Saturday, March 17, 2018

Where is the evidence, Mr Garcia?*

It would take more than a rhetorical question from Minister of Education Anthony Garcia to persuade this newspaper that sabotage is the reason for ill-functioning sewer systems in schools that have led to suspension of classes.

Mr Garcia convened a news conference on Monday, the sole purpose of which seemed to be the disclosure of photographs taken by a contractor assigned to repair the clogged sewer system at Balmain Presbyterian School which has been closed since February 19.

With no evidence to buttress his claims, Mr Garcia extended his sensational conclusion to the St Joseph's Girls RC Primary School and indeed other primary schools that have been experiencing breakdowns of their sewer systems. Both president of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) Lynsley Doodhai and former education minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh rubbished Mr Garcia's unsupported assumption.

Asked at the news conference whether he was suggesting sabotage, Mr Garcia responded, “What else can it be?” Rhetorical though his question might have been, it has already been answered by two people who should know. Having defended security arrangements in schools under his portfolio, Mr Garcia could at least have presented some evidence, at the very least, in the form of CCTV footage and/or reports from security personnel assigned to the schools in question.

Thereafter, an urgent report to the police would have removed the minister's commentary from the realm of sensational speculation and placed it within the boundaries of reasonable, evidence-based suspicion worthy of valuable police time.

This is not the first time the population has been subjected to unsubstantiated allegations of sabotage from Government front-liners who at the same time tout an evidence-based approach to governance. One month after the sudden departure of the Super Fast Galicia last year, Port chairman Alison Lewis told reporters she had decided to request a copy of a report alleging sabotage on the T&T Express.

At that time, million-dollar problems including salt water contamination of fuel, closure of valves to the sewerage pump which caused burn-out of the new pump, foreign bolts in the cylinder head and steering problems emanating from closure of valves on the steering system were identified as potentially the work of saboteurs. Little has been heard of this matter ten months later and no one has been held accountable.

A leaking sewer system and other water leaks at the newly-opened Brian Lara Cricket Academy at Tarouba in May last year were also boldly attributed to sabotage. UDeCOTT chairman Noel Garcia went so far as to compare it to “mindless terrorism”. In that instance, too, the controversial facility must have been equipped with security installations that could have been utilised to substantiate the sabotage allegation.

Mr Doodhai has presented alternative interpretations including the poor conduct of pupils and shoddy work by contractors. Dr Gopeesingh has added that some of these schools are old and fittings worn.

It would be advisable for Minister Garcia and his Government colleagues to demonstrate rational thinking by providing evidence for their conclusions and ensure investigation by law enforcement rather than veiled politicking at the expense of children's education.