It now seems incontrovertible that Greenvale Park Development, La Horquetta, should not have been built at all. The disastrous flood risk that materialised to the material and psychological damage to the residents—now facing the further risk of flood-borne diseases—was the proverbial disaster waiting to happen.
Several reports in the media have demonstrated the unsuitability of the area for housing. It was specifically attributed to the Minister of Communications that the community was built next to a meandering river intersected by the drainage system for the La Horquetta community.
This attribution was not in quotation marks so I treat that as a summary of what may have been said at the press conference, which was the subject matter of the report. However, it seems clear from many other reports of what happened in Greenvale, that the excessive rainfall sprang a recklessly set trap.
Moreover, the politicians on both sides of the PNM/UNC divide took the customary blame game into overdrive, similarly to the ceaseless shouts of “you tief and you tief more”. That was the clearest confirmation that bad politics and uncaring public administration had been nakedly exposed, at the expense of innocent citizens of course.
Greenvale has been doubled crossed squared. First, the promise of a home with an implied term that it was built in an area reasonably fit and prepared for human habitation, when the area was not. Secondly, two equally sloppy administrations had it built or touted it as fit when it was not.
The Government must now move speedily with the benefit of engineering expertise to devise and install flood defences.
However, as all except the political zealots recognise, there is a bigger and sadder picture before our eyes comprising at least three frames. These are the continuing failure of the planning authorities to regulate building development—the equally regular failure to be prepared generally—and have adequate drainage to meet the inevitable challenge of annual flooding and the farcical practice of politics.
It is the failure of the practice of politics that today’s column addresses because the dysfunction in the other frames are the outcome of bad politics.
A subset of the bad politics is the failure of public inquiries to have any productive outcome. Crucial parts of the Westminster system of Government are accountability, legislative and administrative change, driven by independent inquiries whose recommendations are acted upon.
An editorial in the Sunday Express last week, stating the need for a full independent enquiry into the Greenvale disaster, described the heart of the problem as “decisions taken by consecutive Governments regarding the State-constructed housing development in East Trinidad.”
Sadly, I have to point out that the subject matter of a column of mine—published as long ago as April 2002—was entitled Commissions of Futility. In it, I mentioned that little by way of accountability or systematic changes came from the three high profile Commissions of high in the earlier decade.
These futilities were the Scott Drug Report, the Hyatali Enquiry into the death of patients at the St Ann’s Hospital—allegedly after drinking eggnog—and the Seemungal Commission into the overcrowding of the National Stadium for a World Cup qualifying football match between Trinidad and Tobago and the United States on 19 November 1989.
There is no need to list more recent inconclusive public enquiries of equal or higher profile in order to remind readers that we have changed or fixed very little in response to the death, disasters, suffering and losses inflicted on thousands of citizens, entitled to be trustful that their institutions will not betray or fail them; and, if they do, persons in authority will lose their jobs.
Sadly, we the citizens have not voted on issues, so we have not extracted the political price that should be paid.
For the two decades that I have identified many State enterprises as the spawn of corruption, I have also advocated that citizens who suffer common neglect should form groups across constituency boundaries to agree on specific steps for redress. They must then demand that contenders for political office commit to that platform as the price of the group’s votes.
Generalisations about taking hold of our communities are insufficient.