By Jeff Trotman
Kwakwani resident Charles Thom last week urged the Region Ten Regional Democratic Council (RDC) to approach foreign governments to raise US$1 million ($200 million) to build a proper 36-mile laterite road between Linden and Ituni.
Thom made the proposal on Friday at a meeting of residents from Kwakwani, Ituni, Mora Creek,
Hururu and neighbouring villages of the Upper Berbice River to develop new strategies to have their concern for a proper road addressed.
The meeting was called by the RDC in response to police action that saw 15 people, including a 14-year-old boy, arrested in the early hours of last Tuesday morning for blocking a public way.
Bus drivers who ply the Kwakwani/Linden route along with Ituni and Kwakwani residents staged a roadblock on Friday August 29 at Ituni and their protest action continued until it was abruptly terminated by the police action early Tuesday morning. The roadblock had effectively stopped logging company Bai Shan Lin from moving logs from Kwakwani to Linden and the coast. The roadblock had also made it difficult for workers of the Rusal Bauxite Company, who live at Linden, to commute freely to the company’s operations at Mora Creek.
During his address, Thom implored the residents to understand what is happening. He said over the past 10 years, they have been asking the government to build a proper road. “But all we’re getting is a patch-patch like what’s going on right now. We’re saying that is not enough,” he said.
Thom said he has given up hope that government would build a proper Linden/Kwakwani road and he has proposed to Regional Chairman Sharma Solomon that ambassadors from countries such as Britain, USA, Canada, Japan, China, and Brazil, among others, be invited to donate funds to a self-help road building project.
He said a study was done and it found that 36 miles of road, 20 feet wide, between Linden and Ituni, would take approximately 72,000 cubic yards of laterite and it would cost $120 million to transport the laterite from Goat Farm (not far from Ituni) to Linden. “That is just loading and dropping it. We put a high price of $30,000 per truck load. We also found in that study that we can do the road 24 feet wide, same six inch thick and thirty six miles long at $144 million.”
Noting that the road has to be raised at certain points before throwing the laterite, Thom expressed the hope that if the project is undertaken, Bai Shan Lin could volunteer two loaders. “We cater for ten miles of raising the road and we are hoping that we take the stuff from the side of the road while the laterite coming to cap the road, which can be easily done.”
While implying that the relationship between Rusal and Kwakwani residents is not as cordial as it could be, Thom expressed a desire for it to improve and the hope that Rusal would also deploy some of its equipment on such a road building project.
He said US$1 million would adequately cover the cost of building a proper all-weather laterite road. He said the money will be used for paying truckers and other workers and money might even be left back to partly fund the Rockstone Road.
Thom said food was expensive in the sub region because of the high cost of transporting it from the coast to hinterland communities and he opined that a better road would influence a drop in food prices. He also opined that a better road would cause a reduction in the cost of producing lumber and consequently, the loggers from that area would cut less of the forest.
“If I’m trying to save the forest, I should get some kind of recompense,” Thom said, “and you can’t take what I am trying to save to put it in Georgetown … on the coast and other places and I am not benefiting,” he added.
Stating that indigenous communities in Region Ten are not benefiting from the Low Carbon Development Strategy, Thom suggested that a petition also be made to the government of Norway for road building funds.
The Kwakwani-based logger also suggested that the Regional Chairman negotiates with the Forestry Commission and/or the Ministry of Natural Resources to make 40,000 acres of land available for logging in the cattle trail by loggers from Ituni, Kwakwani and other communities in the Upper Berbice River.
“We will not raise US$1 million from this venture,” Thom said. “But we could raise in excess of US$50 million because for those who don’t know, right now the UNAMCO Road is being fixed and the logging associations in Kwakwani, Ituni, Linden, Aroaima and a few small operators have put between $30 million to $40 million on that road and there is a Chinese company that is fixing that road.” He added that if money is raised, the government can put in about $10 million to $20 million.
Bai Shan Lin
Thom said that contrary to what has been said, Bai Shan Lin has been one of the best corporate citizens since it has been operating in Kwakwani. “Since the Americans have gone from Kwakwani, [Bai Shan Lin has] been cooperative,” Thom stressed and he cautioned his fellow Kwakwani residents to ensure that Bai Shan Lin continues its commendable role.
Meanwhile, the meeting was also addressed by Ituni resident Clement Boyle, who said that the police monitoring the meeting were from Ituni and would have noticed that Ituni is a law-abiding community.
Above resounding applause, Boyle said the police should have been in sympathy with such law-abiding citizens for taking a stand to highlight a serious concern. “Had it been that they were living in these communities and have to traverse that road on a daily basis, blood probably would have come out of their skin instead of sweat,” Boyle said.
Pointing out that its only economic base is wood, Boyle said buyers used to travel to Ituni to purchase logs but because of the road, they have stopped. So, the Ituni loggers have to travel to the coast to sell their wood, incurring greater costs since truckers have increased their prices for transporting the logs to offset the maintenance and repair of their trucks which are damaged traversing the bad road.
“The last time we were embraced by total eye-pass, we staged a protest that they [government] responded to almost instantly. … In my opinion the only language that this government understands is the language that we are speaking and we spoke a few days ago,” he added.
He made a commitment that Ituni would participate in any arrangement to facilitate the self-help construction of the road. He added, on behalf of the people of Ituni, “we do not have anything against the police. We got to be mad to say that we don’t like the police. The police are supposed to protect us.”
Boyle, however, pointed out that people would react aggressively if the police approached them in an uncivilised manner. “If somebody approaches you in a respectable manner, you are going to respond to them respectfully,” he said.
Although the monthly statutory meeting of the RDC was adjourned earlier in the day to allow councillors to attend the Kwakwani meeting, most of the 16 councillors did not opt to make the uncomfortable the trip from Linden to Kwakwani. Councillors Leslie Gonsalves, who chaired the meeting, Mayfield Greene, Stanley Collins, Maurice Butters and Solomon as well as Member of Parliament Vanessa Kissoon were among those present.