Saturday, March 31, 2007

New Sidewalks!

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

My 92 year-old mother is singing the praises of the UPP government. Why? Because when she goes to shop in St. Johns, she can walk along the sidewalks without fear of being hit by a car. She likes the wider, flatter and lower sidewalks. The only things she says that she has to look out for are those red painted, poorly designed grates. She says that the bars should be placed closer together. But, she is not really complaining.

So… she is thankful and surprised.

Why surprised? Well… the sidewalks and the road improvements were not there the last time she walked through the city. She is amazed at the speed with which the project is being completed. She is further amazed, because in Antigua, it is highly unusual for projects… particularly public projects… especially public projects conducted by Public Works… to be done quickly. And when you add… efficiently, effectively and attractively… well that is historically unheard of.

Now she knows that Public Works had help. She knows that the Cubans seemed to have put us to shame and that that might have provided the necessary prick on our pride to spur our Public Works’ staff to respond positively to the challenge. And respond they have… and well… so far… so good.

But the stronger prick and push came not from the Cubans but from the imminent arrival of Cricket World Cup. For months… maybe longer… just about everyone in the country has been fussing about the need to fix the roads… all roads. Even some Ministers of the current Government seemed to have been discontented with the situation. There were charges from some elected officials that the Ministry of Finance was not releasing the money for public projects. There were counter charges that Public Works was not providing the proper documentation to request the necessary funds.

But all of the squabbling dissipated when everyone realized that the opening date for CWC was just around the corner! There was a deadline. There was no getting around it. There was no getting away from it. The date was set in stone. So the stones had to be worked. And so, what needed to be done was done – quickly. And the city is being transformed.

So it took the imminent arrival of CWC to drive our Government to implement this project of upgrading the city. According to local DJ and radio personality Serpent, it seems as though we need to bring CWC here to Antigua every month in order for Government to complete all of the projects that it has promised.

Sad… but true.

So… what other events might we the people highlight that would get a similar response from the Government? How can we get the Government to fix all the roads and alleys? How can we influence them, or push them to really make significant adjustments to the airport? What can we do to get them to implement serious programming to address the apparently high levels of crime and violence? What kind of pricking is needed to have them foster deep and lasting improvements to our education system?

And what do we have to do to get any Government… UPP or whoever… to continuously deliver on the projects that they promise?

Elections? Maybe we should have some kind of election every two years. I think that we need to change from an appointed Senate to an elected one. Then we need to change elections for the Lower House from every five years to every four years. The Senate would also be elected every four years. Both elections would be held two years apart. So, for example, the next election for the Lower House would be held in 2008 (and every four years thereafter), and the elections for our new Senate would be held in 2010 (and every four years thereafter.

That would keep politicians hopping. That would keep them delivering. And, we the people would see a never ending stream of projects – creatively, efficiently, effectively and attractively done – just like the sidewalks in St. Johns.

By the way… why were the grates painted red?