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

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

Social unrest will continue without ‘solution-focused dialogue’

The location of the points of the civil disruption have one thing in common. They have voted solidly for the PNM for the past 29 years but they continue to be socially and economically under-served.

The seeds of the discontent were fertilised by the alleged police killing of three men in the Morvant area. Four days later, there is no word on the status of the party of policemen involved in the killings—other than an assurance that the matter will be investigated.

Photo: Lawmen move in on Morvant residents Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
All three men were shot dead within a few minutes.

That line about such investigations has been so frequently peddled that it provides little comfort. In another jurisdiction, the men would have at least been removed from active duty!

The commissioner of police is singing his victory song of having suppressed the failed ‘plan of disruption’ while the minister of national security is peddling his story that they were all paid instigators. But 30 June 2020 will be remembered as a day of massive disruption, after three months of Covid-19 lockdown.

We are experiencing a period of extreme insecurity. Business continuity is at risk; and people are unsure of where their next paycheque is coming from and therefore doubtful about their future survival.

All over, including amongst the law enforcers, emotions are raw. This is a time for real leadership and collaboration. This is a potential point of inflection where the true leader will emerge.

One option is to continue the use of force, which will result in increased bloodshed and the sacrificing of the lives of young black persons. Another option is to create opportunities for open collaboration, aimed at finding solutions.

There is no simple solution to this problem which has been festering for years. The answer lies in collaborating to understand the issues which drive these expressions. Academics and social commentators have proffered different solutions, but this is too complex to exclude the participants.

Photo: Morvant residents remonstrate with TTPS Inspector Alexander, after the police killing of Morvant residents Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(via Stabroeknews)

Both the ‘oppressed’ and the ‘oppressor’ must give voice to their thoughts and emotions. Whoever invests time in creating solution-focused dialogue will emerge the leader and solver of these deep, sticky social problems.

But alas, the timing may not be right for our formal leaders, because there is an election to be won. Kicking the problem down the road may be the preferred option at this time.

One thing the population is assured of is that, as we take this show-of-force approach, the problem will recur with increasing ferocity.

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.   

Build Minds not Concrete Structures …

When did the dream of building a school for the children of Diego Martin morph into the reality of a sprawling building called the “Diego Martin Regional Corporation Administrative Complex (DMRC)?”  I was there a couple election seasons ago when the then Member of Parliament for my area (our current Prime Minister) presented a persuasive argument to the constituents of Victoria Gardens for building a school for the children of Four Roads, La Puerta, Morne Coco Road, Powder Magazine, Pt. Cumana and even Victoria Gardens.  The reality today is that there is a school on the other side of Western Main Road, but you must have deep pockets to attend.  The non-monied children of Four Roads, La Puerta, Morne Coco Road, Powder Magazine, Pt. Cumana and the further-flung areas of Carenage try to thrive wherever they are planted; that is the reality they must live with until a more human-centered philosophy is engaged.

Courtesy Reginald Mac Lean

The site has been marked by controversy from ownership to usage.  The current iteration is that it is now the site of a new DMRC building, will partly house the Diego Martin Vehicular Overpass and some recreational green space too close to the overpass.  Residents have been lobbying for a green space and even came up with a site plan which envisioned West Park Savannah as a green space in the north west catering for joggers, walkers, cyclists, play areas, communal spaces and an amphitheatre.  It could have been transformed into a modern day learning community.  On November 1, 2019 resident Adam Raffoul posted on the West Park Savannah facebook page, that his effort to see the site plan was refused by Udecott on the basis that the information requested is not covered under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the plan is Udecott’s intellectual property.  It boggles my mind that citizens continue to be refused access to information which will impact their wellbeing by people whom the citizens pay to administer over their wellbeing.  It is indeed a conundrum!

