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Point highway cause of woes

Food card handout upsets Debe flood victims
Published: 
Friday, August 8, 2014
Tara Sharma, left, who suffered losses in last Saturday's flooding in Debe displays a food card she received from the Government to help her in the interim during a press conference at her home yesterday. At right is Highway Re-route Movement leader Dr Wayne Kublalsingh. PHOTO: KRISTIAN DE SILVA

Highway Reroute Movement leader Dr Wayne Kublalsingh says the Debe to Mon Desir leg of the Point Fortin highway was the cause of last Friday’s floods in Debe and has described the temporary food card allocation to flood victims as an “insult.” Kublalsingh was speaking at a press conference at the home of flood victim Tara Sharma on the Siparia Erin Main Road, Debe, yesterday. 

Noting the distress caused by the flooding, Kublalsingh renewed his calls for the Prime Minister to heed the recommendations of the Armstrong report. “It is the highway creating that, there is no doubt about it. I surveyed the area on that day. The water cannot pass that highway and it is spreading laterally across the communities,” Kublalsingh said. 

“This is the Government’s response to the Armstrong report, this scientific document produced by 19 scientists which is advising them about proper development and proper process, and the Government hands us a $500 food card. Typical of their approach to development in T&T.” He described the food card as a bribe, saying they were being used to win the favour of the people  while the Armstrong report continued to be ignored.

“There is no development, there are handouts, patronage and bribery, to seek to win the favour of the people. Compare these two: a scientific document is produced and the PM fails to say whether she is going to abide by this, and eventually says she is not going to, and gives you a food card instead.” He hinted at another hunger strike if the Government fails to abide by the recommendations of the Armstrong report. 

“If citizens want to stand up and abide by what the PM is doing in this country, we are not doing that, and if it is we have to do what we did in December 2012 to get the Government to abide by this document, we are going to do it,” he said. “Through the eddoes, through the corn, we are serious about development. We don’t want food cards. We want science, logic, rational planning and process.” 

Claims of victimisation
Flood victim Tara Sharma says she is being victimised by CEPEP employees because she is a member of the Highway Reroute Movement. Sharma, 64, who lives on the Debe Main Road, said she was not helped by the workers, who helped her neighbours and businesses in the area after last Friday’s flooding in Debe. She was speaking to the media at a press conference called by HRM leader Dr Wayne Kublalsingh at her home yesterday.  

“No Cepep workers, nobody came here, we got no assistance. My husband take up about three feet of dirt by himself,” said Sharma. “Because I am with the HRM I feel that is the reason. They treat you with scorn, you have no value, no right to exist.” Sharma showed the watermarks four feet high on the walls on her property, adding the water caused extensive damage to her home and business. She has a small business framing and selling religious pictures. 

She said insult was added to injury after she was called to a meeting with the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation yesterday. “I thought they were going to tell me they had come up with a solution for the flooding,” she said. “But lo and behold, they give me a temporary food card for $550, so if you get damaged you will get a one-day ration. This is not enough to buy disinfect and medicine to spray the place.” 

Sharma described the flooding as the worst the area has ever seen and called on the Government to heed the HRM’s calls and stop construction of the highway before Debe is tranformed into the “new Venice.” 

“Something have to be done. I believe they have to do something to stop that highway immediately, because when it finished with that eight-feet embankment running from north to south, then we here finished too. It will have water reaching the roof. That will be a permanent flooding. We will have to have boats running like we in Venice.” 

Protest genesis
On November 15, 2012, Kublalsingh began a hunger strike over the Debe to Mon Desir extension of the Solomon Hochoy Highway to Point Fortin. The strike lasted 21 days. Kublalsingh ended it after the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC) and other civil-society groups released the terms of reference for the independent review committee to examine the area of concern over  the construction of the highway. 

Independent senator Dr James Armstrong was appointed to chair the independent working group.