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Duke, Govt in talks for safe passport office

By SEAN DOUGLAS Wednesday, July 9 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Wait in vain: Scores of people wait in vain opposite the Immigration Division office on Knox Street, San Fernando, yesterday as for yet another day th...
Wait in vain: Scores of people wait in vain opposite the Immigration Division office on Knox Street, San Fernando, yesterday as for yet another day th...

THE “passport office” in Port-of-Spain was open to the public yesterday for limited operations, in a reversal of affairs the day after a defiant Public Services Association (PSA) head, Watson Duke, had supported its closure on Monday as an allegedly unsafe building.

A handful of people popped in to collect passports or application forms, although no interviews were conducted, learnt Newsday, unlike Monday’s angry scenes when irate citizens fruitlessly seeking passports had booed Duke who led the vacating of the allegedly unsafe building. “The office was opened yesterday between the hours of 8 am to 4 pm for the sole purpose of persons collect their outstanding passports,” a clerk at the Immigration Division office on Frederick Street told Newsday yesterday. “Full and normal service will resume Wednesday.”

One woman told Newsday she was relieved to finally get her passport, as the impasse had delayed her travel plans. Another woman wished to be compensated for thousands of dollars spent to re-schedule her flight to London when she could not collect her passport for her original departure date. “This has put me through enormous expense in that I had to change the date of my flight to London and I had to spend $12,000 for a new ticket,” she lamented. “Who will compensate me for the extra money I spent?”.

At the office, a police officer told Newsday that no-one there was authorised to talk to reporters but we should speak to the ministry’s corporate communications officer, Marcia Hope, who in turn promised Newsday a ministry statement later.

On Monday, Duke told a news briefing at PSA headquarters that such a closure under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act was no breach of the Industrial Court’s July 3 injunction against “industrial action”. He had displayed an OSH Office report listing about two dozen findings that the building is unsuitable. Today at 9 am Duke will address a media conference at PSA headquarters, having declined to update Newsday when we met him outside his office at lunchtime yesterday.

While Newsday understands that Duke only fleetingly visited the ministry at Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, at about 10.40 am for yesterday’s meeting leading to speculation that it was either cancelled or inconclusive, Housing Minister, Dr Roodal Moonilal, informed Newsday, “There was a meeting today (Tuesday)”. Udecott head, Jearlean John, who attended the meeting, told Newsday she is still awaiting the relevant ministers to crystalise their opinions of what is needed. Asked if Udecott’s help would be along the lines of supplying manpower or offering new buildings as alternative accommodation, she replied, “It’ll be more or less in assisting to rehabilitate the buildings (that is, the offices now in use).”

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