ALBERT BRANDFORD: Gift-wrapped pothole fixing
PREVIOUSLY in this space, I recalled the advice given to Barbadian taxpayers by the revered father of the nation, Errol Walton Barrow, on their relationships with two pillars of our governance system – the Executive and the Judiciary.
One suggestion was that if they wanted justice – as opposed to a resolution of a matter – they should stay away from the law courts. The other was that they should not allow a Government to bribe them with their own money.
Aside from his occasional forays into philosophising, Barrow was also known as a very practical man who not only understood the workings of the permanent public service but also had a reasonable familiarity with the political mind.
Barrow was an astute lawyer whose gifts and wisdom were recognised when he was named a Queen’s Counsel (QC) which is the highest form of acknowledgement in the legal profession.
We have, after all, appointed judges who were not afforded that signal honour.
Bribery is a criminal offence, so I do not believe that any of us, at first blush, far less on reflection, would conclude that Barrow’s homespun philosophy was suggestive of a Government committing a criminal offence against taxpayers through whose sweat and tears it is able to affect the quality of life for all of us.
Which is the reason I found it offensive that two recent Government actions, with the appointment of long-suffering public officers to permanent posts after long periods outside the establishment provisions and the initiative to fix the apparently sudden discovery of potholes, were framed as “special Christmas gifts” to a complaining populace.
The latter seemingly ad hoc, on-again, off-again, programme, unfortunately, was seen by the political directorate as an adjunct to, rather than the sine qua non of, a comprehensive road repair programme prior to tackling the dream of a seamless integration of privately-owned public service vehicles with the state-run transport agency.
Frustrated Barbadians who use the roads daily, either on Transport Board buses, PSVs, or in their private vehicles, as well as tourists in their well-appointed luxury coaches, are made painfully aware of the state of our much vaunted road network widely praised as one of the most extensive for a country of this size.
But they were hardly excited by the promised Christmas gift – yet to be delivered by a tardy Santa Claus – as a cash-strapped Government scurried around to find a reported $20 million for the potholes effort from a variety of sources, including the use of virement, or the diversion of monies from other programmes, likely to the detriment of those who depend upon them.
It is a consequence of poorly considered plans that the touted Transport Authority Service Integration (TASI) pilot project that was to ameliorate the condition of complaining commuters has not met with any success given the absence of full participation of the PSVs and the tour coaches.
Apart from the legality of their use of the badly neglected state terminals, Government has not yet persuaded the owners of the apparently ever increasing number of ZRs, minibuses, and especially the tour coaches, to expose their vehicles to certain routes, particularly those on the previously heavily traversed scenic routes in rural parishes.
The head of one of the bodies representing PSVs pierced the heart of the poorly considered planning when he pointed out that some transport partnership arrangements were being prematurely unveiled without the details having been worked out with all parties.
“We were allowed to have a meeting with the Ministry [of Transport and Works] from day one about the TASI project,” said Roy Raphael, chairman of the Alliance of Owners of Public Transport (AOPT).
“However, since then there has been no meeting to brief us on the whole aspect of the project itself.”
That failure, though remedied later, led to the previously unthinkable – strike action by PSVs relied upon by commuters fed up with the Transport Board’s service.
But it would appear that it was the decision by some of the perceived “greedy, disorderly” PSVs to abandon rural routes designated in the TASI experiment and the blunt refusal of the tour coaches to participate because of the “simply embarrassing state” of the roads that led to the promised “Christmas gift” of an emergency road rehabilitation programme and a revamped integration framework.
Well, the holidays have ended. The roadwork is to resume islandwide from this week and continue for the next six under an opaque arrangement with the private sector resembling the lack of transparency in the garbage collection partial privatisation.
As has become its wont, Government has again put the cart before the horse and taxpayers are expected to rejoice over mismanagement.
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: email@example.com.