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Development planning must entail sustainability

Saturday, July 15, 2017

They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind, so says the book of Hosanna. The construction of the ill-fated Debe to Mon Desir link road is a story of the whirlwind which is unfolding. For the people of Debe, the realisation that their homes may perpetually be under water and their gardens and crops destroyed, has come as an ugly reality check. That the highway that they so jealously coveted is the sole reason why their homes have been flooded, the construction of which has disrupted the hydrology of the region preventing the floodwaters from draining, must be a bitter pill to swallow.

In the end, what will be said of that highway is that the myopia of the government in promoting this highway was motivated by greed and fuelled by ignorance. I say this because, the building of that highway is steeped not only in corruption but also in ignorance, for we are a people for whom progress is measured only in yards of concrete and aggregate. We do not understand 21st century concepts like the preservation and conservation of our environment.

We do not understand that equality of opportunity is all about access, and just having it available is not good enough. We do not understand that modernisation and industrialisation are and have since the sixties ceased to be valid models to achieve developed world status. And, but by no means the least, we have not asked the question—why is it necessary for all those citizens to make the journey (every day) to the capital city necessitating the highway.

All Governments are equally ignorant of what is needed. I use ignorant here in its truest sense, that of being uneducated in third world development and therefore unaware of what it will take to achieve a first world status. Apart from the five-year development plans of the 70’s which effectively established an industrialised energy base, the Ministry of Planning and Development has been mainly a function of the Town and Country planning division.

The production of a development plan for the country will require a multi-disciplinary approach, it will require that critical thinkers and thinking silos be established in every sector. It will require that innovation form part of the very fabric of our society and be woven into all our planning efforts.

The production of a development plan will require that government extend itself beyond its party boundaries and practice the politics of inclusion to avail itself of the best possible expertise. Whilst we applaud the efforts of our party manifestos, a manifesto is only about the philosophy and party ideology.

Vision 2020 which gave us highrise buildings the government campus and the waterfront plaza in south Port-of-Spain (also monuments to corruption), should be a living reminder to us to relieve ourselves of the ignorance and understand that a nation which cannot feed itself and create a food surplus, will never create the foundation for developed nation.

The destruction of the wetlands of the Oropouche basin needs to be viewed within that context for we have just destroyed the capacity of that food basket.

I am sure that those advocates of that development will point to the need for secure and hospitable surroundings to house the public service and without a doubt, the public service is the victim of substandard environmental conditions. Those advocates conveniently ignore the fact that every review since 1953 (Ulric Lee Report), have advocated a decentralised public service, where all citizens may access equally the resources and services provided by the state.

Whilst the constitution speaks to the issue of equality of opportunity, our overly centralised bureaucracy effectively denies this right. For the average citizen from Carenage has to pay $15 to travel back and forth from Port-of-Spain, and Carenage is only a short distance away.

It is, therefore, time for the government to recognise that equality of opportunity is a function of access and take the steps necessary to establish this as another fundamental pillar of a developed society. By now we should have not only computerised the entire operation of the public service which would facilitate decentralisation and increase access, but we should have also established regional administrative complexes, probably annexed to and aligned with the local government jurisdictions. These should be staffed by public servants who live in the area thereby reducing the amount of traffic flowing into the capital city for all over the country and be a one-stop shop for all government services.

What then are the lessons for us as a third world republic? Most definitely it is that development is just as much a function of planning based on the collective wisdom of experts in that field, as well as it is a national endeavour, the outcome of a national conversation on the kind of country we wish to create.

Most importantly, without establishing the foundation blocks for sustainability, development is replaced by under-development.

Last but no means the least, history will record that for want of a national development plan the highway was built and the waterfront project was completed neither of which satisfies any agenda save and except those that were paid.

Satu-Ann I Ramcharan



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