By Jeff Trotman
The Region 10 Regional Democratic Council (RDC) has asked government to undertake remedial works on the deteriorated Linden-Kwakwani road, but “erratic inclement weather conditions” are being blamed for hampering preparatory works for repairs to some sections.
In addition to the works, the region has also asked government to outline its short-term and long-term plans for the roadway, which was demanded in a letter sent to government on Sunday by the RDC.
The demands were made ahead of a planned meeting yesterday between a RDC team and government representatives at Office of the President, even as regional officials encouraged residents and road users to remain calm but continue to protest to press their demands. However, the meeting was postponed due to a small fire at OP. Region 10 Chairman Sharma Solomon, in a subsequent statement, declared the development unfortunate, while announcing that Region 10 RDC Councillors would be going ahead with plans to attend an urgent meeting with residents of Ituni, Kwakwani, Aroaima and the Berbice River communities tomorrow at the Workers Club, at Kwakwani. He said the community meeting is being held to address the concerns of residents on issues affecting them and especially the deplorable state of the Linden-Kwakwani road.
On Monday, Solomon and a regional delegation that included Vice-Chairman Byron Lewis, Councillor Leslie Gonsalves, and Region MP Vanessa Kissoon met with both Ituni and Kwakwani residents at Ituni and pointed out that the state of the road had been pointed out to the government.
Solomon said that at previous meetings with government, the region had highlighted the unacceptable condition of the road, which he said serves as a lifeline for the people of Sub Region Two (Ituni, Aroaima, Kwakwani and other Berbice River communities).
“We regret that the government did not act on our expressed concern. We, however, wish to request that the necessary remedial action be taken and that the government outlines its policy as it relates to this important roadway and other critical roadways within the region, including the Linden/Soesdyke Highway,” he read from the RDC’s letter to government.
Solomon disclosed that he spoke to Prime Minister Samuel Hinds early Monday morning and he said that the Minister of Public Works, Robeson Benn is doing all that he could. The Govern-ment Information Agency (GINA) last evening noted that the Ministry of Works is engaged in preparatory works to repair several sections of the critical roadway, but this is “being hampered by the erratic inclement weather conditions” that are currently prevailing.
Despite the letter to the government, Solomon told residents that how they would proceed is entirely up to them. According to him, the RDC, in the broadest manner, takes direction from the people. “This is what is entrusted to you in Article 13 of the Constitution, where you, the people, insignificant as some people might think you are–and we don’t think you are–will and must be involved in decision making that affect your lives–economic, political, cultural, social and all other means–and it is because of that we have to come here. And before we move forward, we have to take our instructions from you,” he said.
Solomon insisted that the people have a right to demonstrate for a better road because it is their right to have good, decent living. “You’re not demonstrating and protesting out of malice,” he stressed as he cautioned that in demonstrating, they will have to make sacrifices. He added that in the long term those who do not participate in the protest will also benefit from the gains that would have come from the protest.
He pointed to militant resistance by the people at Moblissa against Bai Shan Lin’s destruction of their farm road to the tune of over $40M. “The people at Moblissa threatened to shut down the company’s operation and on 6 August, the Prime Minister at his office in the presence of MP Kissoon; the Chairman of the Forestry Commission; Mr. Williams, the Region’s Environmental consultant, Mr. Ceres; [and] two representatives from Bai Shan Lin, signed an agreement in which Bai Shan Lin is committed to fixing the road, which should be completed in the next 10 days,” Solomon revealed. “That is what you have to do,” he added, while also pointing out that the people in Linden also had the government agree to a number of matters before stopping protest action against the electricity rate hike in 2012.
Some 15 persons, including a 14-year-old boy were charged yesterday with the obstruction of the roadway. Gonsalves, an APNU representative on the RDC, on Tuesday expressed outrage at the manner in which the police force arrested and detained persons.
Those arrested were at the road block that was set up by Ituni residents and bus drivers. Police also said that with the support of machinery from the Ministry of Works, they managed to remove the logs used to create the blockage.
Gonsalves along with Kissoon and Lewis rushed to Ituni and Kwakwani on Tuesday and held meetings with residents of the two communities after being informed of the arrests at Ituni and complaints that residents at Kwakwani had been harassed by police ranks.
The Regional Ten officials held an impromptu meeting with distraught Ituni residents, who had converged in front of the Ituni Police Station to meet the Region Ten officials and urged them to remain calm.
Gonsalves said the disrepair of the Ituni road has been placed before the government and was recently raised during a meeting between the region and the government last month. “A blind man would understand what is happening here,” he said, while noting that he had accompanied a corpse that was being taken to Laudersville and for every three miles they had to stop and fix the casket.
During the meeting, one resident pointed out that most of the arrested persons were young people, including the 14-year-old boy. According to the resident, those who were arrested had been sleeping when the police pounced upon them. “They were not creating mischief,” she said.
Calling on the Ituni residents to remain calm, Gonsalves said, “This that happen should not daunt your spirit. This that happened should not cause you to pull into your shell and say you do not want to be arrested.”
Lewis and Kissoon echoed Gonsalves’ call for the people to be calm but vigilant in their demonstration to ensure that they get a proper road. “The matter is now out of your hands and we are going to deal with that,” Lewis said.
Following the Ituni meeting, the three officials travelled to Kwakwani, where they held another meeting at which the residents there complained that they were harassed by police officers around eight o’clock in the morning.
Again the three officials told the people to be calm and continue their quest for a proper road. According to MP Kissoon, the action that they are taking is not necessarily to benefit the older folks but it was really to seek betterment for the younger generation.
Noting that she is a teacher at Mackenzie High School, Kissoon said that education of their children should be high on the agenda of Kwakwani parents. She stressed that it currently takes three hours to travel between Linden and Kwakwani and the journey is so rough that one is often disoriented after making it. According to her, the time would be just over an hour on a good road, which would facilitate students commuting between Linden and Kwakwani comfortably every day.
Lewis, who has his family home at Kwakwani, stressed that the protest action being taken by the residents of the two communities is not being done out of malice. “You did not just get up and decide that you felt like protesting. You got fed up that nothing was being done for months to fix the road.”
Pointing out that no government official visited the communities despite the protest action that was taken, Lewis said, “They are treating us with contempt. They sent the police to treat you like criminals and when we were coming up, they dropped two loads of laterite in some holes in the road to give the impression that they are working on the road
Stating that the government officials had not informed the Regional Chairman and his councillors that any sort of rehabilitative work was being done on the road, Lewis stressed that “We will not accept them just dumping stuff without giving us a firm plan and estimate of cost and time for fixing a proper road.”
At both meetings, the Region Ten officials announced that there will be a general meeting for Ituni and Kwakwani residents as well as those from the other communities in the Up
per Berbice River who use the Linden/Kwakwani road to discuss ways of engaging the government’s attention to the urgent need to get the road fixed.