My June 07, 2017 letter to PM Rowley

This is one of the letters which I have written to
Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years.

Dear Prime Minister,

Congratulations on your 2nd Anniversary as Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.  

May I commend your government on the aggressive role being played by the “Joint Select Committee” to investigate the details of the sea bridge fiasco and suggest that your office move as aggressively to demonstrate to citizens your courage to take appropriate action which will arise upon completion of this exercise.  

I am but one citizen but data tells you that I am NOT one voice.  The three things which citizens clamour are Accountability, Collaboration and Transparency.

Yours for our country!
Dennise Demming (Mrs.)
MBA, BSc., Cert-Mass Comm
Citizen

May 07, 2017 

This is one of the letters which I have written to
Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years.

Dear Prime Minister

I hope this letter reaches you experiencing the best of health.

It is your 20th month at the helm of the MS T&T and the noise from the deck and the dock is increasing.  Indeed you may not appreciate the analogy of boats and ships at this time!

I am reading a book by Jeff Speck called “Walkable City” which answers the question: “How do we solve the problem of the suburbs? Urbanist Jeff Speck shows how we can free ourselves from dependence on the car — which he calls “a gas-belching, time-wasting, life-threatening prosthetic device” — by making our cities more walkable and more pleasant for more people”.

I recall your stridency on the campaign trail talking about transportation being a quality of life issue.  May I suggest that you appoint a committee of urban planners and give them the brief to find modern solutions to our transportation issues even if it means bringing Jeff Speck to provide some advice.

Let me know if you wish to borrow my copy when I’m finished reading it.

Yours for our country!

Dennise Demming (Mrs.)
MBA, BSc., Cert-Mass Comm
Citizen

Feb 7, 2017 – Letter to Prime Minister Dr. Rowley

This is one of the letters which I have written to
Prime Minister Rowley over the past 5 years. 

Dear Prime Minister

Happy Carnival to you?

This is your 17th month as the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and you are still underperforming in my survey of one.

I am particularly interested in us making positive strides in the area of tourism as a vehicle for diversification of the economy.  In the short term, there are few quick wins but much can be done in the medium to long term.  Here are two suggestions:

  1. Publicise the terms and conditions being given to Sandals and offer the identical terms and conditions to all potential investors in building new plant.
    (This will serve to mute any dissenting voices about lack of transparency, favouritism and back room dealings).
  2. Ensure that Sandals or their representatives begin the EIA process publicly leading to the publication of the final EIA when it is granted.
    (This will demonstrate your commitment to minimising long term environmental impacts and demonstrate your further commitment to transparency and accountability.)

Yours for our country!

Dennise Demming (Mrs.)
MBA, BSc., Cert-Mass Comm
Concerned Citizen

Nov 07, 2016 – Letter to Prime Minister Dr. Rowley.

Dear Prime Minister,

Today is the anniversary of your 14th month at the helm of our country and from all indications there is very little for us to celebrate.

On the campaign trail, you stated that the traffic situation is a quality of life issue which is intolerable.  You further promised a mass transit solution and inspired the population with your rhetoric about what we could do if we did not spend 4 hours on the road.

I am requesting an update on the status of the mass transit plan as you promised.

Yours for our country


Dennise Demming
Citizen

Oct 4th, 2016 letter to Prime Minister Rowley

Dear Prime Minister,

We say we are pegging our future on the success of a strengthened Tourism Industry but  we keep shooting ourselves in the foot by not strengthening Caribbean Airlines nor presenting our strategic plan.  The current shouting about Sport Tourism will fail because there are NO bedrooms around the excellent facilities which have been built in Central Trinidad.

To borrow a phrase from Dr. Gabrielle Hosein, “If I was the Prime Minister” here is what I would do to make sports tourism a reality.

I would convert the Couva Children’s Hospital into a sports tourism complex which could house athletes and provide a service for the convalescence of international, regional and local athletes.  (There is no facility where athletes can convalesce in the region).

I would invite accomplished sports doctors and physiotherapists to function there during the winter periods or periods which coincide with off-season training of athletes and cyclists.

I would go after the hosting of a major international swim or cycling activity to show off my facilities to the world.

