Penny wise, pound foolish
All too often one has been hearing the saying, “A penny wise and a pound foolish”. What this really speaks to is someone going all out to save a penny but the cost of saving that penny has been a pound. Guyana has been the victim of the pennywise pound foolish syndrome to the extent that it is hurting the country more than anything else.
The Skeldon estate modernization programme is only one. From the outset there was talk that a lot is not right. People in the know saw the faults and cried out. The government decided that it would press ahead with other aspects because there was a default liability period. Four years later the fault remains and Skeldon is a hopeless waste of time and energy. It is also a waste of sugar cane because it uses much more cane to make a tonne of sugar that any of the other sugar estates. Even the condemned estate turned out to more efficient than the new Skeldon factory.
We tried to be penny wise when we sought to investigate the deal that permitted Omai Gold Mines to operate in Guyana. The then President Cheddi Jagan decided that Guyana under the People’s National Congress had undersold the rights to the gold. After the investigation the government was remarkably quiet.
It took a lot of pressure to get President Jagan to release the findings of his investigation to the National Assembly. The findings were that Guyana actually got a better than expected deal. It was the same thing with the sale of what was then Guyana Telecommunications Corporation. Again it was felt that the corporation had been undersold. Once more an investigation was launched.
We saw more of this behaviour when President Jagan with support from Prime Minister Sam Hinds, suggested that the loans secured by the PNC administration to construct the Essequibo Coast Road and to resurface the Soesdyke/Linden Highway were too large, that Guyana did not want to create additional expenses to add to its large debt.
Today, the nation has regrets about both roadways. The Essequibo road in the first instance took an inordinately long time to be completed. It took three contractors, one of whom had to be taken to the courts and had its equipment forfeited. That road is a far cry from what it should have been. To make the situation worse, the government has had to spend even more money on that road to the extent that some believe that the total cost was more than the contract the PNC negotiated.
The most glaring of the penny wise pound foolish syndrome involves the Soesdyke/Linden Highway. When the highway was commissioned in 1968 the contractors said that it was intended to last for twenty years. They had calculated the traffic, made allowance for the growth in traffic and for vehicles of increasing weights.
At the end of the twenty years the PNC government set about soliciting money to do an extensive rehabilitation of the road. This project would have seen the resurfacing of this road but Prime Minister Sam Hinds followed President Cheddi Jagan and said that the money was too much; that all Guyana wanted was money to do some patching.
We have patched and repaired sections to the extent that some people have died while negotiating these sections. When the road was first built the contractors took into consideration the rainfall and the need for emergency parking.
Fortunately the emergency parking slots remain but the signs proclaiming these have fallen down due to the absence of maintenance. But it is the inability to keep water off the road. After a period of rainfall there are large puddles of water which could cause vehicles to hydroplane. This is certainly what the government did not contemplate when it opted to be penny wise and pound foolish.
Sadly, the government has also not seen it fit to protect the lives of those that ply the highway, portions of which have collapsed. One must wonder why?