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A school costs $23 million – HOGWASH!

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I was glad to hear remarks recently from a few persons (3 actually) about my writings. All of them, in different ways, say that my writings are out of touch with our reality. One brother put it this way: “If you were overseas, the kinds of things you write, you would be making it big.” With different words, picking different themes, same message, you are out of touch here.{{more}} So, I listen and try to learn. Now, after having written a short series on Emancipation and I will tell you, some of it is not well written, (it is too turgid and I apologise to SEARCHLIGHT), the next few articles will different. They will not start with what I have in my heart, but with what I am hearing, seeing, smelling and mashing on the ground. This short series of articles will be called “Hogwash”.

HOGWASH has its uses

Let us describe hogwash as what you get when you clean out a pig pen. About 30 years ago, the RTC (Rural Transformation Collective) did a trial project. We sealed up about 50 gallons of hogwash tight in a homemade tank for a month, then released the gas it produced gently through a valve and put match to it. The methane gas (C H4) burned bright and hot. The hogwash had been “digested” by bacteria to produce mainly a hydrocarbon gas that could be lit and a dregs that was richer in nitrogen than before and could be used as manure. We must treat hogwash correctly, for it to be useful.

The NBC newscast deliberately sprayed a touch of hog wash on my ears on Monday, August 5, 2011. It was an extract from a political meeting of the ruling Unity Labour Party, and I report, as follows, what hit me.

There is a brand new secondary school ready this year in West St. George. If you think the school you have at Peter’s Hope is lovely, well, this one is lovelier still. It cost $23 million dollars to build. The money to build it came mainly from a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and we had to find a last $4 million to give the Chinese (Beijing) company to finish it. The West St George community now has the best secondary school in the State.

The statement that I just reported above is not really unusual. I believe that it would make persons in the West St. George communities feel good to have the best secondary school in the land after long years of nothing much. The Barrouallie listeners at the meeting might feel a little bit jealous themselves for now placing second in the ‘best dressed’ school competition. Why then, did those remarks make my belly feel sick and my mind want to vomit? Hogwash does that to me; it destabilizes me.

Come with me and let us pass in at the Girls’ High School. The driveway, the lawn and the cluster of buildings constructed during three (3) different centuries may not be ugly, but they can’t win any loveliness contest. They’re too jumbled up and they don’t look sexy or secure. But it is what goes on in a school that counts, and that is what the West St. George community should begin to examine and concern itself about. The Parent Teachers Associations and the emerging tradition of the West St. George School must look beneath and within the beauty of the plant, and the finishings and equipment, to help mould a school of excellent culture and enviable performance. The millions of dollars are a distraction and if one focuses on that, it can lead the school to degenerate into a ‘whited sepulchre’.

No School should cost $23 million

The truth that I represent is this: no school in SVG at this time should cost 23 million to build. That is extravagant, indecent, pomposity that smells of egomenial hogwash and multi-layered irresponsibility. Am I against education? No way; in fact, as far back as 1973, I agreed with Ralph Gonsalves, who wrote from Uganda to say “Comrade, the two pillars of our future development in St. Vincent have to be education and agriculture/production.” Slicing 10 million dollars from the cost of a secondary school is a responsible, insightful and sustainable way to go in education and it is no degradation of the provision of education to do so.

Clearly, while Prime Minister Gonsalves must take final blame for this kind of mis-leadership, we must also investigate the other planning and financing agencies, who either push or assent to this kind of excess in our State. Education authorities might have less say than they should, since planning for education is in the Finance Ministry. Do the competent staffs of the EPMU in the finance ministry only take orders, or do they also propose the best way to make a vision become a school? Does the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) impose this kind of extravagant project on us, or does it raise questions about a project’s viability in our financial circumstances? Do the companies that compete for the building of schools look for such terms that they can use to push the costs higher? Do we citizens have to be the end of the need consumers of whatever the other players deliver to us?

Hogwash must receive its proper treatment. I would like to see an enquiry being commissioned to look into the processes that led to this school being constructed for $23 million. It will guide us well when another school is to be built; it will show is who and what went wrong or right. It will prove hogwash.

The next time that we spend $23 million or more on an education plant, let us look forward to the 1st stage of the full-fledged University of the West Indies (UWI) SVG campus, perhaps the agribusiness faculty.

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