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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, third from left, and Cabinet members Kazim Hosein, left, Paula Gopee-Scoon, Rohan Sinanan, Clarence Rambharat and Dr Lovell Francis turn the sod at the Gran Chemin Fishing Facility in Moruga yesterday.

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Even though it has not yet paid for the lands, the government is forging ahead to build the $62 million Gran Chemin Fishing facility.

During a sod-turning ceremony on Monday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said the facility was one of ten major projects the government embarked on despite tough economic challenges.

These projects were paid for through private sector loans and were either completed or in various stages of completion,” Dr Rowley said. They include the Brian Lara Stadium; Carenage Fishing Facility; Diego Martin Sporting Complex; completion of several hospitals including Point Fortin, Couva, Arima as well as the Central Block of the Port-of-Spain General Hospital, the Point Fortin Highway San Fernando Waterfront, Curepe Interchange and the Moruga Agro-Processing Park and Grand Chemin fishing port.

“That’s approximately 4.8 billion of construction that we undertook at a time of great economic stringency in T&T,” Rowley said.

He added, “We could easily have said all fall down and price of oil and gas had fallen, overdraft was up at 99 per cent and we borrowed too much, we relied on the energy sector but we didn’t do that. It is easy when things get difficult to throw your hands in the air and say it can’t be done but that is when you’re required to be strongest and do better and do more with less,” he said.

He said citizens must now work hard to pay the bills.

“We have to be disciplined people because we have loans to pay. We built all kinds of things and we did so with advanced payments. We created opportunities for every person everywhere and that is called balanced development.

Rowley said recently T&T faced a challenge with food shortages.

“We had the frightening prospect of facing some element of food shortage in this country. When the world pandemic was declared and we sought to buy food from abroad, many of our requests faced an answer that we have no food to sell and suddenly we discovered that we may have been exposed in a way we have never been before,” Rowley said. He added that he was heartened by the number of people who began backyard gardening in a bid to feed themselves.

“It did something good,” Rowley said adding that 100 acres of land was distributed in Central Trinidad and 1,200 acres in Aripo is now devoted to livestock farming.

He encouraged citizens to get into agro-processing and agriculture saying it was a sector that was tax-free.

He said the government had been criticized for hiring contractors who were being investigated by the police. However, he noted that when the PNM took office it took an oath to be fair to everyone.

“Some say there are contractors who should not get government work. How to deal with that. We took an oath to treat everyone fairly. We told them they could compete for jobs but we will not make private deals with you. If did wrong before, it had nothing to do with us but you will be talking to the police,” he added.

Meanwhile, Works Minister Rohan Sinanan defended the decision to proceed with the project despite ongoing negotiations with the landowner.

“Basically there are two landowners where the land was required. One was one acre and another .8 of an acre. The system was a compulsory acquisition which you know there is a process. You serve the Section 3 and Section 4, negotiation goes over. The State then takes possession even though you have not settled with the valuator.

One has agreed and the other owner has not settled with the Commissioner of Valuation. The process is clear. The commissioner of Valuation makes a fair market value and is you are not satisfied then you can go to court and the court will decide what is fair market value. Having turned the sod for a project that has not been paid for is a normal part of the Infrastructure Development Programme. The Kaydonna Interchange, for example, the sod has been turned and the project completed and there are some people who are still waiting for payment. The Point Fortin Highway, there are still negotiations going on. There is nothing new to that,” he said.

The fishing facility is being built on lands owned by Prism Trust and Investment Limited. The facility is expected to be completed by August next year and will include the construction of bunkering facilities, berthing for the coast guard and 150 fishing boats, storage for boats and nets, a fish market, cold storage and ice makers, a wastewater treatment plant, a slipway, parking and security.

Sinanan said the project was initially tendered at $78 million but after renegotiation, the contractor Balou Engineering and Maintenance Services Limited agreed top build it for $62 million.