Frank Ali started working at age ten in the San Juan market, selling celery from a little cardboard box at two for $1 to help pay for his schooling.
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Frustration is building among residents of north-east Trinidad over the slow pace of repairs to the Paria Main Road, the main artery for thousands of people getting in and out of their communities.
Chairman of the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation and councillor for Toco/Fishing Pond Terry Rondon said the affected villagers planned to picket the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair to highlight the dilapidated condition of the road which runs from Toco to Matelot. Residents are also up in arms over delays in completing concrete works such as box drains, which began three years ago.
Paving and infrastructural works fall under the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure’s Programme for Upgrading Roads Efficiency (Pure). Parliamentary representative for the area is Dr Rupert Griffith, who won the Toco/Sangre Grande seat on a People’s Partnership ticket in 2010. Rondon said, in 2012, residents were promised that seven miles of paving, from Matelot to Shark River, would take place over a six-month period. So far, only one mile of roadway has been paved.
“I am not pleased with the paving work I have seen so far. It’s already beginning to fall apart in some areas,” he said. Kalco Ltd was awarded the paving contract. “I have begun mobilising my troops. Somebody has to hear the people. The people have reached a boiling point. They are taking us for granted. They are telling themselves we are behind God back and they could do us what they want. They came in hot and sweaty and then left us hanging,” he added.
Rondon: PNM will win Toco/Sangre Grande
Rondon said for years the communities of Toco, Grande Riviere, Matelot, Mission and L’anse Noire had been neglected. He does not expect the road repairs to be completed before the 2015 general election and predicts that residents will continue to suffer because of their support for the opposition People’s National Movement (PNM). “Whether we get the road paved or not this seat going back to the PNM when the final vote is counted in next year’s election,” he said.
“I could bet my bottom dollar that the people would not have to go back to the polls for a runoff if the Constitution bill is passed in the Senate.” President of the Matelot Village Council Anderson Zoe said the community did not seem to be on the Government’s priority list for improvements. “They only mamaguaying the people to score political points for the upcoming election,” he complained. Fishing is the main economic activity in the remote community of approximately 700 residents.
Zoe was told paving of the main road stopped abruptly because of lack of funding. When the Sunday Guardian visited the area, paving equipment remained idle at the side of the road. Two gangs were working on box drains and a Pure sign showed that JC Contractors Ltd was listed to do drainage and concrete works, beginning January 2014 and ending four months later. Last month, Zoe said, when word got around that Griffith planned to visit the community, paving work accelerated.
“When Griffith left, the work stopped,” he said. oe also complained about the poor quality of the work. In some areas the land has begun to shift and the road was deteriorating, he said. “Why are they doing us this? We voted a Government for a particular reason...to deliver to the people. I think we deserve better and equal treatment. This Government came into office with the promise of delivering to the people. We are yet to see that. We will not be fooled again.”
Matelot regressing, not progressing
Matelot bar owner Val Graham agreed that the Government was dragging its feet on infrastructural work in the area. “This should have already been finished when you take into consideration the length of time they have been working,” he said. Graham said because of the poor conditions of the road, delivery trucks no longer venture to the community to drop off goods for businesses. He gets his alcoholic beverages from a middle man.
“Once the drinks are delivered I have to pay an additional cost,” he said. He complained that Matelot was regressing, rather than progressing, since in the past the village had a bus service, gas station and post office. “At one time we considered ourselves blessed, but we no longer have these services. Instead we go forward, we moving backward.”
Johyn Lewis, who has been living in Matelot for 49 years, said to get to his Sangre Grande job on time he leaves home at 5 am. It takes another two and a half hours to get home on evenings. “Overall, I spend five hours on the road everyday,” he said. “Nobody takes into consideration the inconvenience and time spent on this road by villagers.” Up to last year, passengers paid $20 in taxi fare from Matelot to Sangre Grande. The fare has since increased to $25.
Pure manager: Several contractors on the job
Programme manager of Pure, Hayden Phillip, said about seven to eight contractors from Sangre Grande were working in Matelot. “The only person who I have paving for the mean time, is Kalco,” he said, adding that individual contracts were awarded for drainage and concrete works. “Toco and Matelot is a far area. You don’t get people to go up there because they don’t make no money because of the distance and bad roads, so you have to get contractors from the area,” he said.
While admitting that Kalco was contracted to do “concrete and paving works” Phillip could not say at what price. He said for “nearly two to three years” work had been “going on up there.” Director of the Highways Division at the Works Ministry, Roger Ganesh, said as far as he was aware Pure was trying to complete construction of the box drains and foundational works before paving. “The final thing would be paving of the road,” he said.
Ganesh admitted that “the paving should have started a little while ago, but I believe they run into problems with completing the strengthening works.” He said bad weather disrupted work. He said the first phase of paving and concrete works from Matelot to Shark River should be completed by October “for the latest.” “When they complete that project they would get a very nice road,” he said. He said the second phase will be from Shark River to Sans Souci and the last stage will be in Toco. Those phases will roll into 2015 and beyond.
Ganesh said the first phase of paving and concrete works could cost $10 million, “if so much” while he estimated the second phase to be $20 million. Told that some areas of the road were not properly done and some areas have begun to sink, Ganesh said: “Where the roads are slipping they will have to build retaining walls. Steps are being taken right now to ensure that we don’t lose the road altogether.”
He said even though paving was done, “it is not really final paving. They just put temporary asphalt on it to have a better surface so the weather would not affect it (road) too much.” Kalco’s project manager Anil Dadd said the company had experienced “a little problem with our asphalt plant with the control room” which was rectified last week. There was also a shortage of bitumen and the distance the crews had to travel was another factor. “What happen we have other works to pave too.”
Dadd said the Diego Martin Highway, which recently opened, was a priority for them. MP for the area Dr Rupert Griffith did not responsd to calls for comment.
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