It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the simple planning capacity of the public service has become seriously degraded. Of course it is true that we don’t have the quality of personnel currently in the system that used to be available – or at least, not in the numbers they once were – and we also have very few people who are familiar with the methods and approaches employed in the past to get an assignment done efficiently. This was a problem for the last government during its more than two decades in power, but it applies even more in the case of this one.
People might not know too much about what happens behind a ministry’s screen of concealment, and to what extent its personnel muddle through on day-to-day tasks, but all is exposed the minute a misguided or poorly implemented decision affects the public at large. More recently the authorities stumbled over a simple matter like the site of the flag-raising ceremony for the Independence celebration. First it was going to be Stabroek Market Square, then the Parade Ground and now it is to be D’Urban Park.
While it was good that the powers-that-be had a rethink about the Stabroek Square decision, one wonders what prevented them from considering all the objections to the site before they backtracked. The Town Clerk explained that logistical issues, such as the relocation of buses and taxis and the disruption to vendors, not forgetting the massive clean-up and remedial work which would have been necessary before the square could be used, were some of the factors which had caused them to change their minds. Those are the things, one would have thought, one examines before making a decision and announcing it to the public, not afterwards.
After citizens raised their voices in criticism, the Parade Ground was suggested by the team charged with settling on a location, but apart from the cleaning up which would be necessary here too, it appears that the matter of the weather came up, since even more than in the case of the square, patrons would be completely exposed to the elements if it rained. That idea too, therefore, was abandoned.
So now we’ve ended up at D’Urban Park, which, leaving aside the scandal of its construction, provided the venue for the Junior Minister of Education to put on display some execrably bad planning last year. So why wasn’t that chosen in the first place? There has been no public explanation, but Stabroek News was given to understand that it was thought the crowd would be much smaller than the one which congregated in 2016 to celebrate what was an important milestone.
So we have the appearance, at least, of a high-level team comprising representatives from the M&CC, the Ministry of the Presidency, the Ministry of Communities, the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Department of Culture and the Guyana Fire Service taking a counter-rational decision in the first instance to avoid the obvious site because they were afraid the crowd size might look too meagre. As things stand now, however, a show is to be provided, so that might attract the numbers.
But all of that was minor in comparison with what happened along the East Coast Highway on Thursday. ANSA McAl had made a gift of an Independence Arch to be erected over the eastern approach to Georgetown, and the Ministry of Public Infrastructure in its wisdom decided to close the Rupert Craig Highway from the UG access road to the Ogle airstrip road from 9 am to midnight to facilitate its installation.
As is now well known, this caused a back-up of traffic along the East Coast road, and eventually a logjam in the small streets in Cummings Lodge and Industry where some enterprising drivers had diverted in an attempt to evade the tailback. In addition, there was a build-up of traffic on the Embankment road as far as Plaisance. This was in a context where a section of the Embankment road is closed in any case because of the ongoing repairs to the Liliendaal bridge, and traffic that normally utilizes that thoroughfare all the way into or out of Georgetown, now has to reroute to the Rupert Craig Highway, making that road much busier than normal in any case.
It was also in a context where the hours chosen encompassed the afternoon – and to some extent the morning ‒ rush hour; a period of exams, both for the University of Guyana and CXC; and the times of scheduled flights out of Guyana from Ogle. This is not forgetting the inconvenience to drivers who might miss important appointments or who had urgent business to transact, or emergencies for the police or Fire and Ambulance Departments. After all, this is not an area which offers alternative routes in such circumstances; the East Coast corridor is all there is. As it was, an ambulance with a patient was snarled up in the traffic.
Angry drivers and their passengers imprisoned in the queues of vehicles vented their fury on social media, and Minister David Patterson walked along the line to see what was happening. As a consequence, the road was reopened around 2pm, thereby obviating the unimaginable nightmare which would have ensued had the work continued into the afternoon rush hour.
Now one might have thought that the planners would have taken all of this into account. They knew about the major work on the Liliendaal bridge, and they would have known about passengers’ need to check into flights on time; in addition, since this is May, they should have known about the exams. Furthermore, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to take into account the issue of emergencies, such as the importance of speedy access to a major fire, where extra help has to summoned from the city, for instance. Had they done so, they would have amended the hours for the arch to be erected to a weekend, perhaps, or even the night time.
The last option was discounted, this newspaper reported, because of safety concerns for those working on the installation, but what about the weekend? It would appear that the extra rush was caused by the Anthony Sabga Awards ceremony held last night, when about 45 people were flying in for the occasion, and ANSA McAl wanted all the executives present when the arch was inaugurated. It was Sabga, who died recently, who convinced the company to fund the arch, Managing Director of ANSA McAl Beverly Harper said.
While this obviously would be desirable, it cannot override a cool-headed analysis by the local authorities of the likely consequences of the daytime closure of the road, which, it must be said, were all too obvious, even to a layperson. It is another case of planners allowing social considerations to over-ride practical issues, and plain old common sense.