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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. That’s the problem right there Darryn Dinesh Boodan. You are objecting on the grounds of your personal view on Kublalsingh.
    I’m not interested in that. I rather hear specifics on this highway matter.

  2. yes its true that the points in the Armstrong report needs to be addressed..but that doesnt mean we should not scrutinize the interests .motives or behavior of ALL involved here ..

  3. I agree with you mostly. Even if I won’t say it in quite the same way.
    Hunger strikes are not a new form of protest. And many have used it effectively over the years.
    Although I too don’t want him to die.

  4. people like kubllaingh are not really interested in the enviroment..what they are really interested in is an ideological worldview that is anti western..anti US and pro chavez socialist.. thats why they see no contradiction in supporting environmentally destructive polices like petro caribe..(which affect the whole region) and yet paint themselves as environmentalists at home..wayne has no objection on building on torn down forests and rural areas..just as long as you are building what HE thinks needs to be built… to me hes no different than than govt that feels they know better and know whats good for other people

  5. The entire article was a release from the HRM. I don’t see how Kublalsingh is exploiting anything or whether he is a scientist, activist or whatever.
    I would like to hear objections to the specific points he made. And I’m not hearing that from anyone including the Government.

  6. Again, I repeat court injunctions denied aside, the crux of this matter is that the Prime MININSTRESS, gave an undertaking that she would HALT the construction of the highway UNTIL there was compliance with the findings of the John Armstrong Report. The HYDROLOGY and hydraulics report as it relates to the assessing of FLOODING in the Oropouche Lagoon is a MUST. Kublalsingh is CORRECT. However starving himself to death is NOT sensible nor is it the solution!

  7. Sorry now you’ve totally lost me. Not sure what’s socialist about a food park or trade and transport within the Americas. Or perhaps it’s me you’re calling a crackpot and a socialist one. No clue. I’ll take my leave now.

  8. So, the quote above supports what? He is an environmentalist? He isn’t? HRMs proposals make no sense? He supports Petrocaribe?

  9. ^^ .haha like all socialist crackpots. waynbe kublalsingh is just a hypocrite exploiting a cause for his own agenda….

  10. I’m trying to see what you feel is a contradiction here. I guess the perceived hypocrisy stems from what you believe him to be, and we seem to have different perceptions on what that is.

  11. “We must build a University of the Americas in Cedros, on the South Western Peninsula. And a heliport and port there to facilitate trade and transport. And a food park, on that site of 1500 acres cleared for Alutrint smelter, armed with the latest technologies of the Americas.”- wayne kublalsingh

  12. because if so..it clearly describes kublalinsgh as an environmentalist.

  13. Why don’t we just critique the man’s beard while we’re at it?

  14. Lasana Liburd is this entire report the statement from the HRM?

  15. Petrocaribe relevant to the hypocrisy discussion, Vernal Damion Cadogan…stay with us.

  16. He’s a social activist.
    The movement has no objection to the Debe to Point Fortin highway, just the Debe to Mon Desir section of it.

    Dr. Kublalsingh is concerned with transparency, accountability and fairness where the tax dollars of the citizenry is concerned. In fact he has stated that he would support the disputed section of the highway once it is cleared for construction by an independent body.

    As for Petrocaribe, that is an entirely separate and independent matter.

  17. yeah lol activist is a useful term lolol

  18. Ive never heard Kublalsingh describe himself as an environmentalist. Activist, yes…environmentalist or scientist, no.
    HRM have made clear their objections to one leg of the hway, but have indicated that they do not object to other legs of the hway, especially if the other communities think they are benefitting from it.
    Currently, the HRM is questioning the Govt’s position on then Armstrong report. Why commission the report and then ignore its findings? Especially since its findings indicate that all is not above board where the undertaking of the hway is concerned.
    I’m not sure how Kublasingh is a hypocrite, or why his “hypocrisy” is an issue here. But i will keep following.

  19. “When the President of Venezuela offers Petrocaribe to the Caribbean, a regime of concessionary terms on energy, Mr Manning says no. “…sounds like it

  20. I’m also not unclear at all on the HRM’s goals – these points that you mention don’t appear at all unrelated to me. I don’t see the mixed message.

  21. it certainly is ,the armstrong report makes it clear more studies need to be done t make a determination either way..and t also says the HRM plans are not feasible in catering for future traffic in the region

  22. The point of that article seems to be that Kublalsingh felt that we ought to be aligning ourselves regionally in order to ensure regional goals are being met – not aligning ourselves with those who would just take…. I don’t see a Petrocaribe endorsement here.

