Why the budget may endanger your health

Water pours from a ruptured 36-inch WASA transmission main pipe near the Godineau Bridge, Mosquito Creek on Tuesday.
Water pours from a ruptured 36-inch WASA transmission main pipe near the Godineau Bridge, Mosquito Creek on Tuesday.

Reading government documents can be dangerous to your health, I have discovered.

Over the past covid and post-covid months, like most people, as I age, I have had a few health problems – cataracts, aching ligaments where they attach to new metal joints, sudden and unexpected cessation of functions that I used to take for granted, that kind of thing.

Like everyone else who is unaccustomed to not being able to do stuff, I check with my GP, who is so honest he has been known to say: "I just do not know what is wrong with you.”

That is why I go to him. He doesn’t just prescribe some expensive placebo. Honesty in medicine, as in law and politics, is so rare these days, you must cherish it when you find it.

Usually, I know when something is physically wrong with me it is because there is something spiritually wrong. Happens every time.

So when he looks at me, puzzled, and asks if I am under some kind of stress, I have learned to listen not just with my ears, but with my heart. And the more serious the stress, the more serious the physical reactions. I suppose everyone knows this; it just took me years to figure it out.

In the meantime I have had eight different kinds of surgery including heart bypass, kidney, cataract, and all the other usual ones, until I made the connection (I can be very slow, sometimes) that spiritual and emotional disruptions are what my body understands as stress and goes on to react to.

So when I read the annual Draft Estimates of Recurrent Expenditure for the upcoming year, in this case 2023, I have to take precautions. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, hot chocolate, whatever works.

Over the last decade, for example, there have been several rather large loans obtained by our Cabinet ministers for the reorganisation of our water and sewerage system. Reading a recent headline about a US$80 million loan from the Inter-American Bank (IDB) to help “transform" the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), I had a memory throwback.

In the first paragraph, I note that the Trinidad and Tobago Government has approved US$315 million for a line of credit to invest in the water and wastewater sector. Over TT$2 billion.

But as far as I remember, a similar loan was made decades ago, and, as in the present, it was done with no procurement-protection legislative oversight.

Does this mean the lack of implementation of the previous IDB loan has been “forgiven?” That the non-implementation of promises has been cancelled? The exemption of government projects from corrupt practices or any other mismanagement or oversight in the recent draft Procurement Act, which has still not been promulgated, as inadequate as it was, says something about the overall national concern about the cost of mismanagement – and not just in relation to Vincent Nelson.

There is no need for me to go into details, because you can Google them if you really need to know the dollars and cents, or read the coverage of the budget in the press.

But I warn you, it may be dangerous to your health.

The Draft Estimates also tell you about the mismanagement or simply the political changes resulting in “redundancies” in WASA and closure of other government-owned and -run organisations, causing the payout of millions in severance pay. Some went to internal project managers, political activists and consultants employed at WASA in one position or another. There were huge hunks of money allocated to repairs of the decaying water transmission underground pipes.

I admit ignorance. I do not know where that money went.

Many of the once-retrenched employees obtained property, sent children abroad to school or banked their severance pay and were subsequently rehired. With the new announcement of reorganisation at WASA (new minister, new board, same consultants?), some of the rehired may be now calculating their future severance allocations in advance, even as we see new initiatives like filling potholes being announced.

And back to the Draft Estimates. If you suffer from any of the comorbidities people have been dying of over the past few years, if you do have any, even a minor one, remember the connection to stress, keep away from the Draft Estimates, or your stress levels will escalate.

Take Caroni (1975) Ltd. It was closed back in 2003, but the severance packages due to its workers, which were hefty and included land leases, still have not been paid, and leases being used are, I am told, still not allocated to people to whom they were promised.

People owed severance from the company have died in the subsequent 20 years; that was to be expected. Was this delay on purpose?

I did not realise that the old government Tourism and Industrial Development Company Development Company (Tidco) was closed in 2017 and some $5 million paid out in severance and other closing expenses, with another $16.2 million allocated in the Draft Expenditure for the coming year.

But isn’t there another government Tidco with many of the familiar faces still showing up in press releases? I have a neighbour who works there and keeps track. Someone must go to tourism conferences abroad, after all, ent?

And then there is the Community Improvement Services Ltd, and the Government Information Services Ltd, both closed in 2017. According to the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act, severance payments must be due to people who worked there for decades. Most would have retired on pension, but what about the others? Are they still there? Who carries out the functions? And what about accumulating severance?

Does anyone know, either in the public or private sectors, how many companies were closed during government-mandated lockdowns and never reopened? Does anyone know if there is any intention to compensate the hundreds of entrepreneurs and small business owners who went bankrupt as a result? None of whom would have been allocated severance. I am not talking about the political promises, but actual implementation.

Anyone who has listened faithfully to the budget speech for 40 years, as I have, learns that the promises of “it is in progress” – like the cancer hospital, first promised almost 20 years ago and then year after year for eight years, until, without explanation, it just vanished from the agenda – not to trust any ministerial intentions iterated in parliamentary debates.

Protect your health, avoid stress-related diseases and mental-health lapses.

And do not go over the previous years' Estimates of Income and try to correlate the figures there with the actual ones achieved, unless you have checked your blood pressure and are sure that you are not subject to hypertension or any other comorbidities.


"Why the budget may endanger your health"

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