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ANOTHER LOOK AT THE HIGHWAY By Eugene Reynald

posted 25 Oct 2014, 11:42 by Gerry Kangalee

The entire planning process for the highway including the Request For Proposals (RFP) and the bid invitation was done by then-Minister Imbert and approved by the PNM Cabinet. The UNC came to power and met responses to the RFP already in hand and almost certainly opened.

The entire project was severely criticised by the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) who in refusing to fund it also advised against it. It is also important to mention that they were specifically critical and suspicious of the RFP process, the project justification and the project cost.

It was a particularly humiliating experience for Dookeran and the other three Ministers and Public Servants, who were at that fateful meeting. Of course the IDB has been proven right.

The UNC Government rejected the recommendations of the IDB experts and unable to get funding elsewhere they decided to fund the project from recurrent expenditure. This project and others that were hastily planned and implemented in the same ad hoc manner explain why so many necessary projects have been non starters or starved of funds over the last four years – and why there has been such a massive drain on our foreign earnings and repeated budget deficits.

Immediately after the UNC took power and before work started on site, the project moved from about $5b dollars which it was under the PNM to $7.2b under the UNC. It is certainly well over that figure today and climbing.

I should mention, in passing, that the famous Point Lisas Estate Development was rationalised as being feasible based on false inputs and omissions from the concept as put to the public. Expenditures from the public purse on the Caroni Arena Dam and its transmission lines, T&TEC and several other infrastructural costs were later discovered to be unaccounted for in what was called a “feasibility study or business plan”.

Their inclusion later on by UWI-based economists in a review of the project’s feasibility raised serious questions about the integrity and competence of those who took the decision to go ahead with the development most of which had to be sold off in a fire sale not many years later. There is learning here on how Governments cook the books and fool the public while their eyes are open; even though they might just as well be closed.

Back to the Point Fortin Highway and enter Kublalsingh and the Highway Re-route Movement who like the IDB criticised the project and asked for it to be stopped based on, inter alia, deficiencies in the Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC). Some of his reasons for doing so echoed those of the IDB and were agreed to by many, particularly the reasons that pointed out the many flaws in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)/CEC related to the project’s environmental and social impacts.

The input of the Courts did not help because they rationalised their decision to not stop or suspend the project by arguing that to do so would have resulted in greater losses than to let it proceed – and they were right. They however erred in refusing to consider and recommend alternative solutions that were within their power so to do. These could have included negotiation/mediation that would have served to address/resolve some of the concerns raised by Kublalsingh and the IDB on terms and conditions acceptable to both parties (like the Armstrong Committee did much later on).

This could have been done in a process that included a risk assessment/management input for measuring, negotiating and mitigating any negative impacts on the contract as identified by the IDB and Kublalsingh. Of course the contract was also indecently and hastily entered into by the State against the advice of the IDB and after such advice was received, in order to “say” that a contract was let and force the decision they got from the Court.

I am sure that no one not even the Courts or even the Armstrong Committee have asked for a copy of the IDB recommendations – and the public needs and deserves an explanation for this. And by the way the Law is not an ass – it has fairly unlimited powers including the power to make Law – it is simply administered by asses.

The Courts decided in favour of the State and this led to Kublalsingh having to put his life on the line during his first fast and in so doing gathering enough support to have Kamla agree to the appointment of a Committee of experts – the Armstrong Committee, to look into the matter and make its recommendations. The State paid for all of this and Kamla agreed to abide by the decision of the Committee.

All of this became necessary to correct the failures of the Court – which could have suggested such a course of action some time before even if it didn’t support the position of Kublalsingh in the matter. The Law effectively failed the citizens and Kublalsingh and put the matter on the road that has led to where it is today.

The committee findings were different to those of the Courts – even though it favoured neither the HRM nor the State. Their recommendations were practical and implementable and were accepted by the HRM.

