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posted 8 Oct 2020, 19:14 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 8 Oct 2020, 19:29 ]
Ministry of Finance (@MoFTT) | Twitter
When Gerry Kangalee asked me to make a critique of the Construction section of Imbert’s budget, I reluctantly agreed, knowing more or less not to expect much light to shine on what were the drivers behind the projects and measures which were announced. My scepticism was well founded!

The section on Construction is a general shopping list of intended works and has no data to make any real analysis and conclusions of what impact the projects listed will have on this sector of the economy, other than that public monies will be spent.

Three of the 'projects' listed (Urban Renewal, Flood Mitigation/Coastal Protection and Port of Spain Redevelopment) are generic works programmes so that until specific Scope of Works are identified they are not actual projects in the way the others are, i.e. they give no specific outcome or the end product to be delivered when our tax dollars are spent.

All of the works mentioned on the list have issues thus:
  • no prior Business Case identifying the need for the project and no Feasibility Study to prove the case is provided to justify the expenditure;
  • no data on project cost (estimated or actual) is given and for works that are in progress, no idea of expenditure to date and if there are projected variations;
  • for works in progress no current report and no info on what phases of work completed and what’s outstanding;
  • no timelines for expected delivery of the completed works;
  • there is a general reference about something called a "smart project " approach but no specific details about the meaning of these ‘buzz words’;
  • most importantly to the many recently unemployed and retrenched no estimate of how much employment will be generated by these touted projects.

There may be more details arising when the customary Budget debate gets underway but if recent historical proceedings is any indication of the intellectual quality of what passes for debate is, we can predict the formal Opposition will generate a lot of heat and noise but little or no substance to bridge the gaping chasm that exists around how our monies will be spent.

The Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) reveals very little additional info since it was designed to only give line items expenditure under the development/capital budgets for each Ministry. It's merely an accounting tool so that the Permanent Secretary knows the limit of expenditure approved for the line item.

It provides no info on what was spent during the last accounting period on on-going works, what objectives were achieved, no accounting to us of what was not achieved and measures proposed to remedy any problems hindering successful completion of the identified projects.

This is because one of the many fundamental problems which have been sabotaging the ‘best’ intentions of these administrations is the discarding of institutional memory and a poverty of philosophy that
PM lists 10 major projects of his Govt - Trinidad Guardian
reduces the Budgets to a popularity showcase hoping to consolidate a vote bank for the next election. No Budget since the last Five-Year Development Programme ended in 1973 has ever provided the details and data to allow a proper interrogation of policy and objectives achieved since the preceding one was read.

The ones from that period when Five Year programmes guided developments tried to give an overall review of the global situation and place what the administration was doing in some broader context because of who the public service and political leaders were. The crop of leaders and technocrats that have followed since have lacked the philosophical and intellectual capacity to attempt anything close to the Williams / Demas / Barsotti / Lloyd Best show that was played out in the public domain in those days.

They have no interest in collecting the data and attempting to present it to the people to allow an informed response to the measures and spending of public funds in ways that demonstrate how it’s in the interest of the nation, and not the ruling elite and their political investors.

I’m not sure they even know what data to capture and how to analyse and use the data to drive policy making in the interests of the people! If they did, this Budget would not be still listing an intent to operationalise a National Statistics Institute!

I wonder how many of these Budget makers have ever heard of people like Dr. George (Moon)Sammy, and the rest of the public intellectuals we relied on then, to challenge what was put out by the administration and offer coherent, people-focussed, alternative policies and solutions in contrast to the IMF, IDB and Chicago school ideological fare we keep getting from election to election?

But then, to paraphrase an English imperialist poet, mine not to reason why; after all, as Raffique Shah quite correctly pointed out some time ago I am but a relic of 1970!

I don't expect the useful idiots and OJT's in and around the Parliament from the all-inclusive UNCOPNMSJTUM party to be any different so the debate will not force the PNM to address and answer the fundamental questions facing us. When last you hear one of them use the terms 'political economy', 'world outlook', 'ideology'?

A bunch of mocking pretenders all...they can't lead a piss-up in Carib brewery even if you pay them! Smh!

Lest we forget, the workers and the sufferers remember that the fundamental question underlying every Budget, every year and every day after the debate ends is this: who has power, how did they capture it, in whose interests is it being wielded and can the people hold them accountable?