Friday, February 23, 2018

Tackle real issues, not bogus divisions

Sadly, Sat Maharaj and Errol McLeod believe Trinidad is engaged in a civil war, judging from their language—“The battle has now begun” and “The enemy has become stronger”. This position appears to be endorsed by the Prime Minister, who “encouraged... to encourage others not to be silent”. This is at odds with her hope to have a national conversation.

The public servants were blamed for the fall of two previous governments and accused of being People’s National Movement plants. Our country’s history was revised to show a divide at the Caroni Bridge and the present Government is touted as one that is correcting a long-held injustice.

Public servants have always been at odds with governments, starting from Eric Williams, who famously had a “doghouse” for them. In one case, he did not speak to the person for more than eight years; others died of broken hearts. The problem has always been that the time perspectives of a minister and a public servant are different: it is like a 100 metres sprint (the next election in sight) and a marathon (building national capacity). The different backgrounds of the two also create room for friction. The fall of the two governments cited is widely acknowledged as the result of internal party dissent, not the fault of the public servants.

Sat paints an incorrect but divisive picture of economic wealth in the country. Globally that type of thinking has led to the horrendous situation in Nigeria and Sudan. While one can point to the built structures in Port of Spain, who owned the contracting firms and equipment?

The 1970s-’80s windfall incomes of Trinidad and Tobago were used to finance major investments in pipelines, the Point Lisas Estate and Port, an expansion of the ammonia, steel and methanol industries. The original 51 per cent-stake in Phoenix Park Gas Processors was bought from national funds. Government, through NGC and NEC, was the prime mover of gas-based development and the development of the LNG trains, which also led to the strengthening of the local light manufacturing sector with strong export markets. Who benefited?

The GATE programme cost as much as the Government campus. Who are the beneficiaries? We have poorer social outcomes despite relatively high levels of spending, and a chasm has opened in the educational arena. What we know is dependency has been inculcated in the East-West Corridor with 60 per cent of the population, while the effective use of Government resources and political activity has increased in the rest of the country. To speak of equity with respect to structures built is to ignore the demographics, social needs or the imbalance in wealth and opportunities and in community strength.

But that is not the point: the real point is as a nation we are behind comparator countries in social development and governance indicators. Our infant mortality and school-dropout rates are staggering. Our HIV/AIDS rate is shameful. Our corruption is skyrocketing, as is our ineffectiveness in governance. I urge Sat and others to speak to these issues and help us have the type of national conversation that will lead us to global competitiveness.

A house divided against itself can never stand.

Noble Philip

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