Need to stimulate growth
Thursday, September 20 2012
THE need to improve Trinidad and Tobago’s (TT) infrastructure to encourage, indeed stimulate industrial growth, particularly during the current international financial crisis, was brought into sharp focus earlier this month by a sinkhole in the westbound lane of the Beetham Highway, Port-of-Spain. The partial collapse of the road in the vicinity of the Lighthouse led to massive traffic jams, persons being several hours late for work and school, the loss of countless thousands of man hours and with it a drop in productivity.
There have been several power outages, recently, in Port of Spain and environs, as well as broken water mains in different areas of the country. While successive administrations have not accomplished as much in developing TT’s infrastructure as they would have wished, nonetheless the need to achieve economic growth has been heightened by the struggle to expand the country’s non-energy sector markets.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in her Independence Day address had spoken of planned major infrastructure initiatives of the People’s Partnership (PP) Government. We would like to believe that these strategies do not include the, undoubtedly, needless Couva Airport nor the grossly impractical and uneconomic tunnel to Maracas. We hope that they are tucked away in a filing cabinet reserved for discarded projects and not find their way into the 2013 Budget.
The use of taxpayers’ money, whether in direct funding for projects or as repayment for loans should be based on the optimum interests of the nation’s citizens and not for the benefit of a select few. In the meantime, the PP Government should explain why little progress has been made to date on the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway, despite its being the only major infrastructure project undertaken by this Government and the multi-billion dollar loan taken out with the Corporacion Andina de Fomento (CAF) for its construction.
Infrastructure does not only embrace roads and power supplies, but applies to buildings as well. When the People’s National Movement (PNM) Government lost the early General Election of May 24, 2010, some of the buildings referred to as the International Waterfront Centre, and yet others, were not completed. The completion of their construction would have meant the end of decades of paying rent to private sector developers and owners.
Yet the PP Administration which succeeded the PNM has declined to complete these buildings, preferring instead to rent from private sector interests. While there were publicly bruited reports of minuses attached to some of the buildings, why were these not dealt with and their additional office space put to optimum use? Meanwhile, although decentralisation of government offices, which had been under consideration for some time has its distinct benefits, clearly the somewhat abrupt decision to shift several government ministries to Central Trinidad does not strike as the right way to proceed.
Rather, the buildings of the waterfront centre and off the waterfront should be completed and Government ministries and agencies housed there as planned originally. Some, not all, of the still to be addressed departments and branches could he housed in various parts ofthe country and not just central Trinidad. Already, Chaguanas, for example, is saturated with buildings and traffic and to position several additional Government buildings there and areas in relatively close proximity would add to the already troubling traffic congestion. Inas much as development of the infrastructure encourages industrial development, nevertheless because of the reluctance of the private sector to invest, as has been pointedout, repeatedly, in numerous monthly monetary reports of the Central Bank, there will be the need for Government, as various administrations have done for decades, to continue with the programme of subsidies, for example, the Public Transport Service Corporation,et al. Meanwhile, Minister of Finance, Larry Howai, should seek to explain inthe 2013 Budget, due to be presented on October 1, not only Government’s plans to invest in infrastructure, but the sources of funding, and if from lending agencies then the terms and conditions.