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Policy and transparency

Published Thursday 27th May, 2004

This week we conclude the series on Caroni by considering the proposals for its future. The principal document to which we have referred is the UWI position paper issued in July 2003 called: “A Framework for National Development: Caroni Transformation Process.”

As we said in the previous two columns on this subject, it is unclear what is the Government’s policy on the use of these lands. The principal concern stated by Government was to avoid the consistently high levels of subsidy required to keep the loss-making sugar industry going. The potential of the land to spur national or regional developments has not been publicly addressed and, given our political schisms, the silence on this will naturally feed a sense of insecurity on the issue.

The UWI report was prepared in collaboration between a variety of academics and external parties, including the then Agriculture Minister John Rahael, president of the sugar workers’ union, and Utharo Rao, the head of the company set up to administer these lands, the Estate Management and Business Development Company (EMBD).

The most refreshing thing is that there is a determined effort to look beyond the immediate concerns of the players and see the future of these lands as a broad development issue.

  • Key issues

Heterogeneity: This is the bold step of acknowledging our national diversity – in people, flora, fauna and land types – as national assets to be exploited for the peoples’ benefit.

Democratic involvement: That the development of these lands cannot be the sole preserve of any government.

Long-term planning: The recognition that the use of this land must take into account the needs of the generations yet to come.

Development funding: A progressive system is suggested for the selective use of lands to allow a great degree of autonomous funding for long-term development.

National planning: The National Physical Development Plan is seen as being vital to proper control of these lands.

New development options: A fertile variety of these are discussed in areas like livestock, new types of housing settlements, national parks and tourism, nutrition and food security.

  • Main concerns

    • Policy formation:

Our policy on these lands must be formed in the most open and non-partisan manner possible.

The old formulas will not do since this issue has the potential either to be a source of new national development possibilities or to be generations of confusion and chaos.

The choice is ours.

  • Policy monitoring:

Whatever series of policies we develop must be transparent and capable of constant monitoring. In today’s world of information management, we must improve our performance in this area.

In earlier research for another column, we were able to establish the levels of spending on housing over the last decade, but unable to get any idea as to the number of units built.

We need to improve the transparency of our public administration if we are to avoid more confusion.

  • Non-partisan administration:

Whatever the structures we put into place, they cannot be partisan or all-powerful. We need to safeguard against the twin dangers of blind loyalty, usually associated with political appointees, and the possible corruption of permanent appointees.

The operations need to be guided by policy and transparency; the managers of the process need to be capable of recall if their performance is found wanting.

  • Cross-party and creative management:

There must be a bias against releasing these lands on the basis that “anyone can apply” since this would give precedence to those with deeper pockets. We must recognise that this is no guarantee of equitable or better quality development. In view of the long-term potentials and challenges posed by Caroni lands, the price-based approach cannot deliver the required results.

  • Pricing policy:

On the question of price, we need to ensure that, if lands are sold or leased, they are properly priced. Let us be clear here. Some users will need to be given land on concessionary terms, and they should be obliged to use the lands for the intended purposes. Others will be sold land on competitive terms and these purchasers would also need to be monitored to ensure compliance with the agreed plans for the area.

We can all remember the situation in Signal Hill at Tobago a few years ago when State lands were to be sold for residential use. There were calls for reduced prices for a variety of reasons; the lands were eventually sold at less than open market value. The size and quality of the houses in Signal Hill would imply that the owners are not needy people; this episode ought to be a warning as to the dangers of improper pricing.

Next, we return to the resource allocation discussion started last week with the Roystonia housing development.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

The principal concern stated by Government was to avoid the consistently high levels of subsidy required to keep the loss-making sugar industry going. The potential of the land to spur national or regional developments has not been publicly addressed and, given our political schisms, the silence on this will naturally feed a sense of insecurity on the issue.