Monday, February 19, 2018

Govt buildings falling to contagion of neglect

 The closure of the Roxborough Fire Station, which could potentially disrupt emergency services in eastern Tobago, marks a new low in the degeneration of State facilities to the condition of unusability. 

An inspection last month by Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) officials found cracking and collapsed ceiling plaster, mould growth, and the deterioration of concrete columns and beams. So fire officials, charged with ensuring the safety of other citizens, had to abandon their workplace for their own safety. Such extended neglect of maintenance and repair that evidently rendered the station unfit for occupation has been equally and regrettably observable in San Fernando court facilities. There, as in far too many government buildings, OSH shortcomings have delivered endless cause for protest action into the eager hands of Public Services Association (PSA) head Watson Duke. 

 In Roxborough, a Duke/PSA intervention was apparently pre-empted, but results of the inspection there should at least trigger attention to the structural and environmental state of affairs at other fire stations in both Tobago and Trinidad and, indeed, inside all the accommodations where public business is transacted. But this entire situation demonstrates the limits of legislation. 

The OSH Act, passed a decade ago, was supposed to improve working conditions for all employees. Yet there is no evidence that industrial accidents have diminished significantly in the past ten years, and much evidence that the core problems of incompetence, indifference, and unprofessionalism have remained unchanged.

The poster company for such deficiencies is Petrotrin, not because the State-owned refinery has a worse maintenance record than other entities, but because the potential for harm is that much greater and the company revenues that should have made maintenance a relatively simple matter have not been utilised to that basic end. 

In such issues, no one accepts blame, not even the persons charged with maintenance or with related policies. Indeed, part of the problem is that sometimes there are no such posts or, when there are, the individuals filling them are not properly trained for their duties. The best—which is to say, worst—example of this is the Twin Towers in the capital city. These were certainly identical right after being built, but one tower was allocated to the Central Bank and one to the Ministry of Finance, and the difference in their present states is the direct outcome of the Central Bank having had professional building maintenance. 

It is into this breach that Mr Duke, seeing an opportunity to further his trade union agenda, has stepped. Whether his directives are justified or not, Mr Duke has shown how indifference to basic issues can shut down a country. Yet the powers-that-be continue to dither while the PSA runs rampant.