UPDATE - President Anthony Carmona has invited leader of the Highway Re Route Movement Dr Wayne Kublalsingh to a meeting at President's House on Wednesday. Kublalsingh disclosed the information when he returned to the sidewalk outside the Office of the Prime Minister in Port of Spain on Tuesday.
This despite a police warning on Monday that he could face arrest today should people congregate without permission from the authorities outside Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's office in St Clair.
Kublalsingh turned up with a group of supporters, many of them children, some holding placards, and waving flags bearing the colours of the national flag. The protest group also involved members of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), Oilfields Workers' Trade Union, and FixinT&T.
Kublalsingh said the Highway re Route Movement had written several letters to President Carmona since he assumed office, and received a reply on Monday. The President advised that Kublalsingh could bring a small delegation. Kublalsingh will be accompanyed by Highway Re Route Movement members Shereen Boodhai and Avinash Siew. The meeting is expected to be held at 8.30p.m, and Kublalsingh said the protest outside the Office of the Prime Minister would resume after.
The MSJ's political leader David Abdulah said that his party has consistently supported the Highway Re Route Movement and will continue to do so. He said that the MSJ was in support of the San Fernando to Point Fortin segment of the highway but not the Debe to Mon Desir segment.
Abudulah said he was not suprised by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar's position regarding the Highway Review Committee's report, since the Peoples Partnership had reneged on many promises in its manifesto. He said it would be "woefully bad governance" if Persad-Bissessar continues to ignore the findings of the report.
Kublalsnigh said his supporters were in search of a "small space" outside the Prime Minister's office as they seek to intensify action.
Kublalsingh last week resumed a daily “peaceful” protest against the Debe to Mon Desir section of the Pt Fortin Highway extension outside the office of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The activist has since last week hinted that supporters and members of the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM) may gather outside Persad-Bissessar’s office today, not at his behest but of their own accord.
No applications to protest or march have been made, Kublalsingh said last week and yesterday, adding that he is powerless to stop people who may want to support the cause.
This is not holding with the police, who yesterday politely but firmly informed Kublalsingh that he will be held liable for any illegal gatherings outside the PM’s office.
Kublalsingh has since last year led the HRM, a group of residents who are asking the State to use an alternative route for that segment of the highway extension to Point Fortin. Most of the members of the group are families who stand to be re-located to make room for the highway.
Some do not want to be moved from their properties, which they say have passed through generations, while others claim they are not being shown that they will be adequately compensated.
Last November into December, Kublalsingh staged a 21-day hunger strike outside the St Clair office of the PM, taking neither food nor water as he sought a meeting with Persad-Bissessar and to bring public attention to the issue. They never met.
Kublalsingh resumed his protest—but not fasting—last Monday, asking Persad-Bissessar to abide by a report from the Highway Review Committee (HRC), an independent body headed by Dr James Armstrong and formed with various civic groups and industry stakeholders, including the Joint Consultative Council (JCC).
The report has recommended that the State put a hold on that segment of the highway until further social, economic and environmental impact assessments are done.
The HRM got its meeting last Thursday at the Diplomatic Centre with the Prime Minister but the meeting ended abruptly within a half hour and without resolution.
Kublalsingh was back in residence outside the PM’s office from 9 a.m. yesterday, surrounded by a small group and bearing placards and pamphlets.
Last week, he commended the police for being civil and even “gentle” in their dealings with the group.
He maintained yesterday that while the police are bound by their duties, he cannot stop anyone who wishes to also show up at the PM’s office and that his presence as a one-man protest remains within his rights.
He was however told by an attorney, in the presence of Supt Sacenarine Mahabir of the Port of Spain Division, and several other senior police officers, that he could be held liable if, by his words or actions in the distribution of information, he causes an illegal gathering.
“This is not one of the meetings that is exempted from requiring permission from the Commissioner,” Mahabir said.
Kublalsingh was told that while he has a constitutional right to sit in that place, it was in fact a street, and the expression of views, be they verbal or through the distribution of pamphlets, could constitute a meeting in a public space.
“So the police are using a very soft approach because you have a right to a meeting and to a protest,” Mahabir told Kublalsingh.
“However, if this mushrooms and you give pamphlets to people it could constitute a meeting. If that happens, you are required by law to apply to the commissioner of police for your meeting to be held,” he added.
Kublalsingh was also told that it was up to the discretion of a police officer above the rank of “sergeant” to make a decision as to whether what he is doing today can be allowed to continue.
Speaking after the encounter, Kublalsingh emphasised that the police have been “very kind” in the dispensation of their duties so far and as for what may or may not take place today, “They will have their duty to do.
“My duty is to the movement and to the nation,” Kublalsingh said. “My duty is to get a response from the Prime Minister and I will not be moving.” —See Page 4