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LAVENTILLE AT LAST
Two Saturdays ago, Prime Minister Keith Rowley held a special event at Sogren Trace Recreational Ground to announce a major development initiative for Laventille entitled “Laventille 123: A Different Me.” According to Joel Julien writing in the Guardian on April 18, 2016:
“Hundreds of specially invited guests stayed away from an event in Laventille on Saturday, in which Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley was the feature speaker, because they were afraid of rising crime in that area.”
However, the major policy announcement that he made that night was a return to earlier initiatives that were not carried through when he was a minister in the Manning administration.
Prime Minister Rowley now has a second chance to do something about the development of Laventille once more. In June 2003, according to then political reporter at Newsday, Ria Taitt:
“Dr Keith Rowley was brutally frank in Laventille yesterday as he delivered the feature address at the sod-turning ceremony for the Beverly Hills project. In a tough talking speech, the planning and development minister fired verbal shot after shot at the people of Laventille, warning them that the crime and killing had to stop now. He said Government was fed up of gun crimes in Trinidad and Tobago, particularly in Laventille. Rowley warned that Government was moving to target the handlers of illegal guns. ‘And we are going to be rough and tough,’ he stated, to loud applause from his Laventille audience.” (Newsday, June 28, 2003).
On the day of the sixtieth anniversary of the birth of the PNM, former Port-of-Spain mayor Raymond Tim Kee went into the area and proclaimed that “life in Laventille is hell.”
Tim Kee, who is also the treasurer of the PNM, had made a serious indictment on the quality of life in the area after 60 unbroken years of PNM representation from Donald Granado in 1956 (when there was only one constituency in Laventille) to Fitzgerald Hinds (Laventille West) and Adrian Leonce (Laventille East/Morvant) in 2015.
On February 8, 2010, former prime minister Patrick Manning held a walkabout in the Laventille West constituency. According to Guardian senior political reporter Gail Alexander who covered that walkabout:
“Later, Manning told constituents at a meeting: ‘As I walked people talked to me. That’s the major reason we are here…we want to listen.’ He said nearly everyone had told him that area MP Nileung Hypolite was ‘trying,’ but didn’t have the resources to get things done. Manning said the view was ‘very refreshing.’
Stating that he, as political leader, had heard the concerns, Manning revealed at the meeting he would ask the Ministers of Sports, Works, Utilities, Culture, Social Development and Local Government and the East Port-of-Spain Development Company to meet yesterday with the MPs for Laventille East and West. Manning added: ‘After they talk, I want to see a programme for the continued development of Laventille and I give the assurance that the money required will be made available.’ Manning received a standing ovation at the meeting for that announcement.” (Guardian, February 11, 2010).
Three months later, the PNM would return to the opposition benches in the Parliament.
Prof Selwyn Cudjoe, writing in a post on the trinicenter.com website on February 21, 2008, said: “Fifty years ago the children of Laventille placed their faith in the PNM. In its greatest hour of distress, when NAR swamped the country, the people of Laventille kept the faith and supported the PNM. Today, the PNM has abandoned Laventille and betrayed the trust these children placed in them. Were he alive today, Jesus would say the PNM abandoned the people of Laventille in the ‘heat and burthen of the day.’
While the government has set up the East Port-of-Spain Development Company to develop the area no one knows what their plans are. Moreover, the people of the area are not involved in their own development. There are seen as mere objects of this grandiose project rather than subjects who are involved in constructing their lives. While lots of money have been spent (perhaps wasted is a better word) in the area no one has outlined what the issues are and how best to solve them. No transformational work is taking place and no one knows of any specific plans to stem this national blight.”
The reality is that there is no other political party for which the national community has an expectation to address the plight of Laventille than the PNM. The People’s Partnership, under Kamla Persad-Bissessar, made its own attempts through the East Port-of-Spain Development Company and other policy initiatives. The same can be said for the UNC under Basdeo Panday and the NAR under ANR Robinson.
However, the one political party that must be expected to make Laventille their top priority is the PNM, because the people of the area have trusted no other party to represent them for the last 60 years.
They have suffered many broken promises from the PNM over the years.
One can only hope that their time for meaningful development has finally come at last.
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