Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Partnership's New Year Resolutions

With New Years in the air, another arbitrary 365 days begin. And what better than to propose some resolutions to a government that has found itself on the end of some severe (rightly or wrongly) criticisms since assuming office?

I’ll start with my wish list on the legislative agenda.

Government must bring legislation to limit a Prime Minister to two terms in office, set fixed election dates and commence the institution of Local Government reform. These were clear points in their manifesto and they must go about doing it while their majority is largely intact and before there is a descent into political games regarding these very important variations to the Constitution. They must also deal with the outstanding legislation governing Property Taxes and reform of the Board of Inland Revenue. Finally, they must put forward a very clear policy on the Caribbean Court of Justice. Some decision must be made on whether we continue indefinitely with the Privy Council, adopt the CCJ or go it alone with a final appellate court.

On the social front, this government must begin the process of reviewing and removing legislation from the Masters and Servants Act to Equal Opportunity Legislation and the laws criminalizing homosexuality, abortion and prostitution. It cannot be acceptable that prisons are rampant with sexually transmitted diseases and the excuse given by the prisons authority is that homosexuality is illegal, so condoms cannot be distributed. It cannot be acceptable that civil rights are denied to selected portions of society because of a religious lobby. It cannot be acceptable that the same religious lobby prevents safe and effective health care to women in need of termination of pregnancies, for whatever reasons, the details of which can be expounded in legislation. It cannot be acceptable that brothels operate as freely as they do in the classified section of the newspaper, yet their workers are not given protection in terms of their employment or health.

Onto the Economy and Finance, it is my wish that government resolves to end the current crisis of confidence. There is a need to reign in inflation. This can only be done with the aid of the Ministries of Food Production, Trade and Industry and National Security. We must deal with the spiraling cost of local produce, which can be controlled by local measures. We must open our economy to more markets and set about lowering or removing tariffs which, while protecting out local manufacturers, also gives them monopolies, prevents them from improving efficiency and deprives local consumers of choice of product and competitive pricing. The ministry of National Security needs to be involved in stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the country, a trade, the size of which rivals that of the legal, onshore economy.

The Ministry must also seek to wipe out some of the liquidity in the system. This can be done by actively reviving the local Stock Exchange by initial public offerings for some of the more profitable government run institutions, including the Unit Trust Corporation, First Citizens’ Bank, the splitting up of NEL into its component parts (NGC, LNG, TRINGEN, TSTT and NFM) and offering each publicly. This move will allow a greater number of citizens to enjoy the success of a reviving economy, while allowing the government to raise money on the local market, interest free and for the small price of reduced (but still majority) ownership.

On Works, Transport and the Environment, construction projects that are long overdue (highways, dams, drains and hospitals) are about to commence. There must be a drive also to clean and clear waterways, neglected for years and which have since silted up and become overgrown, some not even recognizable now as previously being waterways. There must be a concerted effort to ensure that the floods of 2010 become the part of history that the Minister wishes it to be. As a result, collaboration must be made with the ministry of the Environment (unfortunately annexed to Housing, which is in direct contradiction to the Manifesto, which promised a stand alone Environment ministry) for effective litter wardens, the commencement of a meaningful plastic, glass and metal recycling industry and facilities for disposal and recycling of appliances, cars and technology (computers, cell phones etc) waste. There must also be moves to shut down every single open dump in this country and replace them with sustainable, properly managed landfills.

The Minister of Transport must also now expedite the issuing of electronic number plates and licenses. There must be the introduction of speed guns to allow officers to control the lawlessness that currently applies on the nation’s roads. The law has to be revised, raising the speed limit on highways from the current ludicrous 80kmph and fines must also be given to those drivers who do not adhere to a minimum or maximum speed on designated lanes. Reform must also take place to allow one to pay tickets and fines at any commercial bank or government cashier using modern methods such as debit or credit cards, not the system of cash only in the district that the offence was committed as applies at present.

As for taxis and the soon to be legal, PH cars, take a suggestion from my father and similarly to New York City which has color coded vehicles for public transport, ensure that ALL cars for hire, whether P or H, are painted a brightly designated color. (yellow was his suggestion). In addition, implementation of the announced plans for water taxis to Chaguanas, Point Fortin and the supplemental service to Tobago, as well as a passenger port at Toco must be seen to occur sooner rather than later. These services are required, necessary even to a population that is quickly becoming less tolerant to public relations bells and whistles and who crave delivery of services which had been less than forthcoming from the previous administration.

The Ministry should also partner with the Ministry of National Security to overhaul the number plate system for government and emergency vehicles. Such vehicles should have special designation plates (eg. the Commissioner of Police should be driven in TTPS1, with all other vehicles of the police service following suit) as opposed to the current system where emergency or government vehicles are registered with private plates. This will facilitate the public in the quick identification of a government or emergency vehicle and can assist if problems arise as to which vehicle responded to an emergency.

On the issue of Health, it is vital that the current minister access all available professional advice. As someone who is not from the health sector, she needs to fully understand all aspects of a very broken system before she can go about attempting to fix it. It is my hope for the new year that the ministry achieves their goal of commencing the construction of various hospitals. There is need now for 24-hour Primary care (Health Centres) in order to reduce the strain on Tertiary Care (Hospitals). There is a need for review of CDAP, where wastage abounds.

The Ministry should also resolve in the new year to launch a massive public education campaign on the importance of patients’ compliance with health care advice and medications. There is need for massive promotion of preventative health care so that our system is not strained with the volume of chronic diseases as happens at present. There is need for expansion of services and proper employment practices so that health professionals are not turned away from serving in public institutions. In short, there is need for the reform or overhaul of the Regional Health Authorities, where too much duplication of services occur for a country of only 1.5 million.

The Ministry of National Security should also look to overhaul the police service. In order to mitigate complaints that police, fire or health officers were called but did not respond, a 9-1-1 type system should be instituted nationwide, with callers speaking to dispatchers who have information, via GPS fitted in every single vehicle of the protective service (Fire, Police, Ambulance). Dispatchers will then relay information to the nearest available patrol to respond to the emergency.

There needs to be a comprehensive plan for crime, especially one in the short term to stem the number of violent crimes currently being committed. The only real measure of crime is the number of murders, kidnappings, rapes, thefts, white collar corruption, volume of drugs shipped and transshipped etc etc. There therefore needs to be a dent in these statistics and that can only come about by enforcing current law, increasing detection and conviction rates and institution legislation that ensures that perpetrators feel the brunt of a working system.

These are just a few of the resolutions that the current administration, still riding high on goodwill and a majority to effect real change, should look toward so that come Jan 1, 2012, Trinidad and Tobago will truly be better off on all fronts than in 2011.

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