By Ria Taitt, Newsday
Anthony Proudfoot, Executive Chairman of Hi-lo Food Stores Limited yesterday denied that he ever said that it would be a "curse" to construct two government secondary schools on the 31 acre parcel of land opposite Hilo Supermarket.
In a statement issued by Valdez and Torry, Proudfoot repudiated statements made in an earlier release put out on Saturday by Public Relations Counsellors. The PR Counsellors' statement had pointed to the fact that Proudfoot was the Executive Chairman at Hi-lo and had stated that he said it would be a "curse" to put the schools on the prime property, located opposite the Supermarket.
But in the wake of a flood of criticism over the statements, Proudfoot yesterday "clarified" his position in a statement faxed by Valdez and Torry. "Mr Proudfoot made his statement as a resident of Westmoorings and a private citizen of Trinidad and Tobago. Never in the statement did he make reference to the construction of these schools as a 'curse' nor did he disparage the need for these schools to be built," the statement read.
The statement added that Proudfoot recognised the importance of education in every society and its integral role in the building of "our nation. In fact, he endorses the need for new and improved school facilities throughout the nation".
The statement however conceded that Proudfoot did state his concern about the expected increase in traffic congestion leading in and out of the Western Peninsula since Diego Martin, Petit Valley, Carenage and other area residents already experience long lines of traffic every morning and afternoon. "As a resident of the area Mr Proudfoot's statement was based on personal experience," it concluded.
The Valdez and Torry statement was the second denial made on Proudfoot's behalf. The first denial which was issued early yesterday, came from Public Relations Counsellor, the very organisation which issued the first release with the controversial comments.
The PR release read: "Anthony Proudfoot, the Executive Chairman of Hilo Food Stores Limited has denied saying that placing schools on a 33 acre tract at Westmoorings would be "a curse" as reported by Lloyd Cartar".
The release said Proudfoot "however affirmed his opposition to the idea of schools for that area" since he (Proudfoot) believed that the "Westmoorings theme of commerce and residences should be maintained".
Among the persons who criticised Proudfoot were Trevor Oliver, President of Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers; attorney at law, Justin Phelps, and Legal Affairs Minister Camille Robinson-Regis.
Former Finance Minister and a resident of the Towers, Gerald Yetming was reluctant to comment on the issue. He said he would have preferred to be informed on what the site options were "in order to make an objective and unemotional call on whether the proposed site is appropriate or not". "As a resident it is neither here nor there (with me), I would comment from a policy perspective," he said. Yetming said that the need for secondary schools in Diego Martin was not at question. "The question is what are the venue options, and I get the impression that there are limited sites," he noted.
Representative for the Diego Martin West area and Planning Minister Dr Keith Rowley told Newsday yesterday that it was the technical persons who had chosen the current site. He said Powder Magazine site was ruled out as a location for the school because the land was insufficient, and because it would have involved cutting away too much of the hillside. He also stated that lands at Chaguaramas were also considered unsuitable because it was not in the catchment area.
Education Minister Hazel Manning has stated that Government will go ahead with plans to build the two schools.
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