ON the eve of a planned meeting between the government and civil society groups headed by the Joint Consultative Council (JCC) to discuss the controversial highway to Point Fortin, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has said nothing will stop the highway and that the project "must" continue.
She was speaking at the United National Congress' meeting at Rienzi Complex, Couva yesterday evening.
She also put her party in election mode—the upcoming Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and Local Government elections are in 2013—even as she spoke of the vulnerabilities of being a leader of the 30-month-old coalition government.
She warned members yesterday that they must never lose sight "of the importance of the party in getting us into Government", and that deserters of the party would not be treated kindly.
"For those within the Partnership who think otherwise and would wish to go it on their own, let me also confirm that the electorate will chew and spit out such individuals or political groups who are seen to be betraying the trust that has been placed in the Partnership.
"That is why sometimes contrary to your own desires as members of the UNC, I have borne the pains of insults, the stress of threats and sometimes what amounts to be blackmail of my leadership," said Persad-Bissessar.
"I am in command as your PM," she said.
She noted that her Government had come under sharp criticism from the Opposition People's National Movement (PNM) last week for developing south of the Caroni.
"I say no more of that because the comments were filled with undertones and overtones designed to create public mischief and dissonance. They seem to have conveniently forgotten that the North of Trinidad has been the greatest beneficiary of the oil wealth from the South and that the South has remained underdeveloped.
"This is also why it is important that nothing must stand in the way of the Highway to Point Fortin. The highway is about economic opportunities and social transformation as it is about the ease of movement. Let not the highway debate get lost in the side shows and side talk," said Persad Bissessar. See Page 9.
Environmentalist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh has been engaged in a hunger strike protest outside the Prime Minister's office in St Clair for the past 17 days. Kublalsingh is head of the Re-Route Movement which is seeking to divert a section of the highway—the Debe to Mon Desir portion—based on environmental concerns.
Despite his protest, the Government has remained firm that it will be built. The JCC and other civil society groups sought an intervention of the stand-off between the government and the environmentalist by making a proposal which will be discussed with Works Minister Emmanuel George tomorrow.
The Prime Minister said members of the UNC now had responsibilities to keep the party strong.
"Getting into Government has been a role you have played well. You have sacrificed and now it is your duty to stay in power. You know the cost of losing power. The PNM will discriminate, will deny, will frustrate you at every turn," she said.
She urged the party members to expand the party by recruiting new members and forming party groups in every electoral area as part of Local Government elections which are seven months away.
She also said members must "be prepared" for attacks against the government even as she called on them to stand ready to "defend" their leaders.