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Prime Minister Gonsalves urges NOBA to be patient

Prime Minister Gonsalves urges NOBA to be patient

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The Unity Labour Party (ULP) Government has repaired and restructured more square miles of road than any government in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“People forget that when we arrived in office, parts of the Windward Highway were practically impassable,” said Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves on Monday, during a press briefing at the Cabinet Room.{{more}}

The Prime Minister (PM) noted that when the ULP took the reins of government, they searched for funds and spent nearly $140 million on roads from Sion Hill to Fancy, including the bridge over the Rabacca Dry River.

The PM was speaking on road issues, ahead of a threatened strike by the National Omnibus Association (NOBA).

He noted also that they have done “tremendous” work on the other highways in the middle of the island and on the Vigie highway (work still ongoing), while the South Leeward Highway, from Hospital Corner to Layou, is being worked on. Work was also done on the sea defence in Layou and according to the PM, if this work in Layou was not done, persons would have had to take boat to go anywhere north-west of Layou.

However, the latest road project, the $26 million South Leeward Highway, has been held up due to the unavailability of asphalt and aggregate, while omnibus operators are crying out due to bad roads in many areas.

Acknowledging that the omnibus operators are not wrong, the PM noted that many roads in the country have been badly built and the “atrocious” weather over the last few years has made things extremely bad.

“I have had to redirect finances to fix roads damaged by storms,” said the PM, who asked members of NOBA to be patient.

He said that persons in the media and the opposition New Democratic Party are using the $4.5 million spent on materials (lumber, galvanize, cement) for poor people that was recently imported as a talking point, saying that that money could have gone towards roads, but in truth he has not yet spent $4.5 million, as that money will be paid over a period of time and not all at once.

“Since when providing building materials for poor people is a crime and since when that is a reason for minibus to withdraw service?” asked Gonsalves on Monday and stressed that the Government has been distributing materials on an ongoing basis since 2002, from the time Hurricane Lily destroyed infrastructure here.

“I want to say this to the minibus association. The $4.5 million for material is a one-year credit. I am paying next year, so to tell me I should take the money I spend on that to fix the road, I haven’t got it. I can’t afford $4.5 million, so I spread it out,” said the PM, who also noted that there are people suffering from poor housing conditions and problems from storms, “and we have fixed a lot and we have a lot to do.”

Dr Gonsalves said that while he knows roads are bad, there are also other important projects that need attention in the country, including the School Feeding Programme and the Lives to Live Programme (for the elderly and handicapped people), “and some minibus men have their families looking for material and bathrooms and toilets.

“I don’t know why we create these unnecessary wars,” said Gonsalves, while appealing to Anthony ‘Code Red’ Bacchus, president of NOBA, to think about the poor.

“I know that Code Red is a good Muslim, a believer in Islam and I appeal to him that in the Koran there is no group of people more elevated in the eyes of the Supreme Being than the poor. They have a special place in Islam,” said the PM, who is of the opinion, “anytime we doing things for poor people, they (the Opposition) behaving like the Republican right wing.”

He said that these projects are aimed at reducing poverty and moving hunger to zero here.

The PM, appealing to NOBA to have some patience, said that the newly purchased asphalt road zippers are doing work quickly all over the country. He said that works have been done in Fairhall and are currently being carried out in South Central Windward.

“I am not saying that the men (NOBA) are not correct to complain and we have not cursed or ignored them or bad talked them; they make an important contribution and I understand the problem. But I can’t fix all the roads at the same time, because I have over 80 miles of highways and 250 miles to 275 of village roads, secondary woods and 400 miles of feeder roads,” said Gonsalves.

He added that he has given assurance to the minibus men that the worst roads will be fixed, as the Government’s plan is to upgrade, develop, maintain and expand the road network, while reinforcing and widening bridges.

The PM also revealed that there is a major problem with getting asphalt and hot mix here, as stones of a special type that comes from local quarries are needed, but the privately run quarries are not producing the stones at a quick enough pace or volume.

He said that Dipcon Engineering, the company charged with building the South Leeward Highway, brought in their own asphalt plant and in order to get stones, the chief engineer Brent Bailey has asked permission for Dipcon to import stones from Dominica.

“The quarries here not producing to the extent at which they want,” noted the PM, saying that if the Government gets involved in quarrying, persons will say negative things, “that we taking bread out of the mouth of people, but it is a real big problem; the demands just cannot be satisfied.”

In other road works, the PM revealed that they are doing a study on building a tunnel under Cane Garden point and an alternative route into Kingstown.

“It is a complex affair and that we have actively for the fourth term,” said Gonsalves.(LC)

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