The Greatest Show on Earth

•April 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The opening ceremony of the Fifth Summit of the Americas took place yesterday in my home city of Port of Spain, Trinidad and after months of not blogging on any developments of importance or interest, I now feel like I can chip away at my writer’s block, shake off my malaise (Internet fatigue) and finally write something.

In the weeks leading up to the Summit, the media were filled with commentary about the event, the pros and cons of Trinidad and Tobago’s hosting (a moot point), the impact of any decisions (economic, social, political etc.) made at and implemented out of the Summit, Cuba and of course, Obama.

T&T seems to have truly lived up to its claim to fame as home to the “greatest show on earth.”

Where is the Carnival mentality evident?

Hmmm? Let me see…

The masquerade/r – the clean up efforts along the main transportation routes, the area immediately surrounding the venue (berm-building, road-paving, painting, removing of vagrants, upgrading of signage), the “appearance” of increased vigilance on the part of our national security (want to patent a “tint scraper” but not sure if it will get much use again until the CHOGM).  Ministers, I really believe that these campaigns will be sustained.

The spectator – Vex like when the band doh pass their way, Trinis all ahow about not getting to meet Obama.  If he had tong-hall meeting with Germany and Turkey, why not we?  But the real question is “who are we?”  Do we play as critical a role in the international relations / strategic plan of the United States of America?  If he wants to meet the people he will.

The double-entendre (double-speak) – with the exception of local, general elections, I do not think that I have quite seen a media blitz like the one that preceded this event.  But after all that was said and done, still unsure if Joe and Jane Public really understand what is going on (or maybe the arrogance of authority is such that we are not expected to).

There was all this talk about the visiting “democratically elected leaders” but no productive dialogue about Trinidad and Tobago’s infringement, in the shadow of Summit security, of the democratic rights of people.  This year: no “social justice” march for workers and trade unions in Woodford Square on a weekend.  Read story here.  Last year: fine to bus political supporters to the heart of the city on a weekday, to that same Square, to show their support for the PM.  Read story here.

What is it with the banning of entry into Trinidad to “known protesters”? Given that every week, there is the likelihood that drugs and ammunition are being brought into T&T, the intention to protest does not seem all that damning.  Read the full story here.

Curious as to whether T&T’s Constitution can be trumped by “government policy” regarding freedom to express political views, freedom of movement, of thought and expression and of association and assembly.

The excess – when the ordinary taxpayer cannot get reliable services (healthcare, water, electricity, transportation), we have footed the bill for a fleet of must-have luxury vehicles, surely paid for the hundreds of fancy costumes for the lengthy, but certainly very entertaining (Hilary has already deemed it “fabulous”), cultural showcase at the opening ceremony and sponsored many other hidden, “necessary” things.  Quality, quantity, economy. Waiting on accountability Mr. Mariano Browne.  Read money story here.

So what now?

Will the leaders of the thirty-four nations gathered here from North, Central and South America and the Caribbean be able to put aside their many differences (a motley crew if I ever saw one) and get beyond “ponging” the US (albeit at times deservedly) in order to have meaningful discussions about matters of common interest (drug trafficking, energy, environment, HIV/AIDS, immigration, trade and the economy)?

Will those discussions lead to the formulation and implementation of sound policies and practices at the regional and national levels?

Thus far I have heard much about North America – Latin America concerns, but will the small island developing states (SIDS) of the Caribbean get their moment in the sun?

Only time will tell.


Mango


P.S. Nicaragua’s Ortega made me laugh with his complaint about a three-hour wait at the airport (a passing reference in the midst of his long rant through history). Join the club senor presidente.  Trinis have waited longer in Immigration.  Trinis face that kinda traffic every day travelling to and from work (more PTSC buses, fewer of those luxury vehicle woulda help…).

BTW. Did anybody else see the transportation for the entourage that accompanied the various leaders? Saw some PTSC buses, but what are private maxi taxis doing there?  Who got the bligh?

Measuring Up

•December 14, 2008 • 2 Comments

I have placed a self-imposed gag order on commenting on my work life (we’ll see how long it lasts!).  Was beginning to sound like a bit of a broken record to family and friends (and I guess to you readers as well).  More than that though, instead of feeling unburdened by all the venting, I just ended up more tense than ever.

So on to new topics.

