Friday, August 13, 2010

Let Freedom Rain?

"To enjoy freedom we have to control ourselves."

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) British novelist and essayist.

This is a month bracketed by two contextually similar and aptly august occasions in the national calendar: Emancipation Day and Independence Day. These are celebrations based upon the concepts of freedom, self-determination and all the ideals, possibilities, and buoyancy attendant with such notions. We commendably celebrate these occasions with gusto: historic achievements which, even in the case of emancipation, were notably not marked by the bloodshed of our forebears. While assuredly, this is welcome to note, in another perspective some posit that these somewhat ‘free’ freedoms we acquired, point somehow to an ethos absent of profound appreciation and value for that which is among the most sacrosanct aspects and aspirations of humankind. Our celebrations of these events therefore, become construed by some, as mainly a reflection of our penchant to make celebration of any circumstance, great or small, and we, as a people, more blithe than indomitable.

Nonetheless, sandwiched between these momentous occasions, thus far this month, we have been beset by weather conditions and deluges therefrom, which seem determined to fulsomely chastise us, on the one hand, for our blitheness or to test our indomitability on the other. And although we have suffered through these weather conditions before with similar consequential carnage, like the fittingly named American 70s soul singer, Swamp Dogg (no relation to Snoop), our patience, with the perennial plague of flooding, judging from media reports, columnists, and commentators, seems to have finally grown thin. Indulging in the Dogg reference a bit further, there is also the debate of how much the cause of the flooding is of our own making. Is this then, some ‘synthetic world’ of flood and folly that we have helped wrought upon ourselves through littering, wanton quarrying and deforestation of our hillsides, and the construction of office buildings, shopping malls, and homes apace, in the pursuit profits and votes, without much concern for the environment or making commensurate adjustments to the drainage infrastructure? The common-sense concept which we all intuitively know, yet ironically fail to heed, is that that the more we increase the impervious coverage of the earth, the greater, faster, and more intense rainwater runoff will be.

Freedom, as we all know, is also about responsibility. Truly, nature, inclusive of some of our low-lying topography is a definitive contributor to our present predicament, but we must also acknowledge our own actions and, as well, inactions, as contributing to our diluvian troubles and do all that is necessary to minimise and abate our flooding problems.

Colm Imbert, the previous Works and Transport Minister, raised the prospect of collection or detention basins as one solution to the flooding problem, albeit describing constructing and allocating them as expensive and time-consuming. But given these attributes, wasn’t it perhaps best we had examined and implemented this idea sooner rather than later, given all the costs in reparation that have to be undertaken now, and particularly when prices for anything in this in the country, once proceeding on an upward trend, hardly seem to go down again? And why wait too, when this is a perennial problem that has been spreading to areas that previously suffered no flooding as the impervious coverage of the country increases?

In fact, the use of collection, detention basins or holding ponds, is one of the older and well-known methods of what is more widely referred to as SUDS -sustainable urban drainage systems- that have been employed in cities in the UK, US, Canada, and other countries. Apart from collection basins, SUDS also includes use of pervious or permeable-materialed sidewalks, and permeable asphalt roads and parking lots to reduce the volume (thus intensity) and pollution of storm water runoff. SUDS are beneficial in that they aim to reduce runoff and preserve the natural water or hydrological cycle (precipitation, absorption, and evaporation etc.). Changes in the hydrological cycle can have significant impact on the availability and quality of drinking water as well as impact on wildlife.

Of course, a major cited problem for our recurrent flooding woes is littering. The current administration started off with a Clean and Beautify T&T Day, held just over a month after being elected to office, much the same as the NAR (National Alliance for Reconstruction) administration did under Prime Minister Robinson, back in 1986. Similar to 1986 as well, this recent initiative was also a success, attracting widespread popular support. The administration however, perhaps in partnership with corporations and non-profits, must keep up the focus on maintaining a clean environment as a never-ending as opposed to a typical local nine-day wonder, if we are to seriously address preserving our environment and living conditions.

