Edward Moodie, the man who has led the Debe to Point Fortin Highway Action Committee from its inception, resurfaced last week when he joined residents living in the path of the highway extension to Point Fortin to stage another protest over compensation issues.
Moodie told the Sunday Express of his involvement in the action (which has been questioned by Minister of Works and Infrastructure Suruj Rambachan) because of his position as a consultant to the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco), the company in charge of relocation issues.
He explained why it now looks like he seems to be straddling both sides of the fence.
Moodie, who was born in Moruga and has lived in Rancho Quemado, San Francique, Rock Road and now Gopee Trace in Penal, said all his life, he has been championing the cause of people at various levels.
“All my life, I have been championing the cause of people. My greatest challenge thus far is this whole highway scenario that we are facing today. When I was at UWI (University of the West Indies) where I did my degree in agriculture, I was standing up against the problems we were having there as students. Even when I resigned from the Debe High School, it was again for the same reason.
“With respect to this highway, I got involved because I built my home at Gopee Trace, Penal, smack in the centre of the highway, which is the Penal Interchange. The guy who sold me the land knew the highway was coming and he just wanted to get rid of it. I did not know that so I built my downstairs of my house and I moved in there, for me to find out that, yes, a highway was planned for the area,” he told the Sunday Express in an interview last Friday.
Moodie, who worked at the Port of Spain Abattoir, as an OJT (on-the-job training) teacher, at Tracmac Engineering and as a chemical consultant, said the location of his home was what pushed him to start a conversation with residents and Minister of Housing Dr Roodal Moonilal, who was then in opposition.
He said he and Moonilal decided there was no structure to deal with the issue formally, so he formed an executive, of which he became president—the Debe to San Francique Highway Action Committee, in 2006.
“We then started to lobby as a group to mobilise people against the highway. I organised with Dr Moonilal to bring down a team of attorneys, including Prakash Ramadhar, and they were actually representing us.”
Moodie said at the time, the lobby against the highway was because of a lack of information and selfishness because they just did not want the highway coming through their homes.
“We just wanted it somewhere else, but where would it go? It would go through somebody else’s home.”
He said even up to the time the present Government won the general election in 2010, they were against the highway being built.
“I called Dr Moonilal and he promised me that he would not at any level allow any highway to be built, and at that time, I was putting on the last few screws on my roof when Ms (Stacy) Roopnarine had passed around celebrating her win, so my house was now completed,” he said.
One month later, he would learn via TV and the now interim political leader of the Independent Liberal Party (ILP), Jack Warner, that they were going to build the highway extensi on to Point Fortin.
Moodie said he went to Moonilal.
“I felt insulted because he had not contacted me although we had marched together for water in 2008 because the community was not getting water. I even had the cellphone of Ramadhar if we got locked up. That is the relationship we had then.
“So I started to rally with a lot more people and, by then, the people from Fyzabad and Oropouche were getting involved, the Point Fortin people started raising alarms, and I went to every single area and I formed executives in every area because I wanted them to formulate all their plans first and, eventually, we got together and we formed the Debe to Point Fortin Highway Action Committee. I am the president of that group.”
He said he followed Warner to the different com-
munities when he was Min-
ister of Works and deman-ded from him a meeting to discuss the way forward.
The meeting was facilitated and they told Warner they didn’t want the highway and they had the support of Moonilal and Minister in the Ministry of Works and MP for the area Stacy Roopnarine.
Warner, he said, told him he respected his point of view, but the highway was going to be built but not without the interest of the people.
“‘What do you want for you and your people?’ he asked me. This took me by surprise because I thought there was going to be confrontation but it never got to that,” Moodie said.
He said he immediately began to think
about how to deal with the situation. It was discussed among those who attended the meeting, and they started to talk about relocation for the entire community.
“Because that was a major concern and then there was the issue of proper compensation. We wanted to be compensated fairly for our structures through a disturbance allowance. We told him in the new community, we wanted a church, a temple, a mosque, police station, preschool and primary school, and all these things. Mr Warner agreed, but he told us he had to go to Cabinet to explain why these things were important.”
Moodie said everything was going good, but there were a couple members of the group who decided they were going to continue to fight against the highway.
“That was when they called in Dr Wayne Kublalsingh to represent them.”
He said Kublalsingh had called him and asked if they wanted assistance and he declined, telling him they were negotiating with Warner and it was going very well, and the Nidco office was opened and things were going well.
However, Moodie said there was a loophole, and he realised he had to go out there, not just as the president of the group and start meeting with the people but as a liaison officer, because there was no one in Nidco who knew the highway the way they were supposed to because most of the employees of Nidco are from North Trinidad.
“I never asked for any additional remuneration; all I requested from them was a vehicle which I never got.”
Also, as a teacher of sixth form environmental science, Moodie said he had his pupils do all of the research work in the Oropouche and Nariva Swamp so he had knowledge of the swamp.
“So I started going to the media on my own; the ministers never
asked me to do that, I did that on my own. I was never the communications officer; my job was simply to advise Nidco on what was going on the ground,” he said.
Moodie said he made a commitment to God that he would continue to fight for the rights of the people after both his parents died last Christmas.
He said after his fast during the month of Ramadan, he decided it was time to go forward, so he raised the issue with Nidco and nothing was done.
“So I decided with public awareness to put a bit of pressure to get things resolved so we decided to protest.”
On the issue of being transferred by Nidco to what he described as a non-existent Princes Town highway project, he said he has seen no justification in that move at this crucial point in time.
“I went to meet my new supervisor on Monday; he outlined my role, he gave me a document that said ‘confidential’, so what I could tell you is that I was asked to do a proposal on public issues, social issues, on the Princes Town highway, and I was asked to submit the report on the 30th of August. There is no way that could be done.
Addressing the $4.1 million he was compensated for his property, Moodie said his property was worth the money he was paid.
“My house has a hot-water swimming pool in it, with salt water; my house has five bedrooms; my entire house is air-conditioned; my house has a gym in it. My house has solar lights in it, my house has LED lights in it. My house is full of teak and greenheart from Guyana; my house has six chandeliers in it—three of which are Italian crystals, and my house has wrought iron around it.
There are people who have structures that are of a lesser quality than mine and they have got higher payment because they have justified the structure or the business that they run, in terms of the losses they are going to incur because of the move,” he added.
Moodie added he has never one day taken any contract or favours from the Government because he knew he would be scrutinised.