Sunday, November 30, 2014

Public Service Solutions...

An experimenter puts five monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder.

The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys.

The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all five sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him.

Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed.

By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left and yet, despite none of them ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas.

That experiment has been used to explain if not excuse a wide swath of inexplicable human behavior including our inability to confront and resolve negative issues by thinking 'outside of the box.' We have become a people to whom 'it has always been so' is enough to keep us in line, regardless of the temptation to do better.

I use it today to confront a nagging national issue, the public service. What is the purpose of the public service? Where is it written that we have to have a public service? If the public service frustrates everyone from government officials to private citizens, why has it not been disbanded and discontinued with all of its workers redeployed? When will we ever have a government forward thinking enough to stop complaining and deal with this issue head on? Who has final responsibility to address this matter?

We have been dragging this same rotting corpse around with us since independence, complaining about the shoddy work ethic and poor customer service from these 'unmovable' workers, so why? Why do we continue to do this if it serves us no one any real purpose? Why has no government seen it fit to take the bull by the horns and disband the public service altogether? To bring the legislation required to make it easier to privatize everything from pillar to post and change the paradigm from 'job for life' to 'in service of the public?'

What makes little or no sense is this idea that the public service as set up is the obstacle to progress. If that were really the case, why has the government not taken steps to fix it? Why not bring legislation to the Parliament that re-invents how the business of government is done? I mean, this is the government that changed the way elections are run despite widespread disagreement, a clear demonstration of what could be accomplished if there is political will, so why not this?

And what of the opposition? Are they too not bothered by these same obstacles to progress? Wouldn't they have a vested interest in supporting legislation that makes the business of governing easier?

So why not fix it once and for all?

Clearly having a public service that prevents employees who demonstrably function as obstacles to progress from being removed from office could never be the intention, so again I ask, why has this not been changed?

I am loathe to end any column on a question but until we have information as to why governments complain about the public service but do nothing to re-invent it we have no choice. Perhaps that should become an issue on the campaign trail for the next general election, with the question being put to prospective candidates - “Do you support either the redevelopment or the removal of the public service altogether?”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Keith Rowley Conundrum...

In 2009 Dr. Keith Rowley stood up in this country's Parliament and told the nation that he had gone to then Prime Minister Patrick Manning and warned him that there was “massive bid rigging and corruption taking place at UDECOTT that was ten times worse than (what took place at) Piarco,” yet he never adequately explained what he did for the six years that followed, six years in which he accepted Cabinet appointments in a Cabinet that he knowingly believed to be led by a willing and informed co-conspirator in the sins named above, six years in which he ate Cabinet food and drank Cabinet wine, six years in which the record shows he did nothing else whatsoever to attempt to rescue this nation from the wholesale pilferage he KNEW was taking place by men and women of the very Cabinet of which he was a part, celebrated six Christmases and Easters, dressed up for six Indian Arrival and Emancipation Days, played six Carnivals, counted two thousand one hundred and ninety odd days  and watched them go by with nary a word to anyone else, not the Integrity Commission, not the Fraud Squad, not the Commissioner of Police, not Transparency International, not the media, not his neighbour, nor the man he bought his tomatoes from, no one and nothing, until he was fired.

Then he was a veritable fountain of knowledge, spouting from the hallowed hilltops of those sacred halls information that he withheld from the people of Trinidad & Tobago for his own selfish interests, conspired to deceive them so that he could continue to advance his own agendas, feather his own nest as it were, but only when the ruse of his own masquerade as an able Minister of Government was up and he was left wanting did he then attempt to throw his leader under the bus, to smear and besmirch his name for sins he accused him of knowing for six long years, yet he as a senior member of Government who also knew, also did nothing, while the systematic rape of the people's treasury was allowed to go on unimpeded.

