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Hwy Re-Route: PM puts greed over T&T environment

The Highway Re-Route Movement claims that Trinidad and Tobago faces an environmental tipping point in the fight to save endangered wetlands:

Even as Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar was boasting to the United Nations General Assembly on Monday that her Government emphasizes human development and not “concrete, steel and buildings”, her Government was proving otherwise in the eyes of certain groups back at home.

On the tiny island-nation a story that brings to mind the biblical tale of David and Goliath has been playing out in virtual operatic style with highs and lows, broken promises, courtroom dramas, two hunger strikes, and millions, if not billions of dollars at stake.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. (Courtesy Caricom.com)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
(Courtesy Caricom.com)

The battle is one as old as modern time: a razing of ecologically, socially and historically important lands in a quest to satisfy the insatiable needs of a car obsessed society spoilt by subsidized fuel and cheap imported foreign-used cars.  With many households in this nation of 1.32 million persons having at least one car and even one car per person in the household the country is overwhelmed with traffic jams, frayed nerves and demand that the Government ‘do something about it.’

A significant part of the Government’s answer has been to build more roads, more highways and byways to satisfy the furious demands of the public. But in an island that measures 5,128 square kilometres (1,980 sq miles) it was only a matter of time before the needs of the public bounced up against developments that threaten the environment and the delicate ecology of this flora and fauna rich country.

In the construction of the multi-lane highway between the southern city of San Fernando, the ‘oil capital’ of Trinidad and Tobago, and the southernmost town of Point Fortin, the country may have found its tipping point when it comes to environmentally conscious sustainable development – an essential component of any boast of prioritizing human development.

A group of concerned citizens who are known as the Highway Reroute Movement (HRM) are challenging the Government to reroute one small part of the highway, known as the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway, in order not to lay waste to vast swaths of land that are ecologically important and that have been home to hundreds of persons who have social and economic attachment to the land.

Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, environmental activist, university professor and Oxford graduate, has become both cornerstone and a spokesperson for the group having taken on their cause as his own. His impassioned and evocative expounding on the issue has won him both followers and detractors.

His two hunger strikes, the first in November of 2012 which went on for 21 days, and his second which began last Wednesday September 17 2014 and is ongoing, have divided the country and drawn the ire of Government and its supporters. But despite pleas from friends and foes alike, the activist remains unmoved and committed to his quest to have the work on that section of the highway stopped.

Photo: Dr Wayne Kublalsingh (centre) and the Highway Re-Route Movement.
Photo: Dr Wayne Kublalsingh (centre) and the Highway Re-Route Movement.

“This government wants to destroy over 300 homes, fragment 13 communities, destroy million dollar businesses, run an embankment through one of our last remaining wetland system, fragment a well-ordered street network, destroy thousands of acres of agricultural land, break up a system of commerce, land inheritance and tenure; in short, gobble, chew up and spit out 13 communities, without doing the studies to determine if this is the correct and viable thing to do,” Dr Kublalsingh has declared.

“Before the public assets of communities are destroyed, the potential destroyer or developer must make sure. They must do the relevant studies and research. That is why the Government needs to obey the Armstrong Report. This independent report, written by 19 independent scientists, has declared that the Certificate of Environmental Clearance for this Debe to Mon Desir highway is flawed. It has ruled that there is no cost-benefit analysis, no social impact analysis, no hydrology study of the wetland area for this project.”

“In other words,” he says, “the Government wants to knock the financial, ecological, social and economic guts out of the communities, without doing the requisite studies. Communities are the knots which keep the web of the nation intact. Clusters of failed communities add up, here and there. When rats begin eating into the social, economic and financial net, a bit here, a bit there, eventually, suddenly there is collapse, a failed net. All fall through. Collapse: a failed state.”

Dr Kublalsingh has made it clear that all the Highway Reroute Movement is asking is that the Prime Minister stick to her word when, following the first hunger strike and multiple layers of action by members of the HRM, she agreed to halt work on the disputed area and review the work on the development of that section of the highway.

Dr Kublalsingh’s position is supported by a number of documents and questionable actions in the highway work.

He outlines the following supporting documents and views:

*First, there is the procurement process. There was no competitive bidding for the Debe to Mon Desir highway. The contractor, the OAS, was handed this project on a platter.

