Coming clean on CEPEP

Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein - SUREASH CHOLAI
Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein - SUREASH CHOLAI

THE CEPEP programme is, for better or worse, meant to fulfil specific objectives.

As its very name – Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme – suggests, it is about community. It is about providing vulnerable members of the population with work.

For these reasons, any changes to this programme need to be clearly spelled out. Especially if it appears such changes have the capacity to affect as many as two-thirds of the total CEPEP workforce, which numbers in the thousands.

It was only on Tuesday, in response to questions in the Senate, that the line minister, Local Government Minister Kazim Hosein, explained that these changes were temporary and affected only a few contractors. This was after Newsday had made several attempts to contact him and the CEO of CEPEP, Keith Eddy, which received no response.

The initial lack of clarity from the authorities over reports of a mandate issued to some CEPEP contractors to reduce teams was disappointing. It undermined trust in the State and left room for speculation and confusion. Some CEPEP workers thought the move had something to do with their covid19 vaccination status.

As it turned out, the changes affect a small number of workers. But the authorities should have taken responsibility for clarifying that from the start.

Too often they are not as upfront as they could be. Especially when it comes to changes that might be viewed as politically disadvantageous, there is often a perception of a preference for a fly-by-night approach, catching people off guard, or leaving them unprepared.

This perception is worsened when officials fail to supply information, dodge questions, or decline to provide explanations – or indeed basic confirmations – in relation to their own policies and practices.

This does not only relate to CEPEP.

The sudden news of a review of the food support programme – which Government says is actually a standard process – has triggered panic, according to opposition MPs.

Even drivers going about their business on the roads are frequently unprepared for changes to traffic rules, complaining of inadequate signage.

At best, all these things speak to a penchant by the authorities to be cavalier about their duty to be transparent. At worst, it suggests, potentially, a kind of callousness that does not square well with the notion of government for the people, by the people.

As the rumblings in another state entity, the Telecommunications Services of TT, suggest, there is a challenge across the board for the State to fund its expenditure.

Such a challenge is a whole-of-government issue, demanding the oversight of the Cabinet, especially as it has the potential to affect the livelihoods of thousands at a time of inflationary rises and economic stagnation.

The Government is not unfamiliar with the tenet of transparency, as sometimes shown by its approach to things like regular covid19 briefings. But transparency should not be a matter of convenience. It is about filling a basic contract with the people to account.


"Coming clean on CEPEP"

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