Penal/Debe Regional Corporation workers found other chores to do as trucks remained grounded because of the government's failure to release funding to buy diesel. (Image: KRISTIAN DE SILVA)
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Cesspool, grass cutting, and drain cleaning operations at the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation (PDRC) have ground to a halt following the government’s failure to release funding allocated in the last Budget.

During a protest at the Corporation’s sub-office in Debe on Friday, chairman of the Corporation, Dr Allen Sammy, told Guardian Media the diesel supply had run out so all rolling equipment, including trucks, were now at a standstill.

“No funding has been released for the purchase of diesel for vehicles since the reading of the Budget on October 1st. All our resources are now depleted to the point where there is no diesel available for trucks and other rolling stock to do their normal duties,” Dr Sammy revealed.

Saying a health crisis was looming, Dr Sammy explained:

“Cesspit trucks cannot go out, backhoes cannot go to clean drains or watercourses, and the brush cutters cannot cut the recreation grounds. This is a major issue which we have raised with the Minister and the Prime Minister.”

Showing proof of the letter written to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Dr Sammy said the consequences of no funds have been dire for over 90,000 burgesses.

“It impacts on our ability to deliver materials to construction sites, collecting bulk waste and debris from drains, mosquito spraying, rat baiting, serving notices, cutting outfields, patching potholes, delivering truck borne water to clean markets and service institutions, backhoe cleaning to alleviate flooding,” the PDRC chairman pointed out.

However, neither Dr Rowley nor Finance Minister Colm Imbert has intervened to release the budgetary funds.

Recently, a farmer of Woodland contracted leptospirosis and with the impact of COVID-19 in the communities, Dr Sammy said it was important for the Corporation to get the monies to carry out the Corporation’s work.

Chairman of the Penal/Debe Regional Corporation Dr Allen Sammy says there is no diesel to fuel trucks. (Image: KRISTIAN DE SILVA)

He said during a meeting with Minister of Local Government Kazim Hosein last week Wednesday, the Corporation was advised to utilize over $1.477 million in unspent balances.

“I informed the minister and the PS that this has been committed already for wages and salaries. The CEO subsequently sent a letter with details showing that there is no $1.477 million of unspent balances. That was a week ago and we still have no release of funds. There has been no response from the permanent secretary,” Sammy said.

Accusing the government of geographical discrimination, Sammy questioned why the Corporation has not received a cent. He noted that the areas serviced by the Corporation are represented by Naparima MP Rodney Charles, Oropouche East Dr Roodal Moonilal, Oropouche West Davendranath Tancoo and Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

Meanwhile, Krishna Persadsingh, chairman of the Physical Infrastructure Committee, said people could no longer exercise in their communities as the grounds were overgrown.

“There are rats, snakes, vermin at these grounds and it has affected the ability of people to go out and exercise and breathe in that fresh air which is needed particularly now at a time of COVID,” he said.

MP Tancoo said the withholding of the release of funds by the Central Government was a clear case of victimization.

“The Port of Spain Corporation has received its release from the government. That Corporation last year got money to place turf on a recreation ground, but this Penal/Debe Corporation could not get money to buy diesel to clean a drain or to cut a recreation ground. This is political victimization at its highest,” Tancoo charged.

Meanwhile, a senior source said a request was made by the Local Government Ministry for the release of budgetary funds from the Ministry of Finance, but this has not yet been done.

Efforts to contact Minister of Local Government Kazim Hosein proved futile as calls to his cellular phone went unanswered. Messages left for Minister Imbert also went unanswered.