PURELY POLITICAL: Govt’s slum mess


GOVERNMENT’S APPARENT abandonment of an Inter-American Development Bank–funded slum clearance project seems at first glance to cast doubt on the ability of the political directorate and public servants to handle “big” infrastructural projects.
While excuses may be made for the politicians, it would be very difficult to swallow a similar suggestion about a public service that has a proud reputation around the world, no doubt partly due to its inheritance of a British colonial experience.
So to hear that the Housing and Neighbourhood Upgrading Programme, which this Government signed on to in April, 2008 – four months after taking office – was “very expansive, too large, too involved” came as something of a surprise since the same civil service had demonstrated with aplomb in the 1980s that it could more than handle the much larger and more complex ABC Highway.
One if left to wonder, first, if the new Government was aware of what it was getting into and if it did, why did it sign on; and second, if with hindsight we may now say that approach is similar to that taken with the flyovers project also known as Operation Free Flow.
As it is, the people who live in abject poverty in the two main target areas – Cats Castle and Greenfields, with about 100 families each – are condemned to eke out a miserable living in the kind of squalor that has no place in Barbados’ capital in the 21st century.
Frankly, I was not amused by the red herring drawn across this matter about land surveyors being afraid to work in those slum areas which evoked some tittering across the divide in the House of Assembly last Tuesday.
In the first place, neither district has the fearsome reputation for crime and violence of a Nelson Street or a Chapman Lane; yet the extensive resurveying that needed to be done could not be carried out because at least one worker was accosted and apparently refused to go back.
Bear with me. This is in a tourism-dependent island that once proudly told visitors there was nothing to fear here as there were joint Police/Defence Force patrols on the beaches to ensure their safety.
Indeed, if memory serves, when sugar was still king, similar joint patrols were in effect to quell the outbreak of fires in the cane fields.
Yet, we are being told that this Government could not get vital surveying work done to improve the lot of folk in the impoverished inner city districts, a stone’s throw away from what is still the main business and shopping centre in?Bridgetown (at least for the time being, Warrens notwithstanding).
Maybe I missed it, but I do not recall any Government spokesman definitively saying whether the BDS$80 programme, (a US$30 million loan with US$10 million local counterpart funding) was still active.
As originally conceived, its three primary objectives were: (i) neighbourhood upgrading; (ii) support for the production of affordable housing and (iii) institutional strengthening – (National Housing Corporation).
According to the loan document (No.1948/OC-BA) laid in the House, it included the improvement of several sites aimed at starting up a national neighbourhood upgrading programme, focused on periurban and rural areas; urban rehabilitation of the two inner city neighbourhoods within the downtown revitalisation area of Bridgetown.
“About 2000 families in about 30 sites are expected to benefit from upgrading solutions linked to the new national upgrading program(me),” the document said.
It spoke of remedying deficiencies or lack of at least two of the following basic services: street improvements, access both for pedestrians and emergency vehicles, sanitation, street lighting, refuse collection, flood protection, security of tenure, reduced fire risks and playgrounds and open spaces.
The IDB said the upgrading plan should not exceed US$8 000 per family.
What sounded like a complaint in the House was, for example, the requirement of Ministry of Housing and Lands approval and an IDB no-objection for any exceptions to that ceiling, along with some carping about the “special conditions”.
Other benefits included a subprogramme for $10 000 grants to about 600 families for home construction or improvement, which were to be offered as a financial package covering both technical assistance requirements as well as a construction subsidy.
In a recent update on what it termed an “ambitious” programme, the IDB said such an initiative was an ongoing, incremental process than required a comprehensive, multi-sectorial approach, simultaneously addressing several dimensions: social, physical, legal, financial, and environmental.
Furthermore, an effective institutional coordination and community involvement were essential for the success of such programmes.
It said main programme results included the provision of 122 subsidies for the purchase of new homes and 46 partial packages of technical assistance and subsidies for self-construction.
However, it the most recent Country Programme Evaluation (CPE) for 2010-2013, the IDB complained that its programme with Barbados “was characterised by a low level of evaluability, protracted execution, and few results”. 
Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent.


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