Are we as a society aspirational? Do we think that T&T could one day emerge from its present state and be what the late Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams called a model nation?
To do that I feel requires a shift in culture that must start with average citizens demanding that we want better for ourselves, that we are not prepared to settle for things that we know are unacceptable and that we must hold all in leadership roles to account. Notice I said all. Not just politicians.
There must be a burning desire for justice, for accountability and for high quality performance.
I will admit that this is a tall order, if not a near impossible task, because it would require the overthrow of a system designed to allow for some to profit at the expense of the great majority of others.
Everywhere we turn there is strong evidence of this and for many the burden is so much that the alternative is to shrug one’s shoulder and move on and, in some cases, migrate away from the problems.
Let us take healthcare for example. I read with great interest the demand by Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh that Guardian columnist Ira Mathur produce evidence of people waiting between one to three days for a bed at the public hospitals.
That the Minister of Health could so brazenly pretend he does not know this to be true shows he is either out of touch with his portfolio or he prefers to plead the fifth rather than confront a problem that citizens, ordinary citizens, should not come to accept as the way it is in the public healthcare system, but rather that we are not willing to have a system that treats citizens in this way, at their most vulnerable moments.
Healthcare is expensive and the government cannot on its own afford a first-class healthcare system without the assistance of its citizens. It cannot pay for it from the treasury and must have some kind of health insurance system that will remove some of the burden from the treasury. The government knows this. They have the studies, they have heard and know of Professor Karl Theodore’s work, but they will not implement it. To do so would require expending political capital, a weaning of the society from the notion that healthcare is free or that health surcharge is a real tax for healthcare.
The provide an efficient public health system will hurt the pockets of some of the private health institutions. Studies have shown that over $5 billion is spent annually in the private health sector, one of the true growth areas in a time of economic contraction.
Yes the private sector benefits from the present system that tells you it is okay to wait years for some surgeries or visit the doctors in their private practice since the urgency is not there in the public sector. In other words, the willingness to accept the system is what it is, will not lead to change and would likely leave us worse off over time.
This is no different with the Water and Sewerage Authority. That WASA continues to lose over 50 per cent of its water in 2021 when in 1993 the late Prime Minister Patrick Manning made the same observation while inviting Severn Trent to provide management support to the authority. This is an example of what I am speaking of.
Almost three decades later, billions of dollars spent and we have little net improvement to show for it. But we continue to accept that water two days a week is okay, truck borne water can work and it does not lead the public to demand better. It is not seen as a national priority the way we appear to have as a national priority the construction of highways.
I am not in anyway knocking highway construction, I think it can potentially lead to economic expansion as it improves connectivity among communities, improves efficiency and reduces time on the road. It also makes it easier to get to communities not located close to the main towns and may allow people to live further away from the town and cities and still keep their jobs. But is there not something wrong with the constant need to pave and repave the nation’s roads which by the admission of the Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan are in poor condition?
Is it our imagination that roads should last between ten and 15 years before having to be repaved? Is the problem only WASA, is it poor construction with a lack of drainage? What does it say about our contractors or engineering? What does it say about how we value our taxpayers dollars? In short are we having the right kind of conversations as a country? Are we aspiring to having a first class country, where we don’t have to focus so much on the next pothole and could pay more attention to the rest of road users?
It is the same question I ask about the time the Minister of Finance is prepared to spend on Twitter trying to pretend that the Moody’s downgrade should not be focused on by the media and others because the IMF is predicting growth of over five per cent in the next fiscal year.
If the Minister is honest and if we were having serious discussions he would admit that both the IMF and Moody’s point to an economy almost completely reliant on energy prices and production. An economy that has serious downside risks and one that he has failed over six years to diversify.
Both Moody’s and the IMF recognise that the country’s forex position has to be adjusted and that the stance of seeking to defend the TT dollar at all cost is not sustainable.
What we must be discussing is how do we truly diversify the economy. We must build on the positive moves being made in the Tourism and Agriculture sectors. We must not take our eyes off fixing the energy sector including bold moves like the one made to get the Manatee field going. We must demand accountability. We must demand a return to plans and targets in the way we manage the country’s economy.
We must demand better!