Moruga/Tableland is a marginal constituency in Trinidad’s southland with 27, 851 registered voters.
The constituency comprises 35 polling divisions and was created for the 2007 General Election. It was made up of 20 polling divisions drawn from the former Ortoire/Mayaro constituency, six from the Princes Town constituency and five from the Naparima constituency. This new constituency was named Princes Town South/Tableland. For the 2010 general election, the constituency was renamed Moruga/Tableland and the polling divisions remained the same.
A marginal constituency is one where the difference in votes between the first and second candidate is 3,000 or less.
In the 2007 General Election, Tableland was a part of the Princes Town South/Tableland constituency. In that election, while Princes Town North went to the United National Congress (UNC), Princes Town South/Tableland was captured by People’s National Movement (PNM) candidate Peter Taylor.
Taylor got 9,108 votes. His opponents, Congress of the People’s (COP) Desmond Lambert, got 1,465 votes, while the UNC’s Clifton De Coteau got 7,925 votes. Of the 25,301 eligible voters, only 18,607 exercised their franchise.
In 2010, when Moruga/Tableland was re-named from the former Princes Town South/Tableland, Princes Town North was renamed Princes Town.
On that occasion, De Coteau was able to capture the seat with 11,628 votes. PNM’s Augustus Thomas got 8,947 votes, pushing Moruga/Tableland into a marginal designation.
Of the 26,450 voters, 20,433 turned out to cast their ballots.
In 2015, the margin of votes was even smaller.
The UNC again nominated De Coteau to represent them but he could not keep the seat over the PNM’s Dr Lovell Francis.
Francis got 10,808 votes to De Coteau’s 10,275 votes–a difference of only 533 votes. The Independent Liberal Party’s Andre Clifford got 58 votes.
In that election, 21,141 of the 27,913 eligible voters exercised their franchise.
For the August 10 General Election, the PNM has replaced Francis with Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters, a former UNC MP and minister. Peters had previously been the UNC MP for Ortoire/Mayaro in 2000, 2001 and 2002. In 2007, a significant portion of the former Ortoire/Mayaro constituency was removed to create the new Princes Town South/Tableland constituency.
For this election, Peters is contesting Moruga/Tableland instead of Mayaro. He previously represented the electorate in those 20 polling divisions that were previously in the Mayaro constituency between 2000 and 2007.
The UNC has selected councillor in the Princes Town Regional Corporation, Michelle Benjamin, to represent them. Thomas Sotillio is also running as an independent candidate and Steve Alvarez for the Democratic Party of Trinidad and Tobago.
Moruga/Tableland is bounded by the constituencies of Mayaro in the east, Princes Town and Naparima in the north, Siparia in the west and the Columbus Channel to the south.
State of Moruga
Home to a vibrant fishing trade, Moruga is also known for producing world-class cocoa beans.
Large parts of the constituency are undeveloped lands–some forested areas and some from colonial estates. Oil and gas lines also snake through most of the constituency.
But even more so, Moruga/Tableland is infamous for deplorable roads and landslides that often take entire homes with them.
During a recent visit to the community, Guardian Media was told unemployment is very high among the young people, as most struggle to get jobs in and out of the area. Those who manage to find jobs are only employed for short periods.
A lack of water is another major issue the constituents identified in the Tableland area. Guardian Media spoke to about 20 people on their thoughts on the representation they have received over the last five years. Their responses were noted anonymously, as many preferred not to be identified.
Constituents were asked the following questions and these are some of their responses:
1- Do you know who your Member of Parliament is for Moruga/Tableland?
All of the 15 people asked this question responded “Yes.”
2- How often do you see your Member of Parliament?
“Never, plenty people tried to meet with him but never got through.”
“I have never seen him.”
“I met him a couple of times.”
“You hardly see them in these areas.”
“He always around helping out people.”
“I saw him twice in five years.”
3- Are you satisfied with the level and quality of service that you have received over the last five years from your Member of Parliament?
“Yes, but he could have done a lot more.”
“For Tableland, I am definitely dissatisfied with his representation.”
“Yes, very much.”
“No, my main issue is crime and past and present governments have failed miserably on that front.”
“No, my concern is the infrastructure and nobody is fixing that.”
“Yes, there is a better stadium for the youths to play football, at least he did something.”
“No, he could have done better than that.”
4- Do you know who are the people offering themselves as candidates for the respective parties, UNC, PNM, etc in your constituency for this election?
All of the people asked this question said they knew who the respective candidates were.
5- Does race, party loyalty or policy determine how you vote?
“I stick with loyalty to my party.”
“Policy–what can be done for the country.”
“I am not voting this year.”
“Party. Since I know myself, I am PNM.”
“I have never voted before but this year I am casting my vote for my party.”
“I am going with who I think can perform, not for the party.”
6- Do you believe the state of the economy has improved under this Government?
“Not at all.”
“No, but I think it will improve in the future with them.”
“No, they did the same thing as Kamla (Persad-Bissessar.)”
“Yes, they did some good.”
“Not for me.”
“No, the economy has not improved since I was a child.”
7- Are you satisfied with the Government’s handling of crime in the country?
“Yes, they tried their best.”
“Not at all.”
“No, but you can’t blame them for crime.”
“Nobody can stop that, it can escalate just so.”
8- Who is a better leader, Dr Keith Rowley or Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar?
“Kamla Persad-Bissessar, from the time she was in Government compared to the PNM’s time, she did a lot more and the PNM did nothing, they have nothing to show.”
“Dr Keith Rowley, he is a better leader.”
“Dr Rowley, he is getting things done.”
“None, both of them are the same.”
“Rowley has the edge.”
“Mrs Kamla, Rowley only talks.”
“Mrs Persad-Bissessar, I am ready to bring back the UNC.”
