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!

 

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.

Running alongside three evils!

UWI Half Marathon 2017
Exciting Finish with Dexter Charles!

13.1 miles provides ample opportunity for reflection as you seek relief from the boredom of taking each of the 30,000ish steps expected to be taken to complete a half-marathon.

For my umpteenth UWI half-marathon, I focused on the Priority Bus Route (PBR), the daily horror of commuting from the east, and the promise of relief that was so boldly made on the election campaign trail of 2015.

I also remembered Dr. Ray Furlonge and Dr. Trevor Townsend, because they both have spent their lifetimes suggesting practical solutions for easing the traffic congestion, to no avail.  

There are 3 evils which the Government of Trinidad and Tobago permits on the PBR.

The first evil is the issuing of PBR passes to members of the “in-group” while the population endures the pain of an almost non-existent transportation system. This special pass has become a prized possession and re-enforces the notion that privilege will get you special access and therefore special advantages in this country.  When will the playing field be levelled in every way?

The second evil is the facilitation of houses with direct access to the bus route.  Indeed, people have paved over the drains and park their vehicles on the shoulder of the PBR or house their cars in these paid for by the state garages.  How can this be permitted on such an important transportation artery?  Laws are broken with impunity and nobody cares enough to take action.  In addition to this encroachment on the PBR, there are structures whose boundary lines are built on the edge of the shoulder.  Isn’t there a “set back” law for buildings?

I observed the third evil less than 2 miles into the race.  There is a gas station with an entrance and exit onto the PBR.  Why should one station be given that kind of business advantage over any others?  What is the rationale? If this entrance and exit is designed exclusively for the Maxi drivers, how is this being monitored? I don’t accept the rationale that this exclusivity is designed to reduce traffic on the main road.

Recently our leaders have been talking about the lawlessness of our country, and that’s valid, but I say to them, “Don’t complain about what you permit!”  Someone permits the excessive issuance of PBR passes and that just adds to the congestion. Someone permits these illegal structures on the PBR … someone allowed the gas station access to the PBR.

We can start doing the right thing and send a message to the entire country.  How about starting with just the PBR?

I assure you that I’ll be taking those 30,000 steps in 2018 and checking if the illegal structures still exist; if the gas station still has this special access and during my training, I will take note of the number of vehicles using the PBR without permission.

Imbert … neither the love nor the likes!

Jamaican reggie artist Chronixx does it for the “love, not the likes”.  That is the line that dominated my mind in the recent hurricane of lashes that the Minister of Finance received from his post budget discussion.

 

I am convinced that Minister Imbert does it neither for the love nor the likes.  He has been returned to office by his constituents for the past 25 years and this reassures him (the way a battered woman reassures her abuser) that the population will always love him. But politics and spousal abuse are not the same and it is only a matter of time before his constituents say, “enough is enough.”  While I recognize that the vote is for the brand (ie. the party), the representative will either add value or diminish the brand by his actions and words, and at the moment the brand seems to be going in the wrong direction.

Minister Imbert, like the leadership of the current Cabinet represents a cohort which refuses to believe that our future politics will be determined on social media. He is stuck in a paradigm which died at the turn of the last century.  Public figures and indeed politicians whose salaries WE PAY, MUST engage us respectfully.  Communicating in an age of social media means that your every communication must be based on a wellthought through strategy that considers (a) your target audience and (b) the outcomes you wish.  Once your strategy is agreed, and the target audience identified, then you shape the message and decide on the messenger.

Communicating in a digital age means that audiences want quick, easily digestible messages.  They will not engage with the 3-hour budget presentation or the full clip of the exchange at the post-budget discussion.  They will receive whatever is trending and unfortunately in this instance, what was consumed was an articulate black women taking on a sullen faced white politician.  No legal threat or manoeuvre could erase that impact.

The current government has been weak at traditional Communications and they are even weaker at communicating in a digital age. What is needed is a total re-design of the engagement strategy of the government at every level, from the budget presentation to the employment practices of public servants.  Systems re-design is the only way to become effective.

Here’s a CNBC comment that could put some reality to the dinosaur-like thinking that is passing for communications and leadership.

“At 2.01 billion, Facebook has more monthly active users than WhatsApp (500 million), Twitter (284 million) and Instagram (200 million)—combined.  (Source: CNBC)”.

Minister Imbert doesn’t seem to care for the love nor the likes so it’s licks for the population.

 

Sans Website?

office-of-the-prime-ministerLong time ago, when the internet was in the toddler stage, I asked a “techie guru” why do I need a website?  His response – “it’s like your home address”.  In today’s world everything on social media pivots to your website where you essence is communicated.  It is the place where you invite people to learn about you and  decide if they want to do business with you.  That rationale has not changed.

Why then when I google “Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago” I get an under construction message.  But when I google “Office of the Prime Minister of Canada” I get a dynamic website which even includes his itinerary.

office-of-the-prmie-minister-of-canada

In today’s world if you are interested in communicating with your population, you have to use the internet and the range of online tools which it offers.  Inviting yourself to a radio programme just allows you to speak to 18 percent of the population.  What about the other 82 percent?  And what about the youth cohort for whom the internet is their sand box?  Recently I was able to hear the Valedictorian on Facebook Live broadcast from one of the the graduation ceremonies at the University of the West Indies.  This just shows the power of the internet if used sensibly.

I can’t think of one reason why the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago does not have a functioning website.  It must be a new deliberate strategy to not communicate.  It must be because my Prime Minister and his advisers have no desire to engage  “Pradeep Public”.  It must be because they are have no interest in being inclusive.  It must be because they think they have all the answers.  It must be that the Government just does not understand that the future we must create requires an ICT strategy which enables our people to have information at their finger tips.

We keep talking about diversification.  If ICT does not form the backbone of the diversification strategy then we’ll be saying welcome to the past”. 

Our country has the potential, the people and the creativity.  What we lack is the leadership!

Some Sorrel Juice Please Mr. President!

no_alcoholThere was a time, not so long ago when the only juices you could enjoy at President’s House were sorrel juice, grapefruit juice, mauby, star apple juice and any juice that could be made using local fruits.  I am told the fruits also came from the gardens on the premises. That was a period when the office still held some awe and mystique.  Today, the “The Hassanali’s” are still spoken of in glowing tones as part of the good “ole” days.  For that time, the serving of “home made juice” at President’s House was seen as disruptive.  Fast forward to today and the Office has its own wine label at the expense of the citizens.  There is inconsistency in the messaging here.  On one hand we are saying that there is need for austerity while on the other, we commission a private label wine for the President’s House.

The recent budget announced an increase in the sin taxes (meaning alcohol and tobacco) which is a good initiative but if we are aiming to change the alcohol palette of the Trinbagonian, it didn’t go far enough. It should really have been a one hundred percent charge for all imported alcohol.

If we’re serious about reducing the foreign exchange drain, why not temporarily  ban the use of alcohol at all government functions and on all government premises including the Diplomatic Centre and President’s House. At least we could implement this tax while the country moves towards economic stability. An old saying comes to mind: “People do what you do and not what you say”.   There is a tremendous move to authenticity in today’s world and people are looking for behaviour which they can pattern.  They do not respond to instruction. If you want to call out the best of others you have to be the best you possible.  If we want the population to understand the dire straights we are in, then our actions must be consistent.  The focus at the moment is on the Presidential label for his special wine but it is only a matter of time before someone leaks the bill for the Diplomat Centre and Household.  

When the Media calls … will you be ready?

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