They proved unacceptable to Kamla who reneged on her commitment to abide by the recommendations of the Committee. We expect politicians to lie to us but not so glaringly, unconscionably and without compunction or rationalisation. This was not Kamla’s first act of treachery and deception on this matter. She and her Team, when in opposition, were ardent supporters of the HRM and in taking office turned completely around. There is a total lack of respect for citizens that is unmistakable in all the aforementioned and what it portends for the country is frightening.

Kublalsingh, after much wasted effort at rational persuasion and failure in the Courts, initiates another bout of fasting and Anand enters the fray with the clear intention of using the Courts to have it validate Kamla’s efforts to keep the Highway Project going.

The questions regarding morality and ethics, as these relate to the Armstrong Committee Report, and Kamla’s role in that process, Anand refuses to address and indeed cannot address. In Anand not doing so Kamla’s record in the matter remains an indelible, undefended, indefensible one. Kublalsingh is clearly on the high ground in this matter and although the end game is still at large, Kamla certainly has lost the key players of integrity and honesty. In another cultural reality the loss of such key players would have forced her to fold and/or run but in this one it is when you get an Anand and go to Court.

The Law got us into this mess and to quote Einstein “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it” and we all know that most of the problems we have in this country are caused directly or indirectly by the Law. Indeed the Courts are theatre where self styled appointees of the Legal fraternity sit and argue among themselves as to what is right in Law and even after that, many decisions (if the party who has lost is still alive and has any money and energy left) are appealed and often ruled against. Of course the entire theatrical farce is paid for by the public.

Kamla cannot afford to let Kublalsingh live and she cannot afford to let him die. If either event takes place he will become a symbol and icon unlike any in our history. If he dies the chronicles on this chapter in our history will have to recall the deceit that led to his demise, and most importantly, the part Kamla played in it all.

The truth is Kamla, like Macbeth, is already so far steeped in blood that for her to return from where she is now would be as tedious as it is for her to go on. She is racing to get certain things done and Anand with the help of the Judiciary are clearing the way for her to achieve her ends. This approach, including manipulating the Law, is also being used to get the Invaders Bay project going as well as various ones in Chaguaramas. In all instances breaches of the Law have taken place in which, yes you guessed it, the Environmental Management Authority was complicit.

With regard to the part being played by the Law it is one in which the Judiciary, notwithstanding the unclean hands of the State (including its agencies) in its breaches of the Law, in most instances finds in favour of the State - once the State says it has already committed itself to contracts which carry penalties if they are stopped. I have seen the Judiciary follow such a procedure without the supposed contracts being tendered in evidence or placed before the Court.

Kublalsingh and the HRM stand no chance against such an unholy alliance – unless the Privy Council takes it upon itself to bring justice to the matter - but that will also depend on what is put before them.

The possibilities for corruption are evident and actual in all of this and the irony of it all is that the function and privilege of the Courts, the Law Association and the Press are there for them to act as a bulwark of citizens against such abuse and tyranny and corruption by the State. Questions necessarily arise when instead their action or inaction facilitates such.

The PNM is doing what it can and should in this matter which is to stay out of it. Any intervention on their part in defence of Kublalsingh or the HRM, given their role in the history of the project, would only do damage to the cause. This is one of the People vs. Kamla and the Law.

What Kublalsingh is about is saving the society and its citizens from the Philistines that have taken occupancy of our high places. Few in the history of the world have had the courage to do as he is doing and none in this country. What he represents is hope and intelligence amidst the darkness and senselessness we see around us in the wanton and mindless destruction of the environment which gives to us the life that we enjoy and cherish - for as brief a time as that may be.

His is a selfless and solitary sacrifice and a peaceful struggle against an establishment that is intent on obliterating him and what he represents. There is much more but for this alone he deserves respect and support from all citizens because far more so than the charlatans who drove him to this and are still actively trying to use, destroy and/or discredit him, he is about matters that will ensure a better quality of life for us - and indeed all life.

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