Amid protests, Petrotrin ex-workers offered housing, farmlands
Even as former Petrotrin workers gathered in protest against non-payment of their severance packages, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley promised lands for farming and serviced housing lots during a speech in Parliament on Monday.
Ex-Petrotrin workers gathered in peaceful protest outside the Paria Trading Company in Pointe-a-Pierre, saying they had not received their promised severance payments and might not receive them before Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, Dr Rowley said workers would receive priority housing under the Aided Self-Help Housing Programme as well as funding for agriculture on Petrotrin lands.
The Aided Self Help Housing Programme is a housing initiative which provides housing via fully developed lots supported by subsidized interest rate mortgage loans from the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company (TTMF) as well as pre-approved house plans, technical assistance and oversight for the construction of affordable houses.
Dr Rowley said ex-Petrotrin workers would be given priority access to this plan.
"On September 12th, 2018, at a public meeting in Marabella, I (indicated) that the Government will enter into housing programmes in favour of those persons whose interest it is in getting a house, building a house or finding a piece of land. I said we are going to make sure that some of the Petrotrin land is available around the Southland for those persons who were associated with the company so that they can access land for housing."
"Within this Aided Self-Help Housing Programme, the Government will provide priority access for former Petrotrin workers who require state support to own a house, with initial emphasis on those who are to be first time home owners."
Some of the areas already allocated for the Programme are La Romaine, Picton, Cedar Hill, Couva, Carapichaima, California and Chaguanas.
There are plans for other housing lots in areas such as Usine Ste Madeleine, La Romaine, Pointe a Pierre, Claxton Bay, California, Waterloo, Jerningham Junction, and Chaguanas.
Dr Rowley said government has also identified 'excellent' housing sites in parts of southwestern Trinidad: Warden Road, Point Fortin, Sudama Village and Standard Village in Fyzabad, Sand Pit in Fyzabad, Sobo Extension Road, old Antilles Camp, Vance River, Cashew Patch, Guapo Road, Quarry Village, Santa Flora, Los Bajos, Palo Seco, Rancho Quemado, Buenos Ayres, Los Charos and Los Iros.
He said those sites would be added to the Programme and made available on a 'priority basis' to former Petrotrin workers.
Agricultural land for ex-Petrotrin workers
Dr Rowley added that workers would also be given preference for agricultural lands.
He said government has identified 'suitable agricultural land' for workers already in agriculture or looking to expand into agri-business, in areas such as Chatham, Felicity, Basta Hall, Windsor Park, Quarry, Los Iros, La Brea, Point Fortin, Barrackpore and Guayaguayare.
He said for those who meet the requirements, the Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) will provide a special $500,000 support package for ex-workers, to be disbursed 'in accordance with the Bank's typical lending model but on such criteria, terms and conditions as the Government will advise ADB'.
Dr Rowley said for workers who already carry out agriculture or reside on agricultural lands, government will give priority attention, provided the land does not infringe on exploration and production activities, or other planning guidelines.
"Government will deal expeditiously with the issue of regularization where such occupancy can be shown to have been in existence before December 1st 2018," he said.
Dr Rowley also thanked workers for their professionalism in dealing with the shutdown.
"Madame Speaker, whilst some hiccups occurred here and there but given the complexity of the overall assignment, I want to thank those former Petrotrin employees and other persons associated with Petrotrin for the manner in which the closure of the refinery operations was handled so far. There are still some significant matters that are outstanding but the work continues with confidence."
"We have not given up on refining to be done by others but we have to wait and see what offers are thrown up at the end of the invitation process, the Request for Proposal (RFP), for the refinery...Throughout the entire process, Madam Speaker, the nation’s best interest is always put first," he said.