IN very late 2014 a small group of citizens, well-known civil society professionals, met to discuss the state of Trinidad and Tobago with a view to beginning a process towards societal improvement. Other meetings followed—attendees were not always the same—and Resett1962 was launched on June 15, 2015. Michael Harris (now, unfortunately, not in the best of health) was designated the principal co-ordinator.
All the meetings, and the launch, were held at the Normandie Hotel. Mention that hotel, and many automatically think of the space called “Under the trees”, and of the cultural performances that have been taking place there for many years. The name has become a brand.
It was the late Fred Chin Lee, owner and operator-in-chief of the hotel, who created the brand, and fostered the culture with which it is identified. It is testament to his unique marketing acumen.
But many do not know that Fred was much more than a shrewd businessman. As a good citizen and a reflective man, he was intensely interested in the broad socio-economic and psychological development of Trinidad and Tobago. To that end, he took an active part in, and supported, several projects over the years, and it was only to be expected that he would be an unfailing participant in the discussions leading up to the formation and launch of Resett1962— in fact, it was a suggestion of his that inspired the name.
In its foundation documents, Resett1962 says that Trinidad and Tobago must again take up the challenge of our 1962 political independence and “restart and reset the process of nation-building through participatory governance”. Although the two words are often used interchangeably, there is a clear distinction between “government” and “governance”. The former refers to the group of persons responsible for “the machinery of State at any particular time. It also refers to the policies the group pursues and the decisions it makes.” Governance, on the other hand, refers “primarily to the processes by which governments make their policies and decisions, and seek to implement them.” Among the essential pillars on which participatory governance rests are information, consultation, participation, accountability and control by the people. They are also pillars which governments everywhere, once ensconced in office, often pretend do not exist.
Fred, who in his understated way rejected government arrogance, and corruption of all kinds, was a firm adherent of good, participatory governance. It was therefore no surprise that he strongly backed Resett1962, even providing a home at the hotel for the organisation’s operations, hosting some of its public forums, and investing in its administration. He also met weekly with the then Resett1962 chairman, Dr David Subran.
His passion for such a cause was strengthened by another of his facets with which many are unfamiliar: he read voraciously. These days, reading a book has become a chore for what seems the overwhelming majority of our population. We think (if that is the word) and act these days in bursts of online posts and WhatsApps. We take selfies galore, and place great faith in idle social media chatter, unwilling to delve much below superficiality in search of the knowledge and ideas that could be of benefit to our country and to ourselves. If we do read anything now, on history or philosophy or economics or culture or politics, it is reading that is less wide, less analytical, and deficient in real contemplation.
Fred was a beacon in this regard, and much of his success was attributable to ideas and concepts that derived from the eclecticism of his intellectual interests. This motivated one of his last actions: establishing a library at the Normandie. It was an initiative that one would not normally associate with an hotel.
These lesser known aspects of Fred Chin Lee—his philanthropy, his thoughtfulness, his focus on the broader vision, his understanding of the need for exposure to new thinking, his ability to relate concept to reality—simultaneously facilitated, and surpassed, his considerable commercial achievements.
Fred Chin Lee was a man without airs, dedicated to his family and country. He has left us physically, but his legacy of commitment to nation-building remains. It is a legacy which will continue to guide Resett1962, and which we strongly recommend to our compatriots at large.
—Resett1962 is a registered non-profit organisation focused on fostering participation and good governance in Trinidad and Tobago. You can join the cause by following us on Facebook or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org