|Policy and transparency
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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