The unravelling of the contract between the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) and Chinese construction company, Gezhouba Group International Engineering Co Ltd (CGGC), is so close to the fourth anniversary of PNM’s 2015 election victory because it represents the collapse of a significant plank upon which the Keith Rowley-led administration placed its development programme. I’m not surprised by this collapse because we keep focusing on quick fixes in preference to the hard work of rebuilding our society from the ground up.
Somebody needs to start believing in us again, and the entity best suited to channel that belief is the person in the position of prime minister. With 12 months left in his formal administration, his game-changer is not evident, but his failures are glaring.
Trinidad and Tobago is a hard place to repair, but someone has to begin somewhere. The issue of productivity is clearly the best place to start. It’s not an easy solution, but it is the largest obstacle for us to begin chipping away at in quest to solve our problems.
The GoTT could have met with the contractors and shared their vision for providing affordable housing. Maybe they would have looked at the stock of unoccupied houses to identify how to make them liveable. Under a strong facilitator, they could have come up with a collective strategy to achieve the objective.
If the contractors came up with a strategy they saw as fair and equitable, they would be inspired to engage the hearts and minds of the tradesmen, labourers and suppliers. There would be a ripple effect. But this couldn’t work without a gradual decrease in our make-work programmes.
It means the country would be starting to rebuild from the ground up. If you could find the US$72m to fund a Chinese building programme, then it can be found to fund a locally-led building initiative which would suck up idle hands, transform them into productive workers and get money circulating again.
To achieve this goal of building 5,000 housing units, it would have been necessary to engage in some level of training and retraining of persons in the construction sector. This would have been an opportunity to improve competency across the board and to get people believing again that we can help ourselves. It would have been an opportunity to break the cycle of learned helplessness, which I come across daily. People who quickly say, “ah dunno,” and move on.
Trinidad and Tobago needs a transformation strategy and a transformational leader. The fact that the prime minister has instructed the HDC to re-tender is laudable but not enough. If you have to go out to re-tender, then something went terribly wrong, and the persons responsible must be held to account.
Someone seems to have put an ‘approved’ sign to a contract that was not in the country’s interest. Had it not been for the late vigilance of the cabinet, we would have been ‘up a creek without a paddle’.
Again, it is even more damning when the prime minister can say that parts of the contract were unacceptable both ‘structurally and legally’. It is incumbent on the prime minister to demonstrate his commitment to accountability and take action.
If the accountable person is too close to be removed by the prime minister, then he must remove himself—if only for the symbolic demonstration that he will do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
The opportunity here is to demonstrate that the right thing will be done in the interest of the country and that we believe in our people’s capacity to always act in our collective interest.
With 12 months to go, Prime Minister Rowley needs to carefully review his options and engage the wider population in identifying a way forward that is sustainable and outcome-focused.