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‘Attorneys should do pro bono work for residents’

By Juhel Browne CCN Senior Multimedia Journalist

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley is calling on the nation’s attorneys to offer services for free (pro-bono) to La Brea residents who live on Coffee Beach where clean-up efforts continue after an oil spill reached the shoreline there.
Saying an issue of legal liability is involved, Rowley made the comment during his first visit to La Brea yesterday since the first of six oil spills along the South Western peninsula was reported on December 17.
“I would like the Government to take its responsibility. I would like Petrotrin to take its responsibility and I would like the legal fraternity in Trinidad & Tobago whoever you are to provide pro-bono support for the people of La Brea in protecting their rights in this matter,” Rowley said
He further said, “When one looks at the details of how this was handled it is yet another example of the Government’s incompetence and cavalier attitude to treating with some people. I am not taking the issue yet about La Brea people being supporters of the PNM I’m not going there yet, the time will come for that.”
Rowley said he relied on reports “coming in initially” on the oil spill before deciding to examine the situation first hand yesterday.
“And from what I am seeing here today (yesterday) it is clear to me that this is an embarrassment to our oil producing nation,” Rowley said.
And as some complain their needs are not being met while the Government has sent emergency supplies to St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines after a storm caused severe damage in both Caricom states, Rowley said:
“Trinidad & Tobago has a responsibility to help our Caricom neighbours not only out of self interest but more so out of humanitarian concerns. We have the ability and the resources and the wherewithal to do both, to help our Caricom neighbours at the same time ensuring that we help our own people here first but it is not a question of first or second we can’t have people here feeling that they are being ignored.”
Rowley expressed concern that, to date, no source for any of the oil spills has been identified as he said he was informed that during high tide at Coffee Beach, more oil shows up in the water.
“And if it is that there are people here who are exposed to this pollution who are requesting and are amenable to being relocated the Government of Trinidad & Tobago has it within its power today to treat with that. Giving them a box lunch is not a solution to that problem,” Rowley said.
The Government and the state-owned oil refinery, Petrotrin, has committed resources, with foreign assistance, to clean-up the oil at La Brea and other affected parts of the coastline along the South Western peninsula.
In a text message response to questions from the Express on the issue of the calls for relocation to Housing Development Corporation (HDC) housing by some of the affected La Brea residents, the Opposition and the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal said he has “taken note of the request that came” from La Brea MP Fitzgerald Jeffrey.
“Cabinet has established an inter ministerial committee led by (Energy) Minister (Kevin) Ramnarine to address the myriad of challenges posed by this development. This committee is dealing with the technical, security and social issues emanating from the spill.
“We expect that requests and assessments for temporary housing will be made by the inter ministerial committee to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development I prefer to structure our emergency response through the appropriate state agencies,” Moonilal said.
Moonilal also said the HDC can do social assessments in collaboration with the inter-Ministerial committee and “the local government corporation.”
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