Home / View Point / Guest Columns / Noble: Paria’s plight is rampant in T&T—First World salaries without First World leadership

Noble: Paria’s plight is rampant in T&T—First World salaries without First World leadership

Stephen R Covey, the American author of First Things First, said: ‘We are free to choose our actions… but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.’ 

As a nation, we need to contemplate this as we mourn the loss of the four men in a recent tragic workplace incident. To reduce the issue to a communication problem is to minimise what is happening. This pain, suffered by the families, directly results from our national choices over a long period. 

Photo: Divers Christopher Boodram, Fyzal Kurban, Rishi Nagassar, Yusuf Henry and Kazim Ali Jr. prepare to set out on a job. When tragedy struck the LMCS-employed quintet in a Paria pipeline on Friday 25 February, only Boodram (far left) survived.

To witness the broken women sitting in the darkness of a cold, windswept bus shelter as though they were waiting for the Marabella market to open but realising that they were being disrespected as unwanted trash is heart-wrenching. 

We have lost every drop of human kindness on the altar of money, a choice long in the making. These are unfortunate women who have sacrificed their husbands in the maw of a heartless company, a story writ repeatedly in our country in the last two decades. 

But this is the result of our choices in the previous two decades. 

Bluntly put, our problem is that a kakistocracy—a government of the worse people—has run and still runs our country. 

James Lowell, an American poet, wrote: ‘What fills me with doubt and dismay is the degradation of the moral tone… Is ours a ‘government of the people by the people for the people’, or… for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?’ 

 

Image: A satirical take on the relationship between government and taxpayers.

The degradation of the moral tone of our society is the legacy we now bear. We can consider how our media have responded to the splintering of the audiences. The rise of clickbait and the dumbing down of our discussion tells the story. 

The inability to share with others is a significant marker. The disdain for those who are disenfranchised by those who have benefited disproportionately from the national prosperity and the intense polarisation on every topic—which elevates ‘I’ over ‘we’—are now hallmarks of our country. 

Our inability to look at data and then engage in dialogue that respects and values the other person quickly becomes a lost value. Money and possessions have become the symbols of success. 

We have always had scamps in our halls of power, starting with Johnny O’Halloran, but we now have a system that invites inept and greedy persons and repels talented ones. We have accepted in our midst persons who are kleptocrats and we make nothing of their misdeeds. 

Photo: Former UNC Minister of National Security and Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner (left) gets a police escort after an extradition hearing.
Warner is wanted by US authorities for alleged financial crimes committed during his tenure as Fifa vice-president.
(Copyright Diego Urdaneta/ AFP 2015)

Unfortunately, we blend these two worst instincts in those who lead, while our poor are distracted from their wrongs and ineptitude. We join their circus of blaming rivals while they steal and tamper with things they know little about. 

We pay the price. These women paid the ultimate price. Several mothers across the nation also pay the price, having lost their children to criminal activities.  

Our two major political parties use different business models. On the one hand, there is a desire to control centrally. Cabinet ministers openly jostle each other as they bumble around. Friends and family is the way to govern since the leaders do not trust anyone, including the public. 

The civil service is maligned and demoralised. Independent, unbiased information to make public decisions is hard to come by. A lack of warmth and caring marks the spot.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC at the funeral of former prime minister Patrick Manning.
(Copyright Power102fm)

On the other hand, we have a decentralised approach that enables corruption to flourish—plausible denialibility is the game. The catchphrase ‘I have been advised’ was the excuse. The result was our tiny nation being named in newspapers worldwide in tales of financial crime.

Lawsuits became a theatre and a source of funds but went nowhereRather than be horrified by the criminal excesses we witness, the rot is accepted and so it hollows out our institutions.

In every sphere of life, money talks. The poor are expendable. 

Paria’s horror was inevitable. We merely did not know where and when this disaster would have arrived. It is like the roulette we play with Covid-19. Who will die and when will they die?

The bigger the budgets, the less we got: our quality of life declined. The poor among us increased by 50% between 2005 and 2014.

Photo: Protest in La Brea.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian/Rishi Ragoonath)

The larger the tenders, the greater the corruption. The IADB estimated 26% of project costs was paid in bribes and padded budgets. In 2010, the Financial Intelligence Unit reported TT$85.7m in 300 suspicious transactions, but by 2020, there was TT$27bn—the equivalent of 65% of our national budget—flagged from 1831 transactions.

