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Political will, billboards and vagrants

Sunday, December 15, 2013
A homeless couple in Port-of-Spain.

There are many definitions of the term “political will,” some are dissertative and cover many pages, but “Owlman5,” a blogger on “Wordreference. com,” sums it up in a few words—a “Real desire by politicians to fix the problem.” Thank you, Owlman5. The phrase has been bandied about in T&T, most recently in connection with the reported deplorable conditions within the prisons. 



These conditions are so as a result of a lack of political will of several administrations to act on the recommendations of several previous commissions of enquiry. There is a feeling in the general public that the recommendations of the latest enquiry will gather dust in some dark office corner, as have all of the other reports. I hope not. 



A billboard on the northern side of the Queen’s Park Savannah, clearly in breach of  the law,  has provoked scathing, negative comments from those who value the beauty and serenity of that location, now ruined by this monstrosity. The fact that the board still stands speaks volumes for the mindset of those charged with protecting our environment. I fear that if it is allowed to remain, it will surely be only the first of many to pollute once pristine places, the dam having been breached, so to speak.  


Are the Botanical Gardens, the interior of the Queen’s Park Savannah, or Memorial Park now in danger? The issue of billboards has been with us for some time. No government has had the political will to stem the tide of this most invasive form of advertising. It would be difficult to find another Caribbean country with such a proliferation of them. In many cases, billboards obscure the view of other billboards.  


To his credit, Dr Keith Rowley made an effort to introduce some regulation during the last government’s term of office. He was not successful, but I trust that should his party be returned to office he will continue his efforts. The issue of vagrancy.  We seem unable to deal with the street dwellers. The last administration summoned sufficient political will to remove all street dwellers before the arrival of delegates to the Organization of American States and Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings in 2009. 


These delegates included among their number a monarch, and several presidents and prime ministers. They were not allowed to view the coarse reality endured by citizens who use downtown Port-of-Spain on a daily basis. The departure of the delegates signalled the return of the vagrants. No political will has been summoned since then.


The Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, Ganga Singh, must be commended for having the political will to impose a two-year ban on hunting, together with the measures to ensure that the ban is enforced. As we Trinidadians and Tobagonians say, “the animals need a break” to allow them to replenish their numbers. They are a valuable national resource and should be treated as such. Hunters worldwide are not known for being conservationists and left to themselves, they have hunted animals to extinction. 


Mr Ganga Singh is not alone, he should be heartened by the success of those village groups who, encouraged and assisted by proper and timely legislation, now protect the nesting places of the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in the significant nesting places of Matura, Grande Riviere and other beaches.  Because of their efforts, these gentle giants from the Cretaceous period, listed as endangered on June 2, 1970, are now more certain of survival as a species. 


We should take pride in the fact that some 20 per cent of their numbers worldwide are now hatched on our beaches. Since independence, we have been unable to summon the political will to maintain our history as expressed in our buildings. I once suspected that the “Magnificent Seven” at Queen’s Park West, built in the early 1900s, were seen by some as monuments to a long gone and rejected plantocracy, not worthy  of preservation by Government. 


The collapse of part of the roof of the President’s House some years ago, seemed to indicate that no building, however historically important, was considered as deserving of preservation, and this in a country whose first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, was a distinguished historian. There were reports in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper of November 7, which suggested that this situation is about to change. This is welcome news, and if it comes to pass will be to the credit of those who make it possible.


Previous administrations have set us the goal of achieving first world status by the year 2020. Attention to even some of the above matters will move us further towards that aim than would any collection of tall buildings in downtown Port-of-Spain.


Everard Medina is the former president of the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce.


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