“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
—Rahm Emanuel (2008).
Prime Minister Dr Rowley announced the Recovery Committee as the team to imagine the future of our country in the post-Covid-19 situation.
The news of Robert Le Hunte’s resignation raises the question about this committee: are we ducking the hard issues to continue with business as usual? Wrong questions lead to wrong answers: should not the increase in availability of water to all households be the objective?
Apparently we do not know the difference between cost and investment: an investment has future returns and pays back the capital used. Is the Cabinet bereft of that understanding, given this brouhaha? Giving money for social support is easy, transforming the economy is tough. Without transformation, we are toast.
Minister Sinanan, in March 2019, said, “...You do not govern a country based on winning an election. You govern a country for its improvements”. Did he remind his colleagues of this position? He was then justifying the Toco port project with a price tag cavalierly placed as “not less than $2 billion and not more than $5 billion”. Should we now expect that this would be scaled back? Will either the Cabinet or the committee review that cost-benefit analysis?
The UNC government took the largest ever IADB loan (US$546 million) plus they embarked on the Beetham Wastewater Facility for TT$1 billion to provide “water for all”, but left office without achieving that. We pay Desalcott $1.8 million per day and are still short of water. Today we turn our backs on the drive to “use data to improve the distribution of water” (Poon King, 2019) and on the new pipes financed by that loan. Why ignore the efforts by the WASA team and Robert Le Hunte to bring water to Central and the south-western peninsula?
The records of Minister Hinds and Senator Williams, the replacements for Le Hunte, will not lead to any pleasant surprises through their handling of the burdens of the Public Utilities Ministry, which includes working with bpTT/Shell on the solar power system to reduce our electricity costs.
It is ironic that the logic for the introduction of solar power and the current water metering proposition is the same, yet our Cabinet arrives at a different decision. “A penny saved is a penny earned” is a simple business principle.
Fearing debt is old-school thinking. Ask any businessman. Minister Imbert, the Recovery Committee and our UWI economists need to read Mariana Mazzucato and Stephanie Kelton if they wish to break the fetters and dream of a new future for our country.
A history lesson is in order. The Water Riots (1903) happened because a third of the population in Port of Spain, those around the Savannah, used 86 per cent of the volume, yet the poor were blamed. Metering was recommended, but ignored. The underlying problem was, according to Vicar Keay, “...a supercilious and insolent disregard of enlightened public opinion...” Governor Maloney triggered the event by closing off access to the Chamber debate from the man in the street.
I can only hope the Recovery Committee, if not the Cabinet, takes note.