Photo: Image of a highway. (Courtesy Synchrosecrets.com)
Photo: Image of a highway.
(Courtesy Synchrosecrets.com)

*Second, there is the feasibility study. The IADB met with state, and prominent government officials, in mid-2010, and advised that Debe to Mon Desir was over-designed, too costly, and that it was concerned about the sole tender process. These were the findings of its feasibility study. It refused to entertain funding for this project.

*Third, there is the Environmental Impact Assessment and the Town and Country Act. The Armstrong Report (February 2013) stated that the EIA for this project, and therefore the Certificate of Environmental Clearance, was flawed. The Town and Country Act has also been breached.

*Fourth, there is the public consultation process. In 2007, stakeholder residents at the statutory public consultation held in Debe raised serious concerns about the social impact of this project. It raised concerns about the impact on the hydrology of the area. It proposed a reroute option. But the consultation was a fait accompli, done deal; their concerns were ignored (See EIA, public comments).

*Fifth, there is a standard econometric tool for assessing costs and benefits of projects. No cost-benefit analysis was done for this project.

*Sixth, there is the Social Impact Analysis. This measures the social impacts, especially where significant social and economic impacts are expected. There is no SIA for this project.

*Seventh, the regulatory authority may commission a specialized study of rare ecological assets for which mitigation measures have to be well thought out, or for which there might be no mitigation measures. There is no hydrological report for the dynamic wetland system of the Oropouche Lagoon, which the Debe to Mon Desir highway proposes to cross.

*Eight, the public authority might opt to do a review. The Prime Minister, in March 2012, promised to put on hold and do a review of Debe to Mon Desir. When this promise was violated (High Court ruling, May 2014), a hunger strike forced an independent report calling for works to stop and a proper review of key aspects of the project to be done. The Armstrong Report was ignored and construction works started at the end of 2013.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. (Copyright AFP 2014/Frederic Dubray)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Frederic Dubray)

*Ninth, there is the law. In a judgement in May 2014, which allowed work to proceed on Debe to Mon Desir, the High Court ruled that the Prime Minister had breached the law of legitimate expectation and Section 4a of the constitution. She failed to abide by her promise to review; and thereby failed to protect the properties of those to whom she had made the promise.

*Tenth, there is the act of simply listening. A simple accounting measure is meeting and listening in good faith to those who engage in advocacy, protest, demonstration and public outcry. The word that the High Court used to describe the behaviour of the Prime Minister’s and her officers towards the Reroute Movement is “insincere”.

Dr Kublalsingh has a strong history of environment activism in Trinidad and Tobago.

In 2002 he organized the University of the West Indies Symposium on land use options for 77,000 acres of land and infrastructure on the West Coast of Trinidad, which was about to be abandoned due to the closure of Caroni (1975) Limited and the historic sugar industry.

From 2006 to 2008 he worked with communities at Chatham and the South West Peninsula to prevent the state from allowing the ALCOA aluminium smelter at Chatham; similarly with La Brea and South West Peninsula from 2006 to 2010 to prevent the state from proceeding with the Alutrint aluminum smelter.

From 2009 to 2011 he worked with residents of Pranz Gardens and environs to prevent the building of Essar Steel a steel manufacturing complex that was proposed to be built in the proximity of communities in Claxton Bay. He also worked with residents of Claxton Bay and the fishermen of the Claxton Bay fishing port to stop the building an industrial port on the Claxton Bay Mangrove System.

Photo: Environmental activist and UWI lecturer Dr Wayne Kublalsingh.
Photo: Environmental activist and UWI lecturer Dr Wayne Kublalsingh.

He worked with residents of Savonetta Village and environs to prevent the state from building CARISAL, a caustic soda company, to be built on lands outside of the Point Lisas Industrial Estate.

Dr Kublalsingh may be facing his toughest battle yet, but he and the communities from Debe to Mon Desir are committed to a fight to the end even as they acknowledge their slingshots and arrows may not be enough to stop the might of the bulldozer as it erases their history and threatens to tip this ecologically diverse and rich country into a land of concrete jungles, contributing to the global warming and climate change that it has promised to fight against at the United Nations Climate Summit.

AboutHighway Re-Route Movement

Highway Re-Route Movement
The Highway Re-Route Movement is a lobby group that is firmly against the planned construction of the Debe to Mon Desir highway segment. This segment will cost the taxpayer over $5 billion, and will destroy over 350 homes and 13 communities.

