PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad CMC – A meeting late Thursday between Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar and an environment group opposed to a section of the multi-billion dollar highway south of here, ended with both parties giving contrasting viewpoints on its outcome.
The Highway Re-route Movement (HRM), led by environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh had requested the meeting in a bid to get the prime minister’s position on whether or not she would abide by the James Armstrong report.
Last year, civil society groups including the Joint Consultative Council, mediated between the government and the Re-Route Movement resulting in the establishment of an independent review committee, headed by former Independent senator, Dr. James Armstrong.
Kublalsingh, who last year staged a 21 day hunger strike, and the HRH do not want the construction of the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the TT$$7.2 billion (One TT dollar = US$0.16 cents) San Fernando to Point Fortin highway project to go ahead, citing environmental problems.
Speaking to reporters after the 15-minute meeting, Kublalsingh said that Prime Minister Persad Bissessar “seemed to get upset and she stood up and she left the meeting”.
He told reporters that his next move was “back on the streets because the government seems not to know what it’s doing. The Prime Minister does not know.
“If we seek an injunction in this matter we will forestall a larger issue here. The larger issue here is the constitutionality of the State’s action removing human populations, destroying wetland areas, destroying businesses, imposing a mega project at tremendous cost. The constitutionality of that has to be tested in the court,” he said.
But in a statement, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar said the HRH and Kublalsingh had come to the meeting with basically two questions including whether or not she would abide by the 10 recommendations of the Armstrong committee.
She said the environmentalist also wanted to know whether she would abide by the decision of the High Court in a constitutional motion filed by the Movement several months ago.
“I pointed out that the matter is before the High Court and I have no intention to compromise the court case. I asked Dr. Kublalsingh if he sought injunctive relief from the High Court to stop the Debe-Mon Desir section of the Highway.
“When he said he did not do so, I asked why. Dr Kublalsingh said this was not the advice of the Movement’s lawyers whom he named. I pointed out to the members of the Movement that while I have every intention of upholding the law, there was no decision of the court to date.”
But Kublalsingh told reporters that Prime Minister Persad Bissessar spent time “explaining to us why we needed to seek an injunction. That is an irrelevant matter.”
She said regarding the recommendations of the Armstrong committee, it was a matter for National Infrastructure Development Company Limited (NIDCO), whose head, Dr. Carson Charles is out of the country.
“I said I was not in a position to state what happened to the recommendations,” she said, adding “I suggested that NIDCO officials meet with Dr. Kublalsingh and his members to discuss what had been done with the Armstrong report.
“This apparently was not what Dr. Kublalsingh wanted to hear and despite repeated questions on the same two issues, I remained resolute that until I receive advice from the technical advisors at NIDCO, I would not be in a position to give an affirmative response, nor would I compromise the court matter.
“I then brought the meeting to a close and resumed my meeting with the National Security Council,” she added.
Kublalsingh said Prime Minister Persad Bissessar seems “to think the knowledge is there in Dr. Charles’ head and the knowledge is in the head of the technical experts but she should have the knowledge.
She commissioned the report. She made a statement that she would abide by the findings of the court,” he said, describing the prime minister’s action of walking out of the meeting as “rash, deceptive and elusive”.