Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lifting the curtain on NAPA’s problems

Express editorial logo377

Mark Fraser

The National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA) was, from the start, an ill-conceived dream.

Bypassing the artistic community, the key stakeholders who this supposedly state-of-the-art facility was to serve, the Patrick Manning administration, in the midst of an energy boom, decided to sign up for a two per cent concessional loan in a government-to-government arrangement with China—the main advantage here not being a low interest rate, but the lack of transparency such a deal allowed.

So NAPA, with theatre halls and even entrance doors unsuitable for the indigenous performing culture of Trinidad and Tobago, was built. And now, five years later, the truth of the local Chinese saying has been demonstrated: “Cheap ting no good, good ting no cheap.”

Not that NAPA and its sister institution, the Southern Academy for the Performing Arts (SAPA), were cheap, coming in over budget at a cost upward of a half-billion dollars. But the cheapness lay in the use of inferior materials and in shoddy workmanship. As a result, according to Arts and Multiculturalism Minister Lincoln Douglas, both facilities will be needing significant renovation. In fact, a staggering 300 problems have been identified at SAPA, which has already incurred a $20 million repair bill.

This must qualify as a national scandal, unless the minister is exaggerating, and/or his technical advisers are misinformed. If the shoddy work on NAPA and SAPA is incontrovertibly confirmed, however, the negative evaluations of the buildings as non-functional are sufficient to create a contentious issue with China. Moreover, Shanghai Construction and the Chinese government would owe T&T an apology and significant monetary compensation.

At this stage, it seems T&T officials had been less than diligent in assuring Chinese value for T&T money, both with respect to construction and perhaps in ensuring proper maintenance after completion. And, with China remaining a source of both financing and contractors for future projects, taxpayers need assurance local experts can effectively secure the national interest or, if that is too much to expect, qualified oversight and maintenance services would be retained from wherever they may be available.

Whether apology and/or rebates are forthcoming or not depends entirely on China’s concern with its international image. Even if the People’s Partnership administration were minded to aggressively pursue this issue—and that proposition is dubious—China can safely ignore this speck on the Caribbean Sea.

On the other hand, it is clear from China’s foreign policy adventurism in Africa and the Caribbean that the Asian behemoth is intent on replacing American hegemony over the world in the fullness of time. For that reason, the Chinese government will, hopefully, respond with alacrity to this embarrassing disclosure of its agents’ lack of high standards and professional probity.