The Couva Hospital is ideal because it has a good combination of wards (which can provide dormitory facilities for athletes), private rooms which can house officials and medics, cafeteria facilities, recreational facilities and medical facilities.  More importantly, it is within an easy commute from our world class facilities.  Without bedrooms and other amenities, the aquatic centre and the cycling centre would have a difficult time attracting the traffic that is needed to make them viable.

These suggestions will put us ahead of the curve in several ways.

Regards
Dennise Demming
Citizen

No outrage about Police killing Mr. CoP!

There has been a muted response by Commissioner Griffith to the incident in which 3 men were killed in a shoot out in Morvant.  Contrast this with his response to the shooting of 2 year old Aniah and her father.  The CoP mocked and jeered would be protestors about their absence of outrage.  Well Mr. CoP, we have no outrage because our spirits are dampened and we are suffocating beneath the weight of the death of children and young men. 

Once again, my stomach boiled although I know neither the pain of losing a child nor the pain of losing a child as a result of gun violence!  Annually 500 women feel this gut wrenching pain of losing their child and we simply tick it off as someone known to the police or involved with guns, drugs and gangs.  The anecdotal evidence is that for each murder, at least 5 persons are affected.  Annually 2,500 persons suffer trauma from gun violence.  Over the past 5 years it means that at least 12,500 persons have suffered mostly in silence.

Courtesy Trinidad Express

Maybe, there has been no outrage because we have lost hope that the COP or the Leadership of the country are committed to taking any meaningful action against the scourge of crime.  We remember the name calling, sarcasm and arrogance and juxtapose those remarks against the increasing crime statistics and retreat to our cubby holes to pray that home invasions do not continue an upward trend.

Subject matter experts on Crime remind us that the only approach to reducing crime is a strategic, long term, multi-sector approach. It is not simply about police, vehicles, guns, armoury and police stations.  A clear vision is needed, followed by short, medium and long term goals and objectives.  This is all management 101 but there is tremendous inertia and a view that we can talk our way into solving crime.

Gun violence in this country is out of control and there are a couple associated ironies.  We do not manufacture guns in this country, so each gun comes in across our borders either formally or informally. How is it that despite having the electronic scanners in place, we seldom ever hear of a shipment of guns being intercepted.  Is it that those electronic scanners do not work?  How is it that often, when we hear of the seizure of a high powered gun, it was found in some field or barrel or some obscure place and not associated a specific person or importer?

Mr. CoP, citizens have no outrage because we fear for our own lives.  We want to help but we are looking for a plan and a strategy aimed at changing the way we do things.   

Gary Sobers would have walked …

Minister Young’s inability to play with a straight bat inflicted upon the country a level of discomfort as we contemplate the real reason for US naval presence in the region while it is reported that there are oil tankers on their way to Venezuela.  In the absence of a clear statement by Minister Young or the Prime Minister, the population is left to continue the speculation about the relationship between the visit by Venezuelan delegation, the alleged sale of fuel by Paria Trading, the alleged denial by Aruba that they had any dealings with Paria Trading and the Prime Minister’s denial of any knowledge of who was in the delegation.   

If Prime Minister Rowley could replay the entire match and examine each stroke, he would see the obvious missteps which brought him to this state of play.  Firstly, he would see that the attempt to put spin on the Venezuela issue was ill advised and akin to using a brash 20/20 shot when he should be continuing to build a solid test match innings.  Secondly he would see that in this version of the game, openness and transparency would have won him greater support than the current unrelenting pressure to find out what was the real reason for the visit by the Venezuelan delegation.  

We have drifted away from the classic form of cricket and have embraced a defiled version in which the rules are changed and twisted on the altar of expediency.  The “concrete stand” is filled with children who are learning this new form of the game and are waiting to execute their version with precision.  There is a need for some intervention to teach them that the game is a noble one for gentlepeople to play by the rules and those rules are applicable to daily living.

As this series ends and the captains prepare to take a fresh guard, I am hoping for a return to something nearer the classic form of the game where we display patience, sportsmanship, consideration for others, honesty, integrity, transparency and a host of other leadership characteristics which make a positive difference to our lives.

