Mr. Mayor – praise in public, criticize in private …

When a mayor resorts to angrily scolding a roomful of more than 80 adults (all of whom can vote), it tells me that he has forgotten the road travelled to the office he holds. It tells me that he should not be the mayor of anything; he should really return to the ‘block’ from whence he came.

Photo: San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello (via newsday.co.tt)

There is a long-standing human relations principle, which is also practised in bringing up children: praise in public, criticize in private. San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello’s recent outburst indicates the extent to which the party he represents disregards the people they should be serving and feel empowered to not think twice about verbally abusing us.

There was a time when the standard practice was that the organisers and the mayor’s office would have met and worked out the details prior to the function, therefore ensuring seamless execution. If the master of ceremonies made a faux pas, a quiet word would have been sufficient. If there was chatter from the audience while the mayor was speaking, a simple pause could have been enough to quiet the audience. But maybe the mayor was so boring that the crowd was totally disengaged. Maybe he lacks credibility to such an extent that the audience felt no compulsion to even listen to what he had to say.

Such verbal expression of anger is aggressive, violent, abusive and lacks the grace and dignity we expect from the holders of high office. I am not surprised because Mayor Regrello represents a party that perpetuates such hatred toward the population that the leader had no difficulty likening women to golf courses that needed to be groomed; the minister of finance had no difficulty jeering at the population when he boasted that there was no riot despite frequent increases in the price of gasoline; the attorney general suggested that a victim of sexual harassment said: “ah want money.” I can go on ad nauseam with the examples of abuse being perpetrated upon the very people who continue to vote them into office.

The mayor should have heeded his own advice that ‘the children are looking on’ and found the grace and dignity to de-escalate the situation so that what happened would have been publicly unnoticed, but privately dealt with. Instead, he chose to mar the celebration of the accreditation of a laboratory.

I long for the day when officials exercise their duties so that we all feel inspired and hold our heads proudly because they are representing us well. For now, many of us sit and cringe as mediocrity, bacchanal and disquiet prevail at all levels of our society. I keep asking, when did we get to this level of incompetence? But I live in hope that a new normal will be established based on mutual respect, grace and dignity.

Election Goody No.1; amnesty extension!

Hurray … election goodies have begun. The income tax amnesty has been extended to September 30th. But like an ungrateful voter, my response is a big steups. Unless the extension of time is accompanied by the release of refund cheques, we are all in the same place.

The tax amnesty was conceptualized to provide an opportunity for big businesses to regularize their outstanding taxes before the Tax Authority begins to focus on recovery. For the amnesty to be effective, the timely release of refunds is critical.

There is hesitancy to take advantage of the amnesty because business and people simply do not have the money to pay their taxes. If businesses did not have the funds in time for Monday 16, it is unlikely that they can raise those funds for 30 September for this amnesty to make sense.

The amnesty should be extended to October 31st in keeping with the statutory deadline established by the Registrar of Companies.  This would give the government the opportunity to pay all refunds, which some businesses are waiting for in order to pay the same government.

Daily businesses face impatient bankers as they negotiate overdrafts. They burn through cash reserves to pay those overdraft costs, which are incurred from not getting timely refunds. They live in hope that their creditor’s list will be reduced by one—the GOTT.

If a business cannot attach a cheque to the tax submission, then they are at the same place as prior to the extension of the amnesty. A little common sense will tell you that if you pay me and I pay you back and do some other things with the money you refunded me, the multiplier effect will kick in and make a difference.

There was a time when holding a government contract could back your overdraft, but not anymore. There is now a polite question: “Do you have any other contracts?” If the answer is no, then you’re sure to be sent in another direction to find some other promising projects.

The business model of relying on government contracts is unsustainable. We have learned that no matter who is in power if you or your business is not supportive of the government, you will be victimized and receive the polite regret letter indicating that your submission or proposal was not successful.

The last six years in this country has seen no wiggle room to run any business. The banks and financial institutions are ‘wetting’ us with interest and service charges. Those businesses with interlocking directorships are taken care of with preferential treatment, but the ‘Ramlal Public’ enterprises are doing financial somersaults to honour their obligations.

The minister of finance must understand that for a number of businesses in the present economic climate, the timely release of the refunds is critical to them staying afloat. If the minister really understood the hardship businesses are experiencing, he would release the funds to pay outstanding refunds. The immediate impact would be an injection of funds into the spending stream. The second benefit would be that the government’s coffers would be immediately increased because the funds would be available to pay outstanding taxes and benefit from the amnesty.

Only an uninformed person would ignore this amnesty and allow their interest rates to increase. This amnesty is a gift horse but there are constraints, which in some instances can only be relieved by the government doing the responsible thing and paying our tax refunds, including VAT.

This two-week extension is another example of fiddling and fishing for election likes.

A Fractured Cabinet ..

The past few weeks have left me stunned by the antics of our leadership. Penny, Marlene, Burkee, Simonette, Espinet, Quamina … I can go on and on, but there is one common theme: they were headlined in the media because of some act of incompetence by the leadership of our country. This single-term government has stumbled from issue to issue, and every time I think it can’t get worse, something worse happens.

How can two government ministers sit in the same post-cabinet news conference and have a fundamental disagreement on any issue? In this case, the issue was the appointment of the CEO to manage Heritage Petroleum. One minister said that there will be a search for a replacement, while the other talked about allowing the CEO to operate remotely.

Photo: Former Heritage Petroleum CEO Mike Wylie (via Trinidad Guardian)

My conclusion from this public display is that the cabinet is so fractured that they can’t even keep ‘on message’ in the public. That says that the Ship of State is in the hands of a captain who is still clocking his hours to certification. We are in a danger zone and every decision taken will impact our quality of life for the next generation and beyond.