  23. I don’t know about his stance petrocaribe and whether it is reasonable or not. But you said it yourself: “…without doing the requisite studies”
    Isn’t that a red flag?

  24. Wayne kublalsngh isnt an environmentalist nor scientist

  25. Also waybe kublasingh supports petrocaribe..a massive subsized gas programe that no environmentalist would ever support.. hence me calling him a hypocrite

  26. But THE HRM offcial postion is that they have no probem with the Debe to ponint fortin higghway..thats why i said their message is unclear…what is it that they want

  27. Lasana Liburd ok ill try and be clear- this statement by the HRM seem to be criticizing T&T’s approach to development ; he says “he Government wants to knock the financial, ecological, social and economic guts out of the communities, without doing the requisite studies”

  28. Exactly Lasana, what the HRM has are reasonable concerns that the government has acknowledged.
    The government in response agreed to commission the Armstrong Report which it then ignored in order to continue it’s construction.

    What is important to note is that the HRM isn’t fighting for it’s members, Wayne Kublalsingh or even the people of Debe. The HRM is actually fighting to make the government accountable to the governed, the problem is a large percentage of the governed don’t care to have this particular administration accountable to them. A PNM administration however they would demand accountability from.

    That is the issue!

  29. You are throwing so many different ideas into the pot Darryn. Why not just comment on his objection to the highway and see if you can find flaws in his thinking there?
    That notion of hypocrisy seems obscure.
    I enjoy watching TV when I can but I hate Basketball Wives. Am I a hypocrite? 🙂

  30. No that was never the case. That was made up by the unc.

  31. Wayne kublalsingh is also on record supporting petrocaribe.. how does that square with being concerned about the environment ? please dont assume i am on the side of the govt..here im not..i just hate hypocrites

  32. I’ve noticed the volume of trolling Wayne Kublalsingh gets on Facebook has reached epic proportions. They do everything possible to drown him out.

  33. It is, and this is what I can’t understand why iis it so difficult for people to understand, instead, they try to misrepresent the argument to their ignorant supporters

  34. judging by this staement it seem they have a problem with building highways in general

  35. Darryn Dinesh Boodan, I believe the argument is that the portion through Mon Desir is overly expensive because of the lay of the land, environmentally risky and cuts through a community. I didn’t see that as a contradiction.

  36. It is from the Highway Re-Route Movement. Very lucid argument I thought.

  37. This is a good illustration of the mess the hrm is ..because kublalsingh himself has said he supports the point fortin to debe highway and is happy irs being built..but he objects to the mon desir to debe portion……what exactly does the hrm want..their message is just convuluted mess

  38. That’s true Lasana, but this one actually has the gall to speak at an international environmental function.

  39. This article is an eye opener and very well articulated. Thanks for sharing.

  40. Successive PMs have been horrible where the environment is concerned.

  41. I hope she carry part of the mangrove she destroy.

  42. I found her speaking at an environmental function funny especially given her support of the destruction of our wetlands.

  43. Hey Darryn, East Indians came here a little over 150 years. Their descendants are now fighting where to put piece of a highway. The people who were here before them have descendants and are paid little to zero respect. Everyone gets a holiday except them. Two questions 1) is this still hypocrisy to you 2) if gopio should honour anyone, should it be cha chi or cha cha, Kams or Wayne?

  44. I have a question- where is the money going to come from to maintain not one, but several highways? Someone please correct me, wasn’t the money borrowed to build these highways in the first place? So then, is it safe to say that economic growth will be seen after we pay back the loans? If there are no traffic police to patrol the existing roads, is it safe to say that these would be highways to move drugs and other contraband throughout the country? Let us say the police become efficient and that there is a spike in traffic tickets, where are the extra courthouses and magistrates to listen to these cases? Is it correct to think that perhaps improving on cities and towns first would have saved this country billions in debt than doin it last? From what I see is that the roads are mainly jammed leading into port of Spain in the morning and leaving from there in the evening. I think all the prime ministers have gotten it wrong when it comes to developing a nation. What is the point of having shiny new things that citizen’s are not proud of and not encouraged to improve their own lifestyles. They will eliminate one hour out of four of being on the road and persons will start to lime later, look for more outside man and woman all over, cause more traffic at a later hour and start to drive exceptionally slow for no reason on the fast lane.

  45. The only way she might listen is if The movement get Santana and posse to re enact this clip with Pastor Stewart goin beserk on she!
    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5x-CpDNED1g