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CEPEP/URP workers to receive training
Trade union leaders are being cautioned against making foreplay before getting into bed with the opposition People’s National Movement. In sounding this warning, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal claims the PNM is a dangerous animal to play with. Moonilal also speaks of strides made and those still to be made with respect to boosting the housing stock.
Q: Mr Minister, are you pleased with your budgetary allocation for the ensuing fiscal year?
A: (At his HDC office Wednesday afternoon) Yes. We are very pleased that we have maintained a significant amount of resources for housing. It has been increased somewhat and it is not only for housing—it is also for CEPEP ($450 million), Udecott and EMBD. The Minister of Finance has proposed a training incentive, an allowance, for the private sector that can absorb employees of CEPEP/URP, which have seen an inter-generational transfer of poverty with low skills and at times low productivity.
Isn’t that an indication that successive governments have failed these people, in that they have not taken them out of this kind of dependency syndrome?
You have people in vulnerable employment positions and we have said in our manifesto that we would do more to empower them and get them into more productive employment. Today we are now proposing this allowance, and I think if we can make that movement it would augur well for productivity, and certainly more people would come into both programmes.
Getting more people into these programmes...shouldn’t it be getting them out of that situation?
Well, what you have to do is use URP and CEPEP for small-scale projects as beautification and environmental upgrade, but also to ensure that desperate and needy persons get short term employment and they can move to more permanent, sustainable, productive jobs in the private sector. And I think that is the objective.
Is it safe to say, Dr Moonilal, that this new initiative is the beginning of the end of URP and Cepep as we know them?
Well it will not bring them to an end but what can happen is that changing and rolling over and rotating workers so that people do not spend their entire employment life in these programmes.
I am sure, Mr Minister, you will agree that after this terrible crime siutation the second most pressing challenge facing the country is the acute shortage of our housing stock?
Sure. You are correct, and this is why in the budget there is a lot of emphasis on home construction. Over the years several things have happened, including a sort of crowding-out of the private sector in terms of building houses for sale. That happened because the State ramped up construction and then the cost of construction materials went up.
The PNM went on a 10,000-units-a-year proposal but 9,000 were badly built and the cost of doing repair jobs is exorbitant and the PNM stock left us with a high cost to pay and also to sell, so that today many low-income workers cannot afford the units that they want in the public sector.
So what is this administration doing about this clearly unstable position?
What we are doing, Clevon, is allowing the ordinary worker who has access to a piece of land, you can borrow up to $150,000 at—would you believe—one and a half per cent interest rate. That is as best as you can get which would allow you to construct your own modest dwelling for yourself, taking the money from state institutions.
The other point the minister is making is that if you make $5,000-$10,000 a month you can borrow up to $300,000 at 2.5 per cent interest, so that we will encourage people that, instead of applying and waiting on the HDC, once you have access to a piece of land you build yourself and we will help you.
Does this mean, Dr Moonilal, that the State is easing itself out of actual home construction?
Given the applicant listing is about 150,000, the Government cannot remove itself from home construction. We do not compete with the carelessness and recklessness of the past. We don’t come and tell you 10,000 houses a year. We have started construction of 4,000 houses in the last year and by Christmas this year we would have the first stock of Partnership houses, so to speak, in Union Hall, Egypt and Princes Town.
Based on your projections and the work so far done, how soon do you think the country would get a grip on this housing challenge?
Well, if we implement a multi-faceted approach with land for the landless, where over three years we have distributed more than 10,000 lots, if we go onto the squatter regularisation with the Land Settlement Agency, if we go now with the private sector generating houses through our schemes for persons to build their own, I think within a ten-15 year period we can break even where we can accommodate applications within a very reasonable time.
Mr Minister, you know we cannot have this chat if we don’t deal with hardcore politics.
(Licking hips with a relish and crossing his legs) We must. We must.
Dr Moonilal, is the gathering storm circling the PP administration?
No. Not at all. In politics people always come together and sometimes they break up, but after our mass rally last weekend I think the Partnership is extremely strong. We showed a strong presence in Chaguanas and those critics had to swallow their words, because they saw the strength of the people, they saw support of the people for the Prime Minister and her team, and we felt very good.
How do you respond to the cautions given by several peo ple over the last week, including chairman of the Congress of the People Joseph Toney, that certain signs visible just prior to the 1990 insurrection were popping up within recent times and that people need to be cautious and vigilant?
I think the society should always be vigilant. We must never take our democracy for granted and we must pay attention to any attempt by forces outside the constitutional organisations, the grouping of people, because on the one hand we encourage healthy debate on policy and programmes but we cannot in any way encourage persons bent on breaking the law for extra-constitutional change.
We see a certain political organisation holding discussions with civil groups including trade unions.
Well, you have to pay attention because the PNM is a party built on dictatorship, built on violence as well.
Oh come on, Dr Moonilal you know that is stretching It.
In fact, every time we have had violence in this country the PNM has been part and parcel of it—1970, Bloody Tuesday in the 70s, the 1990 events and so on. The PNM leans toward violence...
I have to interrupt you, Dr Moonilal. Where is the compelling evidence to back up your very serious allegations?
I have just given you some of them, Mr Raphael, and what more compelling evidence you need after the leader of the 1990 insurrection, Imam Abu Bakr, publicly saying he would not go to the Commission of Inquiry into the 1990 events and if they want to hear anything they have to speak with Mr Manning? So they have been built on this path.
Any concerns about the unions linking up with the PNM?
I think that the very few trade unionists speaking with the PNM..they have to be careful they should not engage in foreplay with the PNM before they get into bed with that party. The PNM is a very dangerous animal to play with. You cannot play hansypansy with the PNM, and they will learn that very soon.
And you know something, Clevon, I was particularly sad that the great OWTU founded by Cola Rienzi, Tubal Uriah Buzz Butler, and which produced great unionists such as George Weekes, Errol McLeod . . . today the leadership has taken the union to the PNM, a party which has oppressed workers with legislation such as the Industrial Stabilisation Act. In fact, before we won the government in 2010, Mr Abdulah was lifted by his belt and carted away to the police station.
The PNM is also disputing your assertion that the party’s recent petition drive was bogus.
I got information, very dependable information, that they had a march—it was not PNM march, right? It was a march of citizens—and they then did something very strange.
Why do you say it was not a PNM march?
It was not, because the PNM had organised it and at the last minute they invited all citizens who feel aggrieved by the particular issue and citizens went there who were not PNM, and I hope the PNM is not thinking it was in support of the party. It was in support of an issue.
They had people signing under the guise of a petition and when they realised they couldn't get the numbers they wanted, they stuffed bags with all kind of paper, including raffle sheets. They conned the people into believing that they submitted a petition to the acting President, which they did not do.
Finally, Mr Minister, what assurance can you give that the population would not be subjected to traumatic episodes which unfortunately have erupted within the Government itself?
Clevon, over the years we have matured somewhat and all our ministers are very professional and eloquent. They are now concentrating on their portfolios and in fact the projected 1.2 per cent growth is the result of stronger political management of the economy.
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