An interesting news story came up in the UK last week with respect to the (selective) use  of crime statistics for politically-motivated reasons.  Read the full story here.

I was amazed to learn that there is an independent body, established by law – the UK Statistics  Authority – that is charged with the responsibility of assessing “national statistics” and monitoring the reporting of such statistics.  Furthermore, there is a National Statistics Code of Practice and the log of issues raised with the Authority is publicly accessible (talk about the appearance of accountability and transparency!).

Is this sort of thing in the works for us?  I remember the debate surrounding national literacy statistics some time last year (if I am not mistaken) and more recently, poverty figures. Given the fact that statistics can play a huge role (greater than graft?) in shaping policy (i.e. Where to build the new school, health centre, sporting facility?  Why build a monorail, buy another water-craft? What social programmes to allocate funds to?  Where to cut budget spending?),  accountability is so dearly needed in this aspect of Trinbagonian life (like many others).  I think that while we should not be “copying” everything wholesale from everyone else, once again, our former colonial masters are showing us how something could be done.

I recently got my hands on the Central Statistical Office’s Report on Crime Statistics 1996 and twelve (12) years down the line, it was still fascinating to scan.

Highlights (for me):

  • “In recent times there has been a growing awareness of the need for crime statistics in Trinidad and Tobago, for purposes of policy planning and crime prevention” (Preface, p. i).
  • In 1996: 107 murders were reported, 295 sexual offences, 81 kidnappings, 200 acts causing danger to life, 11 cases of manslaughter, 505 woundings and shootings and 36 cases of attempted murder (p. 2).
  • With respect to the number of serious crimes reported in 1996 by police division: overall the Northern division had the greatest number and Tobago the least.   In Trinidad alone, the Eastern division had the least (p. 12).
  • 464 males were convicted in 1996 of offences against a “person with violence”, as opposed to 17 females, which is male/female ratio of 27.29 (p. 23).
  • Overall, the county of St. George had the greatest number of persons convicted in 1996, while Tobago had the least.  In Trinidad alone, the county of St. Andrew / St. David had the least (p. 23).
  • In 1996, with respect to the number of persons committed to prison by religion, Roman Catholics were the greatest in numbers, while Non-conformists were the least (p. 25).

When I think of the so-called murder figures today (500 plus!), I am just plain freaked out.

Mango

Note: The report distinguishes between crimes that are reported to police and those that are actually detected and provides comparative statistics for both.

 

Useful links

Central Statistical Office (Trinidad and Tobago)

Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (UK)

UK Statistics Authority

Code of Practice for Official Statistics: a consultation document (UK)

Issues raised with the Authority as at 1 September 2008 (UK)

Tief Head

•December 3, 2008 • 6 Comments

After several months at my “new” job in the Public Service, I am at a loss for words (or rather I just had to think really long and hard about how I would phrase this, hence the really long delay between posts*).

The stereotypes that I referred to in my previous entry are real people who have the potential to bring down an entire department, institution, economy, country.

The average government employee* is often quite proud to publicly carry the mantle of the ministry / institution that he or she works for (“I am a so-and-so worker until ah dead!”) but the reality is that many operate like self-employed persons, not accountable to anyone but themselves.  

These workers come and go as they please (flexi-time is totally abused), partake of the offices resources freely (telephone, pc, printer, copier, paper, ink, space*…) and have mastered the art of making “doing nothing look like something.”  

(Note: if there is an event to plan involving food, drinks, dressing-up and more time off from work, you would be amazed at the levels of efficiency displayed by the same individuals).

As a relative newcomer to the scene, occupying a supervisory position (to persons older than you who may have worked in the organization for years, but who have had little to no upward movement), trying to implement change of any kind is a battle.

Responses to my suggestions so far have been:

Verbal

 

  • But this is the culture of XYZ!
  • But we have always done it that way!
  • Good luck!

Non-verbal

 

  • Who you? 
  • I am just going to pretend that I did not hear you! 
  • I am not talking to you! 

What is the newbie manager to do?  

 

  • Stay the course? They’ll come around eventually if you lead by example…
  • Enroll in some of the very same human resource / public sector management classes that they are in and try to apply the teachings? (Dang my overwhelmingly liberal arts education!)
  • Start reading some self-help / motivational books and try to apply that advice? 
  • Start praying (St. Jude, Patron Saint of Desperate Cases)?
  • Get the staff reshuffled? 
  • Get myself re-assigned?