Courtesy Reginald Mac Lean

On May 29, 2020 another resident Michael Scott made the following post: “It is apparent to all that have started to frequent the west park savannah that people are desperate for “green spaces” as families attend the west park savannah on a weekday afternoon for exercise, fresh air and a break from their daily pressures.  The park is already proving congested and it is a travesty that the entire park is not committed for leisure purposes. The fact that the authorities have determined that a new Diego Martin Regional Corporation facility should be built on the premises is foolhardy. It should not be positioned as it is and it again demonstrates that no “needs assessment” has been carried out to define the basis for its existence.  The authorities have once again demonstrated their disdain for the residents of Diego Martin”.

And what of the school? Dead silence.  The educational plan for the children of Diego Martin is not easily available and I am not sure it even exists but the data from the 2011 census told me that 21 percent of the population of Diego Martin is under the age of 15 and any leader confronting this statistic should be inspired to point development in the direction of nurturing children and young adults.  That leader would focus on improving the community, making more people self-reliant, ensuring that there is social justice and engaging the community in decision making.  A significant lever to achieve these noble goals is education at all levels

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.

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?

Mr. PM … Be a Builder not a Destroyer!

In the lead-up to the 2015 general elections, the then Leader of the Opposition “went to bed” with the Trade Union Movement and they birthed an agreement. Post 2015, the now Prime Minister has crept away from his partners and abandoned the product of that union. Today, he is in essence saying: “If you want the child, then put down your money.”

Trinidad & Tobago has abandoned Coffee, Cocoa, Sugar, Citrus, Coconut and now Oil Refining. The late Walton James, former Managing Director of Trintoc et al must be turning in their graves, because when they approached the late Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams to purchase Texaco, this was not the outcome they expected. They may have dreamed of a T&T where we are operating a fully integrated energy sector, spanning exploration, production and marketing. The several refinery upgrades have all been in an attempt to strengthen the refining sector but the politics keeps getting in the way, because we systematically destroy what each previous government administration does, then populate the space with square pegs. The Union is not blameless because they have taken the position of, “We too, deserve to live ‘high off the hog.’” The twin problem of puerile politics and lack of productivity is finally on our doorsteps. We can see it as an opportunity to fix both, but that requires leadership with a macro or is it “maco” vision.

Instead, Prime Minister Rowley has continued the negative messaging that we cannot build and grow, we can only destroy. Except for the Pt. Lisas Estate, the slash and burn philosophy continues. This murky Petrotrin decision smacks of either lack of clarity of the intended outcome, ineffective communications or the need to reward favoured supporters. Here was an opportunity to hammer out an arrangement with the Trade Union for the successful operation of the Refinery. There is no shortage of “young” retirees with the knowledge to change the culture of Petrotrin, but we continue to judge capacity on the basis of political leanings. If we are able to collaborate with the most ferocious trade union to take the journey toward culture change, we can change the entire country. If high productivity and innovation became the core values at Petrotrin under a collaboration with the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union leadership, all other unions would follow and indeed, the entire society.

This lack of productivity and wastage is not confined to Petrotrin and the State sector but is just as prevalent in the private sector which continues to survive and not thrive. What is needed is a leader who can inspire us to strive towards a higher ideal, instead what we continue to be told is that we have failed, while what is needed is the inspiration for us to rise from failure and strive for a higher standard.

We learned the plantation model well and it is time to unlearn it. We are reviving the cocoa industry, but it is still on the basis of exporting the raw product, why couldn’t we invest in chocolate manufacturing on a global scale so that the sector is really stimulated. Doesn’t anyone in TT dream of this?

We abandoned Caroni, but just a 90-minute flight away, the sugar estates in Guadeloupe continue to thrive and their several rum distilleries conduct daily tours teaching the world how to assess a good quality rum. Can we not envision this for ourselves?

We abandoned coffee and there is an unprecedented revival in the coffee industry.  For each example I have used we made the wrong decision.

Once again, we have taken the easy way out. Shut it down, sell it off and send the message that our citizens should continue to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. Maybe there can be a make-up of the busted relationship between the Prime Minister and the Labour Movement. Such a make-up could birth a new age of productivity and national pride in Trinidad and Tobago. The excitement of such a possibility  would leave me feeling that my cohort inspired our nation to be doers as well as dreamers!