|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background of our outdated and ineffective national planning system.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.
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?
In consultation with
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
Who is on these
Do they meet in
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com.