OPPOSITION Leader Dr Keith Rowley said he was dubbed a racist by the United National Congress (UNC) when, as Housing Minister, he attempted to address the concerns now coming to the fore in East Port of Spain.
Speaking at a People’s National Movement (PNM) public meeting at Hi Lo compound in St Augustine on Tuesday night, Rowley said as Housing Minister he embarked on a project to give East Port of Spain new life and address the issues that were foreseen.
The construction of Clifton Towers, Clifton Street in Port of Spain was the start of this programme.
The nine-storey tower with 100-housing units was constructed.
Rowley said the programme was supposed to have been rotated and would have eliminated squalor in the city.
The programme would have “created construction employment, rebuilt the city, removed the criminality that the environment creates on its own and provided a better quality of housing”, Rowley said.
The programme was shelved, however, when the then Opposition UNC told the residents to demand $2 million for their displacement.
“When I stood up in the Parliament, when the crime rate was way below what it is now, but we saw the problem in the inner city and there was a solution which was advanced by the very UNC government to target the young men of those districts where idleness and immorality was overtaking them and they posed a threat to the entire country and the solution was to go and target them and get them into something productive, I was accused of racism by Kamla Persad-Bisserssar and all of them.”
Rowley said last Friday he met ten families at his Diego Martin West constituency office who told “horrendous tales” of being driven out of their homes by criminals.
He said he could not comprehend that level of lawlessness taking place in any other part of the country without an effective response from police.
“As a PNM leader we have a particular responsibility to the people of East Port of Spain for they have a particular problem. I am particularly aggrieved that this is happening now.
“This problem is not new, I am not blaming the Government, this problem is not new, the festering of East Port of Spain, the inhumane conditions they live in, the hopelessness that ran down the drains, it was there before and the head of the HDC (Housing Development Corporation) and I, as Minister of Housing, we embarked on a programme to rebuild East Port of Spain,” he said.
This plan was thwarted when the UNC went to the area and warned the residents against moving to the new buildings and labelled him a racist, said the PNM leader.
Rowley said the residents came at him like “fire ants” after the claims made by the Opposition politicians and the programme “didn’t get very far”.
Rowley said he was eventually moved to the Trade Ministry.
He lamented that Professor Selwyn Ryan was paid $2 million for a study to state exactly what the PNM already knew.
Then he said he was further hurt to see that the very residents of Nelson and Duncan streets whom the PNM tried to assist were arrested without evidence during the 2011 State of Emergency.