Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday denied she ever gave any undertaking that her Government would abide by the recommendations of the James Armstrong report .
Instead, she said the Government would heed the ruling of the court on whether the controversial Debe to Mon Desir section of the $7.2 billion highway extension project would be constructed.
“I do not recall any such undertaking. I will abide by the rule of law because there is a court matter pending, Government must not say or do anything that may compromise same,” Persad-Bissessar said in response to questions from the Express yesterday.
Last year, environmentalist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh staged a 21-day hunger strike against the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the highway.
After consultation with the Government and the Highway Re-Route Movement, the Joint Consultative Council of the construction industry (JCC) and civil society associations—Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGOs (FITUN), Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) and Women Working for Social Progress (Working Women)—appointed an independent working group led by former independent senator Armstrong to examine the matters of concern with respect to the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway.
Armstrong told the Express yesterday that he never had any contact with the Prime Minister during his work as the committee’s chairman and neither did she give any undertaking that the findings of the report would be followed.
“I worked for the JCC and the groups associated with the JCC. I never had any contact with the Prime Minister,” said Armstrong.
Kublalsingh started a peaceful protest on August 6 on a pavement outside the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair demanding a meeting with the Prime Minister so she could state her position on whether the Armstrong report would be followed.
Two days later, on August 8, the Prime Minister met Kublalsingh at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s and the meeting ended abruptly. Kublalsingh claimed that Persad-Bissessar could not answer questions that were posed to her.
Former attorney general Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj has said the Prime Minister could be charged with misconduct in public office for her failure to abide by the Armstrong report.
He told the Express yesterday that Prime Ministers and ministers in the Commonwealth were jailed because of misconduct in public office.
Maharaj, who is the attorney for the Highway Re-Route Movement, claimed that the Prime Minister gave the independent review committee an undertaking that she would heed the advice coming from the report.
He said despite the report’s findings and although the matter was before the court, there were plans to move forward with the construction of the Debe to Mon Desir section.
“Any Prime Minister who read that report and goes ahead with the highway which will involve a risk to human life...if she allows that to happens she will be committing a criminal offence, misconduct in public office,”said Maharaj.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan yesterday dismissed Maharaj’s claim that the Prime Minister could be charged for misconduct in public office.
“This is a classic case of Ramesh trying to wiggle his way back into the limelight whilst displaying continuing symptoms of political tabanca given his willingness to pounce on the Government and the Prime Minister in particular even when the opportunity does not present itself,” he said.
“His statements are baseless, malicious and mischievous and there is no evidential foundation to ground a charge of misconduct. In any event the State has been following the technical advice it has received in this matter and is quite capable of defending same,” he added.
THE constitutional motion filed on behalf of environmental activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and the Highway Re-Route Movement is scheduled to be called before Justice James Aboud, at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain on October 28.
On August 3 last year the Highway Re-Route Movement filed a claim against the State in respect of the Debe to Mon Desir portion of the Point Fortin highway extension.
Attorneys for the movement, including Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, have contended that the State and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in carrying out the completion of that portion of the highway, will be compromising the constitutional right to peace and security in their communities of those affected.
The movement’s motion stated that to continue with the said portion of the highway will have lasting negative effects on the people and environment surrounding it and that such actions will constitute “misbehaviour in public office”, which can translate to criminal charges against members of the Government.
A pretrial review of the matter took place before Aboud on May 15 when he adjourned the matter.
Attorneys Fyard Hosein SC, Anil Maraj and Vijaya Maharaj are also representing the Re-Route Movement.
The State is being represented by attorneys Russell Martineau SC, Deborah Peake SC and Shastri Roberts, among others.