This week has started off with a series of protests by residents in south Trinidad as they seek to highlight the poor condition of their roads and the lack of a proper pipe-borne water supply from the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).
Of course, neither problem is new. Issues with poor roadway infrastructure and water supply—sometimes both connected due to inefficiencies in how WASA fixes leaks and restores the road surfaces they dig up—have been perennial problems that often bring such protests across the country.
However, those protests took a strange twist yesterday when Moruga/Tableland MP Michelle Benjamin was caught by police officers mobilising residents of Hindustan to stage fiery protests in the community.
That the police officers only broke up the activity and took no other form of action is something we hope will be rectified soon. This is because MP Benjamin has signalled she is ready to take such action again if necessary in solidarity with her constituents. However, this media house questions the manner in which the MP is battling for the cause.
To be clear, it is every citizens’ right to protest. This is enshrined in section 4 of T&T’s Constitution. Clauses “I,” “J” and “D” itemise the right to freedom of expression, assembly and equal treatment from state institutions. In theory then, citizens are empowered to protest against poor service from the Works and Transport Ministry and WASA, who are spotlighted in this case. However, clause “B” of that very section says citizens also have “equality before the law and the protection of the law.” This is to say that in whatever one does, it should be within the law of the land.
This is where the stance being taken by the citizens of south Trinidad should not be tolerated. While they are entitled to protest for the provision of basic services from state entities, the blocking of roadways and burning of debris to make their point, which in turn inconvenienced other citizens and damaged state property, is illegal.
Once again, however, the politicians are seeking to cloud the issues with gimmickry. So on one hand, we have the scenario where Princes Town MP Barry Padarath accuses the Government of geographical discrimination, suggesting that state agencies are deliberately not providing constituents in UNC-led areas with the services they require. Apparently, MP has not seen similar complaints all over the country for the same services so far this year and in previous years under various administrations. At the same time, we have MP Benjamin yesterday physically comm andeering Hindustan residents to conduct an activity she knows to be illegal, all under the guise that she is in solidarity with them.
So while this newspaper fully supports the right of southern citizens to protest for better service, as enshrined in the Constitution, we seriously question the manner in which they are currently going about it and hope they will reconsider their action in future. We suspect they will continue such protests until they get some form of relief but it must be done within the law.