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Raffique Shah


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Good start, some missteps

By Raffique Shah
June 06, 2010

The People's Partnership will hardly enjoy a honeymoon period in government. Because its predecessors were so delinquent in addressing real problems affecting citizens, the people are crying out for relief from the ills that affect them. Many voted for the People's Partnership out of sheer frustration over the way ex-prime minister Manning and his key ministers treated their concerns with contempt.

Maybe their expectations are unrealistic. No government can reduce the levels of crime we have experienced over the past decade in a few months. I do not envy National Security Minister, Brigadier John Sandy, as he grapples with robberies and burglaries that have reached epidemic proportions, and murders that continue unabated. Sandy does have a major advantage over Martin Joseph: he has been in the trenches, having served in the Defence Force in varying capacities, from a private soldier to Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).

He therefore understands the strengths and weaknesses of Defence Force personnel, and by virtue of his interaction with other arms of the Protective Services, he would understand their challenges too. I note that already he has indicated his intention to legitimise the SAUTT, a grossly-maligned unit that another of his military colleagues, Brigadier Peter Joseph, has built over the past five years or so.

My understanding is that SAUTT is confined to gathering intelligence (information on criminals and their activities). In spite of the fact that its members are trained as an elite fighting unit, it does not have the power to act on the information it gathers. In other words, SAUTT is bogged down by bureaucracy. The UNC in opposition was very critical of it, saying it cost a lot but did little. Now they have the power to rectify this anomaly. That should bring greater firepower to bear on those who believe their right to terrorise entire communities comes from the barrel of a gun.

There are many other measures that must be implemented if the Government hopes to reduce crime, first to manageable levels, and ultimately to insignificance. An overwhelming majority of the population are law-abiding citizens. Given the necessary assurances, they can play a pivotal role in reducing crime. A people's partnership must mean more than ministers and senators in government: it must signal a new era in which government partners with the people to address national problems.

Meanwhile, Works Minister Jack Warner has tackled head-on some problems plaguing his ministry in a way only Jack does. He rolled up his sleeves, found himself in Caparo where residents faced a crisis caused by irresponsible sand-mining practices. Within 48 hours he got Energy Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan to halt sand-mining in that general area.

It's not that the new government is against quarrying-I should hope not. It's simply that too many quarry operators have been a law unto themselves, they have ignored environmental concerns, damaged rural roads, made living hell for nearby residents, and they got away with it. This cannot be allowed to continue. The PNM Government talked about it, but never acted. Jack showed up Colm Imbert for what he isn't, and that in short order-no pun intended.

Jack's other initiative, a declaration to move the main operations of the Licensing Department to Central Trinidad, is most welcome. Decentralisation of ministries and critical state agencies has been touted for 30, 40 years, but without any affirmative action. Since our current network of roads and highways makes no part of the country difficult to access (a PNM boast), shifting operations of agencies like Licensing would make life easier for both employees and the public. I hope the minister acts on this with dispatch.

I must, however, warn Mr Warner (sounds good, eh?) that his proposal to open up the Priority Bus Route (PBR) to the public is a disaster-in-the-making. I understand the urgency with which he wants to alleviate the horrendous traffic jams motorists face on a daily basis trying to access Port of Spain. But opening up the PBR to the public, even for limited periods and with pre-conditions, is a recipe for chaos.

If anything, the PBR needs to shed some of its current traffic-load. I know what I write about since I use the PTSC bus service to travel from Chaguanas to POS during weekdays. Already there are too many vehicles on that special road. But in off-peak periods, the bus takes around half-hour to make the trip. With additional traffic on the PBR, commute-time will increase by 15 to 30 minutes.

Knowing Trinis as we do, every-man-Jack would rush to the PBR to 'try out' the new system. That will add yet another clogged artery to the city and it would defeat the purpose of the dedicated bus (and maxi-taxis) road. Because the PBR is a narrow, two-lane road that criss-crosses around 30 traffic lights/intersections, accidents will increase exponentially. Also, how many policemen would be required to ensure the proposed usage-rules are enforced?

I urge the minister to consult with traffic engineers and planners before executing any such plan. They may well advise that he not only leave the PBR as is, but he start construction of another dedicated bus and public transport road from Chaguanas to Mt Hope. That's one solution to North-South traffic woes. Implementing it would also signal the timely death of Imbert's $15 billion bound-to-fail rapid rail.

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