…Following Floods and Landslides
By Leslie Paul
November 29, 2011
Residents of upper and lower La Seiva, Maraval at a meeting with
members of the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure
On Monday 28th November, 2011, residents of upper and lower La Seiva, Maraval, attended a meeting which purported to address their concerns following the landslides and floods which occurred last week. The Minister of Works and Infrastructure, Jack Warner, was supposed to head talks with the residents but was unable to attend. Members of the Ministry as well as the Chairman, Mr. Anthony Sammy and other representatives from the Diego Martin Regional Corporation were present to carry on with the meeting.
Cross-section of La Seiva residents at meeting
Close to one hundred residents, mainly from Village One and Two on the hills of La Seiva were in attendance at the La Seiva R.C. School where the meeting was held. They were advised about the Minister’s absence but were told that the meeting would proceed and scribes would take note of their concerns which would be forwarded to the Minister.
After a prayer, lead by the Councillor for the area, Nadine Romany, the floor was opened for the residents to voice their concerns.
La Seiva Village resident raises concerns at meeting
Persons from La Seiva Village made comments about their safety on the hills and asked about plans for relocation among other concerns. However, they were soon advised by members of the panel to direct their questions to issues concerning drainage, which they were there to discuss. Panel members explained that it was the responsibility of the Ministry of Housing and Development to address issues concerning housing and relocation.
La Seiva Village residents disappointed with the meeting
Voices of protest began to erupt immediately mainly for two reasons. Firstly, residents believed that they were misled into attending because they were not informed that the discussion would be solely about drainage: a matter that would immediately concern residents on the plains. Secondly, persons from the hills felt that they were being placed on the backburner because they comprise the poorer segment of La Seiva. They felt that given that some of them lost their homes and others could lose theirs as well as their lives, that their plight should be addressed with urgency. Some residents from La Seiva Village who lost their homes or whose properties are on the brink of collapse are currently being housed at the La Seiva Community Centre — a designated shelter.
Residents chat with members of the head table while one member addresses fustrated residents
Members of the head table intimated that although they sympathized with the residents they could not talk about areas outside their purview. They advised that issues about housing be taken up with the appropriate Minister, Mr. Roodal Moonilal. The Councillor for the area, Nadine Romany, suggested that a meeting could be arranged in the near future in this regard. There was an immediate uproar.
Some residents took to the microphone to explain why they should be allowed to vent their concerns stating that the problems from the source should be discussed with immediacy. Others proceeded to highlight their concerns but were soon cut short by members of the panel who said that they were there to address drainage. They further stated that the residents should have known that this was the case when they heard that it was the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure that was coming to address them.
La Seiva Village residents walk out of meeting
Many residents, disappointed with the apparent deception about the purpose of the meeting and frustrated that their needs came second to the wealthier section of La Seiva, began to walk out of the meeting, loudly verbalizing their discontent. They gathered in the school yard discussing their next move among themselves. After that, what was left of the meeting never regained a sense of order.
One of the few remaining attendants from the hills voiced his frustration over several issues such as the panel cutting off residents when they spoke and not taking time to listen.
Residents chat with members of the head table
Another resident from lower La Seiva stated that he could not voice concerns about issues affecting him because the entire order of the meeting was wrong and that priority should have been given to persons most affected, which are the persons on the hills. He said that his issues are not as urgent as theirs and when he was invited to the meeting he was not told that it was only to address drainage. Many of the residents who were in the yard returned when they heard the gentleman speak and applauded his contribution. He continued stating that while members of the panel may not have been able to provide answers, they could at least allow residents to vent their frustrations, take notes and forward it to the appropriate Ministry (the Ministry of Housing and Development).
Some of the La Seiva Village residents in the school yard voicing their disappointment
Some of the residents who returned to the meeting vented their frustrations, but soon left in disgust after a member of the panel from the Ministry of Works reiterated that they were only there to talk about drainage.
Chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation, Mr. Anthony Sammy addresses the small audience
The Chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation, Mr. Anthony Sammy, arrived a while later and addressed the small audience that remained. It seemed as though he tried to appease them by speaking, not about drainage, but about issues surrounding the landslide and the work that was done by the councillors and the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure. He spoke about the small salaries of councillors and the limited funding his Corporation receives. He explained how the Diego Martin Regional Corporation receives a paltry sum of about 12.2 million dollars and it has to address the concerns of a lot more people than Tobago which receives over 2 billion dollars annually.
Chairman of the Diego Martin Regional Corporation, Mr. Anthony Sammy
When asked about the slow pace at which work was taking place, especially with regard to relocation, Mr. Sammy said that they were working as fast as they could to address these concerns. However, he said that there were problems that were slowing the process such as persons with foreign accents who were making claims and when one asked them where they were from, they could not say. He also spoke of persons without personal identification making claims about property loss and others inflating the extent of their damages. One resident took issue with these statements, stating that what the Chairman was raising could be easily addressed since there are ways of identifying residents and claims of property loss. The resident explained that in this era of technology, they could photograph all the damages as a way to verify claims. He further stated that even if one or two residents may claim to have lost their identification cards in the floods and landslides, they could still be temporarily housed while records are checked to verify their identity. The resident stated that the Chairman was bringing up these issues in a way that prejudices the villagers — painting the residents of La Seiva village (on the hills) as dishonest and ‘outsiders’ so as to redirect focus away from them.
The small audience of La Seiva residents that remained at the meeting
To many, the meeting turned out to be an abysmal failure and many remain upset and uncomfortable about what fate could befall them. However, what was clear is that many residents from La Seiva Village believe that they are being treated as second class citizens and may have to wait until others are attended to before their plight is addressed.