Last update: 12-Dec-2013 4:50 am
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Singh: Water for all in Tobago by 2014
Senator Ganga Singh, Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, has dubbed himself as a warrior for the environment and the country’s wildlife. Fending off criticisms from the hunting fraternity for the Government’s two-year ban on hunting wild animals, Singh is confident of the PP administration retaining the St Joseph constituency in next month’s by-election. He also said there will be water for all in Tobago early next year.
Q: Senator Singh, I think we may fall out this morning you know?
A: (A short pause in his Tower D office at the Waterfront Complex, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, Friday morning): Fall out with you, Clevon? I don’t fall out with members of the press as long as they conduct themselves in a professional manner.
I have to break a promise I gave you with regards to doing this interview...
Are you saying members of the press breach their arrangements? Today is for today, and tomorrow is for tomorrow. (smiling)
It has to do with the promise that I won’t ask questions on St Joseph which is inevitable, and people will expect me to do so...right?
I don’t know what is inevitable in anything you see, it is inevitable we will die...(laughs) That is a fact of life, but we can handle what we can handle...
Very well. How challenging is your ministry, Senator Singh?
I will give you a sense of what this ministry is about; if you anticipate changes in the weather we have the metrological services so that impacts upon...from the fisherman to the aircraft industry and all in between (He gives a lengthy explanation on his portfolio, which includes the Water and Sewerage Authority).
Some years ago, when the UNC was in office you did promise water for all. Do you intend to continue on that journey in your present dispensation?
Water for all was an egalitarian objective for WASA. It was to deal with the virtual water apartheid that was taking place in the country, where one part of the country was given water and the rest of the country was suffering, so we had to fashion an egalitarian approach.
What informed that position of no water for one part of the country?
It was politically motivated.
Yes, because the water was produced in the North, and it was easier to satisfy the North and the political alignment of the PNM government was along the East-West Corridor. And when the UNC came into office in 1995, we took a different approach; that water was essential, that water was life and water was a right, so water for all was an articulated vision.
What is the reality since then, Senator Singh?
(Referring to his notes) When we got into office in 2010, you had 18 per cent of the country getting water 24/7, and you had 38 per cent of the country getting water five days a week. Tremendous changes have taken place.
Now 49 per cent of the country gets 24/7 and 75 per cent of the country getting water five days a week. In Tobago 23 per cent of the population was getting 24/7. In 2013, 67 per cent get water seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Was that an achievement of the THA or WASA?
It was WASA and I am advised that by 2014, Tobago would have achieved water for all. In Trinidad we have a 38 million all deficit a day, and we are investing significantly, we are changing transmission lines and so on.
The environment... Do you believe, Senator, that Trinis are seriously concerned about the condition of our environment?
There is a cultural attitude in this country; not in my backyard. So people within the confines of their property they throw everything over the fence. We have to change that, we have to build education, we have to build awareness, and we also need rigid enforcement of the laws.
You do know, Minister Singh, that part of our problem is the lack of enforcing the laws and regulations?
In the last budget we increased the fine for littering.
Wildlife, Minister Singh, you have taken some knocks for imposing that ban...What do you have against wildlife?
(Laughter) I want to tell you something, Clevon, I am a warrior for the protection of wildlife, I am a warrior for wilderness protection, I am a warrior for the environment and when the statistics were disclosed after a national consultation which began in January as to the depletion of wildlife in Trinidad and Tobago we had to ask…
How was the head count done?
In 1990, 1993 and 2007 by the University of the West Indies in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, where it was found that the population density of our wildlife was much lower than the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. (Again referring to his notes) And in the hunter return forms from 2010 to 2013, we found a certain trend; agouti, more than 65,000 were hunted; deer 6,400; lappe, more than 20,000; wild hog (quenk) almost 1,000; tattoo, more than 13,000...
The trend pointed to almost total extinction of certain species if we continued like that, so we had to intervene.
Did those figures give an idea of the approximate total number of these animals in existence?
And that is the problem. You have the hunters saying you cannot take decisions on that because no density survey was done and that those wildlife returns are wrong on the forms, which the hunters themselves filled out. So what am I to do? You have to now have a proper survey done by local and international experts, but you cannot have such an exercise while you have hunting taking place, and that is one of the principal reasons for the moratorium—to do that wildlife population density survey.
And that survey is being done by UWI, again, in collaboration with personnel from the University of Wisconsin.
Apart from a threat to their livelihood the hunters claim that with them out of the forest marijuana planters would have a field day (no pun intended)?
Marijuana? Clevon that is another untruth told by the hunting fraternity. I asked the Minister of National Security whether in the last year there has been any report by the hunting community of any marijuana plantation in Trinidad. (Resolutely) There has never been any report. None from the ministry. Every year the ministry together with the Americans do a weed eater exercise; they have mapped all the marijuana plantations in Trinidad, they do not depend on the hunters for marijuana information.
Clevon, there are 407 illegal hunting camps, so my approach to that is to clear the environment of everything and have a clean slate. And how do you deal with the demand for wild meat in this country? In the short term we will be looking at the importation of wild meat.
Senator Singh, my tape recorder is running out of “juice” and we cannot end this chat unless we discuss St Joseph, where a by-election is scheduled for early next month. You have been appointed to manage the affairs of the constituency, how is this coming along?
I have lived in the constituency for quite a while, and I have been conscripted by the prime minister to become the caretaker and caregiver, and we are doing our work to ensure the PP wins that by-election and retain that seat.
If Mr Warner is to be believed, so many people are backing out from contesting on behalf of the PP as if it was a leper...
(Sullen expression while gently tapping his desk) I don’t know where Mr Warner gets his information from, and his politics is yesterday is yesterday, therefore, what he says today is not to be believed tomorrow.
The PP is going through a measure of unpopularity at this time, would the local government and by-elections in the constituency in any way indicate the popularity or unpopularity of the PP?
Clevon, we have a healthy democracy in Trinidad and Tobago which is exemplified by the number of national elections we have held in recent years, and we are confident of keeping St Joseph in the fold of the People’s Partnership administration under the astute leadership of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
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