If Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar never intended to abide by the report on the Point Fortin highway, then appointing the 19-member Highway Review Committee was nothing more than an exercise in political gamesmanship.
With Highway Re-Route Movement leader Wayne Kublalsingh once again camped outside her office, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar has responded to Dr Kublalsingh’s accusation that she had broken her promise to follow the report’s recommendations. “I do not recall any such undertaking,” the Prime Minister told the Express on Monday. “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.”
Even if Persad-Bissessar never said so, however, she is still being disingenuous. Had the HRC report found favour with the project, the government would surely have been bludgeoning all critics with it. But, because the report criticised the way this $7.2 billion project has been handled, the prime minister is now saying that the government is awaiting the decision of the court in respect to a constitutional motion brought by the HRM. In other words, the technical and policy issues raised by the Committee count for naught.
Additionally, despite Persad-Bissessar’s stated concern for adhering to the law, the report lists specific instances where the highway project is proceeding illegally. On Monday, residents from several communities along the highway’s proposed route staged a protest, claiming that they had been threatened by officials from the National Infrastructural Development Company into signing release forms for their properties and not given proper compensation. This has been denied by Nidco spokespersons, who say that the issue of compensation is ongoing.
But the HRC report notes that there was no clear provision for the compensation of persons who stood to lose property; there were no resettlement or other arrangements for individuals, households, businesses, and farmers who would be displaced; and that approvals for proposed resettlement sites at Petit Morne and Golconda had not been obtained, suggesting “a flagrant flouting of the statutory requirements”.
The report concludes: “A significant concern with the Debe to Mon Desir Highway is whether or not the lawful authority responsible for this large public expenditure is conforming to due process, including observance of various oversight statutory requirements for environmental management, the development of land, and due consideration of socio-economic impacts of the affected persons.”
The least the prime minister could therefore do is address these issues, coming especially from a team of independent experts who spent long hours examining all sides of all concerns expressed.