N Touch
Tuesday 19 February 2019
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Commentary

Secrets and walls

What do secrets and walls have in common? They are always discovered or breached eventually. Any cursory reading of history reveals this to be true. Events in TT, the US and UK offer further proof that we learn nothing, generation after generation reverting to the same misguided actions.

Sandals, the super successful Caribbean luxury holiday company with hotels across the region, has pulled out of a proposed hotel in Tobago. The company cites the negative publicity and hostile reaction to the planned enterprise that they claim could damage the fine reputation of their business. That’s fair enough. If I were Butch Stewart I would do the same, and as a Trini with a concern for the environmental health of this country I would act in our own interest too. This is a good case for marketing students to study how NOT to attempt to influence people and gain friends. I am not a PR expert but I do know that trust is important in all things, and the more important the matter, the greater the trust needed.

The Tobago Sandals resort project was intended to provide the much-needed injection that the very lame tourism industry of Tobago needs. Everyone in TT would like to see Tobago become more productive, less dependent, and better at exploiting its ample natural resources, including its human resources. This is not to underestimate the impact of the recent maritime transport woes. From that point of view alone the initiative would have won favour with a majority of people. For all the possible benefits I, personally, dislike all-inclusive resorts because there is no cultural gain since visitors almost never leave the resort to interact with non-hotel-staff citizens, thereby reinforcing stereotypes of the rich visitor and the exotic, ever-happy native service provider. Furthermore, usually resorts want exclusive use of beaches, and much of the foreign exchange goes to the company.

Despite that, if a good argument were presented, for example, the positive results of a feasibility study with a full environmental impact survey, the initiative would become more attractive. In the absence of those and with possible intentions having to be forced into the light, all sense of trust disappears. Commercial sensitivity does exist and government must sometimes act without consultation but with such an important public-private project, where an aware public and opposition are alert, the government needed a strategy to win trust.

Even if you are utterly uninterested in UK politics the current shenanigans in one of the world’s oldest democracies is worth knowing about. Whatever we might think of our politicians here, their behaviour palls in comparison to the absolute chaos that UK parliamentarians are wreaking upon the people of the very divided kingdom over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union – the Jamaicans call it a “bangarang”. The treachery, confusion, opportunism, self-seeking, fuzzy mindedness on display is breathtaking. At the heart of the monumental crisis, the reported worst since WWII, is the fact that PM Teresa May did not share information strategically or seek to bring to the table her political opponents. Her cabinet unilaterally worked on a withdrawal plan that even if it were the best in the world would have been rejected by the other side. Now, too late, she is consulting recalcitrant opposition leaders.

An excellent example of how to create trust is the introduction of parliamentary democracy in Spain in the 1970s after four decades of dictatorship by General Franco. Over a period and under Franco’s nose, king in waiting, Juan Carlos, secretly got all the hugely disparate political factions, who could destroy the democratic monarchy he was planning after Franco’s death, to his palace and together they worked out difficult political compromises and drafted the post-Franco constitution. That successful transition to democracy is historic and enduring. Obviously, the young king in the wings understood the importance of stealing the fire of his enemies and understood the effective use of power and authority.

May could have benefited from some Spanish tutoring, and so could President Trump, who in addition, needs a history lesson. In October 2012, I climbed a tiny part of the 5,500-miles long Great Wall of China and wrote a Newsday column about it entitled, Not keeping out the hordes. Over millennia that massive wall was constantly breached. Every city wall ever built anywhere is today a mere broken tourist relic of the uselessness of attempts to keep people out. I observed then that, “human kind, like water, will find and fill any gap in the need to survive, to conquer, or be free." Mr Trump’s strategy should be investing the US$6 billion he seeks in developments that encourage migrants to stay where they prefer to be – at home, well fed and safe.

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