Castries, Saint Lucia, Saturday, November 6, 2021:— Is popular contractor Rayneau Gajadhar being subjected to extortion in Anse La Raye?
That’s the question on many minds as discussions continue in the West Coast village (and other parts of the island) following the illegal closure of a road leading to a quarry operated by Gajadhar’s construction firm in the village.
A fortnight ago, angry villagers used various objects to block the road and prevent Gajadhar’s company’s trucks from entering or leaving the public road leading to his quarry, claiming they were irritated by the dust raised by the trucks.
The protesting villagers also claimed that Gajadhar “is not contributing” to their welfare by way of personal or private donations to the community.
Their claim was that Gajadhar was engaged in making profitable business in the community and was therefore expected to, in return, pay tributes in cash or kind.
Some who spoke to the media – including a lady fully-dressed in yellow for the occasion – said another construction company owned by C.O. Williams (COW) also operates a quarry in the area “and is making contributions.”
But Gajadhar says the protesting villagers have gone about voicing their displeasure the wrong way, saying: “They decided to break the law and take the law into their own hands instead of doing it legally.”
Saying “You cannot fix a road by breaking the law,” the local entrepreneur said the protesters could have engaged their elected and local government representatives and community councils, “instead of just taking the law into their hands.”
Not all villagers supported the protest, however, with some also indicating the Police might have dropped the ball on this matter.
According to an ex-Village Councilor, “The police officers just stood by and watched these people breaking the law and did nothing, so the people breaking the law felt empowered…”
He continued, “Feeling empowered (by the police not doing nothing), they were also engaging in extortion by demanding money from a private company operating a legal business in the area, under the Laws of Saint Lucia.”
He added, “They have no right to demand money or anything from a private company just because it is operating in the area.
“Rayneau has been operating in that quarry from as far back as 2003, as far as I can remember; and besides, he is already paying taxes, so why should he be taxed again by the villagers?”
According to the ex-councilor, “If a private company wishes to make contributions to the community where it operates it can do so on the basis of its own consideration, but no company is obliged to pay taxes to villagers just because they feel it should.
“Rayneau doesn’t owe them anything; and the police ought to have taken action, but they just stood there and allowed the villagers to break the law in their presence.”
But it’s not only Rayneau’s being held to ransom by the villagers along the route from the village to the quarry and popular tourism attractions in the same area.
According to the former councilor, “Two vehicles owned by JAG’ Tours, a tour-operating company owned by the Adjodha family that also originated in the village, were also stopped and blockaded on Thursday of that same week, after Rayneau’s trucks were blocked and barricaded.”
He concluded, “That type of inaction by the police amounts to nothing short of complicity and the Commissioner needs to look into this matter, because this type of blatant extortion cannot be allowed to continue in our village.
“The police is there to serve and protect, not to encourage those breaking the law to continue unrestrained.
“This is anarchy and the people who support it should know it’s the wrong way to go if we are to make Saint Lucia a better place for all of us.”
A senior police officer addressed the press on the first day of the blockade and said the Police Force had been involved in negotiating a solution, but none seems to have been found as yet.
Meanwhile, some of the protesting villagers say they’ll continue protesting until their demands are met.