We could do with some of that pre-2004 spirit

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The recent (and still ongoing) furore over the cost-versus-value of government’s much vaunted housing projects at Paynters, Denfields and elsewhere was not so new or sudden as many of us might suppose. The Daily OBSERVER had – at least two months previously – been on the ball about this outrageous expenditure of taxpayers’ money for a rather paltry quantum of completed houses to show in return.

Our Editorial of April 15th 2019 was titled Fifty houses for $300 Million . . . and counting? Here are some key excerpts from that revealing piece, which explored possible reasons for the stirrings of rebellion by the residents of Booby Alley against an otherwise idolized Parliamentary Representative:

Don’t think they’re not hearing – like the rest of us – that $300 million dollars has to date been spent on government’s vaunted housing projects, with barely 50 completed dwellings to show for it! With that kind of money, even if each house with all infrastructure and amenities factored had cost $1Million, there should have been at least 300 of them.

Truth is for that kind of money – given that the talk is about affordable housing, which cannot be considered such if it exceeds $300,000 per unit – such a sum should comfortably deliver 1,000 houses. If we ignore the nonsensical promise of 500 of them in 500 days – that one-per-day absurdity – and grant a more realistic one per week, reckoned across four years, allowing year one as time needed to catch breath from campaign promise hollering, then by now more than 200 houses should have been completed, with money for 800 more; not necessarily in 800 days.

The people of the dense and fertile human vineyards of Point and Villa could not have failed to hear persistent whispers – rumours, even – of why these housing projects are being allowed, if not deliberately caused, to drag on far beyond schedule and way above budget: who is the alleged or reputed owner of the construction equipment, and whose son is fronting for his father.

We got that information from a disgruntled whistleblower high up and deep inside the Gaston Browne administration. To our surprise, the political opposition either did not pick this up, did not care, or chose to ignore what surely ought to have been stunning and damning revelation by any measure. To our mind, it was an issue of gravity on par with – if not surpassing – the Global Ports controversy which the UPP fought against for weeks on end via protest demonstrations, rallies and an intense media campaign under the umbrella of the Faithful Nationals.

The UPP, it seems, only turned its attention to this disturbing (smelling-of-corruption) situation when its stench had sufficiently rankled someone on the inside – a Cabinet member, in the person of Works Minister Lennox Weston – that he was prepared to publicly castigate his own government over what he regarded as “money being burned”.

The UPP, as the single largest opposition bloc in the country, must do better than that. As admirable a coalition as the Faithful Nationals might be, as helpful as the occasional maverick outbursts of Lennox Weston might be, a solidly established and richly experienced political party should never be found dependent or waiting on others to bell the cat on issues which it can legitimately be expected to confront, challenge and excoriate the government.

The UPP’s paucity of presence in the elected House of Representatives and its political leader’s absence from Parliament should present no hindrance or provide no excuse. Mr. Lovell is a former very senior minister of government who held some heavy hitting portfolios including Finance, Tourism and Foreign Affairs. During his 10 years in Government, he – and many others on the UPP team – must have developed strong and loyal contacts to provide them with whatever information that the current administration seeks to deny and conceal for obvious reasons.

The UPP must up its game and up-the-ante when it comes to pressuring this government and – as we like to say – keep it on its toes; in tense circumspection about even thinking to do anything crooked, because an ever-vigilant UPP is always poised to pounce. This cannot be done in one-shot statements or press releases that then seem to forget about the issue with no follow up or continued pressing until the wrong relents.

For example – following Lennox Weston’s outburst and Maria Browne’s pathetic attempt at a riposte – the UPP should have demanded of Minister Mrs. Browne whether it should not have been within the capacity of her ministry to fund the roads and the other outstanding amenities which she appeared to be blaming the Works Ministry for failing or being tardy to provide. After all, if you have spent $300 million to build 150 houses (her figure), it means that – as a per unit cost benchmark – each house accounts for $2 million of that money which has been splurged. You should have been able to build those houses (and many more!) with roads, utilities and everything else for $2 million apiece.

The sudden (and, in our opinion, sham) handing over of keys to homeowners as a ploy to deflect from the Weston pressure and subsequent UPP pickup, should also be hammered. Mrs. Browne was obviously able to pull that off in short order despite the Ministry of Works – by her account – dragging its feet. Television footage of her “handing over” clearly shows things such as the landscaping of the supposedly finished houses being in a disgracefully dirty, unfinished and very preliminary stage – among several other evidences of something staged and rushed as a desperate PR stunt – coming as it did within days of that burst of hardly friendly fire from Weston. Mr. Lovell and the UPP must likewise avoid giving the impression of being half-hearted in the battles they wage on behalf of the people. That is how it will seem when they allow winnable battles to peter out inconclusively or left unfinished. Beyond the tremendous amount of money ostensibly spent on a sparse smattering of houses, is the question of who owns the heavy equipment that has been contracted to do the work on those housing projects, and whether a certain young man and his mother are fronting for some governmental bigwigs. You do not need Parliamentary presence to make and sustain justified noise about this until the answers you demand are granted or extracted.

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