And yet and despite this and for whatever reason they can muster as to the unmeasurable depravity that has allowed this political charlatan to rise so high despite never having accomplished anything of real value to anyone while holding public office, the people of the People's National Movement defend him as leader. A simple walk through the die hard PNM communities in the Diego Martin West constituency that he has represented for twenty five years will offer nothing but desperation, poverty, squalor, violence and the shadow of death. The people of these areas actually went backward on his watch, with illiteracy and under employment rates soaring, home ownership and entrepreneurship depleting, Richplain has become a veritable killing field at night, Covigne is a ghost town, Factory Road a shame for all who have to endure what they have had to suffer despite the party they support having had forty one years of political and economic control and two multi-billion dollar oil booms from which they could have been blessed, but from which they were marginalized and ignored.

Keith Rowley brings nothing original or of value to the table, has not piloted a Bill of note, advanced no real policy, but has instead and without shame dusted off his predecessors plans and policies and are now claiming them as his own and is making them as political promises in lieu of anything of his own making.

To paraphrase the writings of a contributor in Prague, the danger to Trinidad & Tobago is not Dr. Keith Rowley per se, but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with leadership. It will be far easier to limit and undo the follies of a Rowley administration than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to a depraved electorate who would consider such a man for their Prime Minister. The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Dr. Rowley, who is a mere symptom of what ails this nation. Blaming the prince of fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The Republic can survive a Keith Rowley, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools, such as those who might make him their Prime Minister.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory...

This weekend at least one of the daily newspapers quoted a political poll without publishing the actual poll, and while all of us were caught up reacting to the poll, it is only when someone asked me to send them a copy of the poll did I realize that I had not yet seen the actual poll. Worse, every single person that I contacted on the poll who themselves had weighed in publicly on the issue had to admit that they too had not yet seen the poll, begging the question as to if there ever was a poll in the first place.

Putting that aside, it appears as if the poll was commissioned to accomplish one thing and one thing only, to scare the Congress of the People into submission. Because based on the information in the as of yet not published poll which, for some strange and unknown reason only seem to have polled two constituencies as if that was all that was required to make the point, the poll that was never a poll left many unasked questions in its wake, and I thought I would like to request of the good people of NACTA  that if they ever do bother to actually conduct a poll, to ask other more substantial questions, especially where the COP is concerned.

But why say that it appeared to be purposed only to silence the COP? In courtrooms worldwide judges are mindful to guide lawyers as to the way they ask questions so as to protect the person being questioned from being trapped by little or no choice. The classic question posed as “Have you stopped beating your wife” presupposes you to be a wife beater, because in an environment where you are only allowed to answer yes or no, a 'yes' answer assumes that you used to beat her, and a 'no' answer means that you still do. See the quandary? To presuppose a desired outcome through the couching of the question tells the listener exactly what they want to hear, but we all know in reality nothing is limited to only two choices. Even experienced police officers tell that when dealing with disputes between persons that there are always three sides to every story; your side, my side, and the truth.

Basing questions on the viability of the Congress of the People as a political party as part of the People's Partnership labors the COP with all of the sins of all of its partners simply because the COP is held to a higher standard by the electorate first, and then by cunning politicians who know only too well that in the team sport that politics is, the compromises that have to happen if governance is at all to occur makes that position a lie from in front, prompting Niccolo Machiavelli to coin the phrase that has since been bastardized and attributed to Basdeo Panday, that politics has no relation to morals. Imagine asking that same question to the same public but prompting with the preface, “Would you vote for the Congress of the People if it left the People's Partnership?”

Imagine the response triggered by such a prefix, to a jaded public desperate for something, anything like decency and morality in our politics, whose one and only grouse with the COP that it is STILL  a part of the PPG, can you imagine the numbers? But forget the COP having any chance at success as a stand alone party for a minute, have those in the United National Congress who are rumored to have commissioned that poll that never was a poll thought for a second the vast gash that an exiting COP would leave in all of their intentions, and the size of the hemorrhage of votes, especially in the questionably polled east west corridor?

