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Development possibilities

Thursday, May 31, 2018

There are many difficulties that a government will have to deal with during its term in office. A term is for five years only and time flies. Therefore, if you take office without a well-articulated plan, you won’t achieve much. To be returned at the next election a good performance during your first should be sufficient. It does not always work that way.

What constitutes performance or results? Unfortunately, political legacies in the recent past have been associated with physical infrastructure improvements as a tangible manifestation of good stewardship.

As evidence, the last UNC administration points to the Couva Hospital and the initiation of the Point Fortin Highway.

The PNM points to the rapid increase in the housing stock built under Manning, the Waterfront complex, the Government Campus. Kamla takes credit for the Chancery Lane teaching hospital, which is the retrofitted Chancery Lane Administrative complex built by the Manning administration.

The reality is that large projects have long gestation periods and are invariably started by another administration other than the one taking the credit.

The Wallerfield eTeck campus was an idea started under Panday’s UNC. The Academy of the Performing Arts was initiated by the NAR.

Any investigation will show that every completed project has spanned multiple administrations; the Government Campus, the Waterfront Project, highways, the big interchange projects, the hospitals currently under construction, housing projects, police stations are all such examples.

The Atlantic Energy project was a significant deviation from established policy by the Manning regime in 1995.

Basdeo Panday’s UNC came into office intending to scrap the project.

Sensibly, he met with Dr Julien (both Panday and Julien have confirmed this to me separately) who advised that such a decision would not be in the best interest of the country.

Thankfully, Mr Panday heeded that advice putting country before politics, but made modifications in the negotiations. When asked to extend the project with trains two-four, Panday again consulted Julien with the same result.

The rest is history. T&T experienced a compound growth rate of 15 per cent between 1999 and 2008 due almost entirely to this project.

The Manning administration of 1991-95 is not associated with infrastructural improvements but is credited with making significant policy decisions which benefited T&T. It continued the reforms started by the NAR under IMF tutelage, and the Chambers administration before them.

Indeed, it is arguable that the “Imperatives of Adjustment” written by William Demas and his team under George Chambers remains relevant and its agenda unfinished.

It is noteworthy that many of the measures pursued during the 1991-95 period did not have the backing of the national community. Privatization of loss-making state enterprises, more open trade, accession to the WTO, progressive reduction in the income tax rate, encouragement to domestic exports both in the non-energy and energy sectors, and the floating exchange rate. Yet these policy changes made a significant difference.

The issues that face the current administration are not new. But the critical improvement areas which bedevil us cannot be solved by infrastructure development or construction activity. Billions are spent on National Security, Education, and Health annually, with little improvement in the service deliverables for any of these areas.

On the national security front, the murder rate, the most important measure for serious crime and gun related crime continue to increase.

In the case of education, approximately 18,000 children sit the SEA each year. About 9,000, or half of those taking the exam get less than 50 per cent.

Of that 9,000, 2017 scored less than 30 per cent in the SEA. It is noteworthy that 30 per cent is considered the pass mark. At the next graduating level, CXC, less than 40 per cent obtain a full certificate, meaning passing five subjects or more.

That means 60 per cent of the graduating cohort do not get full certificates. Whilst there are schools that perform very well, clearly there are schools that do not.

What is the link between school drop-outs and crime and what policies have been crafted to address these deficiencies?

To compete in the 21st century T&T needs bright, motivated, hopeful, productive young people full of new ideas who can compete on the world stage.

This is not a laudable, nice-to-have objective; this is an imperative. Yet the population statistics show that T&T will soon become an ageing society. Demographers project that the ratio of young people to retirees will decline sharply. This means that young people will have to perform at a higher level of activity and be more productive than their parents. Current productivity estimates do not support this possibility.

Gas production has increased, improving the economic outlook in the short term. But the real issues which will determine the country’s future are yet to be tackled in addressing the issue of sustainability.

Guyana’s development is a significant opportunity to deepen T&T’s energy services and metal fabrication capacities, to name two only.

But opportunity will by-pass us by if we do not address out of control spending, taxation policy, efficient and effective government, and national productivity.

This is the true development challenge. And we need both leadership and management to address them.

Mariano Browne


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