Most citizens had already figured this out simply by observing the scale of public works within the past few months – a berm wall for Beetham, rapid rehabilitation of the old Piarco airport, the whisking away of vagrants from the streets of Port-of-Spain, feverish road paving, and so on. But the Government has been pretending that these works are not Summit costs, but have all coincidentally begun just before the Summit. The insult to citizens is thus threefold. It is insulting to people’s intelligence to give such a ludicrous spin in the expectation that we are gullible enough to believe it. It is insulting because this sudden beautification and heightened security tells the people of TT that they are not as important as the good opinion of the international leaders being hosted by the Government. And it is insulting that so much money is being spent during an economic downturn.
The excuse that TT had made this commitment before the global financial crisis is thin. Apart from the fact that hosting the Summit was a bad idea even during the energy boom, since the benefits were never going to match the costs, much of the money now being spent could be saved and the Summit still go on. This is because so much of the expenditure is devoted to creating an airbrushed face for the Summit leaders in the hope of convincing them that TT is more advanced than it actually is. More pertinently, much of the money is being wasted because of poor planning. “It’s a matter of being in a for a penny, in for a pound,” a government source told Newsday. “You would not have planned for every eventuality.”
This is nonsense. Good planners know that, in any given scenario, time and budgets are typically underestimated. But there are technical methods, such as confidence estimates, for calculating the disparity between what is planned and what is likely to occur. This is then factored into the plan, so there is a reasonable estimate of how much money will be spent. Such an approach is basic to good business and to good governance. In this context, the reasons for Government misdirection about costs becomes clear. As the Uff Commission of Inquiry has already revealed, it has been a virtual policy of the Government to understate costs of projects, from the Waterfront buildings to the Tarouba Sporting Complex to the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre. This is because transparency would result in such vociferous public criticism that the Government would be forced into fiscal responsibility.
Perhaps, then, this is the real benefit of the Fifth Summit to the people of TT: that, in its obsession with putting on a pretty face for visitors, the Government has been forced to strip away its “caring” mask for citizens.