The deplorable state of Caroni Visitor Centre

The wa­ter sup­ply for the state-owned Ca­roni Vis­i­tor Cen­tre, lo­cat­ed at one of this coun­try’s largest tourist at­trac­tions the Ca­roni Bird Sanc­tu­ary, has been cut by the Wa­ter and Sew­er­age Au­thor­i­ty (WASA) for non-pay­ment of ar­rears.

Guardian Me­dia was told the out­stand­ing bill for the fa­cil­i­ty has crossed $.5mil­lion and its sup­ply was cut in Oc­to­ber 2018.


Dur­ing a vis­it to the cen­tre on Tues­day, tour op­er­a­tor Navin Kalpoo of the Kalpoo Broth­ers said tour op­er­a­tors, se­cu­ri­ty guards and game war­dens from the Forestry Di­vi­sion have been beg­ging for tanks of wa­ter to ser­vice the fa­cil­i­ty from dif­fer­ent agen­cies for the past sev­er­al months.

“The num­ber one is­sue is a big wa­ter prob­lem, where we lit­er­al­ly have to beg for wa­ter, most of the beg­ging is be­ing done by Forestry. We are with ar­rears with WASA so we have an out­stand­ing bill with them, with that they said they are not go­ing to give us any wa­ter or fix our line,” Kalpoo said. “We have a land con­nec­tion and that got dam­aged along the road and they said they are not go­ing to fix that un­less that bill is paid, we have asked them to bring wa­ter by a truck and they are not go­ing to budge un­til that bill is paid.”

Kalpoo said dur­ing the wide­spread flood­ing in 2018, the cen­tre was bad­ly dam­aged and what lit­tle re­mained of the dis­plays put on for tourists and vis­i­tors were de­stroyed. He said even ne­ces­si­ties like toi­let pa­per are not pro­vid­ed for the cen­tre and those who work there have been spend­ing out of their own pock­ets to make vis­i­tors com­fort­able.

“It’s up to us, the tour guides, the work­ers and the se­cu­ri­ty guards here, be­cause this site at­tracts so many vis­i­tors, we would try to put our best foot for­ward even the se­cu­ri­ty would bring tis­sue pa­per, sani­tis­er, bleach, dis­in­fec­tant, to­geth­er with the foresters and even us the tour op­er­a­tors would pitch in and bring in these things just to try put the best foot for­ward as pro­mot­ing T&T and the swamp.”

An­oth­er over­whelm­ing is­sue, Kalpoo said, was a fer­al cat in­fes­ta­tion.

“We are fac­ing a fer­al cat epi­dem­ic where they are mul­ti­ply­ing like crazy, we know fer­al cats steal at home but these fer­al cats are adapt­ing, peo­ple say cats don’t like wa­ter, not these, they are swim­ming across the wa­ter and eat­ing crabs, ba­by opos­sums (man­i­cou) ba­by birds, in a bird sanc­tu­ary like this, they are not the best an­i­mal to have around be­cause they are eat­ing every­thing.”

Even as he spoke two full-grown cats prowled the cen­tre’s lawn, me­ow­ing loud­ly as Kalpoo said they have grown ac­cus­tomed to do­ing when­ev­er they see vis­i­tors.

“They have got­ten very com­fort­able with peo­ple, they are al­ways beg­ging for some­thing to eat,” he said.

Con­tact­ed for com­ment, Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Clarence Ramb­harat said while he was un­aware of wa­ter is­sues at the cen­tre, he said he knows all too well about the in­fra­struc­tur­al woes.

Ramb­harat said he has al­ready tak­en steps to ac­quire a piece of prop­er­ty near­by to con­struct a new vis­i­tor cen­tre.

“There is a di­lap­i­dat­ed steel struc­ture when you come off the high­way, that land is owned by Na­tion­al Pe­tro­le­um so I took steps to ac­quire that site from NP and maybe es­tab­lish a prop­er fa­cil­i­ty for vis­i­tors out in that area,” Ramb­harat said. “The ex­ist­ing fa­cil­i­ty is out­dat­ed, that’s why we have done noth­ing, we want to take it down com­plete­ly and build a com­plete­ly new struc­ture.”

He said the clear­ing of the site should be com­plet­ed by the end of Sep­tem­ber as a man­age­ment com­mit­tee was put in place three months ago to deal with the mat­ter.

Work­ers de­mor­alised

Speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, an em­ploy­ee of the Ca­roni Vis­i­tor Cen­tre told Guardian Me­dia the con­di­tions at the site have be­come so un­bear­able that sev­er­al peo­ple have quit the job.

The em­ploy­ee said in ad­di­tion to not hav­ing toi­let fa­cil­i­ties or run­ning wa­ter, the em­ploy­ees do not have ac­cess to ba­sic toi­letries, a re­frig­er­a­tor and they have been paid months late con­sis­tent­ly since 2015.

“We will get salaries one month and then for the next two months, none- they have lim­it­ed work­ers be­cause peo­ple are not will­ing to work be­cause they are not be­ing paid on time,” the em­ploy­ee said.

The em­ploy­ee said there was al­so a ma­jor se­cu­ri­ty con­cern for those who work the night shift on the com­pound.

“Most of the lights on the com­pound are not work­ing and last year just be­fore the flood we had a ma­jor break-in so it is ter­ri­fy­ing to work there at nights.”


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