Sunday, February 18, 2018

It's a work in progress, says Nidco

DUE process should have been followed in the release of a watchdog report on the Debe leg of the Solomon Hochoy Highway extension, National Infrastructure and Development Company (Nidco) president, Carson Charles, has said.

The report, compiled by a committee led by the Joint Consultative Council (JCC), has made it way into the public arena but is as yet unsigned by committee members and has not been officially published by the JCC.

It went public on Thursday evening, when Works Minister Emmanuel George, ignoring a JCC embargo on the document until noon yesterday, stated at the weekly post-Cabinet press conference that the report had given the Government the go-ahead on the controversial project.

"Once the JCC had got through its work, procedure should have been followed before you allow it to go into the public domain," Charles said in a telephone interview yesterday, adding that he has "had sight of the work of the committee" but will reserve comment until a "final" report is published.

George's assessment of the report also appears to be erroneous, as the document advises the Government to hold on the project until more research is done, which neither Charles nor environmental activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, who has protested the project for over a year, chose to comment on.

Charles said yesterday the report is clearly still "a work in progress" and its release now may have been influenced by the fact that Nidco has a "live" contract to build the highway and parts of the project are in limbo.

It is not clear how the report became public and the JCC is yet to clarify whether it is a draft or a final copy of the report.

President of the JCC Winston Riley said yesterday he could not make a statement on when a final report will be published.

The Express was told by various stakeholders that they have been advised to look out for a signed copy by Monday.

Charles and other members of Nidco are among those currently called before the High Court in an action filed by the Highway Re-Route Movement, a Debe-based group of citizens led by Kublalsingh, who are looking to halt the project and stop the relocation of hundreds of residents.

Affidavits have been submitted to the court by Charles and others and he said yesterday caution must be taken with the dissemination of the watchdog report, as information in it can make its way into the court.

Kublalsingh has hailed the document as a "good one" not only for the Movement but for the country, based on its recommendations that the State change its approach to civil society when attempting projects of this nature.

"I hope civil society will stand up and defend this document," Kublalsingh said.

Kublalsingh captured the attention of the nation in November last year when he staged a three-week hunger strike outside the St Clair residence of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, refusing to give up until she agreed to halt the project and review an alternative route proposed by the Movement.

Towards the end of the hunger strike, the JCC wrote to the PM suggesting that it lead a watchdog group in producing a full report on the project thus far, which was eventually agreed to.

The project has not been halted entirely but has been stopped in the areas being protested, while work continues slowly in others.

Kublalsingh said the document produced at the end of the 60-day period granted to the committee is "much larger" than the Movement and he hopes the Government is "sensible" enough to accept it in good faith.

Asked what the Movement and he himself will do if the Government decides to carry on with the project in spite of the recommendations of the report, Kublalsingh said: "I hope it does not come to that. The Prime Minister has a big decision to make here and we hope she will make the right one." —KB