A meeting between a government representative and residents of Plaisance to discuss the controversial erection of a signal tower was aborted after perturbed villagers sent the proceedings into disarray.
Around 250 residents yesterday sent a resounding message to Minister in the Ministry of Finance Juan Edghill, and the government that they will not, under any circumstance accept the construction of a signal tower on the Plaisance Community Centre Ground.
“I am here to listen to your concerns and to find a practical solution to this problem wherever possible, but this attitude will accomplish nothing,” said Edghill who arrived at the Community Centre Ground along with e-governance Programme Coordina-tor Alexi Ramotar to interface with residents of the community, who were evidently angry.
Residents hurled random remarks even as Edghill acknowledged that the community had not been consulted in the site selection process for the tower, but said that “the important thing to do now was to come to an amicable solution.”
Also present at the meeting was Region 4 Chairman Clement Corlette who said he had only received correspondence from the Office of the President (OP) yesterday. Edghill said that it is regrettable if indeed Corlette’s office did not receive a letter from the Office of the President, and said “that matter will be addressed.”
The crowd’s heckling continued as Edghill maintained that it was never the intention of the Government of Guyana to “hoodwink” the villagers, as was being claimed. Edghill said that when the project workers arrived at the site and commenced works they did so with the impression that all of the necessary preliminary arrangements had been attended to.
He added that it was not government who made the decision to erect the tower on the ground, but the projects technical people.
The residents however remained convinced that the government intentionally bypassed both the community as well as its local governing organs. Several of them said that the people were mad because they felt disrespected. One woman said that “we are frustrated because they eyes pass us. First they come in here and do this without telling us, then Mr. (Roger) Luncheon (Head of the Presidential Secretariat) is to say it ain’t movin from hey, we fed up man.”
Residents also asked Edghill to have his technical person, Ramotar, say why the site was selected. Ramoar however elected not to speak and subsequently left the meeting as the atmosphere became more and more unfriendly.
In a statement last night, the Ministry of Finance said: “Minister within the Ministry of Finance Bishop Juan Edghill today in an attempt to resolve the dispute and bring clarity to the proposal to establish a tower in the Plaisance Community Centre Ground to support Govern-ment’s e-governance programme met with residents and stakeholders of the community.
“The meeting however had to be aborted as a result of the disorderly behaviour of the residents which prohibited any lucid discussion.
“The meeting scheduled for 16:00h at the proposed site for the tower saw a number of persons from the community attending. However the residents seemed opposed to discussing the project and its possible benefits to the community.
“However, notwithstanding this aborted attempt to resolve the issue, government has assured that it remains open to discussing the issue with the community.
“The e-governance programme will see the establishment of over fifty towers along the coast of Guyana from Crabwood Creek, Berbice to Charity on the Essequibo Coast. When activated residents will benefit from free internet access as part of the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) initiative.”
Plaisance residents have strongly opposed the erection of the signal tower on the ground ever since they caught wind of the project on Sunday March 24th. After learning of ongoing works at the ground residents quickly mobilised and successfully disrupted ongoing works. The residents made it clear that though they were not against the erection of the tower in the community, they were not prepared to accept the tower’s erection on the Community Center Ground, and that they were prepared to protest every day until these demands were met.
Protest actions followed on the 25th and the 26th but were discontinued after Walter Willis, the project’s technical advising engineer as well as Ramotar stated that a decision had been made to remove the tower from the ground to a location that was yet to be determined.
However Edghill yesterday said that Willis was not speaking on behalf of the government since he was not advised nor authorized to make those statements.
Residents at the meeting expressed anger over a remark that Luncheon made that “I don’t believe I could contemplate another site identified as resolving the matter. Our intention in having the matter resolved is to have the matter resolved as planned,” during a news conference held last week.
The residents said that Luncheon’s statements indicated that the government’s intent on erecting the signal town on the Community Centre Ground was fixed, and that they were not intent on negotiating. Considering these statements, they inquired of Edghill his intentions for engaging them yesterday.
However Edghill suggested that the resident’s interpretation of Luncheon’s statements may have been inaccurate. He said that yesterday’s effort was testament to the fact that “government was prepared to sit and listen to issues and to find a compromise on the matter.” He said that the government remains open to dialogue with the community as they attempt to determine the way forward on the matter.
He added that “issue is not about politics,” and urged the residents to behave responsibly. “While we have deep feelings we must come to a solution.”
However, when asked if the government was prepared to relocate the tower from the ground Edghill refused to specifically address the question. Instead he said that “as far as the government is concerned if we abandon putting a tower at Plaisance, when the e-governance programme is completed there will be no tower in Plaisance and they will not benefit.”
Asked if Luncheon’s statements were not binding, Edghill said “the government came here to listen to recommendations and thus far no recommendations have been received.”
After continuously evading the question, residents became incensed and began to move closer and closer to the Minister’s table.
Multiple calls were made by several of the meeting’s organisers for the restoration of order, but to no avail.
Tempers reached a fever pitch however after Edghill told residents that the spot of land they proposed as the tower’s alternative site was slated for the home of the CARICOM Secretary General, and therefore non-negotiable as an alternative site. One resident, clearly outraged by Edghill’s revelation shouted “you mean fuh tell that that all this land we got in dis big big country and is only duh one spot duh man could go?”
Order was never really restored after this point.
Attempting to justify the decision and calm the residents, he further stated that as the host nation of the CARICOM Secretariat, Guyana is obligated to provide accommodation for its Secretary General. He said that it currently costs the government around US$10,000 monthly for the Secretary General’s rented home.
The residents were however unmoved. They proceeded to ask by what right the government attempted to place the tower at the ground without consultations.
Former Attorney-General and resident of Plaisance, Bernard De Santos told Edghill that his perception that the ground belonged to the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) was ill informed since the NDC did not even exist when the land was given to the community.
Beryl Haynes, a longstanding resident of the community, had explained that in 1954, four villagers, seeing the need for a playing area, made representation on behalf of the village to the then Ogle Estate Manager Mr. Sutherland who gave the ground to the community for communal use.
On the suggestion of former People’s National Congress Reform (PNC/R) MP Aubrey Norton, Edghill agreed that a more formal meeting be held between a community appointed committee and the government. This suggestion was welcomed by Corlette.
Realizing that no further progress would be made the meeting was then aborted.