Peddle Hope Not Despair!

Sometimes a song, phrase or expression lodges itself in your mind as if on repeat play.  The one that is in my mind is the recent statement by former CEO of SWMCOL, Ronald Roach which was reported in the Trinidad Guardian on July 7: “We have not placed suf­fi­cient em­pha­sis on waste dis­pos­al. Our waste dis­pos­al meth­ods are very prim­i­tive and it has been so for a long time. I have been try­ing to change that. There is so much that needs to be done. We don’t get it as a coun­try. We don’t get it as a peo­ple.”

He was referring to “waste disposal” but I can replace “waste disposal” with “tourism sector”, “crime”, “education”, “sexual harassment” etc and the same sentiment will be valid.  We are at a place where the tourism sector has crashed; we can’t even afford to paint the white lines on our rapidly deteriorating roads; crime is out of control; 80% of students are unhappy their SEA placing; the Prime Minister continues to keep from the public the details of a report on how a sexual harassment charge about a Minister was handled and I can go on and on.

For the past 45 months we have been bombarded with the propaganda that there is not enough of anything; from money to pay public servants to hospital beds for the sick but the huge capital expenditure projects continue to be implemented.  There seems to be an insatiable appetite for building buildings and soon the road paving frenzy will unfold.

When households experience a money crunch, we do things like: repair and refurbish our furniture; spend only on what is essential; gather around the kitchen table and talk about how we are going to get out of this difficult space.  We hug each other and provide the reassurance that tomorrow will be a brighter day. In other words we take the necessary action and provide the inspiration, emotional support and hope.

It is no different for a country.  Our leader should be explaining that while our world has changed permanently we are creating a new and different space for Trinidad and Tobago.  He should be appealing to our aspirational selves and helping all of us believe that things can and will be better if we collaborate and take action to make our lives better.

Our leader could have identified three actions which citizens can take to make a difference.  Our leader could be peddling hope instead of wasting precious communication time either cussing the opposition, defending a poor decision or lamenting that we have no money while finding money to allocate to a commission of enquiry which is unlikely to finish in the remaining 15 months.

The author Tom Bodett said “a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do and something to hope for.”  My Prime Minister has a responsibility to provide our country with something to hope for.

Enlightened Leadership is needed!

Amcham and Cipriani Labour College recently demonstrated what enlightened leadership can look like when they hosted a conversation about the closure of the Petrotrin refinery. The numbers presented at that session painted a grim picture and a persuasive argument for the closure of the Petrotrin refinery. That information is not new – we knew that the Pointe a Pierre Refinery was a disaster since Texaco left but successive governments chose to operate a failed model and keep up the lie that TnT was a key energy player while they presided over this make-believe scenario that a small country of 1.3 million people was big in the petroleum dance. We did have a “moment of glory” in the natural gas sector. From the presentation of the Chairman of the Board, it is clear to me that their decision making has gone beyond the closure of the refinery. I am sure that the Prime Minister is waiting for the right timing to announce the new arrangements.

Closing the Petrotrin Refinery is not simply a matter of dividing up two billion dollars by 2,800 and “calling that George”. This decision will haunt us for a long time and deepen the groove of “learnt helplessness” further into our collective psyche.

I marvel at the absence of any sociocultural analyses of the potential impact of this closure. I expected that the closure of Caroni would be used as a case study to not repeat any mistakes. So I expected some analysis of its impact on fence-line communities; to be directed to a report showing how the land use has impacted the communities; to be advised how the absence of Caroni has impacted small business, maxi drivers, schools, sports fields etc. Such reports would have made me think that we are learning from past experiences and ensuring that we do not repeat the same mistakes of the past.

Instead the population is left waiting for the next round of announcements and workers don’t even have a worked example of what their severance package would look like. More importantly, 3,500 families go to bed every night thinking about their next move but not being able to plan anything because they simply do not know how or where to begin.

My deep concern is the impact of the closure of Petrotrin the on our human capital. This is a human development issue which if not addressed positively, will spell the continuation of our poor work habits and the lack of a shared vision of our future self. No matter how this dice is rolled, we’re in for hard times and the government will not have the money to sprinkle on the rough seas.

