Post 394.

To financially-strapped states, public-private partnerships (PPPs) appear as a growing solution for providing technology, financing, infrastructure and services. Global case studies suggest they are a Trojan horse.

Their interlock with Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s fiscal strategy should provoke public conversation about each potential partnership and its implications, and send us to sharpen our knowledge of the impact of PPPs elsewhere in the world.

Caribbean feminist Peggy Antrobus brought this to my attention just two weeks ago, pointing to research by the feminist network, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), and suggesting we needed to bring the Caribbean into an ongoing global critique. Post-budget, it seems even more urgent.

Wherever you turn in the global South, civil society has hesitations about PPPs. These are long-term contracts, underwritten by government guarantees, where the private sector builds and implements projects or services traditionally provided by the State, such as hospitals, schools, roads, water, sanitation and energy. In our budget, PPPs will be used in agriculture, housing, energy and San Fernando’s waterfront development, but this is just a beginning.

Globally, they are considered another step in consolidating the influence of the corporate sector on the development agenda, giving private interests both more access and brokering power than civil society, whether at the UN General Assembly or national levels. They are bluntly called a tool of corporate capture of public policy, which promises increased productivity, growth, employment, food security, environmental sustainability and inclusion, but which instead increases extractivism, land and infrastructure grabbing, and inequality.

There’s so much backlash that, in October 2017, 152 civil society organisations, trade unions and citizen organisations from 45 countries launched a campaign manifesto to demand a moratorium on “the aggressive promotion and incentivising of PPPs” over “traditional public borrowing to finance social and economic infrastructure and services.” The lesson is not to be sweet-talked into a long-term strategy we have insufficiently examined.

Surveying DAWN’s resources shows that PPPs are considered to cost governments, and thus citizens, more in the long run, because states underwrite risks, and costs rise. There are examples from Lesotho, the UK and Liberia. What’s called “off-balance sheet” accounting can hide true costs of PPPs from national accounts. PPPs have generally failed to address an increasing divide between rich and poor, and gender gaps, as exemplified by Tanzania and India. They are considered to increase risks of corruption and reduce public transparency.

As the global campaign manifesto describes, “PPP contracts are extremely complex. Negotiations are covered by commercial confidentiality, making it hard for civil society and parliamentarians to scrutinise them,” especially without procurement legislation in place. Also, “PPPs can limit the capacity of governments to enact new policies – for example strengthened environmental or social regulations – that might affect particular projects,” with examples from Australia, Brazil and the Philippines. Finally, they are considered to result in wrecking of habitats, displacement of communities and abuse of protesters. None of this would be surprising here and our planned mega-projects, including the port in Toco, could see exactly some of these outcomes.

Clauses can make governments compensate private interests for changes in laws that impact projects, even when they are meant to protect citizens. In another example, clauses could require governments to compensate the private sector for workers’ strikes, pressuring states to use security forces against workers even with legitimate demands. Even speaking from a better regulated political economy than our own, the European Court of Auditors 2018 report was entitled “Public Private Partnerships in the EU: Widespread shortcomings and limited benefits.”

With regard to gender equality, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network essentially says to mash brakes. First, data (including from the World Bank) doesn’t suggest that PPPs effectively address gender inequalities. Second, new or increased user fees of previously public services may increase, more greatly affecting women who, inevitably, predominate in the lowest paid sectors of the economy. Finally, as happened in Portugal, when governments have to pay the bill of failed PPP projects, “women are disproportionately impacted, either through increases in their unpaid work or cuts in their public sector employment.”

With what economists describe as little fiscal space, or what others describe as mauby pockets, we have to protect every dollar. It may seem like we are “maximising finance for development,” following World Bank mantra, but we have learned over decades of structural adjustment policies that liberalisation of economies can cost the most vulnerable in ways now familiar to us in the region. Be aware. At this time, we cannot be complacent.

Post 231.

In 1492, the current world order was established. The Caribbean was ground zero. Dispossession of indigenous peoples was the first founding act. Today, we in Trinidad all live on occupied land.

Across the Americas, indigenous sovereign nations, still living under (post)colonial rule, continue to challenge and refuse a global political economy built on invasion, decimation and extraction.

Indigenous people didn’t become extinct. They don’t belong to a time past, and their systems of governance, economic management and ecology are not quaint or outdated.

Indeed, indigenous communities across the Americas are at the forefront of waging struggles against corporate capitalism’s state-managed privatization of water and destruction of forests, precisely because they have kept alternatives alive all these centuries.

As you read, remember Indigenous Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres, assassinated just this year for her defiance to mining and logging concessions and proposed dams.

Movements such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, now more than thirty years strong, offer real, living examples of dignity, autonomy and justice in which we can all find new forms of order, labour and exchange.

Given that indigenous people are still here, their claims to repatriation of land remain as valid in 2016 as they did in 1493. For them, colonization isn’t an event that happened, it’s a structure that organizes their lives today, as it does ours. Let us not feign innocence about our own entanglement in the continued disruption that occurs in indigenous people’s lives from the violation and violence of such occupation.

What does this mean for Africans, Indians and others in the Caribbean, who, by force and suffering, had to establish our belonging over time by coming to see ourselves as ‘indigenous’ to this region? How do our claims currently and wrongly displace Indigenous people themselves? How does our affirmation of our humanity maintain an imperial legacy?

This is an even more important question for those of us involved in social justice work. For, our legal and cultural investments in UN rights conventions, nation-state law, and democratization of land ownership (such as the Occupy movement in the Americas), all entrench settler colonialism, both others’ and our own. What, then, is our accountability to Caribbean indigenous people’s sovereign right to self-determination?

These are not intellectual musings, but real political questions. For a generation of Caribbean young people who, for the first time in history, are experiencing biodiversity and climate changes that may not be reversed within their lifetimes, alternatives to business as usual are evermore urgent.

That model, established in and expanded from this region, is not all that is on offer, and it no longer offers us what our futures fundamentally we need. This generation of Caribbean children can and eventually must move us from resistance to transformation. That shift requires us to decide what life and justice look like beyond the selves, narratives, relations, structures and possibilities built, like a chain link fence around us, since 1492.

There is no lack of realism here. Rather, there is clear gaze on a global political-economy that is neither timeless nor inevitable. There is clear reading of our potential choices in this place and time. Yet, having had fires of hope mashed down to ash from 1962 to 2015, many adults’ crumpled cynicism no longer remembers or prioritizes the necessity of upcoming Caribbean generations’ truly, globally, decolonial dreams.

No liberatory changes are possible without a vision beyond what is currently dominant, yet unsustainable. This generation needs radically transformative ideals as much as the clean air and water that adults have failed to sufficiently fight for. It needs world changing politics, and the life force of big collective and long-term ideas and movements, not merely individual and immediate workforce skills.

Why Trinidad and Tobago rather than Kairi? Why British government structures? Why shouldn’t we found just models for the world when an unjust model for the world was founded here from 1492?

We live amidst cosmologies that are deeply Caribbean, and must stop seeing our history as beginning and our futures ending with colonization. Colonization, here, isn’t a metaphor. It’s the governing principle under which indigenous people dream of land, life and solidarity. Engaging each other to imagine freedom outside of colonial terms is ethical, urgent and necessary.