Poor turnouts at e-governance tower consultations

–BV NDC wasn’t notified of works, says Vice-Chairman

Poor turnouts in three East Coast of Demerara villages characterised government’s consultations on its E-Governance Project, which had drawn protests at Plaisance over the erection of a tower on the community’s playground.

Director of the E-Governance Project Alexei Ramotar met residents of Beterverwagting (BV) and Lusignan on Thursday and Strathspey yesterday in an effort to explain how they would benefit from the project as well as to dispel any doubts or misinformation that may have existed.

Alexei Ramotar addresses a small gathering of BV residents during Thursday’s consultation
Alexei Ramotar addresses a small gathering of BV residents during Thursday’s consultation

During the meetings, questions were raised about the Plaisance fiasco and Ramotar was asked to explain the situation. In BV, just four residents attended the meeting and Ramotar was asked why the people and the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) were excluded from the plans to erect the tower at the Plaisance Community Centre Ground. According to Ramotar, this was not the case. He said project officials turned up at the ground with the overseer of the Plaisance/Industry NDC and were subsequently granted approval to commence works.

In Lusignan, just three residents attended the consultation and one woman said she was thankful for the meeting since it cleared up misconceptions that the signal tower intended for her village would be built on the Lusignan playfield. The woman said that the Plaisance fiasco led to speculation that the government intended to use playgrounds to site all the signal towers.

The meeting at the Strathspey Primary School saw just six residents in attendance.

According to one resident from BV, the poor turnout was because the meeting was being held on short notice. Region Four Chairman Clement Corlette said correspondence was sent to the BV/Triumph NDC, informing about the meeting and instructing that it be publicised through the use of village bell criers.

However, the resident said the lack of representation from the village should not be blamed on the people since the meeting, held at the BV Secondary School, was impromptu.

The meeting in Lusignan was held at the Lusignan Secondary School.

Commenting on the fact that the consultations have come after work on the BV signal tower had started, the resident said “this is putting the cart before the horse, which is not good.”

When Stabroek News visited the site of the BV signal tower, located in the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) storage complex, workers disclosed that they had completed the pile-driving and were preparing to move to another site at La Bonne Intention, where another tower is to be erected.

Serious concerns

Wayne Nero, Vice Chairman of the BV/Triumph NDC had related to Stabroek News that his office had not received any correspondence about the tower’s construction and said that the NDC was oblivious to the ongoing works until it was brought up by Corlette during a meeting on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Nero said that he had serious concerns about the tower’s site despite the fact that it was some distance from houses in the areas. He said the NDC had received calls from residents living around the site, who complained that the pile-driving was causing troubling vibrations. One woman, in particular, had complained that the vibrations led to the development of cracks in her home and its foundation. When asked about the possibility of compensation in such instances, Ramotar said investigations would have to be carried out before such a determination is made.

He said that prior to the pile driving, several engineers visited the surrounding buildings, including the houses, to take pictures of their state. This, he said, was done just in case such a matter occurred. Ramotar said the photos can and will be used to determine if any damage occurred.

The project director said he doubted the cracking occurred as a result of the pile-driving. “Driving piles does not do that to your house,” said Ramotar who claimed that similar driving was carried out in other areas without that effect. Nero, nevertheless, said that the woman’s concrete house, foundation and septic tank were cracked and insisted that it was due to the pile-driving. According to him, “the strata of different areas are compacted to different degrees. As such, in one area you can drive one 60-foot pile in ten minutes which simply means that the soil in that area is weak, because if you’re doing a 60 feet pile you will get 8 to10 drives per foot. But when the area is more compacted like BV, where they’re getting about 16 blows per foot it means that more movements will have to be done because of the strata of the earth.”

‘Teething’

At the meetings, Ramotar explained that the erection of the signal towers was just the first part of the e-governance project, which will see the establishment of over 50 towers along the coast. Once activated, it is expected that residents will benefit from internet access as part of the One Laptop Per Family initiative.

This aspect, Ramotar said, should be completed by August of this year. He said once the infrastructure was complete, it would be connected through the use of fibre-optic cables, which will piggyback on Guyana Power and Light (GPL) poles. However, since the GPL project will not be completed until 2014, microwaves will be used to establish the connections. As such the system, utilising microwaves, should be up and running by September. Once the fibre-optic cables come online, however, they will be used as the primary facilitators while the microwave will be used as back-up.

Ramotar said that once completed, the system will allow for an easier, less expensive process of accessing internet service. He said entrepreneurs in particular will be able to capitalise on the availability of the signals without expending significant finances to get started. This, he said, should lead to increased investment and an expansion of the private sector.

The project director also explained that community centres will be used to provide the service to the community as children and all others desirous of using the services could visit to access the service. Residents who received laptops through the One Laptop Per Family initiative would also be able to connect their machines to the internet at schools, community centres, NDCs and other bodies that have been selected as hubs.

At Strathspey, Ramotar made it clear that the service will not be provided for free but said the cost of access will be relatively low. In the case of the University of Guyana (UG), video conferencing capabilities will be installed and facilitated via the network. Once in place, lecturers at the Turkeyen campus will be able to facilitate lectures with students at the Tain campus, he said.

Sewananda Arjune, head of the Vigilance Community Policing Group, said he was happy for the development because the level of technology in Guyana is very low. He said he is especially excited at the prospects the project has for the youth of Guyana. Residents in that community did not have a problem with the site, since it will be situated in the compound of the Vigilance Police Station.

Meantime, Ramotar said that the system will facilitate the setting up of a consolidated security and even medical networks where important information, such as an individual’s health or criminal records, can be transferred wherever it is needed very quickly. The ultimate benefits, he said, greatly outweigh the issues which are occurring in the project’s “teething” process.

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