A straightforward issue
reality is not aligned with what currently pertains.
While this country has endured many protests, we
have not seen in many years the destruction of a
protest camp in the manner that occurred in Debe.
But back to this highway. This would seem to be
a simple issue requiring a small dose of perspicaciousness.
It is being claimed by the Government
that this highway is required for our development,
an important cog in our drive to achieve developed
nation status. If this is indeed true, then the case
should be straightforward. Information can be easily
be provided as to current usage of the existing
route; predicted usage of the new highway; implications
for development of the southern part of the
country, in particular, the south eastern peninsula;
and perceived efficiency from switching for the existing
road network to a highway scheme. These are
some of the factors that one must assume were considered
in planning this highway.
This leads to now to the question of the routes
selected to form part of this highway network. The
NGOs are saying that the highway should be rerouted
and they are offering an alternative route
but the government is rejecting this. This also
should be fairly easy to resolve. A simple environmental
and sociological assessment can be done on
both proposed routes and the one that offers the
greater economic value to the nation at the least environmental
and social cost should be adopted. This
is sustainable development in practice. Yet, what
can only described as a straightforward issue has
descended into a level of vituperation that simply
polarises and traumatises the society while adding
very little to the public understanding of the matter.
The State, with its overwhelming resources, can
flood the media and community with an endless
stream of messages designed to ensure that public
sympathy sits squarely in the corner. Against this
behemoth is a small NGO with limited access to the
media except for the free media of social networking
such as Facebook.
Is this a case of an environmentally-conscious
David versus an out-of-control State-sponsored
Goliath or a professional agitator leading a group of
citizens along a road of obstructionism? Is it fair to
have the State use its vast financial clout to rebrand
a person as a troublemaker, while maintaining a
veil over the full facts? What is abundantly clear is
that the difference in access to resources has led to
the message of the NGO being lost in translation.
The public has been largely denied the opportunity
of assessing the veracity of what is being offered
for public consumption. This must be unfair and
unworthy of a democracy. “He who shouts the loudest
is not always the most correct.”
Clearly, we have not evolved to the point where
we can make our case without recourse to the level
of intellectual (and physical) brutality that is characterising
this dispute. First and foremost, it must
be the very essence of simplicity for the Government
to obtain an independent assessment of the
two proposed routes within very clear parameters.
Second, such an assessment can be easily presented
to the public in a series of public engagements
that would ensure that the issue is clothed
with light and not imbued with darkness. This
should have been the role of the Environmental
Management Authority and, if that organisation
had the courage to do its job, we would not have
been confronting the issue of Debe and alternative
highway routes. As part of a proper Environmental
Impact Assessment, the matter would have been examined
in great detail and the pros and cons laid
out for easy examination.
However, the penchant of this agency to rubberstamp
Government applications, as seen in the
smelter, continues to bedevil its operations today.
We offer an open plea to the Government, let David
lay down his slingshot and make his case to Goliath.
Let Goliath ponder the objective truths and let