With respect to recycling, laudably, there are several government and private initiatives in operation, although these are limited by collection material, areal scope or both. Some companies engaged in such activity include Republic Bank (Make a Valuable Deposit), Carib Glassworks Limited (CGL) and Plastikeep. The WeCan Waste/Recycling & Urban Enhancement Initiative (think of those large rectangular stainless steel waste-bins on the sidewalks in Port of Spain) launched by the Port of Spain City Corporation in 2007 for a cleaner nation’s capital, from all appearances, seems to have had some success. The initiative has also spread to Arima, Chaguanas, Point Fortin, San Fernando and Tobago (see Guardian story). As of yet though, there is no fully comprehensive household recycling collection service in the country. This ideally is where we need to get to.

Trinidad and Tobago is a place of free and fun-loving people. David Rudder reminds us in his Ganges Meets the Nile, that we are ‘one lovely nation under a groove,” but the recent floodings have put many a sorry song into the hearts of many of our fellow citizens across this land. We are thankful to all those individuals, nonprofits, and corporations who have freely given of themselves in helping those who have suffered loss. But lest we forget, the wet season is still far from over: let us all do what we can to lessen the flooding and lighten the hearts of those whose lives the waters may leave stranded.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Lead Her Ship

"A woman is like a tea bag- you never know
how strong she is until she gets in hot water."

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

It’s arguably certain that many don’t firstly think of Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar as a woman Prime Minister but simply as the Prime Minister: a person who is now leader of our country. Admittedly, it has now become more difficult at times to discuss successes in the context of such traits as race, gender, and religion, given the opportunities and successes that have become more commonplace among greater levels of diversity (note: typically, socio-economic status gets a pass, whereas, sexual orientation, once it begs the question, still has some ways to go in terms of acceptance in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean). But in terms of, particularly, political leadership, despite successes, women ascending to the highest political office is still enough of a rarity that compels attention.

Within the Caribbean, Mrs. Persad-Bissessar has only two such predecessors: Dame Eugenia Charles, Prime Minister of Dominica from 1980-1995 and Portia Simpson-Miller, Prime Minister of Jamaica from 2006 -2007. Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s, ascendancy to office now makes her eligible for membership to the Council of Women World Leaders (CWWL) an international network of current and former women prime ministers and presidents, whose mission is “to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women.” There are now roughly two dozen women heads of State and government across the globe.

Similar to CWWL, within the region there is CIWiL (Caribbean Institute for Women in Leadership) whose participating member countries are: Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts & Nevis, and Saint Lucia. CIWiL’S mission, in part, aims to “advance women’s transformational leadership and increase the number of women in politics, leadership and decision-making at all levels in the Caribbean.” Locally, we have the well-established Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, which, according to their Web site, consists of a network of 102 civil society organisations, making them the largest “umbrella organisation” in the country.

So does gender in leadership matter? Should we care whether or not women are in leadership roles? Does this issue matter at all with respect to growth and development? The essence of such questions was the theme of a speech “Women and Leadership: The Missed Development Goal,” delivered in October 2007 at the Ministry of Community Development and, Culture and Gender Affairs’ Distinguished Lecture Series (notably, about a week prior to this event the then UNCA- United National Congress Alliance - held its election rally where it was reported that the current Prime Minister received the loudest applause among a slate of candidates presented, with her as the only woman).

In the speech, delivered by UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Gender Team Director, Winnie Byanyima, one of her first and fundamental points was that equality of politics is a human right (this of course relates to Article 3 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which explicitly codifies this right), and that the UNDP’s focus for promoting increasing women’s political participation was to help ensure attention to women’s issues and thus potentially reduce gender inequality gaps. This too is all tangential to the United Nations’ CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, to which Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory. Another reason for women’s political participation offered by Byanyima, was that their participation has a positive impact on governance. She alluded to three studies which showed a positive correlation between women’s participation in public life and reductions in levels of corruption. Ms. Byanyima also went on to present other arguments for women’s leaderships roles in the private sector as well.

In the United States, a Pew Research Center report, A Paradox in Public Attitudes: Men or Women: Who’s the Better Leader?: a survey sample of 2250 telephone interviews, published in August 2008, it was found that while respondents rated women superior to men in traits such as honesty, intelligence and “a handful of other character traits they value highly in leaders,” only a meager 6 percent related that women make better political leaders than men. However, 69 percent said that men and women equally make good political leaders.

