Soon the population will reflect on the legacy of our current leaders because elections are in the air. The number of roadworks I am seeing suggests that the election cycle has begun. Guess what will come to my mind when I think of the legacy of the current Minister of Works and Infrastructure — the phrase “Rohan’s Folly”.
Under the stewardship of Senator/Minister Sinanan, a “Highway to Nowhere” (HTN) was built at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars which could have been invested in people development. It is currently referred to as HTN because both ends of the highway are blocked off and there is no connection to either the Cumuto Road or the Eastern Main Road. From the Cumuto Road to the HTN the distance is approximately 500 metres and from the HTN to Eastern Main Road the distance is approximately 800 metres.
Whenever the HTN is completed, the people of Sangre Grande, Toco, Valencia, Cumuto, Mayaro, Guaico, and Manzanilla will traverse the roadway and question whether the construction of the road was worth the destruction of the Moriche palms, the lagoon, and even the Caiman who thrived in the area? Isn’t the area also designated a reserve? I totally accept that there is always a balance between development and environmental destruction, but it need not be an either/or situation. Why haven’t we come up with solutions which protect our legacy and support our development? Why can’t we have sustainable solutions to our myriad of problems? “Rohan’s Folly” will be associated with the likely negative environmental impact the HTN will have on the Valencia area.
The story of the Moriche Palm also called the Tree of Life, is important because those palms could have played a significant socio-economic and ecological role in our country as they do in South America. Some Peruvian societies still depend on the Moriche palms for their survival, and it contributes millions of U.S. dollars per year to their Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Out of the Moriche Palm estates, they create products for export like frozen sweets, wines, buttons, crafts, jewelry, oils, baskets, purses, sandals, hammocks, birdcages, toys, sunscreen, deodorant, and many pharmaceutical items. In Brazil, there is the creation of the “Moriche Palm Diet” used by thousands of women worldwide. In sweet Trinidad and Tobago, we destroy it to build an HTN.
The reported expenditure on HTN ranges from $500 million to $1.7 billion. Whatever the final expenditure, taxpayers’ dollars have been invested in the construction of the HTN and the opportunity cost is tremendous. Think of the potential impact (both short and long-term) of investing in the redesign of our education system. Instead, some contractors have built a highway to nowhere and they all sleep peacefully while “Rome burns”. I suppose they can afford to educate their children abroad and have 24-hour security.
Our country needs radical intervention to move us out of the current negative cycle. That radical thinking must be informed by a focus on investing in our people. It is the only way to maximize our net social benefit.
Couldn’t the Minister have reviewed the investment in physical infrastructure by talking to the residents of Sangre Grande, Toco, Valencia, Cumuto, Mayaro, Guaico, and Manzanilla to get their views on what they really need?
From where I sit, the legacy opportunity available to Minister Sinanan is to deliver modifications to the poor public transportation system. Will his legacy be the HTN or “Rohan’s Folly?”
Published on 18/03/23 Newsday