Editorial: The drop dead line

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It was indeed heartening to hear that Mr. Shawn Thomas, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) for the now-dubious Antigua and Barbuda Road Infrastructure and Rehabilitation Project (ABRIRP) and Anne Harewood George, the Community Liaison Officer (CLO) with the Project Implementation Unit (PIMU) were to be guests on OBSERVER radio’s VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (VOP) broadcast yesterday. Joining that duo was to be Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Elson Quammie, the police representative on the PIMU/Strategic Communications Committee. As you may or may not know, the ABRIRP has to do with the Sir George Walter Highway and the Friars Hill Road. According to a communique from the guests, matters to be discussed included, but were not limited to, “Community outreach, grievances and the PIMU, stakeholder engagement, education campaign, police involvement, driver behavior, reports for offenders and actions by flag ops, speeding on work site, closures for road works, impact of work on businesses, and update on acquisition of land.”

As you can imagine, it promised to be a robust discussion, especially since the phone lines would be open for an airing of ‘joys and concerns’ and the asking of questions. Not that we were expecting any ‘joys.’ After all, who amongst us, save for the most optimistic, can be ‘joyful’ over the craziness that we are now experiencing on Friars Hill Road and Sir George Walter Highway? Needless to say, we were quite grateful that there was going to be an open engagement with the longsuffering public, and we certainly salute CLO George, PRO Thomas and ASP Quammie for their willingness to talk to the people. Given the epic bungling of this ABRIRP, theirs is not an easy task. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, Quammie and Thomas were unable to attend the VOP confab, but  George, did. And we thank her.

Not surprisingly, we heard talk from her about the unprecedented nature of the project, what with its supposed magnitude, the state-of-the-art roundabouts and pedestrian crossings and sidewalks, and all that sort of stuff. We also heard that the ABRIRP was not merely building a road, but that on-site young local engineers were getting hands-on training, and that there were significant employment opportunities that had been seized by locals, and that an emphasis was being placed, in the hiring process, on diversity and gender equality. She also revealed that provision would be made for buses to safely make stops without interrupting the flow of traffic, and that there would be turning lanes and so on and so forth. We also heard that the project was being funded by a grant from the United Kingdom of 13.9 million pounds (EC$50 million), and that the funds were being administered by the Caribbean Development Bank. All well and good.

Nonetheless, one of the only things that the WhatsAppers and callers to the VOP broadcast wanted to hear was when will the blessed project be completed? When will this national nightmare come to a merciful end?  Our patience has worn thin. And the longer that this disaster drags on, the more disaffected and disillusioned we will become. Anne Harewood George, could not provide a date certain of completion. We suspect that no one connected to this project really can. They have no clue. In fact, a ranking official with the project suggested last week that the adjudication/arbitration ‘crisis’ (his words) between the government and the contractors will result in a further delay in completion.

Of course, as many frazzled Antiguans and Barbudans already knew, at least one deadline had come and gone, not only with this ABRIRP undertaking, but in just about every undertaking in our fair state. It is a sad and sick joke (which is no longer funny) that ministers of government and ranking officials, with a straight face, make grave pronouncements about this deadline and that deadline, knowing full well, that those supposed deadlines are unrealistic and will NEVER be met. For example, this road rehabilitation project, which began in September of 2017 and was supposed to take 20 months (May 2019), is nowhere near completion. In fact, according to the earnest and well-intentioned, Anne Harewood George, (she cannot be blamed for this debacle. She is only doing her job – ‘carrying water in a straw basket’) this project MAY not be completed until sometime in 2020. Again, as said before, she is only hazarding a guess. Sigh!

 Actually, several WhatsAppers suggested that “We not hold our breaths!”  Seems, this government has cried ‘wolf’ so often, that nobody, except the wilfully’ naïve, believes a blessed word emanating from its mouth. Deadlines have come and deadlines have gone, (see the ever-shifting deadlines and the ridiculous excuses surrounding the non-delivery of the promised homes by National Housing) and the government blithely makes up an excuse (none of them even remotely plausible) and sets another drop-dead date. Good grief! What did we ever do to be cursed with those in high places who have such a strained relationship with truth and reality? We confess our sins, Lord!  

And by the way, we are not convinced that this is a project of unprecedented size here in Antigua and Barbuda. We submit that the building of the Sir V.C. Bird Airport was bigger. So too, the building of the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. And yes, the construction of the Deepwater Harbor down at Rat Island in 1968. It was an engineering marvel in its day, and it took less than two years, give and take a few months. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, a mammoth undertaking, by Gustav Eiffel, took all of two years (24 months). The point is that we do not think that this project is being carried out with any sense of urgency, never mind the manifest shoddy workmanship (see Sprugoo’s intersection and the YMCA/Governor General’s residence corner) and the blatant disrespect to road users (the ubiquitous hills, valleys, dust, gravel). We believe that more people could be employed with a more focused approach instead of the ‘here, there and everywhere,’ skeleton-crew, piece-meal approach that we are now seeing.

Other concerns raised by the public had to do with the Bahamas Hot Mix’s (the contractors) record, or lack thereof, of actually building roads, why the boneheaded decision was made to rip up two of our major thoroughfares at the same time with no appreciable influx of machinery, and no appreciable application of manpower, what provisions are being made for the legendary flooding that has always plagued those two roadways, and so on and so forth. Of course, the questions were being asked by laymen whose commonsense tell them that something is amiss. Like them, we here at NEWSCO cannot see the method in the madness. We remain hopeful. (Sigh)

Meanwhile, we are publishing the numbers that harried Antiguans and Barbudans can call to air their concerns and ask questions: 562 0174, 562 9176 and 464 4344. Concerned citizens can also go to [email protected] to share their thoughts with the ABRIRP. You see, the well-meaning Anne Harewood George cited figures of about 68 complaints in 2018 and about 27 so far this year. We find those figures hard to believe, or rather, we suggest that those figures are not an accurate reflection of the disgust and frustration that road users are experiencing. In fact, we have had more than 27 complaints about the roads in almost any given week on VOICE OF THE PEOPLE alone. 

It was Amir Kalantri who once said, “A professional who doesn’t deliver as committed is not just lazy, he is a liar.” Hmmm! Mr. Douglas Adams, he of THE SALMON OF DOUBT, also declared sarcastically, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” Hmm, hmmm! Seems, there is a whole lot of ‘whooshing’ going on in our fair state, and officialdom does not give a rat’s derriere. Indeed, they are giving us the finger and telling us, “Drop dead!”

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