The Manning administration is displaying an almost childish greed in its conduct of the nationís affairs. The latest such display is an outlay of over $18 million for a three-day retreat for Government Ministers. This was the sum spent by State-owned Petrotrin to refurbish 40 bungalows at the oil companyís Palo Seco facilities, where the 22 Cabinet Ministers will be staying over the weekend. This is such stereotypical Third World behaviour that it would be laughable were the Peopleís National Movement regime not frittering away the nationís wealth. No doubt Mr Manning and his Ministerial cohorts, having just passed a $34 billion Budget, consider $18 million to be mere pocket change. And no doubt the politically appointed Board of Petrotrin would defend its spending by arguing that the bungalows needed to be refurbished.
But the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, whose money is being spent, will be asking certain questions. If the Government Ministers werenít coming, would the bungalows have been refurbished at all? If Petrotrin had been maintaining these houses in an efficient fashion, would they now have to spend an average of $450,000 per building? And why does every Minister on this retreat need to have an entire house for the weekend? And there is also the central question: what will these Ministers be doing over these three days that is worth over $250,000 per hour to the nation? It is not new policies and strategies to reduce crime.
It is not educating the nationís children more effectively. It is not improving the delivery of health care to the nationís citizens. No, the 22 Cabinet Ministers will be spending their three days trying to figure out how to speed up various development projects. In other words, the country is spending $818,000 per Minister for them to figure out how to spend more of our money in a shorter time frame ó more specifically, before the next general election.
As usual, the Manning administration, having come into power on a platform of transparent government, has not told citizens exactly what their agenda is. The public can only speculate exactly what development projects need to be speeded up so urgently. If we are to go by what Mr Manning publicly places his highest priorities on, then his main concern must be the Tarouba Stadium, the Government Campus, and the rebuilding of the Prime Ministerís residence. Presumably, the streamlining of the Police Service, the Uriah Butler interchange, flood control measures for Central, fire prevention in the nationís towns and cities and the transit system that would relieve the daily suffering of the travelling thousands will also be on the table.
But, even if they are, we are at a loss to understand what will come out of this three-day retreat that could not have come out of a different location at one-tenth the cost. We are sure that the Ministers could have roughed it for $1.8 million over the weekend, and been just as productive. But perhaps this retreat was never intended as a working weekend. Maybe it is just for the hard-working Ministers to relax and recharge their batteries. Whether this is so or not, the nation has a right to expect a more than $18 million return before the next election. Otherwise, the extravagance of the Manning administration will continue to generate dissatisfaction and social unrest.
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