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No taxation without transformation

The trinidad Guardian / The current government is taxing us for the misdemeanours of previous governments, including the last two, which committed massive waste, blunder, arrant slackness. If the Government is bent on transferring private wealth to support the socialised economy, socialised labour, socialised services, no problem. But what is the nation getting in return? More blunder, waste, bust?

Look at the bust to bust history of past governments:

Caroni (1975) Ltd. After Tate and Lyle wound up its business here in the mid-1970’s, their assets-land, labour, machinery, transport, technical expertise, experimental projects, research facilities and welfare programmes-were acquired by the Government. And then, quickly, it went into bust mode. Management slackness, unaffordable staff salaries, fraud, malingering, theft, debt, the failure to properly diversify products and markets. I moved to get the government to accept a proposal for transformation of this valuable stock of resources, including 77,000 acres of state land, in 2002. The government promised to keep Usine St Madeleine open. It all went down, ingloriously, quietly, to hell in a coconut shell by 2008.

Petrotrin. I also knew Texaco. The copious dams, bungalows, beautifully maintained pasture, orchards, dairy; the spruce and shiny tanks and pipes. Plenty employment for the villagers: farmers, labourers, technicians. But the cry went up! Texaco must go! A white man was slapped. A tank was burnt down, sabotage. And then, little by little, everything fell apart: the beautiful cows, diary. I know. I saw it. I lived on a hill behind Texaco. I saw the diary in Texaco go into ruins, and after this the pipes, tanks, infrastructure. Exorbitant staff salaries, poor state management, abysmal maintenance, big blunders, sloth, corruption, debt and some theft.

T&TEC. This company has tried very hard to avoid the pitfalls of the other two. Over the years its services have improved radically. It has professionalised its staff from top to bottom. It has improved its technology. It has survived housing booms, the interminable extensions of homes in hinterland communities and tracks. But it has barely kept its head above water. It is in financial bust mode. It ought not simply to await the Regulated Industries Commission for a price hike. This will just excise our pockets more. It ought to diversify. Into new pathways of power. Green technology, photonic and protonic power! This is inescapable.

WASA. WASA is in financial deficit, bust. It too, like T&TEC has professionalised its service and delivery. But it has missed the opportunity to invest in innovative water engineering projects, for example to harness thousands of tons of freshwater, trundling down the Northern Range onto the Caroni Plains. Retention ponds. To harness vast rooftop catchments, stretching from Diego Martin to Arima. There is an endemic problem with line maintenance. A significant volume of harvested water, that is commercial water, is lost.

The Master Gas Plan. In 2001, Mr Manning fell victim to the Gaffney and Cline Master Gas Plan; victim to the sharks of globalisation (from India, Australia, China, Brazil, the US) cresting the surf, waiting to swallow up foolhardy pups. There was no cost-benefit analysis of this multi-billion dollar project. There was a poor assessment of the gas supply situation, and of the growing volumes of competing gas, shale, renewables globally. There was little cognisance the global economic situation. Lloyd Best had warned: smelters were not the best way to use our gas; there was going to be a global recession in 2008. And all the Certificates of Environmental Clearance (CEC) for these projects hid the magnitude of social and ecological impacts. The whole thing fell apart, steel mill, chemical and plastic plants, smelters, industrial estates and ports. Bust! Hundreds of millions of dollars wasted!

Debe to Mon Desir. Debe to Mon Desir was part of the Master Plan mix. The planners felt that a mega-highway, five large interchanges, four lanes, a 12-foot embankment, from Debe to Mon Desir, that is, San Fernando to Pt Fortin Plus, was necessary to support their mega-plan. The Government ignored the advice of the Inter-American Development Bank to upgrade and widen existing roads. The Armstrong Report warned that the CEC for Debe to Mon Desir were severely flawed. They failed to listen. The project collapsed in mid-2015. Fortunately, the San Fernando to Pt Fortin, the necessary highway, has been re-continued. But what waste on Debe to Mon Desir!

Government. Our government is in bust mode. It is scrounging around for money to pay its recurrent expenditure. It has cut deep into our Trini bone. It has reached deep into the vee of my grandmother’s bosom and nicked a coin from her handkerchief knot. This kind of transfer is unsustainable. After governments have busted the commanding heights of the economy, sold or divested their stakes in companies to pay bills, this government is now rubbing down the people in the name of financial prudence. But would it remunerate the nation with financial prudence? Prudent governance? Non-slackness?

No taxation without transformation. This means that the government must not simply tax us and go off laughing to the banks. It must remunerate the nation with serious development, real reconstruction, transformation. It must steadfastly implement its campaign promise: local government reform. Shift the burdens of government from its own shoulders, and place it confidently on the shoulders of local leadership. Constituency government. To incrementally free itself, us, from the matrix of dystopia, bust, everywhere.

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