“Kamla Persad-Bissessar, she is the only true leader.”
“I am going back with Kamla (Persad-Bissessar).”
Tableland–the forgotten community
Felix Legendre has lived in Tableland for all of his 65 years.
Legendre said over the years, Tableland has been plagued by two main issues–landslides and a perennial water shortage.
In an interview with Guardian Media, Legendre said in recent times the water shortage has worsened.
“This area has not got any water for the past three weeks. In some parts, it’s for the last four weeks, it continuously going on like that and the only way you are getting water is by the help of the rain, other than that it’s no water,” Legendre said.
He said during the dry season, Tableland residents are forced to go without water for two months in a stretch sometimes.
“Just this morning, one of the young guys saw the rain coming, he told me he was going to try to catch some from the spouting, that is what we are living on in the back here. It is hard because as you get up in the morning, the first thing you look for is water to use your toilet, to brush your teeth, and when you don’t have that, it’s very hard.”
Another ongoing problem is landslides.
The area is prone to shifting soil and the effects can be seen on almost every street. To drive through Tableland means keeping an eye out for sudden depressions in the roadway and manoeuvring on main streets that are suddenly reduced from two lanes to one to navigate past landslides.
Legendre believes the Tableland part of the Moruga/Tableland constituency has suffered over the last five years under outgoing MP, Francis.
“We have been very much neglected as part of the constituency, recently I took some youths to play a cricket match in Marac (Moruga) and the roads there, from the time I know it to now is the best, but the road up here real poor. In the recent past, nothing has developed in the Tableland part of the constituency.”
He said roads that were paved from 2010 to 2015 were left to deteriorate over the last five years.
“Here comes as if it is not a part of Moruga/Tableland and mind you, it’s a major area, all we ask is that please, please, someone assist the area in getting roads fixed and water in the lines. It is like we are the forgotten part of the constituency. Please do something for us, you can’t just leave us here like the lone sheep.”
Benjamin: Big plans for constituents
UNC candidate Michelle Benjamin has big plans for Moruga/Tableland if she is selected as the next MP.
Currently a sitting Princes Town Regional Corporation councillor, Benjamin hopes to defeat the PNM’s Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters.
Guardian Media spoke to Benjamin last week while on the campaign trail about her plans to address the three major complaints of constituents: poor infrastructure, unemployment and water shortages.
Benjamin said if elected, she plans to lobby for a major infrastructure overhaul in Moruga/Tableland which she hopes will also create jobs for skilled and unskilled youth in the community.
“For far too long we as constituents, because I live here unlike my opponent, we have been promised that roads would be fixed and landslips fixed so as the MP, I would be lobbying to have the infrastructure fixed,” she said.
Benjamin believes the youth unemployment rate in the area is about 95 per cent. She said young people feel neglected because whenever major projects are started in the constituency, they are not employed as part of the workforce.
“We are going to mandate large contractors to subcontract workers from the constituency so the constituents will be part and parcel of the development. The UNC government would also create jobs for constituents who have their degrees and want to venture out of Moruga/Tableland for employment.”
She also hopes to lobby the Water and Sewage Authority to replace corroded mains in the constituency and install new lines in areas that have never had a pipe-borne supply.
“I am a sitting councillor and I can tell you there are areas where we always have to provide a truck-borne supply. Whether it’s problems to get water in the lines or they do not have water lines at all, in 2020 water should not be an issue on the table,” Benjamin said.
Gypsy: Agro plant brings new hope
It was a rainy Friday afternoon when Guardian Media visited Tableland but that didn’t stop People’s National Movement candidate for Moruga/Tableland Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters from going door-to-door seeking support in the August 10 polls.
In addition to what he’s heard from residents, Peters was told of the three main issues raised by potential constituents; poor road infrastructure, a lack of proper water supply and high unemployment.
“The only thing that could address that is money,” Peters responded.
He explained that that side of the country would always have landslips because of its topography.
“So we forever have to be fixing these things, I don’t know how else to address it.”
About the cries of joblessness, Peters said this could be addressed by trying to create meaningful jobs for the people. He pointed to an agro-processing centre which was opened close to two weeks ago.
“So that will address some of the agriculture problems, it’s going to address some of the people getting jobs down here.”
The third area of great concern was water. To this, Peters said, “Well, the water situation would have to be addressed by Public Utilities.”
He said one of the problems facing the country was that the same water source we had when he was a child is the same water source being used now.
“I don’t know if I would be the Minister of Works, it would depend on where I am.
“I would have to address it by making sure we speak to the relevant people to get it done for them.”
For Moruga/Tableland, Peters envisions a resuscitation of pineapple and cocoa farming.
“Are we going to pay more attention to agriculture? Yes. And that could help us with some of our problems,” he said.
Election goodies for Moruga/Tableland
On June 6–A long-awaited community centre was opened in La Lune, Moruga. PNM candidate Winston ‘Gypsy’ Peters, outgoing MP Dr Lovell Francis and Community Development Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly attended the official opening. In September 2017, Moruga residents protested, calling on Francis to ensure the centre was built. He responded to their protest and a placard that had been placed in front of his home with a message on his Facebook page that read, “Thanks, I’m aware and working on it. Have a great evening.”
On July 14–Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley opened the country’s first Agro-Processing and Light Industrial Park in Moruga. The facility cost $90 million and the Prime Minister boasted it would generate thousands of jobs, increase the country’s food supply and strengthen its food security.
July 21–The Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission, under the purview of the Public Utilities Ministry, provided electricity supply to 30 homeowners at the former Merikin lands in Moruga. The process was completed under the Ministry’s Electrification Programme, where low-income households are wired, inspected and metered for connection to the T&TEC supply. Public Utilities Minister Fitzgerald Hinds attended the official ceremony.