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,

In your 21st month in office I wish to continue along the theme of Transportation.

I found the following bits of information on the IDB website where the “IDBG Country Strategy with the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago 2016-2020” is published and have lifted them verbatim for your consideration:

  1. Estimated cost of time lost and fuel spent due to congestion is US$267- 345 million per year.
  2. IDB Analysis of Mass Transit Alternatives in Trinidad and Tobago prepared in 2016 found that the Western corridor is 8km long and it takes as much as 36 minutes to reach POS; on the Eastern Corridor POS to Sangre Grande is 45 km long and could take up to 2 hours to commute; and, on the Southern Corridor POS to San Fernando is 45 km long and could take as much as 2 hours to commute.
  3. The National Climate Change Policy (2011) indicates that carbon dioxide emissions have doubled from 1990 levels of 1,313 Gg to 2,622 Gg in 2006, and highlights that this rising trend correlates with the increase in the number of registered vehicles from 150,000 to 275,000 over the same period.

These 3 facts rang alarm bells in my head and I wonder why despite your full knowledge of this, your government seems to be adopting the business as usual policy to the issue of transportation.  

I once again suggest that you appoint a multi disciplinary committee including urban planners and young change makers to present modern solutions to our transportation issues.  Taking this action will address 3 issues: congestion on the roads, reduction in commute time and vehicular congestion on the roads. 

It will also add some credibility to your campaign trail commentary about “transportation being a quality of life issue”.

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.

A Trumpian Rant vs Clear Communications

Minister of Communication Donna Cox delivered a masterful stroke when she responded to Media inquiries about her health.  In less than 30 seconds, she was concise, clear, complete and achieved the objective of closing the communications loop.  Her response shut down any thoughts or attempts to explore the matter any further. Well done Minister Cox!

As a communications exercise, contrast such mastery with the Prime Minister’s facebook rant about head of the Chamber of Commerce Gabriel Faria and you see an attack on someone in a position of leadership who is simply speaking his truth about the business community and the government’s lack of action.  Faria has consistently spoken and written about outstanding VAT and how it negatively impacts the business community. The Prime Minister’s “Trumpian” rant reminded me of the “bullishness” he was accused of by the late former Prime Minister, Mr. Patrick Manning.

Let’s examine this rant based on the rules of communication.  In one concise missive he accused the Chamber head of: trying to influence voters; being very disrespectful to the country’s leadership; disdainful of all the people who offer themselves for office and having a disrespectful mouth.   It was concise.  On the rule of clarity, the reader is left wondering about what caused this!  What was motivating the Prime Minister?  On the rule of completeness, the rant is incomplete.  I have to concede that he may have achieved his objective but that was not apparent.

The Prime Minister would do well to embrace the counsel of his Minister of Communications while pausing any inclinations to revive the “raging bull, wagang or rottweiler” behaviors of which he has been rightfully accused in the past.

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.

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.

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!