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The police and army may soon be requested on job sites as Minister of Works Surujrattan Rambachan says criminals are dishing out death threats and cutlass attacks against employees. The revelation comes just three days after gangs vandalised the Housing Development Corporation’s (HDC) apartments in Lisas Gardens, Couva, in an attempt to extort money from contractors.
On Thursday, residents of Annabelle Street discovered threats and derogatory graffiti painted on the walls of buildings 11 and 12. It follows the January 3 gun attack on a work crew contracted by the HDC. However, Rambachan said these gang-related crimes were not limited to one area as workers in Chaguanas, Diego Martin, Matelot and Claxton Bay are abandoning job sites in fear for their lives.
When asked if police and army would be required, Rambachan said: “We will probably have to do that but what is happening is that a lot of the workers are abandoning their jobs. They don’t want to go back to work there because they are personally being threatened and people are telling them, ‘we know where your family lives.’”
Speaking to reporters at Claxton Bay, the minister said contractors are being intimidated to pay criminals to perform no work. On one occasion the army and police had to step in to quell a heated protest in Moruga where workers were accosted while repairing a bridge.
He said: “We continue to face this problem with people coming and stopping the works. Mr (Errol) Mc Leod referred to the Battoo Boulevard pavilion. On several occasions they came out with cutlasses and stopped the contractors and the workers. The contractor had to end up paying them to sit there and they did not do anything.
“We have faced it in the Diego Martin area: in River Estate we had a problem where someone went and sit in a contractor’s car and demanded money. Yesterday, a contractor came to see me because he had to abandon a work in Enterprise, where people came and stopped the work.
“These are criminal elements who want to tax people. It is going to be combated. We’re going to stamp it out. This is not a situation that can be tolerated and the strong arm of the law will have to kick in to situations as this,” Rambachan said. While protests have been ongoing in Moruga for repairs to the La Lune Road, Rambachan said residents there were responsible for the delays as they protested against work that was being done to a bridge two weeks ago.
However, he said the entire Moruga Road is carded for reconstruction and that the first phase of work is expected to begin in March. “Well I did send people down to La Lune and they have done the survey on what has to be done. The MP told me that some temporary relief has been brought but that is an area we have had some problems. We went there to fix a bridge, it was to repair the planks and the people protested and stopped the workers from fixing the bridge.
“I had to get the army to go out there to get the work done. This is the kind of lawlessness we have to stamp out and we are going to be dealing with that situation up in La Lune, so too the situation up in Matelot. “You cannot have people willing to work in this country, even for the minimum wage, and you have people who want to tax them and not do anything in this country, it cannot be. We have to reach a situation where the law overrides everything else and those who want to work hard are supported and protected.”
Rambachan added that in making arrangement with contractors, the ministry negotiates that 20 per cent of the workforce is employed from the area where the work is being done.