I have my doubts about there being any change in the staff members’ attitudes / behaviour in the near future.  What can I expect from the individuals who claim that “At de end of de month, all I need to know is that I am getting my salary…” but who would be hard-pressed to say at the end of any given day how they have earned that salary?!  What can I expect from the individuals who act like their job is an inalienable right – they are entitled – the government owes them a job for whatever reason (maybe because of a vote…)?

All I can say is that working in the public service could be a real “tief head.”  The lack of co-operation can mess with your confidence.  I thought I knew something about certain things, but maybe I know nothing… (or is that what THEY want you to think?)

The Ministry of Public Administration has its work cut out for it.  What really motivates government workers? 

Between October 20th to October 31st, 2008, the Ministry of Public Administration conducted the Public Service Employee Survey 2008*, the slogan of which was “More than a job.”  According to the FAQs “The survey results will be used to feed into the National Public Service Transformation Agenda (NPSTA). The NPSTA is charged with building a developmental Public Sector that provides the highest level of services and promotes higher level energy and thinking, productivity and competitiveness from all levels across government. The results will also be used in Ministry specific improvement projects and programmes.” 

I wonder whether Public Administration will come to the realisation that there are plenty of unpatriotic beings, traitors, thieves operating from within the Public Service – persons who get paid by the State (i.e. taxpayers) to fulfill certain responsibilities but just do not do so (because they won’t or can’t).  Some can be transformed. Others cannot.  In a sector in which persons hardly ever get “leggo,” where Public Service dominance can drive policy, what is Public Administration going to do with the latter?

Mango

*I started to write this entry in October 2008.

*I have met many hard-working members of the Public Service, but there are others who put them to shame.

*I am tired of working in a place that looks like my Tantie’s sitting room (table cloth, doily, mystery bottles of this and that).

*Survey questions included whether you would speak (solicited or unsolicited) critically or highly of the Public Services as an employer, as well as of its services; whether you would recommend that a new graduate take up employment in the Public Service.

Constant Vigilance

•September 14, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I have not blogged for a while (been saying that a lot in the past few months).  I spent the past few weeks involved in the arduous process of switching jobs.

I felt more than a little guilty for not posting anything new, but It does not seem like I have missed any truly major local topics / happenings, except maybe Harry H’s ruin.  I could have re-posted something that I had written some time ago and it would have still been relevant.  The problems of yesterday still exist today.

It is Groundhog Day every day in Trinidad and Tobago: persons in positions of authority doing whatever they want without accountability to anyone, escalating crime, high food prices, poor infrastructure and services, general unkindness towards each other and so on and so on.

No place is that more evident than my new place of work.

While the statement “I work in a Government institution” may require no further elaboration, I feel the need to “explatiate.”

I do recognise that there are some progressive State entities and that there are many hard-working and driven Government employees in T&T, but…

The stereotypes seem more like truths when it comes to this place.

Things I always heard about the “typical Government institution / worker” but never believed until I saw it with my own eyes:

 

  • Government as the greatest violater of health, safety, security and environmental codes – my office is housed in what looks like roach motel deluxe.  The building is old, dirty and overcrowded (the same adjectives have been used to describe the “Royal Gaol”).  I am seriously considering visiting the nearest publicly-accessible building to use its restroom facilities (anything else would be cleaner!). Furthermore, in the event of a sudden shatter, I have my doubts as to whether anybody would make it out unharmed.  Maybe it is just me, but there is little comfort in the OSHA reporting mechanism when the investigators are employed by the violaters.
  • Government employees as the “non-working types” – I have spent some time at the office observing my co-workers and it is amazing how people can spend an entire day doing absolutely nothing (that is, nothing remotely related to their job-description or to the work of the organization) and have no qualms / make no pretense about it.  Arriving late, taking overly-long lunch breaks and leaving early all seem to be considered as “normal” conduct.  I keep getting the sense that any engagement in prolonged, work-related activity is frowned upon.  No one likes an “eager beaver.”  Moreover, in the supposed phasing out of the long-entrenched seniority over merit system, a young, degreed person can face some major resentment from those very same unproductive co-workers.  Comments such as “If yuh doh have yuh papers, they will bring in somebody over yuh head” and “Doh worry gyul, in a few years yuh go be just like we” are starting to sound more ominous.

