Browne, the minister leading a ministerial committee charged with organising the summit, turned up at the Old Fire Station on Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain just after noon yesterday with ministry aide Dominic Hinds and three other ministry staffers.
“I want to get the staff accredited,” Browne explained to media personnel who also lined up for their passes.
“But we are having some teething problems which we have to sort out.” And even though security officer Rupert George offered Browne a chance to skip the line and enter the centre, the minister refused. “I am standing up in the line like everybody else,” he said. “Sometimes you have to experience to understand what the teeth are.”
Summit officials had said the accreditation centre would have opened from as early as 8 am yesterday. However persons who turned up at the centre early yesterday, the Easter Monday public holiday, were told to return by 1 pm. The time was then changed to noon. Browne said the entire operation should have started much earlier.
“Actually, it would have made sense for this to open at 8 o’clock,” he said. After ensuring that his ministry’s staffers were accredited, Browne told reporters: “This morning some people were called and said to come for eight o’clock and all the arrangements were made for 12 o’clock. So we had a mismatch in terms of time. So when we opened at 12, there were a lot more people than we expected.” Browne said because the accreditation process for the summit encompasses approximately 20,000 persons, “we have an issue in terms of getting it done right.”
Notwithstanding yesterday’s teething problems, Browne declared: “We feel very confident. We will start everything on time.”
He said the National Secretariat has received time slots when all the other summit leaders, with the exception of Bolivian President Evo Morales, will be arriving. Morales will not be attending summit. “A time slot is a little more specific. Not all of those have been sorted out. We do have one or two little issues with regards to some Heads of State who are finalising their plans and our plans of course will vary with those. We can’t fix those plans for them.
“We will start (the formal opening of the summit) at 5 pm on Friday,” Browne stated. He added while hosting the summit will not bring an immediate benefit to the country “in dollars and cents,” the country will benefit from its profile being heightened in the international community. The minister said by the time the summit ends on April 19, Trinidad and Tobago would have dealt with representatives from 34 nations in the Americas “on every different level on at least four different platforms.”
Port-of-Spain residents and businessmen who live and work in the security zones established for the summit were also at the Old Fire Station.
Some residents told Newsday they came to the centre yesterday to get passes that would allow them to enter and leave their homes when the zones go into effect from midnight on Thursday to midnight to midnight on April 20. However when they got there, they were informed by officials that the police will deliver their passes to their homes.
As there were no clear lines and no clear signs in place at the accreditation centre, Browne phoned a summit official and left instructions for these issues to be dealt with before the arrival of more groups of persons seeking to collect their passes from today. “We need some clear lines and some signs with labels on them,” he said. Browne even helped to put up signs at place at the centre which appeared to have fallen over in the wind.
As persons queued outside of the Old Fire Station yesterday, summit officials asked for their patience. “I’m sorry, please bear with us,” one official called out to the crowd. The official noted the centre was open for 24 hours.
“Feel free to go to the beach and come back,” the official said. Government officials who lined up complained about the wait, with one worker saying, “my feet hurt and I am in heels.” The officials even called some persons into the centre to get their pictures taken and their vehicles accredited.