Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados TODAY Inc.
by Trevor Browne
“After decades of being categorised as ‘under-developed’, in the last 30 years or so, China has been largely run by engineers and practical scientists. Today, it is the place where the world goes for ’solutions’.” It has to be a matter of serious concern that practically every single area of social development seems to be mired in a quagmire of disfunction, ineptitude, inefficiency and disrepair. Critical sectors such as;
• Crime, Law and Justice
• Economic performance & enfranchisement (at all levels except the super wealthy)
• National infrastructure like roads, utilities, sewerage
• Transportation systems
• Health Services and well-being (both physical and mental)
• Disaster preparedness and risk management
• Education and youth development
• National social development among others, all appear to be in permanent chaos.
Frankly, the sad state of these and other critical areas of national development – not only locally, but almost universally across our world, suggest that we are all missing some vital common root issue, and as a result, have been merely fighting fires and treating symptoms instead of problem-solving. When resources are liberally allocated to fire-fighting the obvious result will be increasing fires; decreasing resources; and a loss of focus on the actual strategic goals.
What are we trying to achieve?
As a very basic rule of thumb, logical decision-making must always start with the question; “What exactly are we seeking to achieve?” Just as any meaningful journey always commences with a destination in mind, the concept of ‘success’ only has meaning if there exist a specific performance target against which actual results can be measured.
It is abundantly clear that our national development planning, and our problem-solving have not been benefitting from this well documented and clearly established strategic process. A classic case in point is the Barbados National Energy Policy 2019-2030. (BNEP)
This is a highly visionary and futuristic national policy which has been enthusiastically endorsed by all political groups and governments in Barbados over the past decade.
Indeed, the current government accelerated the timeframe from a 2037 target date to a much more aggressive 2030 target completion back in 2019. In her most recent statement on the policy however, PM Mottley was clearly (and correctly) setting the groundwork to announce that this project is woefully off target and nowhere near to even the original 2037 projected schedule.
Why the failure?
A simple SWAT review will show that the BNEP comes with phenomenal strengths and opportunities for Barbados.
• Hundreds of millions in potential foreign exchange savings annually
• Creation of an indigenous energy market with potential value in the billions annually
• Productive investment opportunities of $5 Billion
• Improved resilience in our energy supplies
• Unlimited opportunities for local entrepreneurship At the same time, as we should expect, the weaknesses and threats associated with the BNEP are significant and dangerous.
• Possible significant disruptions to the current electricity system reliability
• Possible conflict with current stakeholders over stranded assets etc.
• Significant technological challenges associated with the innovative changes planned
• Lack of local knowledge resources (since EMERA now owns our traditional local experts)
• The threat of take-over and exploitation by large international players even if ‘successful’.
So then how have we gone about executing this $5 billion dollar re-invention of our fundamental national power framework? We are now into year three of the10-year timeframe, and to date, BAPE has not been able to solicit from anyone a detailed plan for the project.
• What will it look like?
• How will it be configured?
• How will it seek to deal with contingencies such as nighttime loads?
• What role exactly will locals play in the new framework?
• How will a possible storm impact the new framework?
• What will the energy rates be like?
If we were constructing a simple three-story building anywhere in Barbados, then the builders would have had to produce (and have approved) detailed architectural and engineering drawings and plans prior to the commencement of any such project. Yet we are able to find ourselves three full years into a $5 billion dollar remake of a fundamental national essential service and yet no such plan seems to exist.
Even worse, what we have been seeing instead, are clear attempts to exploit the ‘strengths and opportunities’ of the BNEP, by rushing into solar installations and other RE projects – without any coincident consideration of the liabilities attached – such as storage requirements, system stability, reliability, and overall system coordination. How will such arbitrary, unplanned, and uncoordinated upfront installations being built by these various players fit together in an overall national plan? This is like a potential homeowner running around buying up wood, blocks nails and cement without having a plan in hand that details how much, and what quality of these components will be required to produce the desired results.
A failure to plan is a clear plan to fail.
It should have been obvious from the very start that the BNEP was destined to be a failure without a clear, detailed and well thought out Plan and strategy. It speaks to the PM’s acumen that she appears to be among the first to recognise this inevitability.
Unfortunately, the BNEP is typical of the level of “national planning” we are seeing in practically all areas – and therefore the results that have become routine.
Our South Coast Sewerage Project has been a regular subject of BAPE’s critique for its obvious lack of clear strategic planning – based on Root-Cause Analysis. From all reports, we now appear to be close to repeating the same mistake which we made back with the original project, where the project was conceived and build around the available funds which we were able to borrow – rather than on an analysis of what is actually required, appropriate and effective from economic, technical and functionality perspectives.
Problem-solving is not intuitive
Engineering is said to be the world’s second oldest profession. No one disputes that the process of perpetuating the human species has to take pride of place. However the ability to effectively, efficiently, economically and safely solve the complex challenges that face humanity has always been recognised as the number two requirement for success.
‘Engineers’ have always been those members of a society who are educated, trained, experienced and responsible enough to provide solutions to the complex threats and challenges faced by human societies. Such threats have become unprecedentedly dangerous in today’s complex, interconnected, highly technological and deadly world.
A very simple look at the world of 2021 will demonstrate the very stark difference between those societies that trust their engineers with such responsibilities and those that do not.
After decades of being categorised as “under-developed”, in the last 30 years or so, China has been largely run by engineers and practical scientists. Today, it is the place where the world goes for solutions. Barbados is currently in that long queue, for solutions to our National Stadium, sewerage project and hotel sector among others – while we have hundreds of our own trained problem-solvers just sitting around unused or underused, as these and other national challenges continue to cry out for sensible solutions.
The initial common root-cause of many of our current ailments in Barbados then, is that we are currently bypassing our trained problem-solvers, in favour of short term political leaders who, for the most part would not recognise a root cause analysis unless it was making a political donation, and whose selections for leadership are gained by making baseless promises and conceiving grandiose policies such as the BNEP and SCSP, but with no real expectations of achievement.
Many of our government agencies actually employ highly trained and competent engineers, but have chosen to use them principally as ‘Technical Officers’ whose main role appears to be to help the un-initiated political leaders to speak coherently as they address complex issues that are way beyond their competence.
In the final analysis modern problem-solving requires comprehensive technical management and leadership to address these complex challenges, rather than politically driven decision-making.
This has become critically important as the challenges that we face have become more serious and more technical; and the resources available to us are increasingly scarce. The consequences of ignoring this reality are dire, and the answer is not to work ‘harder’ at the failed strategy, but to address the root cause..
Trevor Browne is Chairman – Council of Caribbean Engineering Organisations (CCEO) and President – Barbados Association of Professional Engineers (BAPE)