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 355.

Vincentian feminist Peggy Antrobus once told me that women can have it all, just not at the same time. There are life stages, she cautioned, and knowing your stage grounds your choices.

The thing about elder wisdom is that you don’t necessarily agree until you reach the life stage where you do. In the meantime, you debate the advice you get and, as they say, hold a meditation about its relevance and worth.

Over the last year, I’ve been wondering if indeed Peggy’s right. I’ve discovered that, not only is it not possible to have it all, but that the choices you make determine the next stage, foreclosing options, and that widespread expectations of womanhood and motherhood are not incidental to these choices. The ‘all’ isn’t about having money, luxury and leisure, it’s about basics that women have a right to, such as both family and a career.

As I’ve become more responsible for Ziya as a working mother, I’ve become more aware of the job sacrifices I’m making, my lower expectations for my abilities, and reduced capacity for leadership.

This is common for professional women in their forties, who are primary carers of their children at the same time that they are in their most important years for professional advancement. Every ambition has its costs and you start aiming for what’s merely realistic as if schoolgirls’ aspirations are just a modern fairy tale.

In making these choices, I’ve become more attentive to the older women around me; the ones who delayed achieving their degrees until after their children grew up, the ones who took less demanding jobs so that they could get home earlier, the ones who start their work day at 4am so that they can do school pick up at 2.30, the ones who took on three jobs despite the extra exhaustion so that they could pay for extra-curricular activities, and the ones who reliably go to pediatricians, parent-teacher meetings and counseling sessions with their children knowing that their best chances for development and emotional resilience have to be planned, communicated, managed and honestly reflected upon.

The very women who can’t have it all are simultaneously at the center of making so much happen, like magicians coordinating a whirlwind, at risk to their sanity, self-care and self-definition. I’m not saying that dads are not important. I’m just saying that the unequal burden of care is real and it’s at the heart of a life stage many women reach.

Working mothers, whether on their own or not, often have to be on top of all the details, from Diwali and Christmas concert contributions to knowing where the uniforms are for each week, and the mental room this takes up is taken for granted whether they work in KFC or have PhDs.

Looking on, we often say to ourselves, I don’t know how she does it.

I’ve listened more for the everyday sacrifices; in health, in self-confidence, in savings, in sleep, in dreams. I deepened appreciation for the crucial role of women’s sisters, mothers, neighbours, children’s friends’ mothers, long-lasting friends, and compassionate co-workers.

Working mothers depend on understanding, encouragement, help, patience and time from a widespread network just to get their family through each day. Women everywhere could barely achieve what they do without the other women who invest in enabling them to.

I always saw these women around me, fitting the common character of the strong Caribbean mother, without really seeing their inner lives, difficult decisions, necessary relationships or wearying stories. Now that I live it, who feels it knows.

In a sense, I have had to decide what I want to excel at, what I am prepared to do my best at, however badly, and what I simply won’t accomplish this month or year or the next. The consequences are ones that will settle into experiences of acceptance and regret that accumulate with age.

In having to spend more time with my daughter this year because that’s the life stage she is in, I have come to recognize that motherhood means her needs determine my life stage for me. All further decisions follow, however this sets other achievements back.

It’s not a complaint, it’s an adjustment to embrace, like a soucouyant who would forever soar the night skies in fire if only daylight didn’t compel her into the confines of her skin. Daybreak has brought knowing what it means to sacrifice for your child as a life stage and as more than a line women so often say.