Dear Prime Minister

Above: Dr Keith Rowley, photo by Mark Lyndersay.

BitDepth#1006 for September 15, 2015

Good day, sir. I have no doubt that there are many things that demand priority action from you at this time.

The budget is coming up, and you’ve got to figure out what to do about the energy sector. Deciding how to cut spending over the next three years and how to spend what’s left is going to be mission number one.

The adjustments you have to make must be ruthless if 2025 is to be a good year for this country and they must begin now, while the party enjoys a surge in its popularity.

Immediately noticeable among your first acts has been the consolidation of a sprawl of 31 Ministries condensed into 23, and the promotion of Caricom as a Ministry focus alongside the demotion of gender.

Also disappearing is the Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education, the component parts of which are likely to return to the ministries they were extracted from. [Post publication correction: The Ministry of Science, Technology and Tertiary Education was split into the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Tertiary Education and Skills Training in 2012. Both Ministries are now gone.]

While that ministry was more focused on tertiary education than anything else, the idea of an arm of government devoted to technology remains compelling.

Technology desperately needs a knowledgeable czar to drive radical and overdue change in the development profile of Trinidad and Tobago.

There probably isn’t a need for a dedicated ministry to achieve that, though a Ministry of Technology would be a statement so dramatic and bold that it would demand a supporting agenda and profile of action to justify its existence.

That’s been missing in this country’s long foundering efforts to press into meaningful service the deliberations of technocrats in both the private and public sectors who have put serious work into charting a path forward for this country over the last 20 years.

Those efforts have generated sprawling and ambitious plans from which previous governments have plucked the least important, most publicly palatable bits to offer as evidence of a commitment to technology development.

So what should you be doing about this, then, good sir?

You aren’t the first Prime Minister I’ve written to after being sworn into office. A few things I wrote about here got started, I hope you find the time to address some of these concerns.

For one thing, the government has no business getting involved in actual tech development. Bureaucracies move too slowly and the ambitions of politicians are far too small for serious tech projects.

The business of government generally, and more specifically in the arena of technology, must be in providing an enabling environment for businesses of all sizes to invest in the sector.

This country, which has long nursed ambitions of being the financial hub of the Caribbean archipelago, must address the long delayed issue of online payments, the first lubrication point for the establishment of a growth-poised tech sector.

The most immediate technology related challenge awaiting the new administration will be making sense of the PP government’s distribution of hundreds of thousands of laptops into the school system over the last five years.

I believe, quite sincerely, that it was both a smart and a good thing to do, despite the dramatic disconnect that emerged between the devices and classroom and teaching pedagogy.

I’m an unabashed champion of putting powerful technology in front of young minds and for that reason alone; the project should be continued.

But the failures of the project must be addressed, and I must be frank, your – quite literally – old-school Minister of Education is not the person to drive a reevaluation of this initiative.

You’ve decided to be a Prime Minister of oversight instead of micromanagement. To do that, you will need to understand the nation you are governing through impartial, continuously updated data, not sanitized reports designed to inflate egos or cover vulnerable asses.

And speaking of data, your party may have won the popular vote, but almost as many who had the franchise chose not to vote at all.

You must forgive my bluntness here, sir, but the PNM did less to win the election than the UNC did to lose it.

Use technology to take the pulse of the people in your charge. A disturbing number of young citizens feel no connection with a bureaucracy they barely understand, far less support.

Create a moderated online chatroom and commit to spending an hour in it once a week to respond to questions about the country and your governance. Listen to what the people have to say and respond honestly and frankly.

You’ll be surprised at what you discover about the T&T that lies just out of reach and beyond the campaign trail.