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TCL charting new growth path

It is a promising sign that a prominent Trinidad and Tobago company, with Caribbean multinational status, is beginning 2013 with refreshingly out-of-the-box thinking. Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL), which in 2012 took some hits both from its level of indebtedness and from labour troubles, is set to promote the use of concrete in road-building, general manager Satnarine Bachew has revealed in a report in this week's Business Express. Following three years of research under a $1.5 million programme, TCL launched a pilot project in road building and road repair, using a technology which it claims to be cheaper than the traditionally used asphalt.

This kind of project can be the basis of a new and much-needed shift in mindset. The road to Maracas beach, built by the Americans over a half-century ago, was until recently a constant reproach to the shoddy workmanship and low standards applied to virtually every other thoroughfare in the country.

Working in hilly terrain with technology now completely outdated, the United States Army Corps of Engineers constructed a road which was built to last. By contrast, even the nation's highways have suffered from undulation and potholes within a few years of completion.

This phenomenon did not merely reflect a lack of technical expertise. The cause of such shoddy work was more likely to be politics—rum and roti and roads was once the magic formula for electoral victory. Indeed, it used to be that the clearest sign of both local and general elections was a sudden flurry of road repairs, with the stench of hot pitch filling the air in the run-up to the casting of ballots.

The barber-greened roads were supposed to represent efficient government but, more importantly, such projects also provided temporary employment just in time to buy votes.

This doesn't occur so obviously now and, if TCL's technology fulfils its promise of longevity, road repairs will become a minor or irrelevant part of electoral politicking. Indeed, TCL claims that the country will lower repair costs by about 35 per cent through this technology. Given the amount spent annually on fixing roads, that works out to hundreds of millions of dollars saved. Additionally, this new approach, simple and obvious as it may seem, can set an example for other firms to follow.

Such a shift in the land of the Pitch Lake represents a bold step toward a new production line for TCL. More of this is needed if T&T is to escape its always developing, but never developed, status: adaptive responses to ongoing challenges which are indigenously created. As a small country with limited resources, we have less space for wastage and inefficiency than larger nations. In the new fiscal era, this country must adapt or die.

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