File photo: Independent Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh.
LOCAL Authorities, Service Commissions and Statutory Authorities joint select committee (JSC) chairman, Independent Senator Dr Varma Deyalsingh, has said Chaguaramas could provide a safe space for people to escape from the fear of crime.
He expressed this opinion during a virtual meeting between members of the JSC and officials from the Chaguaramas Development Authority (CDA) and Planning and Development Ministry on Friday.
During the meeting, CDA officials also updated the committee on efforts the authority has been making since 2015 to improve its operations and shed some of the negatives attached to the authority from the tenure of the UNC-led People’s Partnership (PP) coalition government.
They identified one of the latter as a debt of approximately $119 million incurred by the CDA.
Despite the challenges the authority experienced during the covid19 pandemic, and through its own efforts, acting CDA general manager Karen Clark-Rowley said that debt has been significantly reduced, to $35 million.
Deyalsingh recalled that nearly 50 years ago, people had a vision of what kind of place the Chaguaramas peninsula could be and how the CDA could achieve that vision.
He said, “The Chaguaramas peninsula is a magical place.”
Deyalsingh listed red howler monkeys, dolphins and historical sites as some of the peninsula’s magic. He added that 50 years ago, the peninsula was viewed as a green and serene space where people could relax with friends and family.
He said this was important, given the high levels of crime today.
“People look for safe spaces.”
Deyalsingh, a psychiatrist by profession, said apart from its economic value, Chaguaramas could be “important to the mental health of the nation.”
CDA director Robert Cezair said the authority has been seeking to promote sporting hubs and its plethora of natural trails as a means of attracting more people.
“We try to make the peninsula as safe as possible and as enjoyable as possible for the people of TT. The CDA police is fully equipped with the necessary firepower (to ensure people’s safety).”
While a bicycle police initiative under the PP is no longer in operation, Cezair said CDA police officers make regular patrols and have all the legal powers of members of the police service.
Noting the presence of military bases at Teteron, Staubles Bay and Hart’s Cut in Chaguaramas, Cezair said CDA police can access assistance from the Defence Force and the police if necessary.
Clark-Rowley said the CDA does not rely on government subventions to finance its operations. She told committee members that as a landlord entity, the authority gets 98 per cent of its revenue from the rents paid to it by tenants.
“That’s how we keep afloat.”
Cezair added that the only property from which the CDA does not get a rent is the heliport, because its lands are vested in the National Security Ministry and not with the authority.
He said the CDA signed 18 leases with new tenants over the last two years, and currently manages 14 month-to-month leases with other tenants. Other CDA officials told JSC members the authority earned revenue of approximately $30 million in 2022 and 2021, from rents.
Cezair also said there has been a renewed focus on developing agriculture in Chaguaramas.
The Youth Development and National Service Ministry has taken charge of the Chaguaramas Convention Centre. This will be upgraded for use as as an administrative centre to co-ordinate agricultural activities on 26 acres of land the ministry acquired in Chaguaramas for a youth agriculture initiative.
Cezair said the former megafarm in Chaguaramas, once a Trinidad and Tobago-Cuba joint agriculture initiative, has been taken over by a company called U-Pick.
He also said the Bowen Marine powerboat company is no longer in operation, but another company is occupying its former space.
In response to a question from Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial, Cezair said while a zoo in the peninsula closed during the pandemic, the CDA is not averse to entities like this being based in Chaguramas, once they conform to its land-management policy.
Government Senator Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal was dismayed that a business which offered paddle-boat rentals in Chaguaramas had closed down. Clark-Rowley said this was due to frequent visits by a caiman to that facility and fears that others would follow.