30 March, 2001
Sea blast city - Marigot: An Environmental and Economic Wasteland
Pass through Marigot and go along the seashore at Melville Hall. Look to your right and you will see a mass of rusting steel frames on concrete foundations. Water and electricity conduits poke out from the paving. Roads coil between the ruins leading to nowhere. Beach vines are beginning to grow across the abandoned site. You can feel the sea salt spray on your face as you stand there. This was supposed to be a housing scheme.
If this were anywhere near Roseau you would have heard the outcry. It would be on Talking Point every day. It would be in the papers every week. But as usual in Dominica, the further a thing is from Roseau, the less it matters. So yes, there was a question asked about it in the House of Assembly a few months ago but that was it. Just another Dominican White Elephant to shrug our shoulders about and say 'Sa pou fé. Bondyay Bon'. Which really should be our national motto instead of 'Apwé Bondyay...'
So here it stands abandoned. Somebody's money has been spent and wasted. But whose' Who dreamed up this site anyway' So close to the roaring sea that within minutes everything is coated in salt spray. Did the engineers not see for themselves that the old workers' barracks put up there by CDC in the 1950s had fallen apart because of sea blast' Did the engineers not have enough training to take environmental factors into consideration when planning the site' Do they think ahead to ask how effective these buildings would have been for the use to which they were intended' Or were they just following political dictates and therefore blocked themselves from asking any professional questions' The project never went through the Physical Planning Division for review. It was put in the fast lane above their heads.
These frames were meant to house poor people. But it clearly was designed to make poor people poorer. Apparently they were supposed to pay $70,000.00 for these metal crates. While they would be paying off for them, every hard-earned household appliance would be rusting away. Every radio, fridge and TV would be defective within months.
But perhaps we are missing the point. Does it matter whether it succeeds as a housing scheme or not' Look at the sign that is now fading in the salt air. It says that the client is (or was) the Government of Dominica. There are to be 30 units. The contractor is a joint venture of Carib Ltd. and Grupo Metal Oriente of Venezuela. The financing is coming from the British Trade and Commerce Bank (BTCB), now much in the news. The co-ordinator was the Housing Division. The start date was November 1999 and the completion date was supposed to have been May 2000. Well you can ask a whole set of questions about those basic facts.
I asked a question to a staff member of BTCB when the project was first starting. I was concerned for their sake that the site location would cause financial problems. Had they considered this' But I was told that BTCB was only 'channelling' the funds. I assumed this meant that it was not actually their money. But whose was it' If the scheme continued as it was going, someone would lose their money sooner or later.
In defending their position against the present government recently, the bank's press release noted: 'BTCB has also been actively involved in securing substantial funding for development projects in Dominica, including a housing project.' Is there any connection between the project and the discredited BANCO INDUSTRIAL DE VENEZUELA from which BTCB is now distancing themselves' The press release states: 'Because BTCB did not want to be associated with a bank that was involved in a money laundering activities (sic) such as involved in Casablanca, BTCB, took the initiative and closed that account... Moreover, BTCB has resisted several overtures from BIV for BTCB to reopen accounts at BIV.'
Whatever the truth of the matter, the money for the project appears to have come to a halt since early 2000. Even before that, while the project was in action, workers and sub-contractors were finding it difficult to get the money due to them. Something was clearly going wrong with the cash flow.
It is unlikely that anything will now happen at the Melville Hall Housing scheme. The steel frames are far too rusted for work to continue. Even the concrete floors are now stained orange with rust. The first thing a visitor coming from the airport will see is the makings of a slum. It is yet another Dominica lesson of how not, and where not, to do something. But we have had these lessons before and we never learn. 'Sa pou fé. Bondyay Bon'
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