Capital offences

NOBODY denies Port of Spain is dying.

That the population of the capital city has fallen from 94,000 to 37,000 in the years since independence is reason enough to make that declaration.

But so too are all the things the casual observer can see.

Despite the high traffic passing through its streets, the city becomes a ghost town at nights. At the best of times, it is a place where people take more pleasure in leaving than arriving.

Million-dollar “master plans” over the years to remedy the city’s parlous state have not been so masterful after all. Issues like flash flooding, street dwelling, pedestrianisation, pollution and lack of public facilities have been addressed, but remain to be comprehensively worked out.

So the Prime Minister’s bid to lure $14 billion in financing into public-private projects in the city triggers the immediate response that we need to go back to basics, and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Those mistakes will be familiar to Dr Rowley, who sat in cabinets which forged ahead with billion-dollar mega-projects amid widespread concern over poor procurement practices at agencies like Udecott.

Also visible to the casual observer: the huge buildings in the central business district built in anticipation of a renaissance that never came – an “international financial centre,” a massive “government campus plaza,” office towers, academies. The very location of Dr Rowley’s announcement – a posh hotel with more rooms than visitors – is among them.

Have we learned from the past? Though the Prime Minister may be anxious to get things going – especially since there have been 16 plans or reports on the city before now – it is still worth asking whether there was adequate consultation on the latest initiative.

Meanwhile, the invocation of the “public-private partnership” model should not turn attention away from the most unsatisfactory fact that there seems to be little desire to do anything more than make token gestures when it comes to new procurement legislation.

That law is supposed to regulate the use of public resources and limit abuse. Instead, politicians have been proclaiming it piecemeal, setting up offices and boards here and there, while the civil service takes its time to get ready.

The news is not all bad, however.

Dr Rowley is right that now is the time to act. He himself has overseen an impressive array of projects that have restored lustre to part of the city.

Looking at revamped sites such as the Magnificent Seven around the Savannah, it is easier to remember our capital once hosted figures like Queen Elizabeth, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki Moon, Xi Jinping, Fidel Castro and even Donald Trump.

But getting ordinary citizens to feel safe and at home in the city – that should be the Government’s first focus.


"Capital offences"

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