Q: I graduated from college with a degree in entrepreneurship from a Nigerian institution. Thanks to my course of study, I have...
Trinidad is an angry society and, sooner or later, that anger is going to reach Sangre Grande. Newly-appointed chairman of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation Terry Rondon sounded this warning, as he claimed that the area was neglected by successive governments, and the people were already upset over the poor garbage service, bad roads and unemployment.
Rondon, who is also the councillor for Toco/Fishing Pond, also said nothing has changed since a group of desperate residents from Sangre Grande, Toco, Matelot, and other areas hired two buses and went to see then prime minister Dr Eric Wiliams in 1972.
Q: Mr chairman, it has been a long road from Best Village finals in the Savannah to head of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation. Has it been a turbulent road?
A: (In his somewhat disorderly office where drapes are being put up on Thursday morning) Yeah boy, those were the days when Best Village was Best Village, and you had to reach there at about three o’clock in order to get a seat. I was part of a team of limers catching the show every night, you were the Guardian reporter covering the event every night, and you named us “The Best Village Regulars.”
(Reminiscing) I wouldn’t say it was turbulent, but it was a long road between Best Village and being a councillor. I did a lot of social work between Toco, Matelot, Sangre Grande, and the surrounding areas.
And you were always the first man on the spot after any unfortunate happenings, calling virtually all the news rooms highlighting the plight of affected residents.
Of course. You know God has given me the gift of love...love for the people, and so I thought I had to respond whenever my people were in trouble. It didn’t matter who they were, I was always there for them, even up to today.
Were you there with the two buses of residents from Matelot, Toco and surrounding areas, who came to Port-of-Spain and camped outside the Whitehall office of then prime minister Dr Eric Williams, begging for things like water, proper roads and the like in 1972?
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it but we did prepare fruits for some of them to take to town and I remember giving my mother nine dollars to pay for the 75-mile journey. Even at that young age I was an altar boy but I did have a social conscience and it bothered me the way poor people were being treated by central government over the years.
I have been covering Matelot since 1972 as a beat reporter and the same exact problems still exist today. Why do you think successive governments have neglected Matelot so long?
Clevon, let me say this: all rural areas in Trinidad have undergone some kind of neglect, take it right down from Moruga…and I tell you, government comes and government goes...
Why this neglect?
Because they take people for granted.
(Vehemently) PNM, yes!
Your party was also guilty of that kind of neglect?
Now that you are in a position to make a positive change, what are you going to do for Matelot?
The problem in Matelot are the roads that fall under the purview of the central government and you could say there is some form of victimisation. Simple reason. Many times I called, I lobbied, I walked and people just...as the Minister of Works will say, I am playing politics, but how could I play politics with the lives of the people?.
Did you lead similar demonstrations under the PNM?
Yeah. Under the PNM and I asked the then minister of works…(Pausing) you know, but then it fell on deaf ears..
And it continues today under the PP?
Yes, under the PP and now it is worse because a road has deteriorated so badly that right now a landslide coming down for over three months and you calling Ministry of Works and it is a total neglect, total neglect. Things have not changed since 1972. Right now I am working with the villagers and by the way, I was born and grew up in that village. I have decided as chairman I am going to lobby much more and I am going to use this office to try my best to develop not only Matelot, but the entire North Coast.
What about this plan which was spoken of many years ago to build a road from Matelot to Blanchisseuse?
That fall through and it was spoken of during their terms in office of then prime ministers Dr Williams and Basdeo Panday who wanted to do it, but the environmentalists kicked up a storm of protest you know and at times when you watched what they were all about…they are not for progress. If that was done you would have had a lot of employment but they do not like progress. My plan is to see the development right back from Sangre Grande to Matelot.
People come to Toco you hear, (adjusting his tie), they get clean water, friendly people and plenty of security.
How could you boast about security when other areas in the country are bawling like hell over the crime situation?
Because of the love by the people. Let me tell you something, Clevon: any given day you could go to the Toco, Matura or Matelot police stations and you would not get any serious reports of crime...robbery or anything. Anything taking place in Toco is people from the outside. When I tell you about friendly. At times you might park your vehicle and go for a dip and on your return you will find a bunch of plantains put in your vehicle free of charge.
Yes. I am proud of them. They have respect for each other and you know we still live in the long-time days in Toco, you know? We still, if someone dies, your mother would send you with coffee, people would send you board to make the coffin...this still going on in Toco.
When Keshorn Walcott won the gold medal in the London Olympics, people who were not speaking to the Walcott family came in his yard and played their part in the big celebrations for him. That is why I always argue and get upset when I see the way the government of the day treats with people, especially poor people.
What do you propose to deal with this particular situation...treatment of the people by the Central Government?
(Switching to a very serious countenance) Clevon, listen to me, something has to be done in this country, you hear? Where people are concerned, about social services in the Grande area, it is down, is down, you forget that, no given time you can go and get proper service.
It was a problem and it is still one of our biggest problems. PTSC…we have a manager here who is willing but he is weak because they don’t have the buses to ply in certain areas.
I recall at one time, some years ago, I think it was under the NAR tenure, there was a bus service. What has happened to that?
It was stopped because of the road, we cannot risk people’s lives. The only thing we have working very good besides the police, is the health system and I want to compliment the CEO of the Eastern Regional Health Authority, Ameena Ali. No matter the conditions of the roads, the ambulances, the doctors, the nurses, the druggists are going in there and are performing.
(Mr Kishore Satram, the PTSC manager, asking for an excuse, said he had an important message for the chairman. Asked to say why Matelot did not have a bus service, he confirmed what the chairman said and added that PTSC did not want to send in buses worth millions of dollars to be damaged by the bad roads.)
As chairman of the corporation, what are some of the biggest problems facing your whole region?
(Whips out a piece of paper on which he has typed them out and proceeds to name them.) The major thing affecting my area is employment. We have no industries, we have URP and fishing, the regional corporation. We have a burning issue of recreation grounds except the Ojoe Recreation Ground. We have no other. The Ministry of Sport appears as though they are reaching Arima and stops there.
We are looking at a training centre as they have in D’Abadie. When they learn their trade there on weekends they can do jobs about the place. The next one is our market, then we are looking at a proper traffic plan for the area.
Your final parting shot?
Clevon, we are living in an angry society and sooner or later that anger would come to Sangre Grande, and the people are angry. You know why? Too much garbage, the condition of their roads, unemployment. These might appear to be little things but to them they are very important.