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Time to fix failures

It is often hard to be critical of certain aspects of the national life of a country without offending some people, particularly politicians. This fear of waking up on the wrong side of political leader will often lead to the taming of positions — self censorship.

Today, however, we are going to stick our neck out, even at the risk of having it severed — metaphorically speaking, or course, since our politicians are not known for physical violence.

We do not believe there is a Barbadian alive who owns a vehicle, who drives one or who drives in one who would not have realised the rapid deterioration in the surface of our roads, while at the same time it is hard to say that we are noticing some consistent programme of repair from the Ministry of Transport and Works.

It is recognised and accepted that Barbados is going through economic challenges which have forced our Government to constrain its expenditure, but there are aspects of the national infrastructure that cannot be ignored, and roads is one of them. Too many of our sub-urban and rural roads are littered with potholes — or as calypsonian Red Plastic Bag sang some years ago, there are so many imperfections in our road these days it’s more a case of “de potholes have in roads”.

Compared to our neighbours, the volume of paved roads per square kilometre of land is significantly higher in Barbados, and therefore the cost of keeping them in good shape must also be considerably higher, but when we fail to implement a programme that can spot and repair these fissures early we only add to the eventual costs.

There are some roads on which we drive daily, major roads, that it is now virtually impossible to find a smooth spot on, and when parliamentarians speak about the cost of keeping the Transport Board’s buses in working order they must recognise that the state of the roads is a major contributor. After all, an individual may drive over some of these pothole infested roads at most twice a day, but Transport Board buses traverse them all day.

We are satisfied that for decades now the authorities in the Pine have not had an efficient programme for island-wide road maintenance, and would go so far as to suggest that we do not believe the ministry can produce any kind of log to show when last a particular road in Barbados was paved. There are Barbadians in their 50s who can identified roads that have not been paved in their lifetime, but they continue to be classified as a “highways” when all they have seen in half a century is ineffective patching.

Do we have evidence to suggest that public sector road maintenance is better for the country in terms of road surface quality and cost effectiveness? Why do we persist with a system that says the private sector can build them, but the MTW must maintain them?

There are parts of the world where the owner of a car will not have to even consider changing the shock absorbers for the entire life of the vehicle, while in Barbados some people have no choice but to change them with the regularity of brake pads.

This is so because we have not changed our approaches. Experts advise that a country should never miss the opportunity presented by a “good recession” to fix failures that are ignored in times of plenty. We could not have asked for a “better recession” to make sensible changes. Let’s start in the Pine!

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