Vaneisa: The republic of subterfuge—TSTT sacking, Tobago taxi no-shows par for the course

EPL Infrafred Sauna

From the time I heard the news reports about the 300 cruise-ship passengers being stranded without tour transport in Tobago because the maxi-taxi operators failed to show up, something seemed fishy.

The explanation given by presi­dent of the Tobago Maxi Taxi Association Cloyd Williams was that it was a combination of illness, religious beliefs, and he also vaguely mentioned non-payment of outstanding bills.

Tobago Maxi Taxi Association president Cloyd Williams.

Then came the outrage of the cruise line agent, Charles Carvalho, who went along with their excuse, despite his indignation. On Saturdays and Sundays, he said, “we have a religious issue with the maxi-taxi drivers”. (As Seventh-day Adventists, they do not work on Saturdays, but that does not explain Sundays.)

Soon after, Carvalho revealed that the non-payments cited by the drivers were because he had defaulted on fees for previous cruises. He said he had invested money that had been put aside to pay them (and if it had been put aside, then why did he use it?) and the investment was lost.

It would be reasonable to assume that the drivers had aired their dissatisfaction and may indeed have threatened to withhold their services. But Carvalho did not reveal this until pressed.

What the inaction has meant for this country’s tourism reputation is going to be far greater than the domestic dispute. Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Farley Augustine, just back from a trip to the UK to promote the island’s tourism, said cruise-ship operators are “threatening to pull out” as a result of the fiasco.

THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine (left).
(Copyright THA)

It was not a good day to protest, he said, and the drivers should not have accepted the booking and then reneged on it without indicating so. Augustine has a fair point because the damage to the mainstay of the island’s economy is potentially enormous.

The flat-footed response on the day of the crisis made matters worse. No alternative transport was offered; places that had prepared food and other offerings for the visitors lost out.

The gift bags that were presented will not do anything to replace the lost vacation event that the tourists had paid for and anticipated for some time. They will surely be telling their friends and acquaintances about this Caribbean trip.

Visitors wait for a flat bottom boat to take them to the Buccoo Reef.

Augustine may be right in saying the THA was not responsible for the missed payments, but if the issue was ongoing for such a long time, he and Carvalho should have known about it and, at the very least, put in place contingency plans.

If it had sounded fishy at the beginning, it is because the whole thing was fishy from the start. No one hearing the story could possibly believe that the salient points were being kept from the public.

It is the same thing essentially with the drama taking place at TSTT.

TSTT logo.

After the 9 October cyberattack on the company, there was no communication with the public about the issue, despite the result that sensitive data had been captured. When TSTT finally admitted to the theft, it sought to minimise the enormity of the event, as did Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales, when he informed the Parliament.

As the implications and impact inevitably became evident, everyone got busy retracting and amending statements and offering apologies. The TSTT board lost no time in firing its CEO, Lisa Agard. This has set off another wave of questions, demands and accusations because people smell the rotting fish.

Analysts have deemed the occurrence an unfortunate reality of today’s increasingly digitised world. Selling stolen data, like kidnappings for ransom, is yet another instance of cybercrime.

Beware cybercrime…

Insiders have argued that TSTT could have done more to protect its files; others have said it is the new ­reality.

What the public does not know is whether Agard was removed because of a lack of diligence, or because of any deliberate miscommunication about the incident.

In a media release reporting on a meeting with the various parties, Minister Gonzales was said to have “emphasised the need for TSTT to be transparent, truthful and forthright with the population, and to move with dispatch on the investigations as the breach may have national security ­implications”.

Photo: Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales.

Questioned by the Express, the minister said two investigations have been launched; one internal and the other independently. But the minister refused to identify the enquirers, saying he “would prefer not to divulge the names of the investigators at this time”.

So much for transparency and forthrightness with the population.

But given that these external and internal investigations are now being conducted, would it not have been premature to ask the former CEO to resign?

Former TSTT CEO Lisa Agard.

Whatever we might think about the slipshod way institutions conduct themselves, one can reasonably expect that no decision was taken by Agard without consultation.

What happened within the breached firewalls of TSTT is a matter of public importance, and the dodgy actions that have followed it do nothing to restore the public’s trust and confidence that Gonzales identified as the critical issue.

Perhaps like a lot of other misguided people in positions wielding power, he believes that the way to do this is to present us with stories that seek to reassure rather than inform, as if he and his cohorts know what is best for us as a population without intelligence and lacking the power to sniff out nonsense.

These two episodes of national concern reinforce the notion that accountability takes last place in this republic.

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About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is the author of a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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