|Creating a Context – the role of
Published Thursday December 2nd, 2010
For me, the key point
at which we lost our way in the UDeCOTT/HDC/NIDCO bobol, was the
crossroads of the Investment Decision.
Decision is an indispensable part of any rational process of
development, for families, businesses and countries alike. The national
level is my concern and there must be broader considerations in making
It is clear from the
depth of the failure, that the last administration lost its way
completely, insofar as elementary concepts such as opportunity cost,
payback periods, cost-benefit analysis and so on. We have only now
begun to scratch the surface in terms of understanding the extent of the
losses and corruption – readers, please be reminded that as yet, we have
no accounts for UDeCOTT or HDC for several years. In normal business
thinking, the failure to publish accounts without even an attempt at an
explanation is tantamount to an admission of the most serious problems.
Only State-owned organisations can get away with that kind of irregular
conduct, which is maybe why they do it.
My concern in this
article, is that apart from the Investment Decision in the case of
specific projects, the State has an obligation to consider the wider
picture in terms of fine-tuning, timing and phasing those projects. Our
last land-use plan in our country was approved by the Parliament in 1984
and we have had several fruitless attempts to revise that plan.
The focus here is on
the need for a proper practice of integrated planning, in particular
long-term land-use and town-planning. By integrated planning I am
speaking to an approach which takes account of varying principalities,
such as land-use, financial constraints and national targets. In
addition, the approach allows a balance to be struck between the
competing demands within various time-horizons, such as immediate
demands, medium term demands (say, 10 to 20 years) and longer-term
Lack of an updated national
As I wrote in the Business Guardian of 9th
October 2008 –
“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.
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.
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
When this tidal wave of development is at an ebb, we will then have a
plan tabled in Parliament for discussion. To what end?” see
Given the last
Minister’s stated timetable, we ought now to be having a draft plan
published for consideration. Where is this, Minister King? When do the
This is a vital,
related area and Minister of Works & Transport, Jack Warner, told us
that the PNM government paid $21M for an incomplete Comprehensive
National Transportation Study (CNTS) – see
- and I agree. That fact only makes the situation more doubtful, since
we seem to be making major transportation system decisions in the
absence of a strategic plan.
Tunnel to Maracas
first announced in the 2011 Budget - see
at page 24
“…We all know how difficult it is to access Maracas Bay through the
North Coast Road.
Currently, it takes approximately 45 minutes to get from Santa Cruz
to Maracas Bay. Furthermore, landslips on the North Coast road are a
major deterrent to persons wishing to access this scenic route for
pleasure or business. As a result we will do a business plan for a new:
‘Connective Development Project’. This project would create an
underground tunnel from Maracas Valley to Maracas Bay, to enable quicker
access to the North Coast…”
strange project was then taken up by Warner at length – see
The expansion of the
We are now aware that
the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) is proceeding
with ambitious Highways packages from San Fernando to Point Fortin, with
the San Fernando to Mayaro route under active discussion – see
Coastal Water Taxis
It seems that the
government has changed its mind, three times, on this part of our public
transportation system. Firstly, we were disposing of two of the four
new water-taxis as being superfluous. Secondly, there was an
about-face, in which it was decided to keep the new water-taxis. Most
recently, I have seen advertisements for the provision of brokerage
services for the disposal of these vessels. Again, what is the basis?
plants and the threat of cholera
We recently had
shocking stories about the leaking of significant amounts of untreated
sewage into the Maraval reservoir – see
That is no surprise, given the widespread practice of property
developers walking away with their profits in hand upon completing the
sales of their properties, but with no proper plan for the maintenance
of the sewer treatment plants.
Once again, this is an
area which urgently needs to be addressed in terms of town planning,
local health, WASA regulations and adequate financial mechanisms for
ongoing maintenance of these facilities.
Development Corporation (HDC)
The HDC’s new target
for 2011 is 6,500 new homes and that is still a huge number. Given our
limited land resources and the absence of a national planning framework,
how is this to proceed?
There remains the
unanswered question as to what is the basis for these decisions?
The Limits of our
The Minister of Finance
recently called for Ministries to not implement any new large projects,
due to the financial limits constraining state expenditure – see
That is a valid call, which shows that the time is ripe for us to plan
our major strategies and projects so that they can conform to some sort
of national context.
That context would have
to include elements such as land-use, transportation implications,
financial limits and the question of the capacity of the economy to meet
the targets being set.
Fuel subsidies in
The question of fuel
subsidies is an important part of this integrated planning discussion,
since, at approximately $2.8Bn, they are a large part of our national
expenditure. More to the point, the effect they have on our behaviour
is largely unremarked, which is paradoxical – the gas price being so low
that we do not really consider it in our daily choices.
It is a classic example
of the sort of ‘policy silos’ which the integrated planning approach
seeks to overcome.
The Minister of Works &
Transport speaks out strongly against the heavy subsidies necessary for
the operation of the Coastal Water Taxis – no statement from Warner on
the larger sums spent on the fuel subsidy. The Minister of Energy, in
the run-up to the budget, says that these fuel subsidies may need to be
reduced. The Minister of Finance, in his budget address, said –
largest Subsidy is on petroleum products, particularly gasoline which
usually represents one to two percent of GDP per annum. All of our
citizens benefit from this subsidy. It is often difficult to determine
whether resources are being used wisely to achieve the intended
objectives of subsidies. We are currently reviewing whether alternate
options are more efficient…”
We need to develop a
holistic view of the various subsidies being paid in our economy and
transportation subsidies, including fuel, are important considerations.
The goal of promoting
the wider use of public transportation has to be adopted with some
vigour and creativity. The fuel subsidies enjoyed by small vehicles –
say, less than 12 passengers - should be gradually reduced with a shift
of those subsidies to larger-capacity vehicles. They make more
efficient use of our limited roadways and would reduce the adverse
effects of traffic and pollution.
The three Ministries
concerned should join with the Ministry of Planning in mapping out these
strategies and policies.
The strategic goal
should be to decrease the convenience of individual car-journeys and
increase the convenience of the mass-transit approach.
It is no easy shift to
go from today’s congested reality to the medium-term goal of a
much-improved transportation system with travelers having several
choices. That journey would involve a virtual culture-shock for most of
us, but it is one we should start, sooner than later, for our common
That is one of the
examples of how an integrated planning approach can offer fresh
solutions to serious problems.
Afra Raymond is
Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited. Comments can be sent to