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

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.

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.

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?

Minister Imbert’s arrogance!

Finance Minister, Engineer Colm Imbert has once again demonstrated an attitude of arrogance when he tried to call out the Regional President of BPtt and almost with scorn said she relied on technocrats for advice as if that was a problem.  Last time I checked, BPtt is a successful global organization managing a budget that is significantly larger than the national budget of Trinidad and Tobago. Maybe their success is because of their understanding of the value of collaboration and the importance of relying on technocrats and subject matter experts for advice.  Maybe our failure as a nation is because we ignore the technocrats and rely on politicians like the current Minister of Finance who has no track record in Finance.

The Minister’s intemperance in referring to BPtt’s action is almost as bad as Roget’s infamous “take your platform and go”.  I guarantee you that the decision to “pause” was not made singly by this Australian Accountant. It would have had major direction from BPtt’s global team.  To add insult to injury, the “Engineer Finance Minister” referred to other operators in the market including Shell, EOG and BHP Billiton. I wonder what is he channelling!

A day later the “Engineer Finance Minister” attempted to explain that he simply meant to convey that “like any person without discipline-specific expertise, will need to rely on expert technical advice to arrive at an informed decision.”  This was a good comeback but an oversized shoe is already in his mouth. I looked at the presentation in Parliament and made the following observations:

Firstly,  the “Engineer Finance Minister” does not understand that organizations like BPtt are designed for seamless transition at the head.  His comment that a lot is happening at BP is instructive. It reflects the approach used by our “Engineer Finance Minister” during the transition from the People’s Partnership to the PNM.  Put everything on pause until I understand what is happening here.

He commented that Mrs. Fitzpatrick is neither a geologist nor a petroleum engineer but merely an accountant so in deciding to press “pause” she had to rely on advice.  In his subsequent explanation of what he meant, he talked about the importance of being advised. I wonder what happened to the advice given by the now defunct Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) which he preferred to dissolve rather than take their advice.

My third observation is about the tone and I wonder if the head was a Mr. Fitzpatrick instead of woman, if he would have been so caustic in his remarks.  Trinidad and Tobago would be well served if Mr. Imbert apologizes to the head of BPtt for any unintended conclusions which  his intemperance may have conveyed.

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?

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.

 

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!

From Territory Tax Leader to Minister of Finance

Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 16.42.17The appointment of Miss Allyson West as Minister in the Ministry of Finance may have raised an eyebrow or two.  The raised eyebrows are understandable especially since several of us were appalled when former Judge Volney jumped into the political ring straight from the Bench.  We asked where was the cooling off period or the distance that is required for sober reflection?
Yesterday Miss West was the Territory Tax Leader of one of the biggest and most successful Accounting organizations in this country.  She would have been advising on tax issues where large businesses are seeking redress or resolution of Tax issues with the government.  Today she is on the other side!  She is directly responsible for assisting the Government with the collection of Taxes.
In PWc’s Pre-Budget Bulletin 2017, and referring to the Sandals deal, Miss West’s document stated:
“While we appreciate that agreements of this nature require some level of confidentiality, we would encourage GORTT (ME) to be as transparent as possible on the fundamentals of the arrangement, with particular emphasis on the costs GORTT 
has to bear and the incentives granted vis a vis the expected returns to be enjoyed by T&T”. 

By putting her hat in the ring, Miss West is now impaled on the horns of a dilemma where on the one hand, her latent memory will trigger issues she had been working on or providing advice for and on the other hand she could be asked to provide advice and or guidance to Officials on the way forward with the very same matters.
Further, PWc has a consultancy arm and the new Minister is now in close proximity to decisions about arrangements which could benefit her employer as of yesterday.  In whose interest will Miss West ultimately act? Of course she is a professional and will serve the best interest of Trinidad and Tobago.
I would like to believe that but must express my feeling of unease.  The jury will be out for a while!  Until then, congratulations to Miss Allyson West, yesterday’s Territory Tax Leader for PWc and today’s Minister of Finance with responsibility for Revenue Collection.