There are many ways to kill poor people. While the tragedy of last Friday’s deaths should never be minimised or forgotten, we accept the murders of many as well as those who die because they cannot afford medical treatment. 

We steal the money intended for schools and send the little boys onto the road to meet an inevitable end. Hospitals remain under-resourced and the poor die unnoticed, grieved only by their loved ones. 

Never forget the dividend payout that vanished in our orgy. In 2011-2016, dividends from state enterprises to the Treasury increased sharply to TT$19.5bn. What did we gain from this?

Photo: Ex-Sport Minister Anil Roberts (left) pays his respects to then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Under one regime, the Caribbean Airlines Board was complete with the ‘short pants man’ who would hustle airline tickets.

The party then fired the chairman. Still, it gave him the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) chairmanship because the Finance Minister was ‘new to the political process and had removed the CAL directors without prior Cabinet approval’.

But the other party moved their HDC chairman and put him in charge of Petrotrin. Why? 

The mystery of the resignation of Fitzroy Harewood (CEO) and the removal of Wilfred Espinet (chairman) has landed us in our mess today. 

Mr Harewood is now the head of the CEO group on the Point Lisas Estate. Who is poorer, he or the nation?

Photo: A Greensdale resident (second from right) tries to point something out to then HDC chair Newman George (far left) and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (second from left) during a walkthrough.
George is the current chair of Paria Fuel Trading Company Limited.
(via HDC)

Does either party care for us? Do we compare the alleged ills of Malcolm Jones and the stewardship of Indar Maharaj? 

Consider how we treated the Caribbean Airlines board. Look at the various types of stuff the boards got up to. Read Afra Raymond to understand how both parties attempt to hide misdeeds

Once our party is in power, we accept and defend the miscreants and their behaviour. 

What about the present leaders’ qualifications and track record entitles them to lead Paria? Is Minister Stuart Young the de facto chairman, CEO and prime minister? In my view, he is forced into the roles since others do not step up. We call him disparagingly the ‘Minister of Everything’—not realising that it tells more about us and our politics than him. 

How could this crisis break and neither the chairman nor the CEO appear publicly and immediately? Lives were at risk, yet the chairman could not bestir himself to sit in the ANR Robinson International Airport to get a flight back on Friday night? 

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading chairman Newman George.
(Copyright Paria Fuel)

Would we believe that a state enterprise chairman with a significant crisis cannot get a link from another state enterprise, CAL? Really? 

This individual can play golf for the whole day because he was kept abreast of the developments? What a breathtaking show of how not to lead! 

Minister Young came in from a foreign trip from the other side of the world on Friday night and was on site before the chairman!

But both Minister Young and the OWTU are singing in off-pitch voices. This matter is not a case of resigning when the facts come in. The existence of a blatant lack of leadership is evident to all. 

The top organisational leaders do not get suspended for lack of governance; operational people do. Personal integrity and leadership demand more!

Photo: Minister of Energy and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young prepares to face journalists at a virtual media conference on 7 May 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/ GhanShyam Photography/ Wired868)

We want to be paid like those in the developed world, and we boast of being world-class—we should live by the same norms.

Lord Browne, of BP fame, in 2007, made plans to demit office after the fire and the loss of 15 lives at a Texas refinery and the poor maintenance debacle at Prudhoe Bay. He got into further trouble by lying about his personal life and was instantly gone. 

Lord Browne’s resignation meant a loss of a bonus worth over 3.5m pounds and the forfeiture of inclusion in a long-term performance share plan for 2007-2009 worth up to 12m pounds. What detains our decision?

None should shamelessly and brazenly stand their ground in this matter. Leaders get paid big bucks to take responsibility for strategic and crisis decision making. 

Trust is built on empathy, and the tone of communication is crucial. Every worker in this country is watching this breach of trust; they will take the appropriate measures to protect themselves in the future. 

Photo: Paria Fuel Trading CEO Mushtaq Mohammed.

This breathtaking plunder of faith has disastrous consequences for the nation. The handling of this affair plants a torpedo under our business community and our politics. 

Hopefully, Mr Eugene Tiah, a seasoned and well-respected energy professional who was nominated by the Energy Chamber, will stand tall. 

Why is there no union representation on the investigating committee? This administration spoke about wanting union board representation. What has happened now? Is there no labour body that can ensure that the workers’ rights are protected? 

