Club Soda and Salt

No more stains

On our latest white elephant

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on November 13, 2009

One thing that seems to me to distinguish good governance from bad is an understanding that cities and countries are built on communities, not on buildings. Infrastructure is essential, of course, but investments need to serve people, not egos, and therein lies the trap for a poorly governed and generally insecure nation – providing people with water and electricity and telecommunications and efficient transportation and public spaces that invite rather than exclude isn’t sexy business, and rarely produces spectacular results that you can easily point to. And that’s how you end up with Sydney Opera House look-alikes in a country where 600 people are killed every year, and where only a lucky (and rich) few have a 24-hour water supply. Because opera houses are sexy, even if only a tiny portion of the population will even get to see the inside of this monstrosity.

And the media coverage just makes me more depressed. Instead of calling out the corruption and labour abuses that were behind this building’s construction, we get fawning articles interviewing easily-fooled bystanders, like this from the Express:

Citizens from all walks of life flocked yesterday evening to the National Academy for the Performing Arts at the Princes Building grounds, Queen’s Park West, Port of Spain, where they looked on in awe at the massive structure.

Many of them milled around the compound with their families looking on at the ’dancing fountains’ which moved synchronously with the music that blasted from speakers outside the building.

There was an air of excitement all through the evening and generally people seemed pleased with what they saw. Some expressed the view that their tax dollars had been well spent.

Really? Tax dollars well spent when people still don’t have water, and the police still don’t have cars? Are these people mad? I hope they at least had the decency to cringe when they read the article the next day. And don’t tell me that this is about investing in the arts either:

[Manning] teased the ’doubting Thomases’ in the country who he said, never believed that they would live to see such a ’magnificent structure’ in Trinidad and Tobago.

Click through and read the article, and count the number of references to actual uses of the building, rather than boasts about the building itself. This is about egos, not art. And again, I don’t know whether the Express is full of sycophants or just plain ignoramuses, but this had me doing a spit take:

There was vindication over his strategy of using UDeCOTT, its executive chairman Calder Hart and Chinese contractors, such as Shanghai Construction Group, in pursuing Government’s massive construction programme; and pride over what this has accomplished thus far.

Vindicated by what? A pretty building? Fountains? Are they serious? I wonder if the indentured labourers living in 19th century conditions in Caroni who we forced to build this feel vindicated too?


One Response to “On our latest white elephant”

  1. […] is an understanding that cities and countries are built on communities, not on buildings”: Club Soda and Salt comments on Trinidad and Tobago's “latest white elephant”. Cancel this […]

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