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?

Ending Sexual Harrasment!

Our institutions are weak and failing daily. Sexual harassment policies are the exception rather than the norm. In developed countries the converse is true. Once again, the state has an opportunity to change this game by implementing sexual harassment policies throughout the Ministries and at all State Enterprises.

This administration led by Dr. Rowley can begin at Angostura Holdings Limited where he and his Cabinet appointed Dr. Rolf Balgobin as Chairman. However, before implementing the policy, Dr. Balgobin must be removed. Such action will signal to women that we can sit at the table as equals without fear of predators lurking and if they do lurk there is a system and process through which the matter can be determined.

This cry for action is not new. Recall “Die With My Dignity” by Singing Sandra. She was singing about sexual harassment in its worst form, yet we did nothing as a society. Sometimes the worse thing that could happen to an issue is for a calypso to be sung about it because it seems that once we enjoy the ditty, we forget the issue.

The fact that this issue has arisen again tells me that it continues to simmer under the surface. From the information in the public domain, three things concern me:

Firstly, a board member and chairman of the Audit Committee was appointed as the first investigator. Just the structuring of this committee is wrong because the Chairman presided over the appointment of his peer to investigate himself. That appears to be an injustice.

Secondly, the Diana Mahabir Wyatt Committee was established to conduct a second investigation, and this work was thwarted by the Chairman’s refusal to appear and his legal intervention in the matter so that investigation was not concluded.

Thirdly, a retired judge was appointed to investigate the matter. While his findings were inconclusive, there is an impression that the perpetrator was exonerated and this is not the case. The retired judge did not act on behalf of the courts.

Meanwhile the polygraph results of the victim have been circulated widely yet there is no evidence that the perpetrator was polygraphed.

Sexual harassment is a critical issue in Trinidad and Tobago. This matter has brought it to the forefront and requires closure so that healing can occur and women can feel safe in the workplace. The only solution is the removal of Dr. Rolph Balgobin by the Prime Minister. When that happens, we shall all believe that you value women as equal contributors.

Our new “Oil” is “Tourism” and this Keith Rowley-led Government better understand that, if they want to provide any kind of hope to this country. There aScreen Shot 2017-09-24 at 19.30.14re 3 areas for urgent action: destination marketing, increasing international arrivals and having a well-trained and certified labour supply.

The 2017 budgetary allocation by the Government towards the marketing and promotion of Trinidad & Tobago’s Tourism products was TT$19M (nineteen million TT dollars).  When compared to allocations in 2015 of TT$50M (fifty million TT dollars), this represents a significant fall by 62%. Two months ago, in July, the Ministry of Tourism confirmed that only TT$8M of the $19M was actually spent.  Spending TT$8M to market a diverse destination such as T&T is a waste of money.  You’ve got to either do it properly or not at all.  In addition to this lack of spend, the contracts for all of our overseas marketing representatives (except for the UK) were cancelled in October 2016 by the Ministry of Tourism with no replacement providers appointed. Thus, Destination Trinidad & Tobago has NOT been promoted in most of our main tourist source markets for the past year.

Consistent with this lack of spend is the fall in international arrivals.  The data says that over the first eight months of 2015 (i.e. by August), we welcomed 300,000 overseas visitors. For a similar period in 2017, overseas visitors has fallen to 275,000, representing an 8% reduction. This has had a direct negative impact on both hotel occupancy as well as room taxation remitted to the Government.

If you combine the reduced budgetary allocation, the lack of destination marketing spend as well as the Government’s continued and prejudicial withholding of GATE reimbursements and recurrent subvention payments to the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI), what emerges is a Tourism Sector which is on the brink of collapse.

To avoid this collapse, the 2018 budget cater for the following:

  • Ramp up the destination marketing allocation to the Tourism sector to at least the TT$60M which is remitted annually by hoteliers to the Government as proceeds from the room tax collected every time someone sleeps in a hotel.
  • Sufficient allocations must also be provided to the Ministry of Education honour its GATE reimbursement commitments to a number of tertiary level institutions in Trinidad & Tobago.

The budget presentation is really an exercise in accountability. What is needed at stages 2 & 3 are wide collaboration on the plan for the sector and transparency with regard to how the plans will be executed.

Let’s do This …  Minister of Finance!