Agriculture Minister’s statements on TV programme were not convincing

Dear Editor,

‘Under the Microscope‘ is the name of a TV programme on which the Minister of Agriculture appeared distinctly oblivious of being under the microscope of facts better known to several listeners than he pretended to be.

One hastens to congratulate the young interviewer who refused to be mesmerised by the irrelevance of a fictionalised history of drainage systems going back to ‘the colonial era’ of this country.

This type of retrospective, forgivable amongst novelists, was in this instance painted in watered-down colours on a canvas currently overtopped by floods of the current administrative era.

From the reference made to Cheddi Jagan’s 1950s vision for drainage, one wondered about the speaker’s age at the time; the audience he was targeting; and finally about the specific dates the range of improved drainage works were effected: Manaribisi; Dawa; Torani Canal; Black Bush Polder, to name a few.

Interestingly, particular mention was made of the MMA scheme not being completed during the whole period 1977-1992, when drainage systems were reported to have been palpably neglected, the vegetated outlets subsequently had to be cleared by the administration which followed from 1992. However, one does not recall mention of the incidence of floods during this particular period.

Full credit was taken for the substantial drainage and irrigation improvements undertaken, including the replacement of “non-functional pumps“ which “have worked optimally“ since, even though the evidence of actual flooding controverts this assertion.

When invited to comment on why, despite billions said to have been invested since 1992 in correcting the engineering and maintenance deficiencies, the response harked back to the system’s original capacity to drain only 1½″ every 24 hours, so that were not the systems working as well as now claimed, the flooding would have been “much worse,“ at the same time gesticulating up to the neck (which it actually was for so many farmers).

However, brought to his attention, a more expert observer than the Minister had this to say:

“a) The 1.5 inches index of rainfall per 24 hours was supposed to be in reference to storms of 4 or more days duration giving 1.5 inch precipitation every day and not to take 1.5 inch to two day duration which would lead to substantial flooding, in isolation.

“b) The drainage should not collapse if 3 inches fell in one day and .5 inch fell the next day giving 3.5 inches in two days.

“c) The system should be able to remove this amount of water with minimal flooding.

“d) This is not happening, especially on the East Coast where flooding continues for weeks after a few days of rainfall, pointing clearly to serious deficiencies in the drainage system. So as presently operational the system is not working well.”

One strained to hear any commentary on the technical competence, or otherwise, with which the East Demerara Water Conservancy was recently upgraded (?), given the enormous expenditure related to this project.

It was carefully explained that the National Drainage & Irrigation Authority (NDIA) was responsible not only for the formulation of policy, but also for the overall supervision of the operations of pumps and sluices falling within the respective jurisdictions of the following, amongst others:

Mahaica/Mahaicony/Abary Agriculture Development Authority (MMA/ADA); GuySuCo; municipalities; regional administrations; neighbourhood democratic councils.

Not unexpectedly the malfunctioning city council came in for harsh criticism, with only one of its five pumps being operational during the recent flood, even though at the same time the NDIA was identified as responsible for at least two of the pumps. Apparently also, most of its eleven sluices were also defective.

When the young interviewer incisively enquired what remedial action is being taken and/or contemplated when the responsible parties, including pump operators and sluice attendants, were found delinquent in the execution of their duties, the Minister’s blandly enunciated judgement was to “terminate“ the services of the latter, while pointedly ignoring the interviewer’s suggestion that the performance of the management and supervision involved should also be held open to sanction.

One other ingredient was lacking in the discourse and that was of relevant statistical data of rainfall trends, if only to support some of the rationalisations attempted.

One hopes that in the midst of his pontifications (and perambulations) the Minister would have reflected on the real possibility of many others off screen sharing the interviewer’s lack of conviction.

Yours faithfully,
E B John

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