Yesterday, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) report was launched at which it revealed the energy companies that were the largest taxpayers for fiscal 2019 and 2020.According to the Minister of Energy Stuart Young, BPTT paid to the Government, $4.6 billion in taxes and royalties while EOG Resources contributed another $2.7 billion.
When you add to that the 9,000 barrels of oil per day that comes from Perenco’s operations off the East coast and the production from the Rio Claro, Cascadura, and many of Heritage’s fields, one can see the extent to which the Mayaro constituency carries this country on its back.
One has to clearly understand that with bpTT, EOG, and some of Shell’s fields producing from the East coast, more than 60 per cent of all T&T’s natural gas comes from this one constituency. More than that, without the gas from Mayaro, Atlantic LNG and most of the Point Lisas Industrial Estate would have to shut down.
I raise all of this to ask: why has an area that is so good to the rest of the country, that is the true engine of T&T’s economy is treated so poorly by this and successive governments?
In the interest of transparency, I am originally from the Mayaro constituency and my mother still lives there, so I visit the constituency very often and I am acutely aware of the poor state of the infrastructure. With a population of just over 42,000 people, the Mayaro constituency is one of the poorest in the country. While the data on poverty is now dated, there is nothing to suggest that the situation has changed from the last report that showed Mayaro only second to the Toco/Manzanilla constituency for poverty levels.
In the 2023 budget, the Minister of Finance provisioned $62 million for the Rio Claro/Mayaro Regional Corporation for its recurrent expenditure and another $21 million for its development programme. There is no major government project happening in the constituency and this has been so for at least the last decade.
In many parts of the constituency, water is a luxury. One can remember when for miles you would see along the Naparima Mayaro Road, barrels outside of people’s homes hoping it will be filled by rain or a truck-borne supply. The roads are some of, if not the worst in the entire country, with the second longest road in T&T, the Naparima Mayaro Main Road, that runs from Mon Repos, San Fernando to the Mayaro beach, being one of the worst arteries in the country.
The Mayaro constituency is one of the most connected in T&T and yet one of the worst maintained. You can literally enter it from the Eastern Main Road into the Manzanilla Mayaro Road, the Naparima Mayaro Main Road from San Fernando, you can take it via Biche or through Chaguanas via Tabaquitte or via Gasparillo through Sisters Road and into Brothers Road. Each of the roads I just mentioned is in a state of disrepair as is the old Guayaguayare Road that goes into Saunders Trace and opens up access to Moruga and the entire southwest of the country via Penal and Barrackpore, now impassable.
It is not just roads and water but the government’s actions are impeding any attempt by the people of the area to own their destiny, to develop an economy outside of oil and gas. For long Mayaro has promoted itself as a potential tourist town, a village given to staycations, to weekend get always. How is the tourism economy expected to flourish if the roads are so difficult that it takes you two and a half hours one way to get there from the capital, assuming there is absolutely no traffic on the highway?
The country’s economy cannot develop if areas remain left behind, it only leads to under-development and resentment and the kind of comparison where with some legitimacy the people of Mayaro can ask what is the difference between them and the average Tobagonian?
Why was the average Tobagonian allocated $34,000 in the last budget while the average person in Mayaro gets from the central government $1976?
The inequity is stark and, as a country, we must have a conscience and see that this government is doing the people of Mayaro an injustice and we must demand better.
I know the Government would seek to defend the issue by talking about the country being separated by water but to give Tobago 18 times what the average constituent gets in Mayaro is unconscionable, especially when, as a country, much of what economic wealth is generated comes from the area.
Do not think the people of Mayaro do not have to pay a price for the energy sector operating in their constituency. It is the constant, large heavy trucks that help damage the roads and they are forced to drive for miles behind long energy vehicles until a driver feels sorry and stops for the line of traffic to pass.
The government’s neglect of Mayaro is seen clearly in the cavalier approach of the Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds in the recent budget debate when he appeared unconcerned that for more than a year the Rio Claro Fire Station does not have a single fire tender. Persad’s Foods almost burnt to the ground even though it is less than a minute away from the Rio Claro fire station. The reason the appliance took half an hour to arrive is that there was none in Rio Claro and had to wait on a fire tender from Mayaro.
For decades, agriculture and fishing have been major contributors to the sustenance of the people of Mayaro but even here, poor drainage and poor infrastructure have all hurt the attempt to develop and build businesses.
The country must be developed evenly, there must be fairness in the allocation of government funds, the underdevelopment and rural neglect must be stopped and places like Mayaro, Rio Claro, Tableland, Barrackpore, Eccklesville, Navet and many more villages must not be seen as backwater villages that you visit around election time but one that gets a fair share for the wealth they help generate.