I want to draw the attention of the T&T public to something that is happening in Jamaica which should be emulated here. In that north Caribbean country, there is something called a National Transformation Programme (Fresh Start) which was launched last week and which seeks to place some emphasis on inculcating appropriate values and attitudes in the country. In his commentary in the last Sunday Gleaner (a newspaper better known here for its scathing anti-T&T commentaries), a veteran Jamaican journalist by the name of Ian Boyne wrote a piece which underscored the importance of values and attitudes in transforming the Jamaican economy. Mr Boyne quoted from a release issued by the office of Jamaica's Prime Minister Bruce Golding which was headlined, "Money and jobs alone cannot transform Jamaica."
In the release, Mr Golding is quoted as saying: "We make the mistake so often of believing that our problems are due to resource limitations; that, somehow, if we had the resources so that we could stop borrowing and we could fix the roads and provide assistance to all the people who are looking for assistance, then, somehow, our county would be on the road to prosperity. "There are things which we need to do that cannot come out of legislation or government policy action. It has to come from a consensus that emerges from our people that this is where we want to go. We need to address deficiencies that affect us as a people: How we live, how we think, how we treat each other, how we relate in our communities." The last sentence of the quotation is particularly apt for T&T. We, too, need to address how we live, how we think, how we treat each other and how we relate in our communities. There is much else that is valuable in the column which I recommend to readers.
The question that should be asked in T&T of our Commissioner of Police and Minister of National Security is this: Would we be able to address the crime scourge that is blighting our country and infecting its economy if we don't tackle the issue of the values and the attitudes of those who are committing the crimes? If someone has been brought up from infancy to obey a moral code which states that "Thou shall not steal," or "Thou shall not murder," or "Thou shall not commit adultery," are they more or less likely to rob, murder or horn? A big part of our crime problem is that our young people are not growing up hearing these messages repeated every day–and that is because their parents or guardians are not repeating them every day to their children.
How did this system of values enforcement break down? Was it as a result of migration or women moving into the workplace? Did the 70s oil boom corrupt us into thinking that we could eat bread without the sweat from thy brow? Is oil, or natural gas, money bad for us and would we be better off if the whole society was poor?
Does poverty lead to sound values and attitudes?
Where are the environmentalists?
I was a little surprised that none of the country's environmentalists have bothered to take up my offer of space in the Business Guardian to respond to last week's column in this space which was headlined, "Does money grow on trees?" In that piece, I wrote about three journalist colleagues who are now living in houses that were heavily subsidised by the state and enquired of those who disapprove of T&T's natural gas-based industrialisation thrust where they thought the money to allow the Government to afford such an ambitious housing programme came from. Since the publication of that piece, I have been informed by one of the country's top property valuation experts that in 2007, the construction cost of a typical three-bedroom, two-bathroom house of about 1,500 square feet in Chaguanas would have been $325,000 and that such a completed house would have sold for between $800,000 and $900,000.
One of my colleagues who lives in a state-subsidised house in Central Trinidad said she is paying a mortgage based on a price of $190,000. Generally, the Housing Development Corporation sells houses to citizens of T&T for significantly below what those houses could fetch on the private market and below the cost of house constructing.
1) Where did the Government get the revenue that allowed it to sell a house at $190,000 that cost over $300,000 to build and was worth $800,000 on the open market? As another example, some of the three-bedroom apartments in the HDC development at Bates Trace in Santa Margarita–which is one of the priciest neighbourhoods in the country–are being sold for $800,000 and would be worth twice that on the open market.
2) From where is the Government, this one or any administration in the future, going to get the revenue in the future to continue building houses for the families (many of them single mothers with two children) of this country?
3) And where would the money come from to allow the Government to continue offering two per cent mortgages to occupants of HDC homes when the current market rate for a private sector mortgage is upward of nine per cent?
These are the direct questions that I most respectfully request be answered by Wayne Kublalsingh, Peter Vine, Cathal Healy-Singh, Julian Kenny, John Spence, Attillah Springer, Rhea Mungal, Eugene Reynald, Mary King, Inshan Ishmael, Anil Roberts and all those who disapprove of T&T's industrialisation drive. And I am offering those mentioned above, who do not have columns in other newspapers, the space to ventilate their views in this publication and request that those with columns in the other newspapers address the issue elsewhere. As an environmentalist pointed out last week, the issues addressed in this space over the last three weeks or so are fundamentally about the development of the country AND ITS PEOPLE.
Will those who emphasise the importance of people participation in the decision-making of a modern developing country bother to respond to this fundamental issue of T&T's future path? If they don't respond, how can they, in all conscience, continue sniping and protesting at every attempt by the Government to monetise T&T's natural gas? With respect approaching reverence for our Judiciary, might I suggest that the three questions listed above are also ones that should be contemplated by the Court of Appeal panel that is due to hear in October the appeal of the judgment in June which stated that the Environmental Management Authority erred in granting approval to Alutrint to proceed with an aluminium smelter in La Brea. Might I also recommend the questions to High Court judge Mira Dean-Armorer, who delivered the thoughtful, thorough but, in my view, wrong judgment against the EMA. Please read on Page 10 the contribution to the debate from the one person who took up last week's offer.