Is the Government prepared to die on this hill defending their chairman? Are they content to have the political vultures pick at the carcasses of the dead to score points? Are they prepared to allow more bile to spew across our nation? 

Mr George, apparently, never read the media release before the delivery or lacks language ability. The invisible Mr Mushtaq Mohammed, long in the business yet inexperienced, has not earned his pay.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) and Paria Fuel Trading chairman Newman George.
(Copyright Trinidad Newsday)

There is a golf course waiting! Just go there! 

Choices have consequences. The country needs to make a fresh start. 

Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, lamented: ‘Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn!’

About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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11 comments

  1. This tragedy has occurred through gross incompetence by both the oil company and the contractor.
    Where were the risk assessments if indeed any were done at all? And did they highlight the risk of differential pressure?
    Where is the sign-off from the Paria engineers that the pipeline was at ambient pressure and was this verified by the contractor?
    Who was supervising the divers and who is Paria’s diving responsible person? Where was he?
    What national standards were being followed?
    This is a classic case of corporate manslaughter.

  2. Just like Andrea Bharatt….inevitable. Well written article. I cried.

  3. When NATUC asked for a committee to investigate vaxxed vs unvaxxed treatment in the hospitals, the gov’t unilaterally created one, constituting it with persons who the PM endorsed as friends.
    As if that would appease the public. Totally missing the point.
    These people have no conscience, integrity, regard for transparency or they are just plain criminal idiots.

  4. Is anyone going to be held accountable for this tragedy? Sadly, I fear not.
    And I say this from a dark place of absolute disillusionment. I have seen little or no empathy from the company for the families of the divers and the excruciating trauma they must be going through.
    My expectation? Business as usual!

  5. Talk about hitting the nail on the head….more like destroying it.
    The even more scary part is that those who now have all the answers if faced with similar situations they are unable to do any better. Sadly, it has resulted in persons losing their lives but it is an all-too-familiar story (negligence, incompetence and outright laziness emanating from some of the highest offices in this land) that faces this country on a daily basis.

  6. “Our inability to look at data” Data, which data?

  7. It may very well be that ‘a car trunk loaded with firearms’ is the answer we need. As we’re all aware, this issue will die with those men. There will be no justice by the share virtue that this is a case of. Caesar vs Caesar – who will guard the guards?
    And sadly so, this nations outcry normally falls on deaf ears, because at the basic, primal level, it is brought down to party politics and race.
    How I would wish to be a part of change, a part of justice, a part of nation building which would endeavor to, as a first act, remove persons the likes of Piper, Mohammed and George and ensure that competence, knowledge and experience will be the cornerstones of all state enterprises. That the political cronies of the ministries can be made to exit offices.
    But that is a gargantuan task in a country like this, steeped in nepotism and breathing corruption.
    Making it even harder for good people to want to serve.
    This last week+ has been a shameful one for Trinidad and Tobago, surpassed only by the Russian / Ukrainian war.
    May God bless us All!

  8. Earl Best

    To each his own catharsis.
    This piece, book-ended by quotations from an author and a poet, seems to me to be the literary equivalent of the action of the frustrated man who fills his car trunk with high-powered firearms and, breathing fire, drives onto the compound where he was once employed…

  9. Michelle Dymally Davis

    Are we prepared for a national disaster?
    The recent Paria Fuel tragedy has inadvertently highlighted our crisis inadequateness.  Our inability to react, engage and communicate has certainly been under scrutiny in the public forum over the last few days. The deliberate inaction in response to the emergency enraged the public as we looked on aghast at the deafening silence and the company’s failure to communicate.

    You see, this stems from the hiring processes in this country.  The who you know instead of who is actually qualified! I say this because all over this country there are clear examples of leadership/management that has failed to meet company goals and objectives!
    You cannot appoint an accountant to perform surgery while the employees pay the price!
    We continue to put square pegs in round holes in critical positions that impact company performance.  The fact that Corporate Communications in Paria Fuel took over 72 hours to issue a public statement speaks volumes about the inefficiency and (in)competence of the company!

    Then we have the question of accountability.  Will anyone be held accountable for the inaction/actions we saw during this tragedy?  Will this suspicious investigation produce feasible results and provide executable solutions?

    The upcoming weeks will reveal if we as a nation are committed to abolishing the wrongs of the past!