But notably in the survey, for job performance skills, women got “higher marks than men in all of the measures tested: standing up for one’s principles in the face of political pressure; being able to work out compromises; keeping government honest; and representing the interests of "people like you."

The survey also focused on four traits typically viewed as negative with regard to leadership: women (85%) were the more emotional than men (5%) and women (52%) were more manipulative than men (26%). On the other two traits, men were deemed more arrogant (70%) and stubborn (46%) than women.

Relative to the world of business, the Harvard Business Review in its Women CEOs: Why So Few? published December 2009, it points out that for the article, while “we studied the leadership of 2,000 of the world’s top performing companies, we found only 29 (1.5%) of those CEOs were women.”

With the recent global onset of the global financial crisis, with many still scratching their heads trying to find the reason why so many ‘smart’ financial experts helped take the world so close financial oblivion, some researchers have been looking towards a gender influence as well. John Coates, a former Wall Street trader turned researcher now at Cambridge University, believes that testosterone lies at the root of the irrational exuberance that leads to bubble markets (note: "irrational exuberance" is a term credited to Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank and is also the title of Yale University professor Robert Shiller’s book, first published in 2000 after the bubble. A second edition was published in 2005, where Shiller essentially warned of the current economic crisis). Coates conceptualized and developed his theory from observing the excited behavior of his fellow male traders on the market floor. His findings, for some, seem to beg the question “Would women make for more level-headed traders?”

In light of this too, we may also wonder whether with more women political leaders if we would have a more peaceful world. This has long been an argument put forward by many. Fukuyama, the noted American academic, in his "Women and the Evolution of World Politics," published in the Sept/Oct issue of Foreign Affairs magazine in 1998, writing off of anecdotal evidence from researchers on chimpanzee behaviour, notes that the researchers essentially observed murders between different chimpanzee groups. Fukuyama notes that intra-species violence in the animal kingdom is a rare occurrence, limited to infanticide to be rid of a rival’s offspring. Only chimps and humans, according to Fukuyama, seem to have an inclination for murdering their peers. Among chimps’ social interactions, he reminds us that like humans, chimps cajole, plead and bribe in building their social connections with the males being the primary actors of violence. However, Fukuyama acknowledges that:

“Female chimpanzees can be as violent and cruel as the males at times; females compete with one another in hierarchies and form coalitions to do so. But the most murderous violence is the province of males, and the nature of female alliances is different.”

Moving away from the primate comparison Fukuyama also notes that “In every known culture, and from what we know of virtually all historical time periods, the vast majority of crimes, particularly violent crimes, are committed by men.”

Fukuyama’s article did generate some criticism from several writers also within Foreign Affairs magazine (Jan/Feb 1999) some months later. ("Fukuyama's Follies: So what if women Ruled the World?").

One critic writes “Whatever our genetic and prehistoric cultural legacies, women in the past two centuries have more than adequately demonstrated a capacity for collective violence. They have played a leading role in nonmilitary violence such as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bread riots and revolutionary uprisings, in which they were often reputed to be "foremost in violence and ferocity.”"

Another Fukuyama critic states:

“He [Fukuyama] argues that men are more violent than women. Someday he may provide actual evidence that this is a biological rather than social tendency. But even if women are innately less violent, they are plenty violent enough to call into question Fukuyama's claim that more female political power would mean more peace.”

Another notable criticism presented is that while women primarily may not be the actual doers of violent acts, does not rule them out as instigators, supporters or enablers of such acts.

Violent crime, with such including violence against women, certainly has become a central issue for us in Trinidad and Tobago. And if the participation of more women in public life can help to abate it, surely even the most chauvinistic males among us might be in agreement.

