By Sandra Chouthi
Special to Indo Caribbean World
Port-of-Spain – It is undeniable now that an election is imminent because the government has started it highway resurfacing. This is a good thing. However, as far as the optics go, the resurfacing caught motorists and commuters unawares, causing traffic jams that lasted up to three hours.
Also, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, who had said his government was planning to shut down the gaming industry, decided to give the sector a five-year reprieve. With an election in the air, the government certainly does not want disgruntled voters.
On September 14, Manning told members of the gaming industry that the break was for them to get retraining in place in preparation for the sector’s closure.
Meanwhile, the pre-election strategy continues. On September 8 - a Saturday - commuters were surprised to see a private contractor milling the westbound lanes of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway. One would have expected the lanes to be paved immediately thereafter. On September 10 - a Monday - the sudden three inch drop in the roadway - caused every single motorist coming from east and south Trinidad to slow to a dead crawl. The result was torturous moving traffic that lasted up to three hours.
By Tuesday, an angry Works Minister, Colm Imbert, was apologising to motorists. The roadway was paved on Tuesday night. There was relief on Wednesday morning.
“The problem has been solved. Only a small section before the El Socorro traffic light is left to be paved, but I instructed them to put in the transition ramp so that it does not leave any depression.” Imbert blamed the frustrating traffic on the contractor’s carelessness. The contractor was Jusamco Pavers Ltd. Imbert said he’d be looking at the contract government signed with Jusamco to determine if there was any provision for penalties which could be imposed on the company. “And if there are no provisions for penalties, then I am going to ensure that in future when contractors do this kind of thing, we can impose some kind of penalty on them,” Imbert said.
Even Jusamco’s Dave Aqui was caught in the jam. Aqui said the company was not scheduled to continue work on September 10 - Monday - but rather widen the shoulder and strengthen works in weak areas during the week.
On the election front burner has been the issue of crime. The murder rate as of September 15 was 237.
While National Security Minister Martin Joseph has said the Skyship, informally known as The Blimp, has not malfunctioned, but is off air for maintenance service, the T&T Police Service now has a new motto and logo. The old motto: To Protect and Serve. The new motto: To Protect and Serve with Pride. Glen Roach, Deputy Commissioner of Police, explained that each letter of the word “pride” has a meaning:
P stands for presence; R stands for relationships the police are trying to have with all clients; I refers to the image it’s trying to project, that of a well-balanced, friendly officer who will treat situations only with the necessary amount of aggression; D stands for the devotion which an officer will treat his job; E stands for efficiency with which an officer will do his or her job.
Paving, policing and commuting translate into roads, safety and transport, which are on the front burner as election issues. Apart from paving - a traditional gimmick in pre-election politics in Trinidad and Tobago - and rebranding the image of policing, the government also acquired 70 new buses.
Works Minister Imbert announced this at the post-Cabinet press conference at Whitehall last week.
“The 70 buses will allow us to reintroduce bus services in Blanchisseuse, Lopinot, Matelot, Talparo, Las Lomas, Kelly Village, Malabar and several other areas. It will also allow us to augment and improve the frequency in various suburban and rural areas such as Petit Valley, Diego Martin, Princes Town, Siparia, Manzanilla and Mayaro,” Imbert said.
On the subject of closing down the gaming industry, Manning on September 14 had a change of heart. Addressing gaming industry workers, mainly women wearing red T-shirts that read Union of Members Clubs and Lottery Workers, Manning said: “In recognition of the number of workers, we will phase down the industry rather than abruptly halt it.”
Manning was speaking to workers after meeting with gaming industry union representatives at his Whitehall office. “Your representative suggested four years, and as an act of good faith we have given five,” he said.
On hearing these words, the workers sighed their relief and expressed their feelings. “Thank you, Mr Manning. Thank you,” they shouted.
“The Government is not about disruption, not about dislocation and not about taking action which will cause a strain on workers,” Manning said. “You have enough time to make arrangements and engage in retraining and do whatever is necessary to prepare yourselves.”
A release issued from Whitehall stated: “The Government has no intention whatsoever of putting the 7,000 casino workers on the breadline by immediately closing casinos. The Government is aware that many who are employed in the industry have families to support,” the release said.
Meanwhile, in an update to the last story emanating from Port-of-Spain, the list of People’s National Movement Members of Parliament who will not be contesting the next election has since grown. The following lists those who may not be facing the polls as well as those around whom a question mark remains based on a PNM-commissioned performance poll of MPs’ service to their constituents: Camille Robinson-Regis, MP for Arouca South (renamed Arouca/Maloney for the 2007 election as there are now 41 constituencies). Reason for not facing the polls: health.
Roger Boynes, MP for Toco/Manzanilla MP (changed to Toco/Sangre Grande); health. Eulalie James, MP for Laventille West; health. Hedwidge Bereaux, MP for La Brea; age. Jarrette Narine, MP for Arouca North (changed to Lopinot/Bon Air West); age. Eddie Hart, MP for Tunapuna; age.
Ken Valley, MP for Diego Martin Central; scored low in performance poll. Diane Seukeran, MP for San Fernando West; low scorer. Fitzgerald Hinds, MP for Laventille East/Morvant; low scorer. Franklin Khan, MP for Ortoire/Mayaro; court case. Eric Williams, MP for Port-of-Spain South; court case. Larry Achong, MP for Point Fortin; court case: Achong’s wife, Marlene Coudray, appeared on the platform of the Congress of the People at its September 9 first anniversary rally at Woodford Square.
John Rahael, MP for Port-of-Spain North/St Ann’s West; personal. Eudine Job-Davis, MP for Tobago East; personal.
Manning has said that no one who has matters before the courts would be accepted as candidate. Achong had an obscenity charge against him dismissed, but the State has filed an appeal. And Coudray, CEO of the San Fernando City Corporation, legally challenged Manning and won her case in which she contested a move to be transferred to the Point Fortin Borough Corporation. She claimed the Prime Minister sought to victimise her through this move. In the meantime, as the guessing games continue for the election date, President Maxwell Richards has declared the period September 18 to 27, 2007, to register to vote.