Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan was insistent last week that the government would not bow to protests and repair roads. He was responding to a protest organised by the Point Fortin to San Fernando Taxi Drivers’ Association last week which found the drivers parking their cars at the taxi stand to protest substandard road conditions and the increase in the price of super fuel. As local protests go, it was quite tame, though it left hundreds of commuters stranded and annoyed.
Some bring attention to bad roads with the appalling practice of burning tyres, which manages to inconvenience commuters, endanger the public and create pollution simultaneously. But the Works Minister’s my way or the highway approach is almost exactly the wrong way for the person responsible for the nation’s roads to approach the chronic problem of bad roads in TT.
The Highways Division of the Works and Transport Ministry is responsible for managing 2,050 km of the 9,592 km of roads throughout Trinidad, and also manages the 1,200 bridges and 2,500 culverts that are part of that subsection of the road network.
That division does good work generally, so it’s puzzling why the Works Ministry hasn’t created another internal resource dedicated to the remaining 80 percent of the roads in Trinidad and encouraged a similar focus in the Tobago House of Assembly.
It’s a particularly shameful situation in a nation gifted with a natural resource of flowing bitumen in La Brea yet manages to neglect a staggering number of its roadways, particularly in remote areas where there is only one way into or out of inhabited areas.
If the Works Minister was as keen to experience a taxi ride on some of this nation’s more neglected roadways as he was to board the Galleon’s Passage, he might be minded to improve his ministry’s approach to dealing with the appalling legacy of decades of neglect and political opportunism that has driven road repair in this country.
It’s an institutional failure that’s left communities with far too many sketchily done road resheeting that have simply dissolved under heavy rains after elections.
A Works Minister who transparently uses the resources at his disposal to map critical damage on the lesser roadways under his watch, matches that information to traffic and daily migratory patterns and brings the greatest relief to the most critically endangered citizens, regardless of their location and perceived political affiliations, might not have to face protests.
Clearly communicated plans to deal with sensibly mapped problems executed in a way that makes sense to everyone involved would go a long way toward moving the government and the citizens it’s meant to serve from protest to collaboration.