In Trinidad and Tobago, as elsewhere, women have made enormous strides in closing the gender gap: Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s achievement represents a significant mark in such progress. According to the last available census reports, women constitute roughly half of the population. Maybe this is a sign for us men and women, boys and girls, to be equally committed in the progress of our country.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The People's Partnership the People's Choice

Congratulations to our new and first woman Prime Minister, Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar, and hearty congratulations also to the people of Trinidad and Tobago, our Elections & Boundaries Commission, the media, and to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service for a smooth and civil transition of government. Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s and the People’s Partnership’s 29-12 victory over Mr. Manning and the PNM (People’s National Movement) is readily reminiscent of the 33-3 victory of the NAR (National Alliance for Reconstruction) over the PNM back in 1986. Then, such was all the more significant given the PNM’s holding of the political reins of power since 1956. However, back in 1986, despite the NAR’s tremendous victory, the Trinidad and Tobago economy had been undergoing a recession since 1982. The NAR, under Prime Minister A.N.R. Robinson, had taken the difficult and seemingly inevitable choice to seek IMF (International Monetary Fund) assistance which, in 1988, then imposed severe economic restrictions upon the country which precipitated a groundswell of unpopularity against Mr. Robinson and his administration. With the backdrop of this unpopularity, the militaristic Islamic group, the Jamaat Al Muslimeen, led by Yasin Abu Bakr, sought to overthrow the Robinson administration in the 1990 coup attempt: an event during which Mr. Robinson sustained a gunshot wound to his leg and where he and some of his cabinet members were held hostage for six days. The PNM returned to electoral victory in 1991.

At present, the economic situation in Trinidad and Tobago is thankfully not close to what it was in the 1980s. However, now there is sufficient economic turmoil in the more advanced economies of the United States and Western Europe to warrant concerns of contagion for the developing world. Similar to the NAR post-victory atmosphere in 1986, there seems now to be a widespread sentiment of hope and promise for the country and the new administration. It is not hard to imagine however, that should there be an economic turn for the worse, how drastically such sentiments might change. Change, it should be noted, was the campaign theme of the People’s Partnership, for which the party was accused by some of trying to don Obama-esque raiments. And Mr. Obama’s lustre, given primarily that, thus far, there has not been a bolstering of the beleaguered U.S. job market, has naturally suffered. So the political lessons from at home and abroad are all there for the People’s Partnership to take note.

Nonetheless, for the political change, as has been a theme on this blog, there still remains much onus upon the people of Trinidad and Tobago to put forward their best efforts to help the country move forward. Electoral change is only but one and relatively infrequent aspect of democracy. The real work comes in the everyday constancy of people-participation for genuine concern for the overall development of the country. Within the engine of the free market system in which we operate, is Adam Smith’s identified root of self-interest which acts as the system’s igniter and fuel. Many however, sometimes take the notion of self-interest too much to heart where they forget or choose to ignore that Smith’s view of self-interest was predicated upon two aspects of the concept: one individual, the other collective, where each complemented the other. Of self-interest Smith states in 'The Wealth of Nations (Note: this is the commonly used title. The formal title is An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations):

"But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. "

Essentially, to somewhat paraphrase Smith, while we all look out for own interests we would do well to realise that each of our interests are wrapped up the interests of others in the society. The U.S. economic meltdown under which Mr. Obama’ s popularity is being tested, had its roots in truly rapacious and narrowly focused self-interest run amok, within an environment of little market oversight or enforcement. While he was elected with a great expectancy of change and a leveling of the playing field, such has been not easy to come by, particularly with well-moneyed interests and political gamesmanship seeking to stymie and water-down stricter market reform initiatives at every turn. As such, there are many who having voted for Mr. Obama’s ‘change,’ now feel that their voices, efforts, and ideals are still being stifled and supplanted by those with the power of the purse over their congressional representatives: many still see the continuance of a system where the self-interests of political elites and corporate elites act in concert at the expense of and indifference to the interests of the wider population.

Similar and other hindrances to desired and needed changes in light of the new direction in which the Trinidad and Tobago population now seems eager to pursue, are what the Persad-Bissessar administration and the population at large will have to remain alert to as well. The populace however, must be realistic and also know that in any economy, of sometimes competing interests, trade-offs between one decision and another are inevitable: and while politicians seem to relish as being all things to all people when on the campaign trail, once in office the realities of restrictions and political and other accommodations rear their heads.