No wonder Pappy has been after me about “constant vigilance.”  Be vigilant that you do not get injured while on the job.  Be vigilant that you do not end up just like “them.”

The Government is on a drive to upgrade the infrastructure of its offices (spanking new buildings are being constructed in downtown POS) and to enhance its human resources (GHRS, Service Commission and change management anyone?) but what I want to know is:

Will these new State buildings be maintained any better than the old ones that have been allowed to “run to the ground”?  Will the very same Government employees be moving across to the new buildings with their same, old, don’t-care-ish attitudes?

Exciting times are sure to come.

Mango

P.S. You may wonder why I took the new job in the first place…a raise is a raise.

 

The Brass-Faced One

•August 5, 2008 • 2 Comments

The other day, an old school friend expressed her frustration with the conduct of a superior officer at her place of employment.

The individual had joined the organization not six months ago, but has made himself / herself quite at home by frequently:

  • having junior staff members run personal errands for him/her or with him/her (i.e. retail transactions)
  • having the institution’s driver transport family members (who are not employees of the institution)
  • having junior staff members assist with tasks unrelated to the job (i.e. school work)
  • making extensive use of the office’s stationery and equipment for personal matters (i.e. printing and copying school work)
  • taking the office’s kitchen stock (milk, juice etc.) for home use

What bugs my friend even more is the attitude that accompanies this behaviour:

(the rhetorical)

  • “I bold eh?”
  • “Why should I do XYZ at home when I can do it at work? There are lots to be had.”

(when faced with reluctance on the part of junior officers):

  • “These are just some small things that we all have to do for each other in the course of our work.”
  • “This was the norm at all the other offices that I worked at.”

Worst of all (when talking about “other” office policies and procedure):

  • “Everything must be above board.”

According to my friend:

  • The superior officer has already demonstrated that any one who tattles on him/her will  not be treated well (a terrible thing if that person writes your performance appraisal, gives approval for time off etc.).
  • The higher-ups are either completely oblivious or are turning a blind eye.

Regardless of where we work (private or public sector), we all have encountered brass-faced people like that.  Short of writing an anonymous letter or suddenly resigning and engaging in a “Things I always wanted to get off my chest” tirade, what should / what can one do in such a situation?

My answer: it depends…


Mango

People like that are leeching the resources of institutions.  They have to be added to my “how to buss a business trini-style” list.

Niceness is a Ting

•August 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

On my recent work trip, I could not help but notice how the people (in and out of the service industry) of a particular island, really “bought in” to the idea of promoting their country to visitors.

Everywhere I went, the locals were helpful, quick to wish you a wonderful stay, to make suggestions (where to eat, shop, visit) and to encourage you to return.

The people clearly understood the major impact that tourism has and can continue to have on their island’s economy.

Can Trinidadians say the same?

How will Trini labour cope with the ongoing hotel construction boom?

I had the opportunity to visit the Hyatt and the staff was incredibly courteous, but could that be attributed to the novelty-factor?  If Trinidadians cannot offer long-term quality service to their fellow citizens (my pet peeve and a generalization), can they be expected to do so for others?

The Ministry of Tourism has launched a campaign called “We 2 Nice Not To Be Nice” that apparently seeks to address these issues and more.  Read about it here.

I am really curious as to what informed the formulation of this campaign.  If you are trying to change something, it stands to reason that you ought to know the causes / contributing factors… What accounts for Trinis’ poor customer service culture?

It is kind of sad when the State has to tell you to play nice with others.

Notwithstanding, hopefully the endeavour is a long-term one as attitudinal and behavioural changes do not take place overnight.

Mango

I have excluded Tobago from this post, because the hotel / tourism industry there, to my mind, is quite different to that of Trinidad.

From a Distance

•August 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Was heading off on a work trip a few weeks ago – nowhere far (just “up de islands”) and not for long (a few days), so I was really surprised to find myself getting bit choked up as my CA plane taxied along the Piarco runway.

When the plane finally took off, my eyes watered.

No matter how ugly things are on the ground, you cannot escape the beauty of this place from up above – greens, blues, browns, reds…

As I grow older, I must be getting more sentimental.

Mango