Published Thursday 27th September, 2007
on Republic Day
best example I can think of for the kind of broad commitment
to consultation is, of course, the site of the World Trade
Centre in Lower Manhattan:
Ground Zero. This is a very interesting example since the
site is privately owned and the City of New York is
controlled by the Democrats while the Republicans control
the national government of the USA. Against this background
of different players we have the fact that the destruction
of the WTC was a most severe blow to US prestige and power.
The entire defense apparatus was rendered useless by that
attack. Arguably, there could be no site in the world with a
more urgent claim to large-scale redevelopment.
the fact is that a sort of compact has been arrived at
between the parties to the effect that no redevelopment will
take place unless and until everyone has had their say. For
example, there was a recently concluded international
competition for the design of the 911 Memorial. There were
over 5,000 entries from more than 60 countries and a winner
was just selected.
expected, the consultations have been controversial and
emotional but the fact is that an environment existed in
which such an understanding could work. Whatever one’s view
of the American imperium, there is a potency to the
existence of that huge crater at the heart of their main
city while the necessary conversations go on. Time for us to
This column is
being written on Republic Day.
Last week we spoke
of our planning deficit which was a reference to the lack of planning.
That is a long-standing problem here. Given the recent aspects of
Property Matters we covered here, there is now cause for a pause and a
shift of focus.
This week we step
aside from temporal concerns to dwell on the inner meaning of what we
are doing or not doing in respect of the planning and development of our
Our concept of
development seems to be based on the appearance of those nations which
we are emulating. In fact, that level of sustained success demands
nothing less than creative tension of the kind illustrated by the
example set out in the side-bar.
Key elements of
our capital’s issues are not actually discussed with clarity and
targets. Homelessness, poor infrastructure, poverty, transportation are
just some of the main issues on which there is no discussion. Plenty
talk, but no discussion. Discussion involves listening to the other
person and taking those views into account. Listening seems to be of
little utility in our race to development.
The older folks
had a saying: haste makes waste.
A few key points:
The information flow
It is striking how
little committed we are to openness. That is directed at both public and
private sector actors. One can understand the reluctance of private
sector actors to disclose more of their business affairs than they
absolutely need to. The competitive situation demands that your cards be
held very close to the chest. What is now emerging among the private
sector players is a shift away from the pride of achievement which
marked an earlier age.
For example, one
difference I have encountered since doing the first series in 2004 and
this one, is that most private sector collaborators now insist on
anonymity. Some cite the fear of crime and, of course, that seems to be
an increasing part of everyone’s life these days.
While we can
understand some of the private sector attitudes to information, it is
unacceptable that the State and its organs should hold similar
Some of the
organisations which are most suspicious and reluctant to share
information are State bodies.
The tide in the
affairs of men
Of course, we
accept that this is so and, of course, things will go up and down and so
on. But it is very interesting to ask a few searching questions. We are
experiencing a phase of “good times” and, from all their utterances, our
leaders have the best intentions in terms of taking us to the next level
in terms of physical development. If that is so, and it is not an
unreasonable series of beliefs, one could question the reluctance to
operate in an open and transparent manner.
The realist may
answer by pointing out that for politicians to accomplish their agenda
in the limited time allotted to them, they must limit the chances for
the citizens to get real information on what they are planning.
But if this is the
attitude when things are going well and you are doing positive things,
what will be our position if things get tight and awkward decisions have
to be taken?
The information age
We often speak,
both in the private and public sectors, of the move to developed nation
status. That must mean T&T entering the information age. That would mean
a corresponding reduction in the influence of blind loyalty,
superstition and ole talk.
The journey would
be one of improving the quality of our conversations with rational
decision making as an outcome. How compatible is our collective
behaviour with our development aspirations? Yes, we do have people here
who will grandstand and gallery during any attempt to have public
meetings on a range of issues. But that has to be weighed against a
significant quality of human beings who are never consulted.
I can remember the
live radio broadcast on 91.9FM about a fortnight ago which was covering
a community meeting at Bagatelle on development issues. The Housing
Development Corporation (HDC) spokesperson was most emphatic that when
designs had been finalised he would be returning to consult with the
community. This is a common position and so much so that no protest was
raised on the point.
One cannot help
wondering if another country, with less resources, would be as careless
as we are. It might seem a bizarre reversal of Dr Eric William’s 1976
statement but, in our case, it is probably true that money is the
Next week we
discuss the physical and financial planning which is needed.
Afra Raymond is a
director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.