THE GOVERNMENT in the Throne Speech marking the start of a new parliamentary year yesterday signalled its intention to lead a significant attack on crime and poverty through social intervention programmes in inner-city communities. Yet it will be constrained by the realities of the state of the country's economy.
We note, for example, that in the $358 billion estimates of expenditure tabled in the House of Representatives later in the afternoon, there is an 11.7 per cent increase in recurrent spending but a seven per cent cut in capital expenditure, while debt-servicing continues to take a big slice out of the budget.
However, as far as announcements go, the major social intervention project was one of the major highlights of the Speech delivered for the first time by Governor-General Professor Kenneth Hall. The country now awaits to hear the details of the funding of this US$32-million project and how it is to be implemented. Should this project get under way and be sustained over several years, it would go a far way in addressing the social dysfunction plaguing the country.
Among the critical areas to be tackled as noted in the Throne Speech are the provision of basic services including potable water, improving solid waste management and improving road infrastructure. While poor living conditions and lack of employment by themselves do not cause crime, their contribution to the stress of people's lives has been well established.
The bane of annual declarations of intent by the Government, however, is that grand announcements are often made but fail to materialise.
Then there was also this remarkable statement: "Universal Secondary Education will be achieved following the construction of eight new schools and the expansion of 27 others as they will result in the creation of 140,000 new places by September 2007." Since when does the availability of school places or buildings translate into real education? The country is already suffering from the blight of thousands of students either not attending classes or passing through the secondary school system for five years with many of them being barely literate and hardly numerate. More school places cannot mean universal education.
Another area of concern to a wide cross-section of the country has been the failings in the justice system and the slow enactment of long-promised legislation to bring about improvements. Apparently keenly aware of the public's expectation of improvement, the Government has promised to increase the rate of passage of legislation while giving due regard to the need to ensure that the 'finished product' is acceptable.
No doubt some of the plans and proposals will be altered to account for electioneering and natural disasters. In reality, the Government has little room to manoeuvre.
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