manipulating every action taken in every sphere of life in our country, then this admission by our PM provides it.

No wonder the Procurement Act has been watered down. No wonder persons on boards are often lacking the basic competencies to lead anything. The fact that our PM felt empowered to stymie an official procedure and prevent the list from reaching the President of the Republic as provided makes me question his ethics and values.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and his wife Sharon Rowley (centre) are on hand to witness the country’s Independence Day Parade on 31 August 2018.
(Copyright Ministry of National Security)

Our democracy is under threat. Citizens need to take stock, take a stand and send a clear message that this is unacceptable.

The Prime Minister’s action in preventing the Merit List from reaching the President of the Republic came to public attention. But, I wonder, how many other legitimate actions have been thwarted by the Prime Minister or his ministers? How many contracts have been awarded because he so directed? How many appointments to prime jobs have been made because he took action?

My imagination can run wild.

Bliss, between 12 August 2021 and 14 March 2022, your reputation has taken a big hit. But, I wonder, has anything really changed after six months of a Shaggy-esque pretense that it wasn’t me and allowing speculation to run wild?

Yours in defence of our democracy,

Dennise Demming

LMCS blame game exposed lack of preparedness at both companies

Originally published on March 9, 2022 on https://wired868.com/2022/03/09/demming-paria-lmcs-blame-game-exposed-lack-of-preparedness-at-both-companies/?fbclid=IwAR0oIoKvQ-_-NK7ka1_cVpymbhxo8aSK3BF0SKFym6rVLnn0UlnUtMvfwrU

The blame game continues about what really caused the death of the four divers employed by LMCS Ltd (formerly Land and Marine Contracting Services Limited) on premises belonging to Paria Fuel Trading.

The public blaming and shaming are coming from all directions and continue to fuel confusion about what happened. All of this simply deepens my mistrust in our public institutions and confirms once again our broken systems and processes.

Photo: LMCS Ltd lost four divers to a workplace accident last month.

Since 1902 when Randolph Rust struck oil in the Guayaguayare forest, Trinidad and Tobago has been producing oil. Since 1902, it seems, we have repeatedly taken a non-collaborative approach to analysing our oil disasters.

It is high time we changed that and started cooperating to establish one investigative committee and livestream the proceedings for all to see. Step-by-step public accountability should be the best moral disinfectant to clear the air and provide information for the world to see.

I am stunned that the Opposition UNC appears to be lurking in the shadows, just waiting to pounce on any entry point to damage the government while the government appears to be standing still, almost as bystanders rather than as leaders. Meanwhile, the population is saddened and traumatised by this tragedy and the daily reminders of the death and the pain spawned by its continuing lead story status in the local media.

In my opinion, Paria and LMCS are equally to blame and have both demonstrated a total ignorance of or disregard for standard operating procedures in times of crisis. Had there been regular table-top exercises to simulate potential disasters, all concerned would have known their roles and responsibilities and lives would possibly have been saved.

Photo: Who’s to blame?

There would be no accusation that LMCS was not allowed entry because the disaster plan would have been activated and everyone would have been operating under emergency conditions.

The fact that LMCS issued a public statement full 11 days after the disaster leads me to conclude that there was no holding statement in place. In their media statement, they seek to take the moral high ground by affirming that their concern is for the families. I have no reason to doubt that. But, I ask, why so long a delay before making a public statement?

Might it be that in the 11 days since February 25, LMCS has been consulting with whoever they must in a bid to find sufficient fabric to cover their behind?

Paria did a little better. Still, their actions demonstrate a lack of preparedness to manage both the crisis and the communications about the crisis. It is painful for me to accept that, despite a 35-year career with companies like bptt, Methanex, and NewGen, the Paria CEO presided over such ineffectiveness.

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading CEO Mushtaq Mohammed.

Here is an opportunity for all to collaborate in the national interest. These players must have the courage to draw a line in the sand and say, “Let us come together and plan a way forward.” This bacchanalian approach is simply damaging our country and adding more pain to all involved.

I wonder how this is being viewed globally. I wonder how the energy companies on the ground are responding to this lack of professionalism and pre-planning. These deaths have already been recorded as a major disaster. That is highly unlikely to be the kind of message that encourages any conglomerate to say, “Ah! Here is a country where my venture can thrive and grow.”

If these multiple private investigations are held, I guarantee you that some premature, unfinished version of the report will be leaked, the public will get the wrong information, and the blaming and shaming will continue to be aimed in the wrong direction.

Ultimately, it is Trinidad and Tobago that will be the losers. Our collective pride will continue to suffer serious blows.

Sigh… How long before this era of incompetence comes to an end?

Paria Fuel’s shameful response to tragedy betrays absence of communications protocols

Let me begin by addressing myself directly to the families of the divers whose lives were snuffed out in the Paria incident: those of us who have lost family members and friends understand your pain. So we hope that eventually, you will remember those who were lost more with joy than with sorrow.

On the Paria Fuel Trading Company website, you can find these words: “We are looking for the right people with the talent and drive to deliver quality, every day.”

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading Company chairman Newman George.

Well, Paria, it looks like you found the wrong person to fill the post of communications lead. More than 24 hours after tragedy struck, there was no formal response about the fatalities which occurred under your watch. Your organisation chart suggests that the communications lead is a loner with no support or anyone reporting upwards.

It is shameful that yet another state company has been caught with no communications crisis plan and a newspaper editorial is inspired to comment on the apparent absence of protocols and plans for handling a crisis.

I wonder if there will be any accountability for this tragedy. I wonder if the CEO will be held accountable and what plan will be engaged to prevent a recurrence. I wonder if there will even be a report released about what happened and what plans are now in place to prevent it from happening again.

My first exposure to the concept of crisis communications occurred when I joined Texaco in 1979 and the exposure continued at its successor companies until 1989.

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading divers Christopher Boodram, Fyzal Kurban, Rishi Nagassar, Yusuf Henry, and Kazim Ali Jr.
Only Boodram (far left) is known to have survived last Friday’s tragic mishap.

When 14 people died in the explosion at Pointe-a-Pierre in 1985, I was called to report for duty and, within 24 hours, my colleague and I were driving to Port-of-Spain with news releases to be delivered to the then existing media: two newspapers, one television station, and two radio stations.

The world has evolved significantly since then and nowadays people can simultaneously issue news releases to our multiple newspapers, radio, and television stations as well as social media outlets without leaving their chairs.  The last news release on Paria’s website is dated 27 April 2021.

Communications professionals are fully aware of the importance of activating the communications crisis plan immediately upon being advised of a crisis. They know the importance of a quick, transparent response. They know that a dedicated spokesperson must be trained and holding prepared statements just waiting to be edited and released.

These are the fundamental activities to be launched when a crisis occurs. It is neither rocket science nor ground-breaking technology; it is basic. The fundamentals remain the same: plan ahead, respond quickly and be transparent in your engagement.

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading CEO Mushtaq Mohammed.

Our state companies and leaders in government continue to fumble and embarrass us with their lack of knowledge of the basics. I am convinced that the challenges faced by state organisations begin in the selection process.

How are people hired? What kind of screening do they go through? In the Private Sector, many jobs require a university degree as a prerequisite. Shouldn’t those handling public funds and other resources be equally well or better qualified?

Trinidad and Tobago is facing a crisis of leadership at all levels and we have tainted every process with our politics. Unless there is a fundamental redesign of our systems, processes and procedures, tragedy will continue to befall us. We have the talent but we seem to lack the political will to do what is right every time.

Hopefully, our leaders will all learn from this Paria tragedy.