First the good news: at four areas in neglected east Port of Spain, improvements have been realised for infrastructure. Count among the achievements: road building, road repair, drainage works, and the building of a multi-purpose court.
So good is the news that a senior Cabinet Minister appears at the formal opening of the four projects at Layan Hill, Fatima Trace, Thompson Trace and Jacobin Street. The works entailed a total cost of $2.35 million, "small money" by any standard of government expenditure.
Still, Minister of Planning and Mobilisation Bhoe Tewarie turned up on Sunday to address an audience that included MPs Patricia McIntosh (Port of Spain North/St Ann's West) and Nileung Hypolite (Laventille West). Dr Tewarie noted that the projects had been completed within budget, and had employed people in the areas.
In this sense, Sunday's event marked a walking of the talk by this administration that, in various rounds of initiative, has been identified with investing money into east Port of Spain and other troubled locales. "Colour Me Orange", run after the 2011 State of Emergency, and "Hoop of Life" readily come to mind as two initiatives. But the untitled creation of URP jobs in east Port of Spain and the promised creation of more in the Beetham Estate represent other priming of the pump, in the hope of employing residents in rehabilitating their neighbourhoods, and keeping the peace.
Rehabilitation and peace were on the mind of Dr Tewarie as he cited the old-news background of "50 years of what you might call neglect and to some extent underdevelopment". With notable bluntness, he called for the local people to get involved: "The community has to take responsibility. If you have a place that is a war zone, you can't have development. You need peace."
Exhortations by a Cabinet Minister toward peace and development bear the feel of more old news—of investments of hope and funds and job provision, that have been reported before. Yet the "war zone" reputation remains, as does the "underdevelopment". It's thus other old news that, as MP Hypolite reported, 120 roads in just his Laventille East constituency cry out for upgrading, and 58 drains for attention.
The bad news is that all this is being put before a Cabinet Minister with a broad, even open-ended, national-scale portfolio for planning, with the implication that he should be capable of doing something about the small-scale and other ills besetting east Port of Spain. Indeed, the best thing Dr Tewarie can do about what he saw and heard in east Port of Spain is to make himself a champion, within the administration, of local government reform. Drains, hard courts, road building and road repair in local areas must fall clearly within the responsibility of local authorities. That they appear nowhere in the picture presented on Sunday is the worst news of all.