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HRM DEFENDS HRC REPORT

posted 1 Mar 2013, 23:47 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 1 Mar 2013, 23:53 ]
On March 1st 2013 the Highway Reroute Movement delivered the letter published hereunder to the office of the Prime Minister. Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh whose hunger strike triggered the setting up of the Highway Review Committee and its report gave this interview after the letter was delivered. 
 
March 1st 2013

Honourable Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar MP
Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago
Office of the Prime Minister
13-15 St Clair Avenue
St Clair
 
 
Dear Honourable Prime Minister, 
 
We thank you for your commitment to your position enunciated to the members of the Highway Reroute Movement when we met on March 16°` 2012. This position, you would recall, was that your government would undertake a technical review of the Debe to Mon Desir Highway. We also thank you for your commitment to the agreement signed between your government and the Joint Consultative Council, FITUN and other civil groups on December 3rd 2012.

This agreement led to the establishment of an independent team of scientists and professionals, nineteen in all, to review the Debe to Mon Desir Highway. This team was called the Highway Review Committee and was led by Dr James Armstrong.

Between December 3rd 2012 and February 3rd 2013 the HRC met with all the stakeholders involved, considered oral and written submissions, and reviewed a considerable amount of material submitted to it, particularly by NIDCO and the Ministry of Works. The Highway Reroute Movement regards the work done by Dr Armstrong and his team to be exemplary.

The review was completed at the agreed completion date and signed in a covering letter and submitted to the JCC on February 4th 2013. A copy of the review was given to your government within the week of its submission to the JCC; and one was given to the Highway Reroute Movement on February 14th.

The Highway Reroute Movement has always been optimistic that the review process would arrive at just and accurate conclusions. The HRM regards the review as a landmark document; it sets out standards and principles which governments vying for accountability, transparency, democracy and scientific accuracy on the question of viability of projects ought to abide by; especially projects which require significant public expenditure, which require complex planning and which could lead to a complex array of negative social, economic and ecological impacts.

The conclusions of the independent review are clear. They are to be found in sections titled Findings and Recommendations at the beginning of the document. In summary, the review has found that the viability of the Debe to Mon Desir Highway has not yet been determined.

Additionally, important rules and regulations in the planning process have been flouted by the planners. The review concludes that an array of significant studies have to be done in order to

determine the viability of the Debe to Mon Desir Highway. Under a number of headings in its recommendations the review repeats that work on this highway must be stopped; until a position is reached where having completed the relevant studies, viability is established. By implication, if viability cannot be established, this project must be aborted or alternative road connectivity solutions found.

The HRM was hopeful that the state agencies involved in this project, NIDCO and the Ministry of Works, would take the opportunity provided by the review to embark on a process of transformational change in the planning and execution of state projects; an approach based on the principles of accountability, transparency, authentic consultation and a respect for scientific validity and accuracy. However, this has not been the case.

The following have been the responses by officials of NIDCO and the Ministry of Works:

1. At a post-Cabinet press conference held on the same week that he received a copy of the review, the Minister of Works announced that the review had given the government the "green light" to go ahead with the Debe to Mon Desir Highway. He also stated that the review found the Debe to Mon Desir route to be "superior both from the environmental perspective and from an overall perspective. Both these statements are false. As noted above, the review recommends that the project be stopped, until viability is established.

Second, the Minister was quoting from the Executive Summary of the review which was reflecting an opinion given over six years ago and is not the position of the Review Committee.

2. The minister also asserted that the review that he had been given was "preliminary". This is false. On February 3rd, the HRC completed its review, signed a cover letter and sent copies to the JCC for transmission to the relevant stakeholders and the public. There was no doubt in the minds of the writers of the review that they had completed their work. They referred to the review sent to the JCC as the ‘final’ report.

3. The minister also stated that the review was "unsigned” as if to invalidate the integrity of the document. The covering letter of the review sent to the JCC was signed; Dr Armstrong has since stated publicly that he would sign the document if signing is required; but clearly, a signature, used in this case as a red herring to besmirch the integrity of the document, can hardly change the content or import of the document.

4. This pattern of misinformation is being repeated in the districts between Debe to Mon Desir. One NIDCO official had gone on a propaganda drive in these districts claiming, in a miked motorcade, that NIDCO has been given the green light to go ahead with this project. On Tuesday February 26th this official called a meeting of residents at the Debe High School and claimed that the review gave the state the mandate to proceed with the project.

5. Since, February 3rd, the President of NIDCO has been writing to the JCC claiming unfair treatment, alleging flaws in the review, and requesting that the review be altered. This has delayed the publication of the review to the general public by almost one month.

The Highway Reroute Movement regards all the above actions by state officials as dishonourable, salacious and exasperating to the extreme. They are no more than attempts to besmirch the integrity of a completed document, to tarnish its writers and to cast doubt in the public mind. If the state is dissatisfied with the review, there are many media options open to its officials to challenge the review. This may be done under separate cover, not by tampering, editing or adding addendums to the completed review. To threaten, browbeat, bluff, intimidate because of this dissatisfaction with objective and scientific conclusions is unbecoming of government officials.

Madame Prime Minister, much may be gained by your government if the recommendations of the HRC are genuinely and stringently adhered to. It would signal an intention to embark on an altered approach to planning and development, particularly in state projects requiring massive expenditure, and which are complex in nature.

We appeal to you to forbid the state officials concerned from attempting to further besmirch the review process, the review, and the writers of the review. The public deserves clarity, transparency, accuracy and fairness. We encourage you to convince state officials at NIDCO, the Ministry of Works and the government at large to support and defend this important document.
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Gerry Kangalee,
1 Mar 2013, 23:47
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