The UNC may boast of having members in seats such as Diego Martins West, Central and North East, but their collective numbers together especially in relation to the post-apocolyptical 2010 to 2015 term would be barely enough to form a line at a St. James roti shop. No, for the People's Partnership to have value in the 2015 elections it needs the COP more than ever now, and like the old time calypso about the two bards fighting over what was more important in the pot after it was cooked, the hambone that flavored it or the rice that could be eaten, to the politically savvy the COP brings even more this time around and may well be responsible for the pot itself.

In the card game 'All Fours' the worst thing to hold in a six card game is the ace and the jack, because with the king and queen still out there to hang you, that hand is referred to as laugh and cry. That is where the UNC finds itself today and it would do well to stop the nonsense where the COP is concerned because, while it is the bigger more established party with war chests (plural) of campaign money, without the COP to bring some semblance of acceptability if not credibility outside the sixteen seats that they could safely call safe, they might well find themselves crying all the way to the Opposition side of the house.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Healthy Response...

As some of you may know the Minister of Health and I have been having a bit of a public disagreement over the deplorable state of our ambulance service and by extension the public health sector, and while some have taken to making this political I have absolutely no interest in going down those roads with this most serious of issues.

I reject the notion that four and a half years was not enough time to fix our ambulance service and casualty department if not our health sector as a whole, and i dismiss the idea that the last administration's mismanagement is responsible for ours.

The truth of the matter is that nothing of substance has been done to reinvent what we have lamented for years to be a dysfunctional caricature of a public health service, yet it boggles my mind that all of this time and money spent, we have no improvements of any value to show for it.

Yes i am thankful that a Children's Hospital is under construction and that the Tobago Hospital was finally finished. I applaud the re-purposing of the Chancery Lane complex into an addition to the San Fernando General Hospital, yet our people are still dying waiting for an ambulance if one ever bothers to show up, are treated worse than animals if they ever need emergency treatment at our casualty departments, and even worse than that should they require a longer hospital stay.

In response the Minister of Health has taken to attacking me for speaking out, but how much longer must we wait?

Blaming the staff, the systems and the equipment for the sorry state of affairs reminds me of the statement attribute to Confucius, who said "Only a poor workman blames his tools."

I put to the Minister of Health and the entire national community that this is simply not good enough, that the blame game is tired, and that the Minister himself has to accept the epic failures of his term in office.

My recommendation to him is to cease the defensive posture and the public sniping and either get to work fixing what passes for our health sector or step down and make space for someone who can.

We need nothing less than the declaration of a public state of emergency on our health sector where all of the resources of state are made available to bring relief to the public in the soonest possible time. The old people say the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Start there. Fix Casualty. Make our Emergency Response the envy of the civilized world. We have the money to do it, so why not the political will? Remove the ambulances service from under the Ministry of Health and reassign it to the Ministry of National Security. Not out of spite, but because the Ministry of National Security is already in the business of emergency response and possesses advanced and sophisticated tools and technology through the National Operations Centre to control, manage, dispatch and monitor. This could be done in the immediate short term and bring real and substantial relief.

We also need to release the burden on the Casualty Departments and on the public by the creation of at least forty one Health centers compete with emergency rooms set up to treat with minor emergencies open twenty four hours a day seven days a week, leaving the real casualty departments to treat with the life threatening stuff.

Finally the beds. If we cannot privatize the hospital service then surely we can privatize the property management and security of our facilities. There are Companies that specialize in building maintenance, serve and equipping, and if we do this, if we can leave nothing but the medical management to the medical staff, we would create an environment where everyone is encouraged to succeed.

This is not rocket science but ideas and suggestions, and as sure as i am that there are better ideas and suggestions out there equally workable, I am equally sure that we are blessed to have some marvellous medical professionals who, if motivated to, could make this country's health sector something that serves the people instead of frustrating them. Whatever is the obstacle to progress that is retarding this type of redevelopment needs to be identified and removed, but please, don't waste my time telling me that low level public servants are the source of our concern. Trinidadians are by and large good people, and it has been my experience that those who choose to work in health are usually those with a heart for people and service. We are doing something wrong if our own people are against us, and perhaps we need to be honest with our introspection if what we want in the end is a health sector that serves us all.