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Friday 21 September 2018
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Our reservoir of incompetents

Peter O'Connor writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

I actually have some sympathy for Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his cohorts as they set off to bypass standard procedures and acquire a ferry for the Tobago service on their own. Of course the cynic in me is also aware that this may just be a ruse to ensure that some party supporter gets the contracts to provide us, once again with the sinking MV Su or wilting Ocean Flower 2.

We need to step back a bit and understand where we are in terms of acquiring competent people to manage the affairs of our governments. For our first 30 years of our party governance, most of it under the strict rule of Dr Eric Williams, we never had to change people he put to run our institutions, or our growing list of failing commercial enterprises.

Williams chose the various compliant professors, retirees and lawyers to become his “technocrats” and manage our petroleum, telephone, cement, airline, hotel, flour and other industries, and these people enjoyed tenure as long as they did not upset “The Doc”. Williams also began the trend of setting up new, “special service” state companies to bypass our institutional blockages to progress as left by our bondage to Victorian rule.

But after 1986 and our realisation that we could elect alternative governments, things began to change. Those permanently resident super-technocrats suddenly found themselves without position in the society. New governments would exercise their rights of reward and appoint their own chairmen, CEOs and directors to the whole plethora of state companies and government institutions. And just like before, these appointments had less to do with relevant experience and competence, and more to do with party loyalty and reward for financiers. So, as we changed governments regularly since 1986, we had to find–if indeed they existed–chairmen, CEOs and directors for all of these generally broken and failed institutions.

Of course, our limited talent pool (and I am being very generous with this classification!) soon ran dry and we end up having almost no one of talent in any of our government ministries or state entities. And it shows. There is now hardly anyone of any acknowledged competence in any position in our bloated “state enterprise” system. Nor indeed in any government ministerial position.

How indeed could we expect, even hope, that whoever is in the musical chairs of the Port Authority or the Central Tenders Board to know where to look, or how to buy or lease ships to serve the Tobago route for us? So the following, none of whom know anything about ferries or marine transport, will identify and retain new ferries for us: PM Keith Rowley, Minister of Finance (and the MV Su!) Colm Imbert, Assistant Minister of Everything Stuart Young, Minister of Public Utilities Robert Le Hunte and Minister of Tourism and “Our turn now!” Shamfa Cudjoe.

And we will leave all this right there for now, and wait to see which vessels, and at what costs, we will have serving the Tobago needs. Remember, we still have the MV Su plus other assorted derelicts, right here, waiting like corbeaux, to fill the breeches as they occur.

But let us not believe that while our shipping remains rudderless and adrift, things are any better on other fronts.

While Petrotrin continues to lose crude oil through chronically leaking tanks and pipes, the management has apparently been “replacing” the lost oil by purchasing “fake oil” from party friends. Several international sleuths were brought in to find if the fake oil might have been leaked through the system, but they seem to have failed to give comfort to Petrotrin or the government. So the whole matter is under the cover of “very careful investigation” in the hope that the issue, like the fake oil, just evaporates.

The scandals and apparent corruption unearthed by the Uff Commission of Inquiry into government’s construction programmes have been “referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions” for filing and forgetting. Obviously there is no one in that office competent enough to find anything worthy of prosecution in that report. But all of us laymen thought we read enough there to warrant prosecutions.

Bearing that in mind, PM Rowley promptly sequestered the more incendiary Coleman Report into the collapse and bailout of CLICO and is “studying” that. Until and unless someone leaks that we will never know what it recommended, even though we all heard the proceedings.

And there is no one left, in governance, opposition, business, law or wherever with the competence or the courage to open any or all these septic sores and cleanse them with hot irons and sharp knives.

So the issues and the politicians all remain mired in our reservoir of corruption and despondency. But Ocean Flower 2 will bloom as “the only available choice!”

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