So let us enter as we must, into any new life-chapter, with a positive attitude and attendant action to accompany our progress. But let there be no delusions that our fate lies solely or primarily with our elected officials within whom we have placed our trust: our fate, is also very much, of the stuff of actions of us all.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Summit All Up

CARICOM Heads meet with Mr. Obama

Well, the 5th Summit of the Americas is over and it remains to be seen what benefits are to be derived from it. However, I, and I am sure, most would agree that, to paraphrase U.S. President Obama, it all depends on the actions of the member countries rather than just their words. This certainly has been the bugbear of international agreements of all kinds for many years. Many countries sign on to laudatory and grandiose statements, resolutions, protocols, and whatever label they come up with, and unfortunately many a time there is no follow-through on what they were signatories to.

At the end of this summit Prime Minister Manning’s was the sole signature (so it is notable too that not even Mr. Obama signed) on the final document (see the Declaration of Commitment of Port-of-Spain), signing on behalf of all the governments. It remains to be seen now how binding his signature can be upon all the other nations as the OAS (Organization of American States) claimed in a post summit press conference. Nevertheless, from all indications and reports, this appeared to have been a summit of much frankness and openness, so perhaps for all of this forthrightness some diplomatic feathers were ruffled. In the midst of all of the hemispherical problems however, it still remains that there are many issues, which, in all likelihood, can best be solved through cooperation among countries and this, despite whatever differences, is what should remain at the forefront of our leaders’ minds.

For many, as was obvious from the general reactions, this summit was also, to a great extent, about the presence of Mr. Obama. His youth and charisma along with the historical significance of being the first Afro American U.S. President, carries a powerful combined impact that surely will not dissipate for a considerable time and overwhelming receptions are what will follow Mr. Obama for a long time in all his travels on the global stage, similar to, but I believe beyond those of the still lusty receptions of his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, providing he maintains his popularity.

It is for a similar reason too why Evo Morales, the Bolivian president, is also popular, at least in Latin America: he being the first person of indigenous descent to be elected president in his country. Mr. Obama’s visit too, represents the second such, what can be considered, historical visit for our country within recent time, the first being that of the visit of Mr. Mandela in 2004.

The Prince & the Pres: Brian Lara and Mr. Obama. This photo graced the covers of all local newspapers.

U.S. President Obama greeting children at
Piarco airport Trinidad and Tobago

A gushing Mrs. Paula Gopee-Scoon, Trinidad and Tobago's Foreign Minister, and Mr. Obama.

The Pres. Obama photos above were taken from a slideshow available on

Friday, April 17, 2009

Summit Time

The 5th Summit of the Americas is now underway in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago (the first Summit was held in Miami, in 1994). The theme of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, is "Securing Our Citizens' Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability."

In line with this theme, the 5th Summit of the Americas Web site states “The focus of the Fifth Summit will be on human prosperity, energy security, climate change and sustainable development.”

Given the above, there are many issues that our country needs to address which fit into the summit theme. However, if we tried to tackle them one at a time we’d never get around to them all. In fact that is why we have all these government Ministries and departments (isn’t it?) where each of them fulfilling their respective mandates as need be, would help address all the varied issues at hand.

Nonetheless, given the limitations of the poll we have available now, please bear to select just one issue in answer to our poll question in the right right menu bar.

Thanks for your participation and comments.

See live coverage of summit activities on Trinidad and Tobago's CNMG (Caribbean New Media Group) live stream. Be sure to check out other Trinidad and Tobago news sites and blogs for coverage and information.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It All Ads Up: Alas, We Own Media Matters

"People perpetuate themselves through the images they create."

Errol Sitahal, Tony Hall from And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon

With the recent closure of Gayelle TV’s News Department one wonders if there is any more fallout to come with respect to local media. This conjecture is by no means to cast any mal yeux (pronounced locally as: mal-jo) i.e. bad or evil eye, upon the local media fraternity but is simply made within the context of the current global economic downturn, which, of course, is having an impact on the local economy. Across the globe, the economic squeeze is being felt in varying sectors and the media industry has not escaped the constricting economic embrace.

Although, at least in the U.S., there has been some recent lightening of the dour recessionary rhetoric from the U.S. President himself, when he was widely quoted in the media on Tuesday April 14, as seeing “glimmers of hope” for the U.S. economy. Mr. Obama’s statements were later on the same day followed by similar sentiments from the U.S. Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, who was reported as stating that “recently we have seen tentative signs that the sharp economic decline in economic activity may be slowing.”

