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.
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.”