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98 comments

  1. What wrong with people. This hwy will be built. It is required to get the drugs coming in at Cedros to either Point Lisas or the port of Port of Spain or Piarco, fast, fast.

  2. If one looks at the numbers that were lobbying for the baby grant, for cheaper oil and flour, for lifesport, then one can argue that more numbers are not needed for this HRM case. When one looks at the numbers that were calling for more US currency and the numbers that tried to find it when it went missing, one can probably even say the same. Gregory Maguire said that running deficit budgets with a low oil production is a not a good thing. if the oil price drops, it would spell disaster for Trinidad and Tobago. The point is, spending quantum sums of money on things that are not based on oil exploration then keep the dollar afloat for others to do so is strange to me. We need highways yes, but how many and at what cost? This is the study that I study. Arguing where to put it seems scantily clad at this stage. No need to see Kub’s barebacked bones again.

  3. The view is that the little crowd that is there is only residents

  4. If y’all join the protests I will sick as I am. That’s what’s needed more numbers.

  5. the right hon. drunking kamal bissessar prime minister of trinidad and tobago

  6. More on that ^^ Found this in my inbox.

    “Many people have been asking whether there is a legal obligation on the State to consider the Armstrong Report and it is clear to me that such an obligation does exist. One of the tenets of Good Public Administration is ‘reasonableness’ in the conduct of decisionmaking by Public Officials.”

    http://afraraymond.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/re-route-truth/

  7. I can’t believe this is still going on. In any case the question I have is – and I’m hoping someone here can shed some light – if “the matter is before the courts” then how is construction proceeding? Surely construction should be halted until the courts have ruled? Why isn’t that happening here?

  8. Darryn you say that HRM’s message is unclear. You also say that you believe in the report. the HRM believes in the report too. You continue to say that Kub is a hypocrite as he is arguing for the report on behalf of the HRM. If you and Kub both agree on the same report regardless of your backgrounds then could one acknowledge that you are agreeing with a hypocrite and then ask- what does that make you? I think that your message is unclear.

  9. I think thats being dishonest vernal …kublalsingh is very much the main voice and face of the hrm….and thats my main problem with him…the problems with the highway are part of a larger culture of the way things are done here…instead of making these issues the focal point…you have a vain crackpot indugling in some narcissistic histrionic fit …it solves nothing..achieves nothing….we dont expect much from politicians ..i think thats fine..but we should demand better from self appointed voices of the people…waynes crazy belifs and his hypocrasy should matter ..

  10. We Trinidadians are very much given to the cult of personality, but on this issue I have never come across anyone who subscribes the the cult of Wayne Kublalsingh. Every supporter of the Armstrong Report, the Reroute Movement and even the suggested alternate route are and have been more concerned with the social and environmental aspect of this construction than they are with Kubs or his theatrics.

  11. questioning the hypocrisy of politicians is very easy…of populists not so much

  12. if you read the statement lasaa posted youl see kublalsingh is very much central to the HRM…all i said was thats its message is unclear to me having read it..and i outlined why i think the man is a hypocrite..and so far no one has challenged my view with evidence to the contrary….i have also said that i support the Armstrong report and i am also very skeptical whether the highway should be built or not…..its was very interesting to see the reaction to this lollol..

  13. Oh
    And this post also touches on the Prime Minister’s hypocrisy in addressing none other than the United Nations on environmental issues after disregarding the Armstrong Report (that she commissioned) choosing instead to move ahead with the destruction of a wetland.

    But yet we’re questioning Wayne’s integrity.

  14. I don’t understand the fixation with Kublalsingh. I mean why not just create a post that deals with him if you feel so strongly and allow those interested to discuss the relevant issue to this post unmolested?

  15. See that’s just it, neither this post nor kublalsingh is the subject of this post. The subject of this post as far as I can tell is the construction of the Debe to Mon Desir section of the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, whether it was adequately assessed, were affected residence treated fairly, is the benefit of this construction worth the price of the destruction of an environmentally sensitive wetland, the Armstrong Report that the government paid for with taxpayer dollars that it then discarded.

    Kubs is but one small part.

  16. Because they asked him to? Any peep from you on the actual issue? Do you know the issue? You think its:

    1) The whole highway
    2) Part of the highway?
    3) All highways?

