The Executive Council of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has ruled that no private contractor or company will be allowed to go into the natural resources of Tobago to carry out any activity of the National Reforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation Programme NRWRP) of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.
The Assembly’s ruling followed moves by NRWRP appointed private contractors on Monday to undertake the reforestation programme which was previously operated by three community-based groups in Argyle, Belle Garden and Speyside in east Tobago which employed 100 persons.
Secretary of Agriculture, Marine Resources, Marketing and the Environment Councillor Gary Melville said in an interview on Monday (10th September 2012) that the new NRWRP contractors had illegally removed the management of the programme and employed its own staff.
He said under the Fifth Schedule of the THA Act No 40 of 1996 the Assembly was responsible for state lands, forestry and the environment and therefore it will enforce its authority and not allow unauthorised persons to carry out any activity it deemed unlawful in the forest.
The services of the three community-based groups which previously ran the programme employing 100 persons were terminated with effect from August 17 2012 by NRWRP acting programme co-ordinator Dominique Pierre Louis. He had told them the Ministry had changed the operation and outlook of the programme and was focusing on a different aspect of reforestation.
Louis also told the groups that the operation and implementation of the programme will shift from being community based to having company groups responsible for the maintenance of given areas.
Melville recalled that the Ministry of the Environment in 2003 had partnered with the Assembly in designing the programme to be executed by the groups and that the change from community-based groups to company groups was not what was agreed to. He added that the Assembly was unaware of the new contractors and how they were selected except that Minority Leader Ashworth Jack was alleged to be involved in the process.
The programme was established in 2003 with a mandate to increase the rate of forest regeneration with an aim to mitigate the deterioration of the environment. Traditionally the NRWRP worked through community groups to meet the needs to repair, preserve and protect the nation’s forests, watersheds, wetlands, flora and fauna.
Melville said he was awaiting a response to a letter he wrote to Water Resources and Environment Minister Ganga Singh expressing concern with the direction in which the programme had taken.
Melville said if the present direction of the programme continued the THA will be forced to take it over and expand it to Charlotteville, L’Anse Fourmi, Parlatuvier, Bloody Bay, Castara and Moriah; employing many more persons and paying them better wages while ensuring accountability to the people of Tobago. However, he added: “We are ready to dialogue and create a proper relationship going forward.