But the U.S. media, particularly newspapers, have not been faring well: a negative consequential continuation of the growth of online media and cable, and which is now seeing a further dampening of the outlook for the industry with the current economic climate. In the U.S. from the State of the Media 2009 Web page, produced annually by the renowned Pew Research Center, the report starts with a succinct and telling statement, “Some of the numbers are chilling.” It goes on further to state in the introduction that: “This is the sixth edition of our annual report on the State of the News Media in the United States. It is also the bleakest.”

It reports a 23% fall in newspaper ad revenues in the last two years, along with the bankruptcy and loss in stock value of newspaper companies. With respect to the Internet the report states:

“The number of Americans who regularly go online for news, by one survey, jumped 19% in the last two years; in 2008 alone traffic to the top 50 news sites rose 27%. Yet it is now all but settled that advertising revenue—the model that financed journalism for the last century—will be inadequate to do so in this one. Growing by a third annually just two years ago, online ad revenue to news websites now appears to be flattening; in newspapers it is declining.”

In the U.K. a December 2008 article "Writing on the Wall for Newspapers" (you can register for free to read the article) in the Financial Times relating its findings from Deloitte and GroupM (a media and marketing forecasting company) industry reports, mentioned predictions of a fall in ad revenues for the newspaper and magazine industry by as much as 20% in 2009. In U.S television the situation of industry decline seems the same, at least for traditional broadcast stations. In "The Not-so-Big Four," an article in the April 8 edition of the Economist it states that:

“Local television stations, many of them owned by or affiliated with national broadcasters, have seen advertising revenue fall by as much as 40%... It is not that people are watching less television. In the last quarter of 2008 the average American took in 151 hours per month, an all-time record, according to Nielsen, a market-research firm. The trouble is the growth of choice. More than 80% of American households now get their television via satellite or cable. To them, the broadcast channels are just items on a menu containing hundreds of dishes.”

From the evidence it is clear that consumers are moving from old media to new media, from print and broadcast to the Internet and cable. Back in May 2008, Advertising Age, the barometric publication of the U.S. and global advertising industry reported -"Revenue Grows by 8.6% Propelled by Digital" - that the acknowledged big four of global advertising, Omnicon, WPP, Interpublic, and Publicis generated 12.3% of worldwide revenue from digital services.

One way in which print is seeking to remain relevant is by bridging onto the digital world via QR (quick response) codes. This is a patterned image that contains a URL code or internet address. These codes are placed together with their print ads in magazines (they have been and are used in billboard and bus advertising as well) and allow the reader with a cell phone camera to photograph the image and then 'dial' or link to the company’s web site via the stored code to make further enquiries of the product or service being advertised. QR codes have been in use in Japan, where they were developed, since the mid 90s. They are now gaining greater attention in Western media markets. (See the QR Image code created for this blog in the right menu: visit to do the same or any other QR code generator web sites.)

Our local media environment has grown tremendously in the last two decades. From the listing provided on the TTPBA (Trinidad and Tobago Publishers and Broadcasters Association) Web site, there are some 37 FM radio stations and 10 television stations. There are three television subscription companies. Along with these we have three dailies, about a half dozen weekly newspapers and just over a dozen local magazines. With a population of only just under 1.25 million (according to the CIA Factbook Web site) it certainly does seem like a challenge for all these media entities to survive. However, according the Trinidad and Tobago Business Guide 2008/2009 (a 'Business Guide 2009/10 is already available), unlike other markets, local “newspaper circulation continues to grow compared to circulation decline of newspapers globally.”

Whether this remains the case as we attain greater online penetration remains to be seen. All three dailies provide significant free online content and if advertising revenues do become tight perhaps there might be some changes to this in the future. In terms of circulation figures, again according to the local business guide, the Express leads with 75,000, Newsday 65,000, and the Guardian 45,000. And perhaps as some tell-tale sign of desiring increased revenue, all three dailies have recently increased their cover price from $1 to $2. The overall local advertising spend however continues to grow from TT$253M in 2005 to TT$330M 2006. For 2007, the Who’s Who in Trinidad and Tobago Business Web site estimated the local advertising spend at TT$636M. Despite such figures, Gayelle however was forced to close its news department as the station’s ad revenues were down 50% as stated by its Executive Director, Errol Fabien.

