EDITORIAL: Hardly laughable

The United Progressive Party’s (UPP) public relations officer, Damani Tabor, has labeled the government’s announcement of an audit into the Antigua and Barbuda Department of Marine Services and Merchant Shipping (ADOMS) Building as being “laughable.”  The reasoning offered by Tabor for such a critique is that the government is essentially auditing itself. 

Okay.  We get the point that you can’t have “ratta watching cheese,” but is that really applicable to this situation?  We cannot see how anyone interested in accountability can dismiss an audit on a multi-million dollar overspend as laughable. To our minds, the audit is a good first step to accounting for the people’s money and holding someone responsible.   If for some reason the audit is questionable, or the results remain a secret, then we can join the chorus that the audit is laughable but until then, we will gladly support any move towards accountability.  

On the face of it, the ADOMS headquarters has become a fiasco.  It was initially budgeted for somewhere between $17 million and $24 million and had a time budget of less than 24 months for construction to be completed.  The groundbreaking occured in 2013, under the UPP, just about one year before the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) was swept to power.  Since then, the cost of the building has mushroomed to somewhere north of $30 million, and five years later, it is still not finished.  Under those set of disturbing circumstances, who wouldn’t want to have an audit?  Interestingly enough, at one point, the project manager was predicting that the project would come in under budget. Now there’s a laugh!

We understand that there could be a perception that the audit may be ineffective because it is commissioned by the government, but are we still not better served having an audit than not?  Why prejudge the outcome before giving it a chance? Couldn’t the perceptions be managed by insisting that an independent, reputable firm be contracted to perform the audit and that the report be made public?  I guess our question to Tabor and the UPP would be: “What alternative do you suggest?”  Please do not mention the words “public inquiry” because that is something that will never happen, if only because of the cost.

The debate over the proposed audit also highlighted just how personal our politics has become.  It is unfortunate, but we no longer look at the issues facing the nation and discuss them in a mature, progressive way. Rather, our politicians seek to take personal jabs at each other before addressing the matters before them.  Both sides do it and they both defend their immature actions by blaming the other, saying that they are fighting fire with fire.

Take for instance, Tabor sarcastically saying, “If they are saying that their leader is such a wizard and a shrewd manager, how come we are into the second term and this [the building] is not done?”  What does Gaston Browne’s management skills have to do with the ADOMS building?  He is not the construction manager.  This is nothing more than a personal dig.  Sure, the PM should be up-to-date on what is going on, but if he were micro-managing the construction, everyone would be up in arms.  

From our perspective, the UPP PRO could have made a stronger point if he simply pointed out that the ABLP administration has had oversight of the construction for most of the project’s life and has allowed the cost overruns and lengthy delays.  Further, Cabinet has known of the issues for some time but has not taken action to remedy the situation. Instead, he throws shade at the PM – a man who is a master at throwing shade at his opponents.  

The problem with these personal attacks is they distract the public and the politicians from the serious matters at hand.  Like our “big brother” to the north (The United States), we get caught up in name-calling and petty nonsense that retard our advancement.  Our politicians focus on offending the opposition and defending their “good name” and they spend more time on that than they do addressing the issues for the benefit of the people.

There is little chance that the antagonistic politics will end anytime soon, so we are happy to hear of anything that brings some transparency and accountability to the environment.  So while Tabor calls the audit of the ADOMS laughable, we will happily laugh along as it is done.  It certainly is better than having an overspend of time and money and not having an audit.

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