UWI professor Dr. Roger Hosein said: “We are all to blame, as after 3.7 billion barrels of oil and gas equivalent between 2007 and 2018, we are basically back to 2007 GDP”. I disagree with Dr. Hosein and place the blame squarely at the feet of our politicians, both PNM and UNC derivatives. They have both facilitated unsustainable governance structures; pretended that corruption did not occur under their watch and kicked the problems down the road. The chickens have now come home to roost and it falls to the current Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley to provide the inspired leadership that is needed to help us change our behaviours.

The late Andrew Carnegie said: “Take away my people, but leave my factories and soon grass will grow on the factory floors … Take away my factories, but leave my people and soon we will have a new and better factory.” Well, The Man From Mason Hall now has a monumental task on his hands. His success and our success or failure is inextricably bound. For him to begin to solve this problem he must be accountable to the entire nation for the decisions which have been made about Petrotrin. For him to make the right decision he must demonstrate an ability to be collaborative and transparent. Mr. Prime Minister … may you be haunted by the notions of accountability, collaboration and transparency as we cure this “Dutch Disease” once and for all. That’s the job you applied for, so just do it!

 

 

Petrotrin – A Sociocultural Fiasco …

glass half fullI’m a “glass half full” kind of person, which is why I see the Petrotrin closure as an opportunity for inspired leadership on one hand, and the transformation of our people on the other. Leadership and transformation both require a willingness to change the way we see things. The behaviourists talk about changing our mental models, but before we change those mental models we have to engage in a deep conversation about how and why we need to change. And this is where my “glass half full” notion becomes fragile and even smashes to smithereens. All I see before me is confrontation … one-upmanship … winners [those who think they are] and  losers [many who know they are]. This is too important a decision for fragile egos to prevail. It requires inspirational leadership and communication. Businesses go “belly-up” every day but what makes a difference is the capacity of the people involved to see the opportunity in the crisis, and their willingness to roll around in the mud and come out with clear action plans which will be honoured by gentlemen.

The closure of Petrotrin goes way beyond the disappearance of the flare which has brightened the skyline for more than 75 years. The closure will see the darkening of more than 35 fence line communities which thrived because of the business generated by employees at the Refinery. Gasparillo, Marabella, Plaisance Park, Claxton Bay will change because the refinery no long exists. The delivery of medical services to 20,000 persons annually will also change. The positive outcomes derived from the company’s support for sport and culture will change if not disappear. These are not hard economic arguments but sociocultural considerations.  Indeed; the loss of activity in the area will cause loss of business to the area – from fruit and snack vendors to stores and gas stations – all will be affected. These business owners might go from contributing to the economy, to being a drain on it. The loss of healthcare might financially finish off some families, who also might end up having to rely on government handouts.

From a Leadership viewpoint, we will see the extent to which this Rowley led administration can use this as an opportunity to change governance structures at state enterprises. We will see if there is the capacity to transform the public service. We will see if a model emerges which can make WASA into a productive enterprise. This situation has been played out before – the loss of the sugar cane industry which is thriving in other parts of the world (not just for sugar, but alcohol as fuel and other products).  If none of these happen then it will be fair to conclude that another opportunity for transformation has been squandered and perhaps the leadership capacity just does not exist.

So, the jury will be out for some time with regard to leadership but with regard to communications, the murkiness in the environment confirms to me that it is a textbook example of how “not” to handle communication of a major decision. In today’s mediated communications world, leaders have a responsibility to shape their narrative by telling their story. The story of the closure of the refinery has not been told and if anything has raised a level of mistrust which will take a long time to change.

What we are seeing is an “old power” approach in which the Prime Minister and a select few hoard resources like a dam holding back water, flooding some areas to destruction, while causing drought elsewhere. What is actually needed is a new power approach which is “open, participatory and distributed”, the way rain and rivers distribute water in a forest, so everything grows and thrives. Countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Norway are successfully doing this, so this is not a pie-in-the-sky idea.

The big question remains: Is the T&T leadership grown-up enough to do this, and are the T&T citizens responsible enough to handle the resources?