Kamla calls on hunger striker to reconsider
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Dec 4, CMC – Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar has called on environmentalist, Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh, who is on a hunger strike over the construction of a highway in the south of the country to “re-consider his position” even as she again indicated that the multi-billion dollar project would go ahead.
“I again empathise with the Highway Re-Route Movement and Mr Kublasingh and ask him to reconsider his position in the light of the JCC (Joint Consultative Council) and Government meeting,” she told a Monday night public meeting of her ruling United National Congress (UNC).
On Monday, Works Minister Emmanuel George, who met with the JCC and other non-government bodies seeking a resolution to the impasse over the construction of the highway, said “the National Infrastructure Development Company Limited (NIDCO) undertook to make available to the JCC all the relevant documentation in its possession on the project in respect of the Debe to Mont Desir segement of the highway.
He said that the JCC had given an undertaking to “examine all the documentation on the project provided by NIDCO and all other relevant documentation and to produce a report within 60 days from today’s date for NIDCO for its consideration and publication thereafter”.
In addition, George said there had been agreement that “work would continue on the site of the highway”.
JCC president Afra Raymond told reporters that he is satisfied with the outcome of the discussions on Monday and that the Kamla Persad Bissessar government has put into effect the proposals submitted by the grouping.
“It was a very challenging discussion. It is necessary for the resolution of this impasse in the interest of restoring public trust.
“I am satisfied and my colleagues are satisfied that the agreement we have reached with the government in this matter is an agreement that contains the best parts of the proposals we put a few days ago to the Prime Minister,” he said urging Kublalsingh, 53, a University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer to end the strike.
But Kublalsingh has said that he would continue his action until the agreement reached between the parties is signed by the prime minister.
“Until I get word from the Prime Minister that she has agreed to undertake a review, including the vital components that we have always mentioned, our fast will continue,” he said.
Prime Minister Persad Bissessar reiterated that the TT$7.2 billion (One TT dollar = US$0.16 cents) highway from port Fortin to san Fernando would up the country’s south-west peninsula where the majority of this country’s energy resources are sourced.
“My Government is not afraid to make available the studies, the approval documents as well as provide information that any group wants with respect to the highway. And what are the facts on this issue?
She told supporters that cContrary to what is being spread as “propaganda by some” she is advised that the highway passes on a route that has minimal impact on the lagoon and that alternative routes were evaluated “and rejected because the cost benefits and the environmental protection required were satisfied by the current proposed route”.
The Prime Minister said “there is a robust process for reviewing the designs of the contractors and their consultants” and that the designs must be presented to NIDCO where it is subject to rigorous evaluation in line with the requirements” environment impact assessment as well as “AECOM, one of the world’s most renowned firms of engineering consultants.
“ In other words designs are constantly being reviewed before implementation,” she said, adding that environmental Impact assessments were done and a Certificate of Environmental Clearance was received.
She said designs were done to reduce flooding and that the highway does not go through the archaeological sites.
The Prime Minister told the meeting that the public consultations took place to obtain a CEC and the current route connects the various towns and villages much more than the proposal by the Highway Re-route Movement.
“The question which should be asked and for which the answer is obvious is, what is going to be the impact upon the lives of over 200,000 to 300,000 persons and an entire region known as the SW Peninsula where unemployment rates have always been amongst in the highest in the country,” she added.
Meanwhile, prominent attorney Israel Khan has written Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar calling on her to desist from meeting with Kublalsingh and also to stay away from the imbroglio which has seen Kublalsingh embark on a hunger strike outside her office.
Khan, a senior counsel, said after reading and digesting a press release on the subject matter by Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran, he could no longer remain silent.
“I call upon the Prime Minister not to meet or even talk to Dr Kublalsingh. If it (the hunger strike) may lead to his death, then let him die. His blood will not be on your hands, Honourable Prime Minister. It will be on the hands of Kublalsingh’s wife, parents and siblings, who have taken up the philosophical and moral position that this cause of Re-Routing the Highway is so important that they are all willing to encourage and support him in sacrificing his health and his life,” Khan said in his letter.
NEWSDAY newspaper which wrote a story on the letter quoted Khan as saying that Prime Minister Persad Bissessar will never be tested again on an issue like this one to demonstrate that she has the inner strength and determination to lead a nation as Trinidad and Tobago.
“If Dr Kublalsingh is willing to die for his cause then you too must be willing to die a political death if you really believe that it is absolutely necessary to build the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Highway,” Khan advised.
He said he is of the firm view that Kublalsingh will not die and believes the environmentalist is smarter than that.
“And in any event, if he dies we will all commemorate him as a decent, good man who honestly, but mistakenly believed he could bring a Prime Minister to her knees on his terms and conditions.
“Once that Highway is built, history will absolve you. And if you must lose a general election on that issue, well so be it. Serving the people is more important than winning the 2015 General Election,” Khan wrote.