Governance and the small things
Guardian Associate Editor
Published: Sep 30, 2013
When we elect governments we all hope for transformative change. We hope that longstanding and deeply entrenched problems will be met with solutions.
While we dream of tax reform that lessens the burden on the people, and education reform that helps lift the standards of achievement of our struggling students, the day-to-day small things of governance are what we encounter most.
We want our garbage collected in a timely manner; we want water to come through the pipes when we try to take baths; we want the sides of our roads manicured and kept clean.
In recent times here in New Providence the government has been challenged with these simple things – simple things voters remember the most.
While it is commendable that our elected officials spend significant time courting investors with the aim of driving down our high unemployment rate, time and effort must also be spent on getting right the basic functions of a nation-state.
Our roadside forests
The New Providence Road Improvement Project transformed our main island. Before the project this island was made up of too many tiny congested roads. Going anywhere was a chore.
Since, navigating the island has been a pleasure. And much of the decades-old problem has been remedied. In recent months, however, the maintenance of the sides of these new roads and highways, and in the roundabouts, has been a problem.
Some of these areas now look like forests. The lack of attention has allowed small weeds to grow into small trees. In some of the roundabouts it seems as if you need a cutlass to help you travel from one side to the next. In some of the medians and verges the grass is high and thick, giving the impression that New Providence is an unkept island.
In recent days there has been some work to cut down some of our roadside forests. But where was this effort weeks and months ago? Why is it that such basic maintenance breaks down on such a basic issue as keeping the areas surrounding our roadways manicured?
Everyone can see the problem. But it sadly persists here before it is fixed.
Garbage collection raises the same issue. This summer some places went a month or more without waste being picked up. Residents had to complain to the media in the hope of embarrassing the government into ensuring collections.
The environment minister, Kenred Dorsett, said they no longer collect trash in New Providence. The whole effort has been outsourced to the private sector. That fact, though, does not absolve the government of its responsibility as regulator to ensure that the company or companies selected to do the work actually do it in a timely and satisfactory manner.
Why do we have to beg to have our garbage collected? Why do we have to call repeatedly so the truck remembers us the next time it passes our way?
Meanwhile, with all the trash that accumulated our national animal (the gray rat) feasted on the gifts we left outside.
Buildings, institutions and guarding our communities
The same lack of organization and focus that makes those things issues apply too to the maintenance of the buildings and institutions of our criminal justice system.
Within a month, infrastructure and human resources problems have shut down our magistrates’ courts. In the first instance court was canceled after a leaky roof resulted in severe flooding. Additionally, there were complaints that mold and mildew developed as a result of the problem.
On Friday, privately contracted stenographers at the magistrates’ court building shut down operations there over compensation issues.
Inadequate maintenance of a building and the inadequate oversight of contracted workers paused the system of justice at a time when every effort is being made to restore order to our streets.
The new crime-fighting plan was initiated for that very reason: to help restore order. What it is, and its necessity, however, further demonstrate the challenge we have with getting the small things right.
At the heart of the plan is a simple act: getting police officers on the streets to deter crime and to catch offenders in the act.
The force was remobilized. Those not on the frontline who were doing non-essential or sedentary tasks were sent to the streets. Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers were brought in to take over some of the sedentary tasks of police.
In just over two weeks the changes have had some effect. Rather than having a murder a day, which was essentially the case in the short period before the plan was launched, we have had only one recorded murder in just over two weeks.
Police are now consistently visible for the first time in a long, long time.
The accumulated effect of failure
In such a small place there is no need for so many of these small things to become big issues.
The inability to ensure school repairs over the summer at Stephen Dillet and Uriah McPhee primary schools is another example of our challenge in this regard.
The electorate grows weary and disillusioned with government when it is a frustration to receive the basic services tax dollars are supposed to ensure.
Our government would do well to reassess its performance with these small things. Improving the quality of service delivery in these minor ways collectively would improve the quality of life for so many in a major way.
No one wants to live in a country where you have to pray to God to have your garbage collected. No one wants to reelect a political party that has challenges with basic responsibilities while in government.