  17. if you make yourself the focal point of a movement or cause..and invoke the idea that you are speaking on behalf of god then you open yourself to scrutiny ..you have your motives and ideas questioned . your credentials that justify how you say you are are questioned…..apparently you either blindly support kublalsingh or you are part of the evil opposition who hates trinidad..lolo….how very chavista like lolol

  18. i am saying the two things are inseparable ..but apparently you not allowed to do that..

  19. Asking again. Discuss the man over the issue?

  20. The subject of this post has now been entirely lost.
    Text book trolling!

  21. So discuss the man an to hell with the issue? K. You asked a question earlier about why he didn’t protest when the PNM destroyed mangrove. Did you think about that before you asked? Just curious.

  22. Ahhhh… Now we’re cult members… I feel like Allan Karim on this thread…

  23. i guess like all cults if you question the motives of the leader or his credentials ..you get branded a heretic ..lolol…

  24. The art of trolling consists of throwing in irrelevant comments in any post that does not suit one’s narrative, hoping to lure the posts contributors into either explaining what the post is actually about or explaining why the troll is impertinent.

    Either way you end up with a derailed post, which is exactly what the troll wanted in the first place.
    Trolling now can actually be considered a discipline!

  25. Lasana Liburd I think i have made my views clear…as for the highway I agree with the Armstrong report …im sorry but Kublalsingh character is very relevant here…the HRM has invoked religious sentiments …Im sorry you feel discussing his political views and the insane things he stands behind is not relevant….his writings are all available on the net..if anyone is interested to read them

  26. What? A focussed discussion vs espousing opinion? Come nah man, Lasana Liburd…
    I’m still waiting to see how wanting development on the land cleared for the smelter equates with hypocrisy… But that is easily a separate discussion from the issue of the HRM, the Hway, public projects and public monies and the Armstrong report.

  27. Whether or not you prove that Kublalsingh supported Bin Laden is a waste of time and the very epitome of a red herring. We are talking about a highway here not the War on Terror.

  28. I can debate with you on Kublalsingh’s supposed views on Chavez or Bin Laden. Or I can prefer to stick to discussing the highway.
    And that is a no brainer for me.
    Are you intentionally trying to turn the conversation away from the highway? Why not just give your views on that?

  29. Nobody is right about everything, nor can someone be wrong all of the time.
    When we discount everything a person does as is often the case based on past behaviors we invariably lose out on the things they will do right.

    An open mind never killed anyone.

  30. oh lool right..haha…..sorry i just dont take a man that defends chavez castro bin laden and the ayatollah seriously lol..plus my points on his hypocrisy are valid .

  31. Because it is as irrelevant as your personal opinions of the man, ay least in this conversation.

  32. oh,,but if it inst funny why joke about his beard and hair ?

  33. It is a viable alternative, indeed, but not a viable alternative to those friends of parliamentarians etc who have those highly inflated juicy contracts. The people of T&T need to focus.

  34. So, what is the solution? Starving might not be, so how should we then approach the situation. In an environment of blatant disregard for transparency, integrity and what is the obvious attempt to satisfy the agenda of a chosen few, as opposed the the common good of all. The reroute movement is being unjustly touted as being against the highway, when what they have proposed is viable alternative.

  35. Sadly, Trinidadians will focus on Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh’s form of protest instead of the sensibility of his proposal, the high possibility of corruption, and the detriment of the ecosystem. What’s key to me is that he offered a proposal that’s environmentally friendly and costing significantly less but Trinis for some reason cannot comprehend. But history is repeating itself here, where protestors’ own turns against them because of this method of protest…. Ghandi comes to mind at the moment. Our ignorance on this issue will be a major impact in years to come.

  36. Ah laughing eh, but it really not funny! LOL

  37. and a beret Vernal! haha a red beret .with a che tee shirt! loolol

  38. My personal view on Kublalsingh is he should get a shape up for that beard, maybe even a generous application of Just For Men hair dye.

    I relly doh know again nah!

  39. all i said in this thread is that the HRM message needs to clearer …the statement they released here seems to suggest they have a problem with the WHOLE highway project when they are also saying that they support the highway and only object to the mondesir part….thats aside rom my own personal feelings about kublalsingh …and i never said that their statements have no merit

  40. no no..i am not objecting to anything!!! i am simply expressing my views on kublalsingh…