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Moonilal hopes offices will be reopened soon
The chaos caused by the closure of passport offices in San Fernando and Port-of-Spain may end this week, Minister of Housing and Urban Development Dr Roodal Moonilal said yesterday. He said so after a meeting with Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke and Finance Minister Larry Howai at Parliament, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. Moonilal, who is in charge of the Property Division, holds responsibility for all government buildings, including the immigration offices.
In an interview afterwards, Moonilal said the properties housing both offices had been cleared by the Fire Services and the Occupational Safety and Health Authority. “While some corrective work has to be done, there is no imminent threat to employees,” he said, adding that OSHA had not issued any enforcement notice declaring the buildings unsafe. “I am optimistic that workers will be back on the job very soon,” Moonilal said.
He also said Government was thinking about returning the immigration services to the Government Campus Plaza being constructed at Richmond Street. “I have spoken to the Chief Immigration Officer and we are about four to six months from completing that building. The immigration workers will be happy to occupy a spanking new building.” Moonilal added that government was looking at the public service on a case-by-case basis.
“Having spoken to Minister Howai, I am sure that the PSA may be more understanding and some kind of agreement is pending to resolve this matter,” Moonilal said. He said Duke had linked the shutdown of the passport offices to the wider negotiations for the PSA. “Duke has informed us that he will meet with his membership tomorrow and speak to them about the recent developments,” Moonilal said. Duke could not be reached for comment after the meeting yesterday, as calls to his cellular phone went unanswered.
However, in an earlier interview, Duke said health and safety issues were not being addressed at the Immigration Division. He said a T&TEC worker almost lost his life recently because of an electrical problem at the Port-of-Spain office. He also said he would shut down other departments in Chaguanas, Sangre Grande and Point Fortin. He said over 600 employees were affected. Scores of people again flocked to the San Fernando office yesterday hoping to get their passports.
A notice on the outside of the building said services had been suspended until further notice owing to occupational health and safety issues.