Gang leaders and rogue elements have been extorting money from Ministry of Works and Transport contractors, stalling several road projects across the country.
In some cases, contractors who refuse to give into the illegal demands of gang leaders and their members are being threatened, causing them to abandon their projects.
So far, one contractor has terminated his contract because of fear. There are those who cave in to the demands and pay a coward tax.
It is an issue Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan admits has been ongoing for some time and that he said he intends to stamp out.
“There are some rogue elements who are threatening the contractors. And it is happening all over Trinidad. It has been happening for a while now,” Sinanan said yesterday.
“What I did…we called in the contractors who have been complaining and I think they have found a solution in going forward.”
Sinanan said he has asked National Security Minister Edmund Dillon to “take a keen interest into the areas where contractors are being threatened and being blackmailed to pay money in order to get the job done. We are not going to tolerate that at all. We are going to have a meeting with the Commissioner of Police as well…to let him know that we are very concerned that this is a growing trend in Trinidad and Tobago. It has been ongoing for quite a while, but it seems to be getting worse.”
Sinanan admitted that the criminal elements have been asking contractors to pay a “coward tax” which is illegal.
“They cannot afford to be paying this kind of money. This is what we have an army and police for. I see this as a threat.”
Sinanan said “a lot of contractors” had been threatened and forced to fork out money to do their work in peace.
“Some of them (contractors) had threatened to give back the job. I have one contractor who has terminated the contract because he is fearful for his life,” Sinanan said.
“We are not going to tolerate people threatening contractors and then we have to pay security and then withdraw the contract. We are not doing that. We have to take a stand on it,” Sinanan said.
Sinanan said his main focus was to get the affected contractors back on the job.
He said ministry will not condone criminals to delay or hinder the ministry’s work flow. Sinanan said citizens cannot operate above the law or do what they please.
Some of the areas that are frequently targeted are Point Fortin, Fyzabad, La Brea, Belmont, Diego Martin and Laventille.
A source in the North Eastern region confirmed yesterday that a contractor who was awarded a drainage contract from Monte Video to Sans Souci had to flee the project last month after threats were made on his life.
The contractor is from Sangre Grande.
“These men stopped the project. They are notorious drug dealers. Why two or three people have to hold an entire community to ransom? Young people now don’t want to work. All they want is fast and easy money. The contractor had to take his equipment and workforce and run. So right now the work is on hold,” said the source.
Contracts are awarded by the ministry for construction of box drains, pavements, bridges, road paving, road rehabilitation and resurfacing works, slope stabilization, alternative access routes, bridge reconstruction and pedestrian overpass construction.
Paying for safe passage
President of the Trinidad and Tobago Contractors’ Association Mikey Joseph on Thursday refused to comment on the issue.
Sources close to the Association said it was known that some contractors are threatened by rogue and criminal elements to hand over money.
The coward tax, the source said, amounts to thousands of dollars and cut into the contractors’ profit margin.
The source said these criminals would operate by handing over to the contractor or project manager the names of unskilled people who he wants work on the project.
“Most times the names on the list are people who are associated with a gang. These gang members would just come on the job and do nothing. Others would not come at all and collect a salary at the end of the week. They operate as a ghost gang.”
The source said for every person who is given work by the contractor they would pay the gang leader $3,000.
“That is their fee. So if ten members get work the gang leader walks away with a cool $30,000 without lifting a finger.”
He said contractors are also asked to hand over a separate payment to get their equipment safely out of an area after completing a job.
“So it’s extortion all around,” the source said.