By Raffique Shah
June 06, 2019
Two crews, one from the URP and the other from the CEPEP, descended upon the two-by-two street on which I live during the past two weeks in a kind of pincer attack that I am convinced was devised by mid-level officials of the programmes to show citizen Shah how taxpayers’ dollars are wasted, and how we can do nothing about the wastage.
An in-my-face kind of gesture, probably with the finger…
But first, I must explain the geography and demographics of my street, a one-time sugar cane trace in Claxton Bay that can now be described as a lower to lower-middle-income community. The cul de sac is all of 200 metres long, with two side-streets that are approximately 50 metres each. There are exactly 25 family houses, seven of which are owned by retirees. With three generations residing in this relatively peaceful environment, everyone takes care of his surroundings.
In other words, we keep a clean scene, depending on local government only for garbage disposal, which is efficient. The central Government paved the road once (in 2007, I think), and built a bridge over a sometimes troubling mini-river in the 1990s, under Dhanraj Singh’s watch as Minister of Works.
So when a URP crew of six women showed up two weeks ago, I wondered what work they would conjure to justify what I thought would have been their one day’s presence on the street. Since every resident brush-cuts his yard, cleans his drains, etc, and even better (or worse, depending on one’s perspective), with grass and shrubs struggling to survive the long, hot dry season, what was there for them to do?
Well papa, as late comedian John Agitation used to say, after breaking gossip (I assumed as much, what with their muted exchanges punctuated by raucous laughter), four of the women extracted some old hoes (remember that ancient agricultural implement?) and proceeded to weed what I’d say were the tufts and roots of some patches of grass that had defied the scorching sun and the residents’ regular “whacking”. Two appeared to be supervisors: the only things they lifted were bottles of water to their mouths.
As someone who has always stood up for the under-classes and the oppressed, I thought what the hell? They are only making a URP day’s work, which is no more than four hours, so let them be. Imagine my shock when they turned up the following day and the next two, still hoeing, surely asphalt mix by then. So that crew will have been paid a week’s wages for working on my street, doing what did not need to be done.
Multiply that by a thousand, maybe 2,000, similar work-sites across the country, then multiply that by forty to fifty weeks per annum, then factor in, I don’t know for sure, but say $500 per week, and you get a colossal waste of money at a time when Government should be cutting back on expenditure, or, at the very least, demanding productivity and value for every dollar spent.
But wait, that’s only half of the story. Last week, a CEPEP gang turned up. It seemed to be about eight-strong, complete with weed-whacker operator, two screen bearers, a few with rakes and two sweepers. I swear they were whacking asphalt because when they reached in front of my house, the pebbles that sprayed the porch came like the staccato sound of sub-machine gun fire, thankfully minus the explosions that would have signalled broken window panes.
Mercifully, they did only one day’s work. But do the arithmetic as per the URP formula above and you get an idea of how taxpayers’ dollars are wasted on these unproductive make-work progrannes. Every year, almost religiously, government after government allocates close to one billion dollars on CEPEP and URP, which is twice times what they pump into agriculture—clearly a case of warped priorities.
Lofty ideals have been proclaimed time and again: CEPEP will serve as an incubator for small entrepreneurs who will cease being dependent on government handouts and instead themselves hire workers. On odd occasions over the years, URP workers have constructed a bridge here, some pavements there. Both programmes have long lost their moorings as temporary relief to the unemployed, to a permanence that is probably pensionable. Indeed, in URP, generations in certain families boast of their pedigree, much the way artisans or technicians do.
Moreover, these and other, similarly-focussed schemes, such as the on-the-job training (OJT), mask real unemployment numbers, hence the boast of fewer than five percent over the past four years—which is absolutely misleading. And by their very construct, they breed corruption. The recently-exposed case of the “million dollar man” (some manager who got a huge gratuity after one year’s employment in CEPEP) was no aberration. Over the years, we have known about countless cases in which materials for public works have been used to build private residences, businesses, etc.
What is an even greater indictment against every politician who has been in government in this country over the past 50 years is none has had the moral rectitude or testicular fortitude to stop this colossal waste primarily because it is a voter-bank amounting to between 50,000 and 100,000 votes.
It comprises poor people who have lost their human dignity to the extent that for 10-day stints in CEPEP or URP, they will wear a party’s T-shirt, accept free rides to attend meetings, and maybe they will vote for the party that offers them bare survival.
How much lower can our politicians go?
So I see the “larhays” and I fulminate against them for weeding asphalt when the scoundrels responsible for destroying the work ethic and the moral fabric of society occupy the highest offices in the country.
Where are the patriots who will lead us out of the temptation to remain mired in mediocrity if not sheer misery, and deliver us from the evils forged by their predecessors that are eating the soul of the nation?
I think the answer to this and supplementary related questions lies in a mirror that we, the people, must look into to see source of the problem.