Thanks to a measure of reasonableness and apparent goodwill on both sides, some progress appears to have been made to resolve the standoff between the Highway Re-Route Movement and the government over the Debe to Mon Desir section of the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway.
There has been agreement that a proper and professional review is to be done with the respected Independent Senator Dr. James Armstrong in charge of the committee. President of the Joint Consultative Council, Afra Raymond, has indicated his satisfaction with the initial statement made after Monday’s meeting. However, the HRM has now voiced new concerns which need to be worked on and clarified.
Among those concerns, Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh has pointed to the need for definitive word that all work on the portion of the highway under contention, including work on the interchanges in the area, must be stopped to allow the review to be carried out. The hunger striker is also concerned that no mention was made in the initial agreement of a cost benefit analysis and the hydrology report requested by the HRM.
Significantly, too, Kublalsingh wants to ensure that members of the HRM will be given an opportunity to make their case before the review committee. According to the environmentalist, these were all parts of the original demands made by the HRM and himself when he started his public hunger strike on November 16 outside the office of the Prime Minister.
But nevertheless, Kublalsingh was very positive about the outcome of the meeting and hopeful that follow-up meetings yesterday and today would continue to be positive. He was particularly pleased that it was reported to him that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was constantly on the phone during the meeting between ministry officials, the JCC and civil society leaders.
With the prime minister being fully apprised of and supportive of what has been set out in the framework agreement, Kublalsingh is comfortable. He said yesterday that once the details as outlined have been put into written form and signed on to, “the protest here will come to an end”.
There is still a need for urgency in resolving the outstanding points of agreement to allow Kublalsingh to be taken by his family for desperately needed medical attention. But the presumption must be that the compromise that has been made by the prime minister and her government has been undertaken in the best interest of all concerned and negotiation of the details will continue in the same spirit of civility.
It must be noted too that after the initial distasteful, even inhumane statements made last week — especially by National Security Minister Jack Warner and Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal, with prime minister Persad-Bissessar adding her share of condemnation of Kublalsingh — this Monday’s UNC meeting took on a different tone.
It should also be observed that the call by senior minister Winston Dookeran, for “compromise and compassion” to be shown by the prime minister and the government has been heeded, despite the criticism from within the UNC of Dookeran and current COP leader, Prakash Ramadhar.
It must be heartening for those who hope for good governance to evolve that the prime minister has taken on board these urgings. It is also encouraging to see that there are those among the ranks of the cabinet who are willing to step out of their crease to influence political action positively.