In a related issue of Caribbean media, from several media reports earlier this month, Michael Lee-Chin, the billionaire Jamaican–Canadian investor, announced that a deal was close at hand for the total or partial sale of Columbus Communications Inc, his cable television Internet service provider and digital telephony company (which operates in 21 countries throughout the Caribbean (including Trinidad and Tobago where it trades as Flow) and Latin America. The deal according to a Gleaner report is to help AIC Barbados (the holding company for Mr. Lee-Chin’s Caribbean businesses) pay off US$170M in principal and interest on maturing promissory notes held by Jamaican investors.

According the the Gleaner (Lee-Chin to Announce AIC Asset Sale - Flow could provide J$15B financier needs to pay debts), Lee-Chin bought Columbus from a consortium of telecom firms in 2004 for US$80M and at present the company is said to be worth between US$200M to US$300M. The lead rumored buyer in the Columbus deal is Carlos Slim Helu (one of the world’s top three richest men) who owns América Móvil, the holding company of Claro, the latest entrant in the Jamaican wireless telephone market. América Móvil operates in 17 countries across the hemisphere.

From all this, it is typically clear that those with ample funds are more likely to weather and adjust accordingly when bad economic storms form. With the government bailout of the CL Financial Group, it seems that its subsidiary CL Communications, with its three radio stations (90.5, Music Radio 97, and Ebony 104), have been spared any woes. However, not too far afield in the region, it still remains unknown if the Antigua Sun, or the Sun St. Kitts/Nevis newspapers, both subsidiaries of Sun Printing & Publishing Ltd, owned by Texas billionaire Allen Stanford, now under investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, will suffer any consequences as a result of their flamboyant owner’s current troubles.

Gayelle is not as well heeled as these other media entities. Hopefully, for their sake, they just had a slip and lost their rhythm with the lam-weh in the gayelle that is the business world and has not suffered a serious blow from the bois of a beleaguered economy. Advertising is the fuel and food of media…and so Gayelle may well question, alas yet again, whether the dish (or the cable) has run away with its spoon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Citizen's Trust

"If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists - to protect them and to promote their common welfare - all else is lost."

Barack Obama

Arguably, it can seem understandable from a government perspective, that when people do talk and write, complaining about all things government, that it seems as if such people are all anti-government. But governments, just like any other organisation or individual, are not perfect and must be able to accept and learn from fair criticism. There are though, degrees of governmental error from simple careless mistakes to downright ineptitude, indifference, and arrogance, just as there are degrees of public complaint, from basic letters to the editor, to massive all-out protest marches, and riots. Ideally, surely everyone wishes that such relational breakdowns would not occur but such is part of the inevitabilities of human existence.

There is the view too from the governmental or status quo side, that tends to look at people who do stir up protest, as troublemakers, rabble-rousers, and such like. And from the public complaint side, there are many, as protesters, or who see themselves as some conscience of the government, who actually welcome and relish the idea of being so labeled, finding identity with the likes of so many famed, and not so famous personages of protest throughout history.

Complaint and protest are healthy checks on government power nonetheless, just as the formalised separate branches of democratic governments are established to curb excesses in each other. Any government that claims to look out for the interest of its citizens would or should acknowledge this and have adequate measures in place to accommodate feedback from their citizens on how they are performing. But creating such avenues for feedback and redress are futile and creates distrust if in the end the government does nothing to improve its act. The people’s assessment of the government then redounds to the cynical description of ‘all talk and no action,’ and trust is broken. Trust, we all know, lies at the heart of any relationship and between governments and their citizens it is no less. In a paper, Building Trust in Government by Improving Governance, Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, writes

“ Failed states, revolutions, civil wars, and other related traumatic failures of governance all share in common the absence or collapse of trust: between citizens and the state, between different political factions or parties, and between ethnic, social or class groups at the mass level.”

Perhaps another way to look at the situation of complaints and protest against government is not so much in the vein of being anti-government, but rather as being 'pro-people' or 'pro-citizen.' Undoubtedly, some may argue that this is all just an artifice of semantics and spin as we all are accustomed to see government and corporate officials do. Yet, conversely too, it must be acknowledged that the way we do configure concepts in our heads tends to determine how we then think of them and consequently how we act accordingly.

