Senator hits boardwalk
SEAN DOUGLAS Sunday, May 13 2012
INDEPENDENT Senator, Dr James Armstrong, has hit out at the plastic boardwalk built over the beach at Williams Bay, Chaguaramas, that was recently launched by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Armstrong used last Tuesday’s Senate debate on a bill on the procurement of goods and services in the health sector to appeal for officials to do things in a proper manner.
Armstrong, a retired planner who has worked throughout the world, seemed to lament that the construction had obliterated the beach sand.
He began by telling Planning Minister, Dr Bhoe Tewarie, that he did not wish to rain on his parade, by saying that the boardwalk “looks good”.
The boardwalk is said to span 1,300 feet and to have cost $6 million, covering up the length of Williams Bay. The Chaguaramas Development Authority also plans boardwalks for nearby Tembladora and Alcan Bays.
However, Armstrong clearly had caveats to his initial praises.
“I have a problem with it, and again to me it is not thinking it through,” he said.
“The point here really is it seems to me that there is a certain amount of haste to do certain things, to build certain things and to pour concrete. You were not there at the time, but think for instance where you have that boardwalk, would it not have been better to leave the beach alone.”
Armstrong then lamented the country’s processes of procurement. He said the bill under debate, the Regional Health Authorities (Amendment) Bill, had led him to think about the situation of procurement in general in TT.
“And that is where I became extremely concerned,” he said.
“We have wasted much of the resources which we have had in this country. We have not had value for money, and that, in fact, is what is influencing my thinking and my approach to the consideration of this bill. We have had a situation where we have tried to circumvent proper procurement procedures, simply to achieve alternative ends quite apart from anything beneficial to the public.”
Armstrong bemoaned the creation of many special purpose companies, in his view very often done to circumvent procurement procedures.
“We have a Government, and then we created all these other units, and when you really look at the cost of government, it is a significant waste for a country of our size. It is a terrible situation that we are in, and I am extremely concerned with that.”
Armstrong pointed to Udecott.
“We have had the problem with Udecott, and I do not know that there has been any progress. We have had a commission of enquiry at significant cost with a number of recommendations made, 91, if I recall correctly, and I am not satisfied that anything has been done to implement those recommendations. But here it is we trying to now pass legislation to again deal with a procurement issue which would seek to centralise in a certain way, procurement in the health sector, and like some persons who spoke before me; I have some significant problems about that.”
Armstrong expressed concerns about a lack of local input into contracts awarded to foreign firms, and the resulting impact on local unemployment.
“More recently we heard of the University about to award contracts to a Chinese firm and immediately I said, ‘We are going down the same road again.’ We have decimated the construction sector in this country.”
He lamented that while TT’s unemployment rate now stands at five percent, among youth it is 16 percent.
“In some communities, indications are that it could be as high as 30 per-cent or even above with respect to youths in those communities,” hit Armstrong.
“Why then or how could it be that a State agency, an agency that is supported totally by the State, could proceed to procure services which would not take that into consideration? It is mind boggling!”
He also wondered where would 5,000 graduates from The University of the West Indies (UWI) each year, get jobs.
“So we are training persons and giving away the jobs which these people can do, and how is that possible? It is possible because the services which we are engaging; those persons are really circumventing our laws. If you look at the Chinese government, clearly we cannot compete against them, because they are breaking all of our labour laws. All!”
Armstrong gave an example of the frustrations of a patient by relating the woes of a woman cancer patient who was bounced around through the health system, public and private.
A doctor told her she needed radical surgery, and as she is a poor woman she said she’d do it in the Port-of-Spain General Hospital, but the doctor told her to do it privately.
“She went, because the lady does not want to die. So she went to the hospital and paid the hospital $12,000. That did not include the doctor’s fee. She paid the hospital $12,000, and the doctor said, ‘You will pay me separately. That is another payment.’”
Armstrong said the surgery did not go well. She was referred to another doctor.
“That other doctor said, ‘From what I see here, you got messed up. This was a botched job.’ Interestingly, that second doctor wrote a letter explaining the case, copied it to 17 other doctors, including the then minister of health. No response, nothing, but she is just struggling along,” related the Senator.
“She is then sent to the Lara Centre. I understand the Government is paying $8,000 per shot, $64,000 (total). There she received some treatment, and then this thing broke over radiation. She then goes back to another private doctor.” She went to a facility at St James for a CT scan. He concluded, “St James said, ‘Look, go to the Port-of-Spain Hospital, because we do not have that here. We cannot do it.’”
Independent Senator, Subhas Ramkhelawan, urged Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan to act against quacks who tout fake “miracle cures” to a gullible public.
“I would like to draw to the attention of the honourable Minister of Health, the con game that is going on in this society day by day on our radio and television. Con men come every day on the radio and speak of the miraculous cures which they can deliver to the gullible citizens of our country, and this cannot be allowed to continue,” Ramkhelawan said.
“Why are we allowing persons to say here is a miracle cure for diabetes, here is a miracle cure for cancer, here is a miracle cure for hypertension, and the Minister of Health does not get up and say anything about it?”
He urged Khan to “cure” the prevalence of such claims.
“The minister needs to take action now, because this thing is actually becoming a cancer in the society, a cancer of misinformation, a cancer of delusion ... Our most gullible citizens are falling prey to these con men, whatever the nature of the remedies which are being proposed on the radio and the television.”
Ramkhelawan said conmen are getting rich off the poor, the destitute, the gullible and nothing is being done about it. “If the minister will stand and claim eventually that there is no legislation to deal with these conmen, I want to assure the minister, if he brings legislation to this Senate, he will get unanimous support in dealing with these con men. I feel fully convinced that all the Members on the Independent Bench would support such legislation.”
He expected the Opposition to also back such legislation.
“Whatever it takes, you will get the support, do not let poor people, destitute people, weak people and gullible people be taken advantage of in the way they are being taken advantage,” implored Ramkhelawan.
“We see ‘testimonial’ every day from persons who suddenly become ‘cured’ over night. Having gone through the entire health system not being able to be cured, we are being told almost miraculously that ‘cure’ is taking place.
“I put it squarely on your shoulders, honourable Minister, bring that legislation quickly, for false advertising, against these con men and women of the day.”