From the onset, the closure of Petrotrin and the establishment of the holding company was contentious. As a citizen, I saw another example of autocratic leadership and duplicity. The closure was presented as a fait accompli when a few months before, the headline was that the union and the management were working towards a way forward with the restructuring of Petrotrin.

We have squandered another opportunity to motivate our people to change our work ethic. If it was aimed at union-busting, then it failed. Unions are here to stay, so at all levels of our society, we have to find a way to work with unions or employee associations called by other names.

Heritage CEO, Mike Wylie, may have come in with the best intentions, but something went wrong with the process of selection. How thorough was the medical and why is compensation being considered when he is unable to function in the manner for which he was hired?

Former chairman Espinet has functioned as an effective hatchet man to transition Petrotrin into Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Limited (TPHL). Does anyone else wonder what happened for him to be removed so unceremoniously? Poor Quamina, a nice guy, a competent attorney, but an on-the-job-trainee (OJT) in the energy sector. So we stumble on.

Photo: Michael Quamina with Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (via Trinidad Guardian)

In other countries, the population would be clamouring for transparency and accountability about these major decisions. There would be a loud demand for collaboration among cabinet colleagues instead of the public stumbling which occurred in the post-cabinet news conference. In looking at the board composition for these four companies, I also wonder out loud about the absence of women.

TPHL BOARD: Michael Quamina (Chairman), Reynold Adjodhasingh (Deputy), Newman George, Anthony Chan Tack, Joel Harding, Selwyn Lashley, Eustace Nancis.

HERITAGE BOARD: Michael Quamina (Chairman), Newman George (Deputy), Reynold Adjodhasingh, Selwyn Lashley, Joel Harding, Ryan Toby, George Leonard Lewis, Peter Clarke, Reeza Saleem.

PARIA BOARD: Newman George (Chairman), Eustance Nancis, Christine Sahadeo, Peter Clarke, Reeza Saleem.

GUARACARA BOARD: Newman George (Chairman), Anthony Chan Tack, Peter Clarke, Christine Sahadeo.

Are we so afraid to challenge that this travesty will be allowed to play out over the next 15 months to 7 September 2020?

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?

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!

 

The Captain vs the Major General

Is it no surprise that Minister Dillon has been removed?  The Prime Minister has chosen to sacrifice one of the persons who brought home his political victory in preference for an opposition player.  PM Rowley is either a masterful collaborator or the rocks he studies have gone to his head. Here are some excerpts from a Gary Griffith Press Release carried on TV6 on June 17, 2016 :

  1. The recent confirmation that the Armoured Personal Carriers have been scrapped by Minister Dillon, again emphasizes that he continues to play politics with National Security, with his sole function being to scrap, disband and dismantle everything that was of value in National Security, just because it was established by the previous Administration, regardless if it was instrumental in reducing crime or based on the direct request by the Protective Services.
  2. This illogical decision goes in line with his previous unfounded comment that our country is not at risk to terrorist activities, and had to be immediately contradicted by the Prime Minister, and rightfully so.
  3. Minister Dillon has not established one policy, but instead his sole actions have been to only shut down, dismantle or cancel every asset pleaded for by the Protective Services.
  4. This latest chapter of Minister Dillon’s agenda “ of shut down and dismantle”, rips into the heart of showing blatant disregard and disrespect for our Protective Services, as it was they who strongly recommended that APCs be acquired, as they are being asked to go into volatile areas, where semi-automatic weapons with high caliber rounds can rip into any regular vehicle and easily kill our Police Officers and soldiers in a second, but Minister Dillon has the audacity to say that these vehicles would not be appropriate, so he is right and every other country that has been using this to protect their troops and our own Army are all wrong.

These are harsh criticisms and a bitter pill for Retired Major General Edmund Dillon to swallow especially since it is being administered by a mere captain.

 

Within the first week of his appointment as Commissioner of Police, I am concerned; primarily because of the kind of power he now has, and there is very little in his past which assures me that the management side of the task is really being considered.  The new CoP has already signalled that he has “78 policies” ready for implementation. That’s commendable but one must remember Peter Drucker who said: “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  Why is that statement important? You can have policies till it oozes out with your sweat, but unless the new CoP is able to engage the hearts and minds of the people he is leading, nothing will change.  His leadership style so far has not been seen as collaborative.  His army training is based on compliance and I have experienced the arrogance of his power plays.  Unless he is an absolutely “transformed” Gary, the “cockroaches” both within the TTPS and on the streets will eat his strategies for breakfast. Dr. Rowley courted the highest levels of the military and the police to be on his election slate.  He chose Brig. Gen. Ancil Antoine, Retired Major General Edmund Dillon and retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Glenda Jennings-Smith and he already had former police/lawyer and experienced MP, Fitzgerald Hinds.  Their collective experience with law enforcement and the military is more than 100 years. Despite this fire power, crime continues unabated. The fact that these four experienced persons made no headway is instructive.  Either they don’t know how to collaborate, or they don’t know how to manage, or both, or something else.  But for our country’s sake the Captain must outperform the Major General.

Rowley’s men diddle while women get burned!

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 05.25.22On 8 March, the world will celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). Here in Trinidad and Tobago, some will clink glasses, others will engage in “big” talk at cocktail parties while others will analyse gender issues to death in panel discussions, talk shops, talk shows and seminars.  A minority will take positive action to bring women’s issues to the attention of the wider public. Continue reading “Rowley’s men diddle while women get burned!”

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.