Gonzales alleges political discrimination in Morne Diablo water racket

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Public Utilities Marvin Gonzales. – File photo by Angelo Marcelle

Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales says there is evidence of political discrimination when it comes to water in TT that can cause people to shiver.

“You have been a victim of corruption at the highest level,” Gonzales told residents of Morne Diablo in Penal.

He spoke at the commissioning ceremony for the Morne Diablo water supply improvement project on April 13 at the Morne Diablo Recreation Ground at Scotts Road.

Gonzales recalled telling the Prime Minister about making this intervention.

In response, he said Dr Keith Rowley told him that upon completion, he should make sure there were police to guard the valves because the contractors might interfere with the valves to ensure that the illegal water-trucking continues.

“You have a responsibility to guard the Government’s investment in your community,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales also apologised to the affected residents, telling them they have been the victims of a water trucking racket for over 20 years.

He said many people in the political sphere were part of it.

Many residents were victims of irregular water supply. Some never had a supply.

The minister said contractors were stealing water from the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) and selling it to residents. The matter is being investigated by WASA and the police, he added.

Gonzales said he often questioned how this well-oiled criminal enterprise took place, and no intervention was made. He said it happened right under the noses of their representatives, including their MPs and councillors.

He added, “How could this have taken place under the noses of the leadership of the WASA, which was responsible for ensuring that you had a sufficient water supply? To me, that is the perfect example of leaders and public officials turning away from their oath of office to the people of TT.”

“I think it is incumbent on me in my capacity as the Minister of Public Utilities and an MP, to sincerely apologise to you for the desecration that you would have endured over the last 20 years.”

The $2.74 million project saw 2,359 meters (2.3 kilometres) of six-inch transmission line installed from Scotts Road Well Number Five and along the Penal Rock Road and Quarry Road.

The project was completed in 16 days, and water flowed into people’s taps days later.

He said over 90 percent of the community has started to receive a water supply.

From what he was told, drilling additional wells would be required to bring further water into production so that we can supply the areas that have yet to receive regular supply.

Gonzales recalled that when the project started, the contractor and even a journalist were threatened for intervening.

“That is the audacity of corrupt people in TT. The reason why they have survived for over two decades is because they have friends who operate at high levels of socety.”

“They (contractors) are people from your community who decided to tap into the wells, take all the water, store it in large reservoirs, prevent the water from coming higher up and sell you the water. That is something you will hear in a movie or see in a story book. But we have endured threats and intimidation.”

Gonzales said Morne Diablo was one of several communities nationwide that WASA has impacted significantly over the last three years under teh ministry’s community water improvement programme.

He pledged that his ministry, and by extension, the Government, would not rest until the situation was fully resolved and every single member and resident received a supply of water.

Without calling names, he said it took quite a lot from him to sit and endure criticism from Opposition MPs who say the reason why some communities are getting water is because of political discrimination.

The MP for the area is the Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who was not at the function.

Planning and Development Minister Pennelope Beckles, Youth Development and National Service Minister Foster Cummings and Communications Minister Symon de Nobriga also gave remarks.

Beckles said she understood the challenges the residents faced and the ministers were there to support Gonzales.

She was there partly because she grew up in another village Borde Narve, San Fernando, where she also experienced water woes.

Cummings said water is life, and things are looking up in Morne Diablo. He commended Gonzales for his passion for his job and for having the vigour and energy to get things done.

Resident Helen Salick gave a comical account of dealing with no supply and now getting a supply. She said after 15 years, she experienced an Easter miracle when, on Easter Sunday, water flowed in her line.

A preschool teacher said classes sometimes have to be dismissed early due to the lack of classes. Some children also missed classes because of the lack of water supply.

President of the Morne Diablo Village Council Cothny Bethel said buying water became a norm over the years.

He dubbed WASA board commissioner Allister Bandoo an honorary resident for delivering all the promises he made.