In fact, what government hasn’t been elected because they clothed themselves in the mantle of being 'pro-people'? Essentially, we all know, ‘the people’ is what actually society is all about with government being the pre-eminent and formal body, so formed, to get the people’s work done for them. So when governments do, or at least appear to act in the people’s interest, then the need or desire to be anti-government is a non sequitur and does not arise. But regardless of labels, 'anti-government' or 'pro-people,' the core issue for citizens is for the government to do what is right. It is just wholly unfortunate in some countries where as Voltaire once said “it is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”

But systems have and continue to be developed by the U.N. and other international agencies and by forward thinking governments, at national and local levels, to encourage stronger bonds and accountability and, of course, trust between them and their citizens. In a report titled Engaging Citizens in Measuring and Reporting Community Conditions, Alfred Ho, a professor from Indiana University, examines two case studies, one from Des Moines Iowa, the other from Boston Massachusetts:

“The two case studies show how local public officials can work effectively with citizen representatives and community leaders to define the critical issues in public policies and community conditions, develop specific indicators to measure progress, and engage elected officials and the public in using the data to guide policy making.”

Edelman, a large, self-described independent U.S. P.R. (public relations) firm, has been conducting what it calls its Trust Barometer Survey for the past ten years (surely there are some readers now wondering about the veracity of a report on trust from a P.R. firm). For this year (2009) the survey consisted of just under 4500 persons in 20 countries across five continents. In the report (Edelman TrustBarometer 2009), business was trusted more than governments in 13 of the 20 markets surveyed and trust in government remained steady or declined in 12 of the markets surveyed.

Trust too is also about the average citizen believing that he or she can bring about positive change in the society. In essence, it is about trust in virtue and natural justice. What works against this however is what Paul Rogat Loeb describes in his book Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in Cynical Time where (although it speaks to and of its U.S. audience, his words are applicable to us as well),

“We mistrust our ability to make a difference. The magnitude of the issues at hand coupled with a sense of powerlessness has led far too many of us to conclude that social involvement isn’t worth the cost."

Our hope and so our trust in a better view of our future becomes halted by cynicism, which Loeb describes as a cynicism that “implies no institutions, truths, or community bonds are worth fighting for.”

As such, in our criticism of government, we must caution ourselves to never become so cynical as to believe things can never be improved. And we should always recognise that we have a role as well as a responsibility in helping direct the government to do that which is right by us, its people.

With greater use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) by government agencies the concept of e-government has and continues to grow. However, government services so described do tend to bear expectations of greater speed and efficiency from citizens. Therefore, in a modern ironic twist, via less physical interaction, greater trust is hoped for and can be developed through greater efficiency of services in this way: for essentially, improved service is ideally what the public desires and of course deserves. So surely this is a way to build trust at one level and particularly so with a developing country such as ours where long lines and long waits and gaps in communication still typically remain the fare for government services.

However too, at present in Trinidad and Tobago, we are awash in questions about government trust. This stems from the governments’ initial statements about the global economic meltdown not having an impact on us, to later contrarily imploring us to tighten our belts, the current UDeCOTT (Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago) Commission of Enquiry and the findings so far revealed, the issue of whether our Minister of Finance acted in conflict of interest and whether she was outright dishonest to Parliament, and of course the still absence of an Integrity Committee to complement our Integrity legislation.

In building trust though we must not and never forget that truth should be intrinsic to it. After all, it is the con (confidence) artist who gains your trust, only to deceive you; so true trust cannot be said to exist without truth being in effect. In this age of greater technological connectedness we can only hope that profound substantive connectedness i.e. trust, grows in tandem with all the social networks we form. For with the marvels of technology these days, we have all seen how things and people can be virtually changed, created, and appear to be in places where they really aren’t. Students now too, to a greater degree and professional writers as well, despite all the information available via the web, appear to be resorting to increasing levels of plagiarism.

We all know the famous Abraham Lincoln quote:

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

This quote though, I believe, is only true as far as we are vigilant enough to make it so.