Afra Raymond was interviewed by Richard Ragoobarsingh and Senator Paul Richards on Power 102FM’s Power Breakfast Show on Property Tax, soon to be implemented in Trinidad and Tobago. Audio courtesy Power 102 FM
Audre Lorde, on the false benefits and toxic consequences earned from calculated or cowardly silences.
I had no intention of returning to this issue but Trinidad and Tobago Newsday’s Friday, 27 August 2021 article (Woodford Square to become heritage site (newsday.co.tt) was a sharp reminder that there is more to be said. The article explained that the Port of Spain Mayor had a ‘private consultation’(!) with the National Trust on 25 August 2021 as a result of which it was decided that Woodford Square is to become a national heritage site.
In its own words, The National Trust says that it is:
“…established for the purpose of:
listing and acquiring such property of interest as the Trust considers appropriate;
permanently preserving lands that are property of interest and as far as practicable, retaining their natural features and conserving the animal and plant life;” (my emphasis)
In accordance with its stated statutory purpose, the National Trust should have made some comment or intervention in the proposals for the ‘astroturfing’ of the Nelson Mandela Park under a Public Private Partnership; that is my considered view.
But on its Facebook page, its website or its Instagram page, there is no comment whatsoever on the issue and I am unaware that any National Trust official has appeared in either the voice, vision or print media to discuss the proposals related to it. In light of the National Trust’s perfect silence, the pertinent question is whether that silence arises from an error of omission or from oversight or whether saying nothing was an intended response.
The National Trust’s silence was like an echo from not so long ago of the UWI’s silence on the Tobago Sandals proposals. This episode is yet another sobering example of institutional collapse, which forces us to recalculate our bearings on the journey to development. Clearly, corruption is far broader than outrageous financial benefits, as shown by these new bearings. When we are witness to such silences from the very public institutions which are mandated to have responsible and informed oversight, we get some idea of how far off course we are and how far we really still have to travel.
Of course, we also know that the Minister of Planning & Development attended the virtual consultation on 26 July 2021, so did the National Trust also attend? Does the Trust have a copy of the proposal and, if yes, what are its views? If it does not, did the Trust during the aforementioned ‘private consultation’ on 25 August 2021 request from the PoS Mayor a copy of the proposal?
Even though this proposal has now reportedly been shelved after the PM’s intervention on 2 August 2021, we probably have not seen the last of this matter. I would not be at all surprised if these proposals were revised and re-presented at some stage.
The final irony, as it were, is that on the very day I posted my query and postedthe first part of this article to Wired868 — 11 August 2021 — in conjunction with Citizens for Conservation, the National Trust hosted a webinar on ‘Central Park Conservancy—Forty years of Park Partnership NYC’.
So it seems that the National Trust has given prominence to parks in its program of webinars and so on, making its silence on Nelson Mandela Park all the more unacceptable.
Our country needs active and engaged agencies and institutions to protect our essential interests, so this National Trust silence is in fact inimical to the public interest.
By way of full disclosure, National Trust Chair, Margaret McDowall, has been my good friend and colleague over an extended period. What is more, Ms McDowall has given extensive and exemplary public service, most notably, in my view, by executing successful public private partnerships during her protracted tenure at NIPDEC.
I wish to present in this article a summary of my main points on the proposed ‘revitalization’ of the Nelson Mandela Park (formerly King George V Park or, before that, Pompeii Savannah) in west POS.
Some spaces are of such significance that they should be altered only after the greatest care and consideration—no hustle, no bustle! Nelson Mandela Park is certainly such a space.
Privatisation and PPP can have the effect of limiting or ending access to public facilities for poorer citizens, so we would need to have solid guarantees of right to access, regardless of income. Of course, that kind of approach is contrary to a model which relies on paying customers or groups.
Let us now take a closer look at the actual proposal.
THE EDITOR: The joint letter from my colleagues at the T&T Society of Planners and the T&T Institute of Architects raised very important criticisms of the current wave of urban development projects, with the chronic levels of unacceptable secrecy and fake consultations.
On the secrecy issue, the State reportedly refused the JCC’s Freedom of Information request for the POS Revitalisation plan on the basis that it did not originate in that Ministry and that this was a series of privately-conceived projects. Those are not lawful exemption grounds under the FoIA as the public is entitled to receive information ‘in the possession of public authorities’, so there is no requirement for the State to originate that plan.
The fake consultation issue is a long-term and valid concern which was especially noted as the 17th recommendation of the Uff Report (2009):
“…User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made…” (emphasis is mine)
Of course, the sitting Prime Minister was the leading voice calling for that Commission of Enquiry and indeed played a major role as a witness. We need to insist on the maintenance of proper consultation if we are to use our limited development options for equitable outcomes.
THE EDITOR: As we enter yet another tight covid19 lockdown, one cannot help wondering how we slipped from our generally commendable performance in the first half of 2020 to these terrifying numbers of deaths and hospitalisations.
In August 2020, the COVID-19 regulations were changed to penalise unauthorised congregations and failure to wear masks. Despite the high stakes, I was sceptical as to how many of those tickets were actually issued and how many fines had actually been paid. For one thing, the evident levels of congregation and liming testified to people ignoring the law.
The AG confirmed – in Newsday’s May 5 edition – that fines for breaches of the covid19 regulations will actually be payable from May 15, with electronic payments also being an option. So it was previously impossible to pay those fines and it is deplorable that such an important element of our pandemic planning was allowed to remain incomplete at the stage of utmost importance. This was a true and costly failure of our public administration.
I have no doubt that the reckless behaviour would have been curbed if those fines were actually collected from those who received the reported 10,000 tickets issued. Yet here we are, on the edge of the precipice, wondering which official or department was responsible for this grievous lapse. No comment on this from the PM or any officials, so the Code of Silence seems intact, even when the health of the general public is at stake.
The Judiciary just invited expressions of interest (EoIs) for an electronic payments system, with a closing date of May 11. After examination of those EoIs, qualified contractors will be identified before they can be invited to tender, so some delays could be expected.
Afra Raymond gave his third guest lecture to post-graduate students in their course on Emerging themes in Cultural Studies: Theory and Conceptualisation of Culture – Cultural Studies and the turn to policy and new media technologies. His lecture dealt with the topic, “Data Monarchy: F.A.A.N.G [Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, & Google]”. It was a presentation on The Information Age and technology, and in relation to the course theme of Conceptualisation of Culture.
Afra Raymond gave a second guest lecture to Cultural Studies Post-Graduate students at UWI St. Augustine in their course, “Debates in Caribbean Cultural Identity”. His lecture dealt with the topic, “The poor, their housing, and how Government policies have ‘worked’ in the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.” The presentation on Government policies was in relation to the Course theme of Identity / Policing Caribbean Identities.
Afra Raymond gave a guest lecture to Cultural Studies Post-Graduate students at UWI St. Augustine in their course, “Debates in Caribbean Cultural Identity”. His presentation concerned race and racism, in relation to the Course theme of Identity. This lecture grew out of Mr. Raymond’s TEDxPortofSpain 2015 talk: “Is it only white people who can be racist?”
Secondly, what is the likely outcome from these fundamental reductions in the OPR’s scope?
The first question really intrigued me. After all, if the current situation is one in which Public Procurement is loosely controlled, why would any government risk serious criticism by amending a law which has been delayed for so long?