Less than one mile from Lethem along the South Rupununi road there are a number of vehicles stuck in some mud holes. Approximately 25 miles north of Lethem, near the Pirara area, another poorly filled stretch of road is causing nightmares for vehicles. Around Lethem, at the main entry point by the airstrip, there are such large holes in the road that they can be considered mini craters. A little further down the road, outside of the army barracks, there is another stretch of potholed street.
All of these damaged/poor roads exist even though our President, with much pomp and fanfare, announced over five months ago that hundreds of millions of dollars had been allocated for road repairs in the region. Some big name contractors such as BK, Mekdeci, etc, were touted as being the ones contracted to undertake the repairs, but none have yet been seen doing any work.
Is our President aware that no work has yet started on these roads, so many months after he had made his promise?
Why are these road repairs taking so long to commence? The road contractors should have been able to mobilize their equipment and commence work by now. After all it is now almost two months since the heavy rains ceased yet not even the mobilization of equipment has begun. With the big names touted as contractors, one would have assumed that they would have been more efficient and professional. But it seems that it is worse than before.
Imagine that no repairs have been undertaken along the GT-Lethem road for over a year, yet the pontoon still charges its exorbitant tolls. These tolls were priced so as to offset road repairs because it was the same company running both the pontoon service and road maintenance. This has changed and the company no longer undertakes the road maintenance (at least no maintenance has been obvious for a very long time) but the toll structure remains the same.
Almost two years ago the Minister of Public Works proclaimed that the bridges along the GT-Lethem road would be upgraded to concrete structures since the vehicles were getting bigger and heavier. Residents welcomed this decision since it seemed the most rational thing to do. From then to now not one concrete bridge has been built.
Businessmen have incurred major losses after their heavy duty trucks fell through rotting bridges. A few months ago a popular businessman’s son died after his truck fell through a bridge. Our Minister’s response to the incident was that it was because of negligent driving. The Minister can be questioned as to whether the ‘negligence’ was by the driver or by the authorities who promised better bridge infrastructure but never delivered on it.
Many road repairs were done around Lethem just before the President’s visit in April. Cynics argued that these works were undertaken just to show the area in a positive light to the President, because for a long time previous to the visit no repairs had been undertaken. This argument can be vindicated because since the President’s departure no further works were undertaken and many stretches of the road have again deteriorated. It was amusing (and at the same time exasperating) to see the NDC hastily filling the potholes with crushed stone and tar to cover up the bad sections of the road for President Jagdeo’s visit, knowing full well that it was not going to last. True to form these ‘repairs’ did not even last a month.
A better access road to the South Rupununi has been promised for many years. This road seems impossible to conquer by road builders. No matter how much work is done it seems to make the roads worse rather than better. This year saw a continuation of the same pattern. A local road contractor undertook road repairs just before the rainy season and, despite numerous warning by locals that the material was not suited for the road construction, ended up causing more harm than good. Sections of the ‘upgraded’ road washed away during the first floods. Other areas simply became slushy and impassable because the material used was not conducive to the type of roadworks needed. Eventually most of this ‘new’ road was abandoned and locals resorted to the savannah trails. Yet it seemed that the regional engineers and overseers gave this road a pass grade.
A few years ago a long bridge was constructed over the Rupununi River, the main obstacle for road users during the rainy season since it frequently became impassable. Residents felt that this would have brought an end to their transportation woes during the rainy season. This bridge did not even last a month before an excavator fell through it.
From then to now no repairs were done on this bridge and neither was any attempt made to create an alternative. This bridge was brought up at numerous forums because it was deemed an absolutely vital link, and despite numerous promises the situation remains the same. Every heavy rainfall which floods the Rupununi River basically cuts off the South Rupununi from the North Rupununi and the coastland.
The residents of the Rupununi are urging President Jagdeo to use his authority to hasten the process of road repairs in the region. The people have already suffered much due to the unusually heavy rains. The least that can be done for them is to speed up remedial works so that life can return to some degree of normalcy. It seems that if this decision is left to the contractors then another rainy season may return or elections will be completed and the road repairs would not have been undertaken, such is their sloth.
(Name and address