Of potholes, politicians and public expenditure
Little surprises us anymore in terms of what maverick Member of Parliament for St Lucy Denis Kellman would say or do, based on his recent penchant for outrageous social media posts, in which he is known to bare all, including his shirt.
Therefore, it came as absolutely no surprise to us that at the height of public debate and consternation over the state of our roads, Mr Kellman would be the one to question whether potholes can save lives.
It’s the sort of flippant comment that you now expect from ‘Lucy’s son’, who equally sees nothing wrong with calling out staff to work at his private establishment during the passage of a storm even though his own Government has ordered a national shutdown.
However, we have to admit to being more than a little taken aback that our Prime Minister Freundel Stuart would seek to go down the same insensitive road as Mr Kellman, especially with his administration already seemingly buried in a deep political ditch.
Nonetheless, the Prime Minister, who has been severely criticized throughout his six-year tenure for his pronounced silence on national issues, would leave us truly wishing that his silence were allowed to remain golden on this latest gaping crisis.
But alas!, Mr Stuart would attempt to put the entire pothole matter to bed, by taking an unnecessary pot shot at Barbadians, who he suggested needed to accept that potholes were a fact of life, and basically do as tourists when faced with such inconveniences.
“They [tourists] don’t behave as though they’ve never seen potholes in the roads in their lives, and they do not behave as though their societies are crime free,” said Stuart, who was addressing a reception for visitors at his official residence on Wednesday night.
To add insult to the injury already caused by the ever widening potholes, the Prime Minister went on to tell his mostly international audience that also included Kellman, that “[tourists] understand the real world, and in spite of the fact that from time to time you may have the inconveniences, which are really transitory, the warmth and the hospitality of the people of Barbados is what keeps them coming”.
It was a major slap in the face for those who have been complaining bitterly that they’ve been made to suffer financial and other loss as a result of a recurring nightmare on this country’s roads.
For while it may be true that in life we must all grow accustomed to the fact that bumps will occur along the road, and that even with the best of planning or intentions we are likely to encounter pitfalls, these are not to be confused however with potholes, which certainly do not constitute any act of God, even though they may be worsened by natural disasters.
It therefore stands to reason that our Government, through its relevant agencies within the Ministry of Transport & Works, would readily attend to such man-made hazards and not allow for the sort of situations we have now where many of our public roads have been neglected for decades, to the point where it’s more dangerous to drive than to walk through certain parts of the country.
It begs the question, what is Michael Lashley’s ministry really doing with its $140 million vote of which $68 million has been allocated in the approved Estimates for Fiscal Year 2016/2017 for road network services? This includes $600,000 for tenantry roads, $12 million for road rehabilitation, $35 million for highway construction and maintenance, $504 000 for residential road construction & maintenance services; $695 000 for bridge construction & maintenance, $5.4 million for a Caribean Development Bank-funded road & bridge improvement study; a further $7.8 million for a road rehabilitation and improving connectivity of road infrastructure project and an additional $2 million for a road rehabilitation special project.
This had nothing to do with a further $2 million in funding for the Warrens Traffic Safety Improvement Project and another Special Projects-Road Improvement costing another $2 million. Under the Scotland District Special Works Project, $1.5 million is to be spent this year on road improvements in St Thomas, St Joseph and St Andrew, including the troubled White Hill.
Interestingly, Government expenditure on roads is supposed to be at its peak this year up from $45.5 million in 2014/2015 and $53 million in 2015/2016, yet it would seem that the gaping holes in our road network are only getting wider and wider, not to mention deeper and deeper.
These funds have nothing to do with the millions that are collected each year in the form of road tax or for that matter, the US$1.72 million which Government recently drew down from the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility with Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler telling reporters at the time that while Government was holding off on major road work in the all but officially condemned White Hill, “there are other roads which have been affected by recent rainfall that we have utilized those resources”.
Rather than poking fun at the expense of the victims, we would like our Prime Minister and his team to urgently get to work on fixing this problem.
For, lest either he or Mr Kellman should dare forget, “the voice of the people is the voice of God”.
Given the level of rage on our roads these days, both may also want to watch the tone and tenor of their public utterances at a time when the country requires little more from them than urgent action.
But that is the problem with our politicians; they just don’t seem to know when it’s time to ‘shut up and drive’.