Dr Bhoe Tewarie.

The solution to the flooding problem, the immigration problem, the land tenure issues, the physical infrastructure issues are all connected. And a technologically diversified production system is also part of the solution.

A serious approach to water management that involves integrated planning, collaborative execution closest to where results are required can lead to several green interventions at different levels and ways, and lead to best practice in organic (at least partially) and sustainable agricultural systems. Complete with early warning systems, evacuation plans, household and community protection initiatives, flood mitigation and serious dredging of watercourses and retention ponds in the low lands.

And potable water? We can’t be talking about an increase in the price of water without delivering pipe-borne water to people’s homes. Whatever the problems around this issue of water where you need it, there are solutions to this problem. We must deliver water to 450 homes, 600 communities, 14 regional districts and Tobago and 1.4 million people. As I have said before, T&T’s population is half the size of Brooklyn and equivalent to a small village in Nigeria, India or China. It is shameful to continue to talk about this problem, make it a source of community distress and have it as a perennial political football.

So we need a smart economy, government, society and food, water and effective flood management for agricultural support, community well-being and enhancement. Smart economy, government and society will have all ministries working together, and the ministries of Digitalisation and Public Administration playing key roles. The ministry of Planning, Local And Rural Development, Works and Transport, ODPM, Public Utilities, supported by the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development can all play roles. The local government bodies and the House of Assembly in Tobago would be key. Here you can have a whole government approach, integrated planning coordinated, differentiated and decentralised execution, optimum collaboration.

Communities can be brought into the picture, volunteerism could play a part, public, private, NGOs can work together, CEPEP and URP can be reconfigured, community jobs can be created everywhere, neighbourhood and community maintenance, a mix of volunteerism, responsible citizenship and the employed could complete each other.

The Ministry of Planning would have to play a key role in causing to be executed the National Spatial Strategy. Strict enforcement of rules could guide new developments on construction, on hills, slopes, flood plains, vulnerable areas. Ministries of Planning and Local Government, local government bodies could be better aligned in keeping with the Planning and Facilitation Bill. Rehabilitation and retrofitting works could be guided community by community. Flood mitigation, dredging and infrastructure work could proceed apace. In such a strategy knowledge is at work with equipment and intense labour. In the smart economy strategy knowledge, intellectual capital and technology are working well together.

There is no reason why commitment to an intelligent transportation system can’t give us, in addition to food and water, security, cleaner, fresher air. Our new buildings can all be smart and environmentally friendly with solar energy and rainwater harvesting. So too, all new developments, starting with state housing developments.

If we develop smart homes, buildings, schools, communities, we can have solar panels on land and wind farms offshore. We can have multi-energy stations for the intelligent transportation system. Both Trinidad and Tobago could enjoy a judicious mix of smart sustainable development to benefit from the world and traditional, laid-back, leisurely island society to secure tradition, simplicity and cultural authenticity. We can have it all. But it takes imagination, know-how and human will.

We need smart, sustainable cities

The five islands and Chaguaramas could be developed with private sector investment into carefully planned destinations with a mix of local, regional and international tourism built on sport, leisure, relaxation, and a range of cultural activities, with proper use made of the Coast Guard and Coast Guard vessels and a heightened collaboration on border security. Significant infrastructure is already there. All of this is technologically infused and very smart. There are many jobs to be created with such development investment and strategy and new development of this kind must take the COVID experience and plan for other unexpected disruptions in mind.

Such development intervention will not only be smart and sustainable but green and eco-friendly and with renewable strategies infused. On the Mona Campus in Jamaica is a building that produces more energy than it consumes. There’s no reason why POS, San Fernando, Chaguanas, Arima, Scarborough cannot be transformed into smart, sustainable cities. SDG goal 11 talks about the need to develop “Inclusive, Safe, Resilient, and Sustainable” cities.

Recently a study was done on sustainable cities including cities of the Caribbean such as Kingston and Port-of-Spain. Here is a quote from that document The Future of Cities, “The difference between cities as problems and cities as opportunities is determined largely by planning and governance.” Having experienced pandemic conditions we need to rethink our approach to cities. Planning now generally has to do with significant rethinking against the background of the COVID experience. How do we redesign to take these new realities into account? Food secure cities, not just food-secure countries, and the notions of convenience, access and relationships.

We cannot do these things without recognising merit. Without being committed to a fair and just society. Without education reform and transformation. Without being committed to equity, inclusivity, diversity, democracy, justice.

We need radical economic and political action

I had a discussion with my friend Ray Holman, a great pannist on the double tenor, soon to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies. He said, “T&T is on the brink of a precipice economically. We face the prospect of social disorder, there is too much divisiveness in society. Party politics is too antagonistic and disrespectful and people are becoming alienated from it.” Most importantly, he said talent is not drawn upon by the political parties and the talented are afraid to go near politicians and so they withdraw.

Consequently, there is an internal brain drain taking place right here in T&T society. It saddened me to hear him speak the truth in that way.

You can’t have an external brain drain and an internal brain drain in your society and expect that society to get anywhere good. Our young graduates are headed outward. If that is what our political leaders are doing to our society, then for the sake of our society we have to get rid of them. If the culture of political parties is undemocratic and wrong, it won’t be possible to get a democratic and the right society out of such a political party and political system.

We need radical economic and political action. Again radical means to restructure the economic and social order and in politics it means restructure political order and reorient leadership dispositions. I don’t see how meaningful constitution reform can be avoided.

This is not an attempt at cheap politics and certainly not partisan politics, it is a necessary political view, in a time of uncertainties and anxieties of every kind, at a time when our country needs economic direction. We need to recognise the sources of divisiveness and the necessity of healing our people, strengthening our human bonds. After almost 60 years, with COVID trauma weighing us down, we can come together to build a nation.

I close with a quote from Amartya Sen, “The thing that we know from John Stuart Mill is that democracy is government by discussion. If you make discussion fearful, you are not going to set democracy, no matter how you count the votes…When someone says something critical of the Government on the phone with me and they say I’d better talk about it when I see you because I am not sure that they are listening that is not a way to run a democracy. And it is not a way of understanding what the majority wants.”

Contributing to help strengthen democracy

I am contributing to the discussion and making an input to strengthen democracy. Bad politics leads to bad governance, bad governance leads to bad decisions, and such decisions become bad policy and translate into bad budgets. You then have to become bad leaders to justify everything when nothing seems to work.

It does not matter who is in charge. Bad government cannot be good for anyone. Bad policies cannot help the majority. Bad decisions are bad decisions, nobody really wins.

Most people will agree that the last six budgets did not get us anywhere good. We can delude ourselves by saying that things could be worse and that we are better off than many of our neighbours. Things can always be worse, that is true. But maybe, we need to look at those countries not much different from us in size and general condition that seem to be doing better than us. Because we can do better!

Maybe this budget will be lucky seven. To be lucky is one thing, but we have to take reality into account as well. Maybe we should talk to the IMF and the multilateral agencies as well as the rating agencies. When we have a clear plan to put to them about where we are headed as a country and how this budget enhances that objective, then we can also talk to them about rescheduling our debt to have more favourable terms and conditions and better wiggle room. I don’t see how it can hurt and I feel it may help.

The first part was published on September 26.