Minister of Local Govern-ment Norman Whittaker says that the protest by residents over the deplorable roads at Mahdia, in Region Eight was irresponsible since an approved $26M has been set aside for works in the region.
However, residents say that not only is the money not enough but since the passage of the budget there has been no effort by the ministry to commence any works.
“At the end of the day, $26M is money if um put to good use and $20 aint go in somebody pocket but roads beyond terrible and will need more… but tell me only now he remember about this supposing $26M,” one resident asked yesterday.
On Monday, residents of the village, located in the Potaro/Siparuni area, once again took to protesting over poor roads and services, vowing that they will in turn refuse to sell gold to the Guyana Gold Board until action is taken to address the grim state of their village.
The residents say that they are annoyed and weary that for over three years they have complained, protested, written to the government and ministers and notified the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and still nothing has been done to fix their roads or address the water problem.
They said too that there has been little or no infrastructural development works in the area and they feel this is deliberate as they are not supporters of the ruling PPP/C government. In a statement, Whittaker, however, said that the protest should be viewed in the context of the high cost of maintaining hinterland roads set against the background of the reckless use of the roads by truckers and other users. The heavy vehicles, he said, was a determinant of how long the roads are useable before more works are needed.
“Continually. The main hinterland arterial and access roads and this includes the one leading to Mahdia are exposed daily to heavy duty traffic; and often the regular torrential rainfall that results in the deterioration of sections of the road,” the statement said.
“The high rehabilitation and maintenance costs necessarily require that limited resources be spread over these access roads as well as the internal roads which are surfaced,” it added.
Whittaker said that Region 8 Chairman Mark Crawford should have known about the $26M allocated and also of plans by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment to asphalt the community’s internal roads during this year. He said that Crawford has misled some persons into the protest and that the protest included burning tyres on a public bridge. “The Tiger Creek Bridge which provides a link to Region 8 and other mining areas is reprehensible and smacks of irresponsible behaviour which ought not to be sanctioned by any decent law abiding citizen. Resources will now have to be diverted from other projects to have this bridge fixed,” he said.
However, AFC regional councillor Naeem Gafoor dismissed Whittaker’s version of events and showed Stabroek News photos yesterday pointing out that the bridge was damaged before the protests. He said that yesterday a police friend of his told him that allegations were made that the protestors burned the bridge. “I was locked up when they said the bridge was burned but when I came out I went to see what it was and its sheer lies. Someone maybe burn something in one of the holes of the bridge but that bridge was break up before the protest. It was one of the reasons for the protest,” he stressed.
The AFC gained control of the region at the last general elections but its appointed Chairman has maintained that he is being sidelined by the government-appointed Regional Executive Officer, Ronald Harsawack.
Back in 2012 residents had staged a protest in front of Harsawack’s office to highlight not only their dissatisfaction with his performance as REO but also the lack of water and facilities in the community and schools. A no-confidence motion was brought by APNU, in
August of 2012, and passed by a majority of the members of the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) against Harsawack. Eight of the 15 members of the RDC backed the motion, which was based on a series of complaints against the REO. The then Minister of Local Government Ganga Persaud had said that the RDC had no jurisdiction over appointed officials and nothing ever came of the motion. Instead, tensions worsened and the region’s councillors charge that Harsawack is hardly in the area.
Gafoor yesterday pointed out that at meetings Harsawack would say that he was not interested in hearing anything the councillors wanted to say and would ignore them throughout the meetings. “He would say he aint gat time and cock up he foot on the table throw back and sleep not making any input and when the meeting done get up and walk out… he has no respect for any of the members,” Gafoor said. The councillor said that he was not afraid to publicly speak out against Harsawack although he knows he will be victimized.
“I not scared to speak. You say Gafoor say… this government gon spite me yes but what more can they do to me? I not afraid at least I know the whole country knows the corruption happening in Mahdia,” he said.