What may be the most difficult proposition for any leader who wants to keep his people in train, is how to get his message across while still achieving the specifically desired after-effect.
When the revered Caribbean intellectual leader Dr. Eric Williams told his post-slavery populace in 1956 that “Fete Done!”, little did he imagine that they got the deep feeling that there was no more real need for them to work.
Fast forward to July 1990 when an Islamic cleric and former policeman took over a whole government by violent means and shouted to the seething crowd outside the TT Parliament: “Do not Loot!”
Unlike the Williams case, everybody in Town knew exactly what Imam Yasin Abu Bakr meant as they proceeded to raid stores, groceries and shops for items which they could carry in their pockets, bosoms, and on their backs.
Looting was so random that many stole items they could not use because they had neither the computer skills to go with the hardware or the gas tanks to light the brand new stoves to cook their meals with.
So will the real Communications Minister of Trinidad and Tobago step up?
Surely, TT Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley cannot be expected to be taken seriously if he continues to trot out the ever-pleasant-looking Symon de Nobriga whose apparent IT skills were apparently taken as qualifications for communications mastery.
So when Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales intervened to save the day – not only for the government but also for the PNM’s chances at the next election – he was making most effective strategic move to win the full market, WASA workers included.
This was, in effect, the kind of communication exercise any leader would be pleased to be involved in. It, therefore, begs the question about how soon Rowley will recruit Gonzales into his Communications team to help the government recover from the series of blunders it has been engaged in this area, especially the COVOD 19 pandemic.
While we may find ourselves stretching our already taut nerves as to why this recent self-destructive “WASA Disconnection Drive” could have been undertaken at all, perhaps the most important lesson to be remembered here may be the great value of the employment of quiet diplomacy in matters which affect people right to the core.
That the quiet victory could have been pulled off by this apparently unassuming but quietly aggressive elected government minister, is evidence that it’s that we have inside us as a people that really counts in times of crisis.
In this regard, Gonzales provided us all with a teaching lesson when he opted to express his “concerns” to the WASA Chairman about the drastic disconnection drive, rather than bring down the heavy hammer of authority.
He said: “We did express our views and we expect the executive director and the board to act accordingly. I can tell you our concerns (are) very much in alignment with other members of the board.”
By politely whispering in the ear of WASA Chairman Dr Lennox Sealy that “we do not feel these concerns are being shared” by disconnecting customers at this time, Gonzales was relying on the very vital tool used by leaders who know how to empathize – instead of sympathizing or “talk down” – to their people.
In doing so, Gonzales found a way to draw in all parties to the center table to find solutions to a common problem which all had an interest in solving.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the current style of the Rowley regime where talk and information abound but communication and connection are very absent. Plenty shouting but no message.
At this crucial time in the government’s new term, it should be obvious that “Team Balisier” needs a strong, nimble communicator to serve not only as a buffer but as a punch-drunk fighter capable of bobbing and weaving through the flurry of jabs and punches coming “fast and furious”, even as Rowley holds on to the political ropes by his fingernails.
Come on Keith, it’s time to bring out your newfound prizefighter Marvin “Smooth Talker” Gonzales to take on the enemies without and within.
You must do this before you find yourself taking the count of a noisy bell ringing dimly in your ears in the middle of a spinning ring.