PORT OF SPAIN –– Despite government’s refusal to stop the Debe to Mon Desir section of the San Fernando to Point Fortin highway, environmental activist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh gave Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar until Wednesday to comply with the Armstrong Report or face another hunger strike.
Kublalsingh dismissed a letter from Chief Solicitor General Christophe Grant that said the state could not give in to his request to stop construction on the $7.5 billion project. Kublalsingh said it was Persad-Bissessar who made promises to the people and not Grant.
“So far, I have heard via the media that there has been a letter written to me through the chief solicitor general. The chief solicitor general did not make any promises to us; the prime minister made a promise to us.
“The prime minister was behind the Armstrong process on behalf of the government. It is the prime minister who needs to stand squarely behind her
word and defend it. The chief solicitor general cannot defend the prime minister on this matter,” Kublalsingh said.
A release from the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday stated that Grant wrote to Kublalsingh on September 10, saying that the issues raised by Kublalsingh’s Highway Reroute Movement were part of the constitutional motion they filed against the state and that they should await the court’s ruling.
The letter stated: “You and the members of your movement have invoked the original jurisdiction of the High Court under Section 14 of the constitution, seeking constitutional protection of the court, alleging breaches of your constitutional rights. The attorney general is representing the interest of the state in this matter. Both parties are being represented by eminent senior members of the Inner Bar. Substantial resources have been devoted by both parties.
“Having invoked the jurisdiction of the court for the determination of whether the state has breached your rights, adherence to the rule of law and the constitution would require that the parties to the dispute abide by the decision of the court while this matter remains pending.”
Disputing this, Kublalsingh said that even when Persad-Bissessar appointed the Independent Review Committee led by former senator Dr James Armstrong, the matter was already before the court. He said there was room for arbitration, just as Persad-Bissessar dealt with the outstanding payments to the Soca Warriors, a matter which is still before the court.
A feeble-looking Kublalsingh stood at a highway construction site in Debe and vowed not to eat and drink until the Persad-Bissessar had met his group’s demands. Admitting his body was weak, Kublalsingh said the prime minister could have a change of heart, just as she did with the dismissals of former Government ministers Jack Warner and Anil Roberts.
“We stand by our word. If we do not get an answer from the prime minister by Wednesday, 12 o’clock, saying that she agrees to put a hold and review the Debe to Mon Desir highway, another hunger strike will ensue.
“I think my body is very weak, but we have to look at what is at stake . . . . I don’t intend to die; I intend to live and be victorious. I cannot abandon my people. and I believe that Trinidadians and Tobagonians who have the right mind will stand up and dialogue with the prime minister,” Kublalsingh said.
During Kublalsingh’s first hunger strike in 2012, he was taken to a private hospital after complaining of fatigue and dizziness. With those memories still in mind, HRM members expressed concern over his health. Vishal Boodhai called on Persad-Bissessar to intervene by fulfilling her promise to abide by the Armstrong Report.
“We are on the eve of another hunger strike, dear prime minister, which no one desires, including Dr Wayne Kublalsingh. The country was in awe some two years ago to see the extremes to which a respected citizen of Trinidad and Tobago had to undergo to ensure that proper processes and promises were kept.”
The release from the chief state solicitor said that if Kublalsingh did pursue a hunger strike, it would be at his own risk. “Your final two paragraphs of your letter express your intention to commence another hunger strike to highlight your plight. As you accurately set out in your letter, such action would lead to consequences and risks, which are unknown.
“However, you do so at your own peril. While you have the right to protest in a lawful manner, the state has the duty and responsibility to protect life and will not be deterred in adhering to that responsibility as it had done in the past.
“The state is prepared to abide by the law in this matter and will not be persuaded by the actions of a man who seeks sympathy and empathy from the population in support of the cause. Should the state adopt such a cause, it would lead only to anarchy, tyranny and compromise the rule of law and
the democracy . . . .”
As the HRM sets up pickets to mark off lands belonging to Teeluck Seegobin, a group of residents heckled members, even making threatening remarks. One resident sat on the ground in front the members who were shovelling dirt onto the construction site. Indar Jairaj said that most of the HRM members were not from the areas being affected by the highway.
He said residents felt fortunate to have a highway being built in their community as it would benefit generations to come. He said anywhere Kublalsingh went, they would protest again him, including his hunger strike.