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Planning and the 2009 budget

Published Thursday 9th October, 2008

Our last column discussed the recent cases of major flooding in our country against the background of our outdated and ineffective national planning system.

The level of facilities in an area is key to its attractiveness as a location for property investment and as a place to live. The easy availability of facilities such as running water, electricity, places of worship and recreation, convenient, cheap transportation and telephones are all significant factors in the decision to buy, or even rent, property.

The Government’s budget proposals were read in Parliament on September 22, and it is instructive to consider these against our earlier comments on the national planning system.

The new Minister of Finance used the budget presentation to expand on a number of significant infrastructural proposals. This week we are going to examine a few of these and their implications. We will be placing these proposals into context with our national physical planning system.

The Minister of Planning, Housing and the Environment spoke at a breakfast meeting of the Couva/Point Lisas Chamber of Commerce on September 10, and some of her reported comments deserve our close attention.

The minister told her audience that the National Physical Development Plan was passed in 1984 and had been continually updated, but that “that plan has somehow never reached to Parliament.” Somehow. The mind boggles.

Please advise us, Madame Minister, when last this plan had been updated.

How was it updated?

By whom?

In consultation with whom?

One report said, “Dick-Forde said the external and internal committees on national development were working towards the completion of the National Development Plan, which will be taken to Parliament in the next two years.”

Who is on these committees?

Do they meet in public?

When this tidal wave of development is at an ebb, we will then have a plan tabled in Parliament for discussion. To what end?

This is the kind of conduct which brings a system into ridicule in the public mind. When one considers this minister’s CV, it is clear that she is eminently qualified for her post.

Unlike others in this Cabinet, she is capable of holding her own in the field/s over which she has responsibility. That said, her statements are deeply troubling, to say the least.

It is my contention that we need to establish the current position and medium/long-term needs, have a consultative process, agree on a series of plans and then implement these. It is clear to everyone that we are in fact doing things the “wrong-side” way.

The main areas highlighted from the 2009 budget for our attention this week are:

·        Water: I was alarmed to read of government’s proposals for “the construction of five large desalination plants in the Point Fortin area, Chaguaramas, Ortoire, Point Lisas and Tobago; and the expansion of the existing plant as well as a plant to be constructed by the private sector.”

Desalination is one of the most expensive ways of producing potable water and in a country with over 85 inches of rainfall annually, it is scandalous that these proposals should be seeing the light of day.

The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) gathers, processes and distributes water, mostly from our rainfall, and it appears unable to properly maintain that old-style system to serve the public.

Yet we are “leap-frogging” to NASA-level technology which will consume large amounts of electricity and foreign exchange for maintenance.

If this strategic water supply plan is implemented, we will, once again, find ourselves in a situation which no thinking, planning society would aim for: 85 inches of rain and seven desalination plants. Those expensive gallons have to be paid for by the future generations forced to consume them. Is this really the best plan for us?

·        Transportation: the proposals for transportation are several: water taxis traversing the Gulf of Paria, a new national highway grid, a significant expansion of the PTSC (Public Transport Service Corporation) bus fleet and, of course, the rapid rail system. One is frankly at a loss to understand whether these projects can all be afforded or are even, in preliminary studies, proving to be feasible. The silence on this aspect is deafening.

Further, how are they to be sequenced? Given the existing dysfunction in the entire attitude to planning, even if all the projects are feasible and completed on time and within budget, we would be in for years of serious disruption across the nation.

·        Drainage: Once again, the statements are to “wrong-side” planning with studies, proposals and evaluations proceeding at a steady pace as high-impact physical development roars ahead. Given the speed with which significant parts of our country now flood, it seems that our drainage system is at or over its “tipping point.” A disaster awaits us.

Next week, we continue by considering the implications of the P3 – Public Private Partnership – method of procurement, which is now the State’s preference. Does P3 give the right payback?


After the last general election in November 2007, one of the significant changes announced by the Manning administration was the creation of a new super-ministry of Planning, Housing and the Environment.

This follows the model of the United Kingdom, where these functions are merged in the powerful Department of the Environment.

The new ministry is unprecedented in scope and it is important to note that significant state enterprises also come under its control:

·        Land Settlement Agency

·        Chaguaramas Development Authority

·        Urban Development Corporation of T&T

·        Central Statistical Office

·        Vision 2020

·        Housing Development Corporation

·        Environmental Management Agency

This ministry has the potential to deal proactively with some of the big challenges facing us in the physical development arena, upon which we have been commenting for some time.

Serious work is needed to convert that potential into positive outcomes. To give an example of the dysfunction we must strive to avoid, let us consider the CDA and its own land-use proposals. On September 25, I attended a meeting at CDA’s headquarters to discuss their development proposals for the north-western peninsula.

After these had been outlined to us, I asked what was the position with the most controversial and highest-profile development proposal for that area?

Of course, I was referring to the HDC’s 2006 proposals for extensive housing development in the Tucker Valley area. The entire CDA presentation was silent on this, the most significant proposal. Just imagine that. Incredibly, we were told that the CDA had asked, but had been unable to find out, what was the status of the HDC proposals. Just imagine that.

If the CDA is unable to establish the status of these proposals, what hope does the citizen have?

More to the point, if different divisions of the same ministry have such poor communications, it can give one a dim view of the capacity of that ministry for joined-up thinking, far less strategic planning.

 

Afra Raymond is a chartered surveyor and a director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd. Feedback can be sent to afra@raymondandpierre.com.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

The minister told her audience that the National Physical Development Plan was passed in 1984 and had been continually updated, but that “that plan has somehow never reached to Parliament.”

Somehow.

The mind boggles.

Please advise us, Madame Minister, when last this plan had been updated.

How was it updated?

By whom?

In consultation with whom?

One report said, “Dick-Forde said the external and internal committees on national development were working towards the completion of the National Development Plan, which will be taken to Parliament in the next two years.”

Who is on these committees?

Do they meet in public?

When this tidal wave of development is at an ebb, we will then have a plan tabled in Parliament for discussion. To what end?