Sunday, February 25, 2018

Ministry: Inappropriate for Government to meet with protesters

THE only person from whom the Highway Re-Route Movement is accepting any information regarding the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway Debe to Mon Desir route is Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

The group has been protesting against the building of that section of the highway for several months. Protest action included setting up camps near the worksite, camping outnear the Prime Minister's private residence in Phillipine and her office in St Clair, blocking sections of the highway where work has begun, and the latest is a hunger strike by its leader Dr Wayne Kublalsingh.

Kublalsingh said he was not going to eat or drink anything until Persad-Bissessar contacts the group in "whatever form or fashion".

The group has filed a lawsuit against the Government.

But yesterday, a press release sent out by the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure stated that if the Government met with the group it would be "inappropriate".

The Ministry's release stated: "The Highway Re-Route Movement has filed a case raising the very issues and these are now therefore the subject of judicial consideration by the High Court. In that matter the Re-route Movement is represented by Mr Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC, while the Government is represented by Mr Russell Martineau SC. The matter is therefore now sub judice and, in that regard, any meeting between the Government and the group would be inadvisable, if not inappropriate.

"The group has sought recourse and can seek redress from the court for any of its grievances as is its right. For its part the Government is committed to the rule of law, and is prepared to let the court deal with and determine these matters," the Ministry added.

On March 16, the Prime Minister and then Minister of Works and Infrastructure Jack Warner met with Kublalsingh and other group members. Persad-Bissessar said work would be halted on the Debe to Mon Desir section until additional investigations were completed.

Similar meetings were held at later dates with other people involved in the project, but all proposals by the Government were rejected by the protesting group.

The Ministry's release continued: "At this stage, several months have gone by since the Minister of Works and Infrastructure along with Nidco (National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd) advised the Prime Minister that all obligations had been met regarding discussions, technical analyses and adjustments to the extension of the Solomon Hochoy Highway. Minister of Works and Infrastructure Emmanuel George expressed his regret that the Highway Re-Route Movement remained undeterred despite the meetings, discussions and compromises made pursuant to their demands. The Minister indicated that while it is the Government's philosophy to always allow open discussion and interaction with all stakeholders in the society, there comes a time after this process has occurred, and all views taken into consideration, that decisions must be made and action taken for the good of the country."

Kublalsingh, when told of the Ministry's statements, said the Prime Minister was aware of the situation because several letters were delivered to both her office and home.

"The Prime Minister is central to this. She needs to take charge of the situation and reply to us. She cannot delegate responsibility to the Ministry of Works. She gave us the undertaking. She made us the promise and we are still awaiting word from the Prime Minister. If the matter is before the High Court and they cannot answer why are they grading our land in Debe to Mon Desir? If the matter is before the High Court, they are to hold their hands."

He said work began in the area on November 12 and has continued since.

The first hearing before the High Court is expected to take place on November 29.

In response, David Abdulah, leader of the Movement for Social Justice (MSJ), said the Highway Re-Route Movement will continue to have the party's support and described Kublalsingh as "a contemporary hero for ordinary people and social justice".