When Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales declared that WASA’s administration and operations were “corrupt, unproductive and unwieldy,” this was nothing new. Drawing from a Cabinet sub-committee report, he added: “Efficiency was sacrificed for political patronage and management accountability exchanged for industrial stability.”
That too was nothing new – just recycled stuff. Some 20 years ago, for example, then PM Patrick Manning. noting the corruption, etc, explained the billion-dollar cost to cure WASA. Office files containing questionable contracts, etc, went missing or burnt.
Gonzales faces a superman test. The corruption dragon has defeated many before him.
Having now appointed a Cabinet oversight committee, the challenge is to conduct an evaluation in five years' time to see how far the fresh proposals have succeeded. Or will the country witness once again a lot of recycled stuff – like recycled reports on the port, vagrancy, education and health to police service, squatting, death penalty, even constitution reform?
Governments have become masters of recycling the same stuff – as political palliatives, nothing more. Good thing, it seems, that the population remains one of hope, neutralised by the ethnic anchor.
Some problems remain, just lying there making the country’s infrastructure look primitive and dilapidated – pollution and broken roads, for example. CNC3 commendable series on “Pothole paradise” says it all. These dysfunctions have become part of the political culture where incompetence and even corruption enjoy easy escape. Yes, with WASA it’s about money – $2.5 billion subsidy, $650 million owing contractors.
But it’s much more than money. It’s like what happened to Caroni Ltd, Petrotrin, etc. Fair competition, even entrepreneurship and merit have been publicly sacrificed for party interests and patronage – a disease of party politics that has not received the public discussion it so badly deserves. WASA has suffered.
No wonder so many young graduates keep on asking around: “Yuh know de minister?”
The ethnic vote should not blunt our sworn obligation for fairness and merit. Our democracy seems wounded not so much by its structure but by the vulgar ambitions and self-interest of far too many. Why was WASA allowed to deteriorate so?
Of course, the country still has within its civic landscape a lot of good things and good people. There are lots of good-purposed NGOs and volunteers. We must save what we have and add value. But it seems it may well take a moral crusade from within the population. Winston Dookeran called for “new politics” but lacked a plan. So did Barack Obama. Both got lost, even sucked in.
When Obama decided to run for the US Senate, he said: “I believe in the free market, competition and entrepreneurship. I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation or victimhood generally. I think much of what ails the inner city involve a culture that will not be cured by money alone.”
The politics of racial identity or any other narrow identity shapes a personal ideology that narrows a true vision of the world, that often blinds you to the needs and pain of others. Of course, we may not reach there, but such words should resonate within the political conscience.
Later, as he entered the Senate, Obama mused: “I wonder how I or anybody in public office can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss and retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments.” What Obama later realised is that it takes spiritual courage to do the right thing in politics, to overcome the vanities of office. He steered a middle course.
All this is linked to WASA’s corruption, patronage and inefficiency. It is not only about money but political and management integrity. As a start, how will the excess, patronised fat be now cut off within WASA? And once again, the hard-pressed middle-class taxpayer is called upon to pay. How far can the new CEO, Dr Lennox Sealy, relieve the fattened WASA from its patronaged burden? How far could Mr Gonzales shape policy without undue political interference?
History has shown that as state boards are stuffed with political favourites, so too will incompetence and corruption thrive. Governments have become masters of recycling almost everything, except garbage.