By Raffique Shah
December 31, 2019
Imagine if you will waking up on New Year’s morning next Wednesday in a Trinidad and Tobago that is a “United, resilient, productive, innovative and prosperous nation (and) a disciplined, caring, fun-loving society comprising healthy, happy and well-educated people built on the enduring attributes of self-reliance, respect, tolerance, equity and integrity in which every citizen has equal opportunities to achieve his/her fullest potential…
“All citizens enjoy a high quality of life, where quality healthcare is available
to all and where safe, peaceful, environmentally-friendly communities are
“All citizens are assured of a sound, relevant education system tailored to meet the human resource needs of a modern, progressive, technologically advancing nation (in which) optimum use is made of all the resources of the nation…
“The family as the foundation of the society contributes to its growth, development and stability…
“There is respect for the rule of law and human rights and the promotion of the principles of democracy, the diversity and creativity of all its people are valued and nurtured…”
If the nirvana-like picture of T&T painted above looks like the ranting of madman as depicted in David Rudder’s timeless lyrics or some Leroi Clarke’s canvasses, or worse, this writer’s well-established wild imagination that often taxes the limits of learning of notable psychologists and psychiatrists, what if I tell you, friends, that this was Vision 2020, conceived sometime back in 2003, which, had we realised half of its goals, will have had us living in near-paradise?
Read them again. They are lofty ideals which, while they were conceptualised by then Prime Minister Patrick Manning in his capacity as political leader of the People’s National Movement, were made flesh, if I may wax biblical, by a high-powered “planning committee” appointed by government. That committee subdivided then expanded itself into 28 sub-committees that included approximately 600 persons. Then there were consultations with the wider citizenry that will have involved a few thousand people.
The report coming out of those exercises was laid before Parliament in February, 2006, titled Vision 2020 Draft National Strategic Plan. Thereafter, an operational plan (2007-2010) was formulated by the Ministry of Planning and Development. But Vision 2020 died an unnatural, premature death when Manning, having won a second consecutive five-year term in the 2007 general election, opted to call an early election in May 2010. The PNM lost to the People’s Partnership, which took office with its own development plan contained in its manifesto.
The multi-party coalition told electors, and by extension the nation, “The mission is to achieve economic inclusiveness in an innovation-driven growth economy with greater equity, more meaningful participation and a rising tide in prosperity for all in T&T…” Its medium-term policy framework (2011-2014) was guided by “seven interconnected pillars for sustainable development”.
These included (1) people-centred development; (2) poverty eradication and social justice; (3) national and personal security; (4) information and communications technologies; (5) a more diversified, knowledge-intensive economy; (6) good governance; and (7) foreign policy. The PP’s vision and strategic plan was piloted by Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie. Implementation started from as early as in 2011, with deliverables scheduled for no later than 2014.
Except for terminology and a few minor variances, both the PNM and the United National Congress-led PP administration promised to transform T&T into a developed country, with all that implies. Between them, over a 14-year period that they held power (2005-2018), they spent a whopping TT $683 billion. To dissect this incredible number further, in the five years between 2005 and 2010 (up to May), the then PNM spent $225 billion. The PP, during its full five years and three months, spent $307 billion. And the Keith Rowley-led PNM, up to the end of fiscal 2018, spent $152 billion.
Admittedly, most of that comprised recurrent expenditure (wages and salaries, goods and services). In fact, over the entire 14 years, other expenditure (mostly capital projects) absorbed approximately $118 billion. Some readers might suggest I use the word “leaked” rather than “absorbed”. And most of you might point out that I have failed to mention the debt that both regimes incurred, which is now at a worrisome level (I haven’t checked the most recent figure-that might be hovering around $100 billion).
The question that remains unanswered is just how close to developed country status have the two dominant parties brought us? Can we citizens wake up on New Year’s morning and not ask: how many wickets fell last night? And here we are not talking cricket with the West Indies team bowling a real opponent-not Afghanistan or Holland, for heaven’s sake. We are asking about murders, real live bullets spraying to death other citizens of whatever ilk.
We take consolation in the reality that we are actually making inquiries, that we are not yet bloody victims. Also, we have not factored in scores of violent robberies, rapes and assorted assaults, plus petty rip-offs from our credit and debit cards… You get my drift? Both parties see crime as being of primary concern to the citizenry, but neither made a dent on the demon.
They recognise glaring inequities in the social and economic strata of the society. But they fail to introduce productive alternatives to the parasitical make-work programmes that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and institutionalise laziness. They talk about sloth and delinquency that have reduced much of the public sector to inertia, but lack the courage to deal with this multi-billion-dollar monster in a decisive, drastic manner.
I am not one to ill-speak my country, to see nothing good in it, to brand it a failed state. Indeed, I see immense possibilities where others see doom and gloom. But I also see an absence of strong leadership that can take aim at a vision, relentlessly pursue a noble mission without fear, and deliver the nation not just from the evil that threatens to overwhelm us, but from the apathy, the gross indifference that threaten to consume us.