Consultation Versus Coercion
By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 14, 2019
On Wednesday evening I attended a consultation at the Tacarigua Community Center that was organized by Susan Corbett, director of Community Development (CD), with the assistance of Terrence Beepath, Senior Project Manager of UDeCOTT, to tell us what CD had in store for us vis-à-vis our proposed community center. We, mere supplicants, were supposed to listen and presumably to acquiesce. We were not supposed to question the bearers of these new gifts.
I raised this issue in this column in June of this year. I reported that in January 1965 the Trinidad Sugar Estates gave ninety-four thousand, six hundred and ten square feet of land to the Tacarigua Welfare and Improvement Council for "a site of a community center." The first center was built in 1965.
On May 8, 2019, Beepath and his crew, unknown to anyone in the village council, arrived on the land and began to measure it. When asked by Cecil Boyce, the president of the Village Council, what he was doing, Beepath dismissed him, turned to Petal Knott-Thomas, the secretary of the council and principal of the Pre-School, and responded indignantly, "Like he def or what? He ent hear what ah telling him. Anything he want to know, talk to the minister."
Disturbed by Beepath's behavior, Boyce wrote to Dr. Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, Minister of Community Development, Culture and the Arts, on May 31, to complain about the treatment to which he was subjected. On June 27, Gadsby-Dolly acknowledged Boyce's letter. She viewed the various issues Boyce raised "with concern." She assured him that the matter "will be discussed with the UDeCOTT and Community Development Division of the Ministry as soon as possible."
Keeping her word, Corbett and Beepath returned to the community on Wednesday to discuss the matter. Beepath claimed he did not make such a statement. This time around, he walked in with a drawing of the proposed building but did not bring a site plan. He offered the dimensions of the proposed new structure which he said would be placed in the footprint of the present community center.
No consideration was given to children of the Pre-School which is located about eight feet from where the present center stands. They would continue to be caged up in the same environment cut off from light, land and the natural beauty of their surroundings.
The Ministry of Community Development has great expectations for this building. It is supposed to act as a major center in case there is a national disaster which is more possible today than it was previously because of changing weather patterns. Beepath said the main auditorium of this proposed building will accommodate 100 people. Although the number of residents of the area has grown almost a hundred-fold since 1965 and the number of cars in the area has increased almost as much, only fifteen parking spots are allocated to a building that is supposed to be used in the case of a national emergency.
Presently, there is only one developed road into and out of the center. In the case of a national emergency, it would be so jammed as to be inoperable. Jessica Chase, a villager and U.S-trained architect, explained: "In the case of an emergency, nothing would be able to move in and out of that space. One always needs an egress when one is dealing with large crowds." Any plan for this space needs two roads: one for the traffic entering and another by which it exits.
There were others, equally as vociferous, who agreed with Beepath's proposal. However, Beepath's proposal cannot accommodate the multiple purposes the ministry hopes to accomplish for the building. Even the parking requirements as demanded by the relevant planning authorities cannot be met as Beepath explained.
The Village Council allowed Norman Mungroo to use a portion of the space to conduct a Windball Cricket League. Presumably, he did an excellent job. The Village Council, however, terminated his lease in May and now he conducts his league in Constantine Park.
Initially, Beepath proposed building a wall that would effectually cut the space into two. Hopefully, he has abandoned this idea. At the very least, it violates a caveat that is expressed in the 1965 cadastral sheet that stipulates the site should be used exclusively for a community center. There is no reason why a space of over 94,000 square feet should not be utilized in a more efficient manner to accommodate the objectives that the Community Development Ministry and the Village Council need to achieve.
Those who are bearing gifts to any community must be on guard against the danger of bullying the community. Although this was supposed to be a consultation, we were told—one may say threatened—that if we did not make up our minds, the project would be abandoned and the funds for this project would be transferred to another area, which belies the intent of the so-called consultation.
A consultation consists of give and take between two parties. One party proposes, the other makes suggestions for improvements. Both parties try to work out an amicable settlement. It cannot be structured as an ultimatum. We cannot be told that unless we act now we will lose what is proposed. Such an approach seems more like coercion and bullying rather than genuine consultation and goodwill. That is not how governors conduct business with the governed in a democracy.
Corbett and Beepath listened to the villagers' suggestions. We look forward to see how the Ministry of Community Development will incorporate those suggestions into its new document.
Professor Cudjoe's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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The Slave Master of Trinidad by Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe