Berbice residents took to the streets in protest yesterday after President Donald Ramotar announced that it is unlikely that the deteriorating East Bank Berbice Public Road would be reconstructed before next year.
Angry residents, hire car drivers and commuters blocked a long stretch of road approximately half of a mile in the Glasgow area, successfully stopping the free flow of traffic for hours yesterday to call attention to the situation.
For years the poor state of the road has triggered protests and authorities have resorted to doing remedial work. The protestors yesterday said they had refrained from taking more drastic actions in the past because of the promise they would have a new road in 2013, but they would not be holding back any longer. To this end, they signalled their intention to prevent the annual journey to Highbury, East Bank Berbice for the Indian Arrival Day celebrations, saying it is the only time any kind of work is done on the road. “This is a promise we are making, and this is a promise we will keep,” they shouted in unison.
President Ramotar, addressing a gathering at the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association’s Annual Award Ceremony last Saturday, let slip that the East Bank Berbice Public Road will most likely not be constructed before next year. The president, who was at the time speaking about things that affect Berbicians, said he knows “it has been an inconvenience and affects the country economically” but added that it is a project the government is not financially capable of undertaking without foreign assistance.
“We are going to do that road… to do that road we are borrowing money from the IDB and again they want a study done before they disburse the money,” he disclosed, while promising that his government would try to accelerate the process. The earliest date “we think that we can build the road that we want to build for the East Bank of Berbice would be the beginning of next year,” he added. “In the meantime, we will be putting all the resources needed to make it passable, for it to be acceptable,” he said.
But instead of reassuring residents, the president’s statements had the opposite effect, particularly among residents who were eagerly awaiting the release of funds from this year’s budget for the construction. The president had promised that the budget would cater for the construction of the only access road to the East Bank of Berbice.
Braving the rain and defying the police who could only watch on, residents dragged old, abandoned cars and scrap metal to block the road and prevent persons from passing. One irate resident, with her placard held high, shouted “the president is suppose to ensure the maintenance of schools, roads and hospitals, and now he saying we will not be given a new road; maybe next year if the IDB considers the loan. What rubbish!” Thumping her chest, she defiantly declared, “we will not be going in until the road is fixed…we need a new road and we need it now!”
Another resident exclaimed “enough is enough! No more promises!” while yet another wailed “too long we have waited… we are people! We are residents! We are tax payers and we are human beings! We are the most important resource… human resource… and if we don’t get a road we will not come off the road!”
The East Bank of Berbice, which is predominantly a farming community, has seen a huge increase in population over the past few years with the establishment of new housing schemes by the Ministry of Housing and Water. However, persons who took the decision to occupy the housing schemes are now cursing the day they ever moved into them.
One resident, Kenny Arthur Greene, told Stabroek News he has lived in the Glasgow Housing Scheme for the past three and a half years, but yesterday was the first time he has joined in the protests. “Since I move here, it has been over six times the government try to patch the road and them only making it worse,” he said.
He felt that he was duped into moving to the area with the promise that the road would be constructed, but “every year, they keep saying next year.” Referring to the previous Bharrat Jagdeo administration, Greene said he remembers the president revealing that the government has millions of US dollars in the national treasury. “If we have all that money in reserve, this is the main access road, we have enough money to repair the road – so fix it,” he suggested. “It is time the government comes clean if they want to stay in office, because we are the people who put them there, and if they continue operating like this we will take them out of office.”
Persons who farm for a livelihood on the East Bank of Berbice also joined the protest, as they said the deplorable state of the road bleeds them of much needed finances on a daily basis. “I have a 750-acre rice farm up on the east bank and to harvest my paddy and take it to the mill is very costly,” one farmer revealed. He said the truck drivers are charging him more and more money every day to transport the paddy because of the awful state of the road. “They complain about damage to the trucks – broken springs, damaged shocks and they don’t want to traverse this area,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile, hire car drivers who use the road say they may soon have to raise their fares again. Last July, the drivers had taken the decision to increase the fares by $40, to help offset expenses incurred when repairing their vehicles after damage sustained while traversing the road. Chairman of the East Bank Berbice Hire Car Drivers’ Association Maxwell Semple said he was “fed up” with the present condition of the road. “I and a delegation of drivers have had numerous discussions with the previous Region 6 Chairman Zulfikar Mustapha, and now dialogue with the current chairman David Armogan and it’s the same CD being replayed over and over,” he noted.
“Every year is the same battle we fighting,” Semple lamented. “We cannot sit down and accept this any longer,” he added.
He further questioned who was looking after the welfare of the residents. “If a fire should take place, the house would surely burn; if there is a robbery and we call the police, the perpetrators will escape; If the ambulance has to come in to save a life, that person will surely die. We tired of this nonsense!” he declared.