A Significant Victory

Norman Girvan

Below is the text of a release from the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM) in Trinidad and Tobago issued on December 5, 2012 at around 9.00 PM.  A full independent review of the proposed Debe to Mon Desir Highway is to be undertaken, including a cost benefit analysis; a social impact assessment; and a hydrology, terrestrial and marine ecology report; with a commitment to receive oral and written submissions from members of the HRM. While the review is being conducted, no work will begin on the contentious highway, as the site has not yet been released to contractors.

 

The principal objectives of the HRM having been met; Dr Wayne Kublalsingh ended his hunger strike at 6.30 PM the same evening.   

 

The matter is by no means over; and there are doubtless more controversies to be encountered and more obstacles to be overcome in the implementation of what has been agreed. Nevertheless on the face of it the agreement constitutes is a significant victory, not only for Dr Kublalsingh and the  Highway Re-Route Movement which he leads, but more broadly for civil society in Trinidad and Tobago; in its on-going campaign for accountability, transparency, and inclusiveness in governance. The timely intervention of a coalition of civil society organisations was crucial in providing a mechanism to which both sides could agree; and in facilitating a constructive resolution of the impasse and the end of Dr Kublalsingh’s action. The civil society group was led by the the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry, with support from the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non-governmental Organisations, Women Working for Social Progress and the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, and endorsed by representatives of the Association of Professional Engineers, the Institute of Surveyors of Trinidad and Tobago, Trinidad and Tobago Contractors Association and the Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Architects.

 

The support and concerns emanating from wide sections of the society, including from within the People’s Partnership government itself, the media, and the regional and international attention generated by the protest action, doubtless also played a part in encouraging flexibility and the ultimate triumph of good sense in the government’ s handling of the dispute.

 

This is also a victory with wider regional implications. At this very moment regional civil society organisations are campaigning on various issues; including in the case of Jamaica, release of the Public Defender’s report on the events in Tivoli Gardens in 2010 that led to the deaths of over 70 citizens. The example of principled and determined protest backed by pro-active civil society intervention, will serve to further encourage and inspire citizens throughout the region to take responsibility for the state of our societies and to hold governments to account.

 

Dr Kublalsingh deserves our awe, respect and commendation for having the courage of his convictions, to the point of laying his life on the line.  Let us hope that in the future such extreme actions will not be necessary to pressure responsible authorities to do what should have been done in the first place.

 

6 December, 2012.

 

 

STATEMENT BY THE HIGHWAY RE-ROUTE MOVEMENT December 5th 2012

 

 

At 5.55pm this afternoon Wednesday the 5th of December 2012 the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM) received from the JCC, FITUN, TTTI and the Working Women for Social Progress the Terms of Reference for the review of the proposed Debe to Mon Desir highway.

 

The HRM read the details of this document and found that it contained the following particulars:

 

An undertaking by the review committee to:

 

(i)            Do a Cost Benefit Analysis Report of the proposed Debe to Mon Desir Highway

 

(ii)          Do a Social Impact Assessment of the proposed Debe to Mon Desir Highway

 

(iii)        Do a Hydrology, Terrestrial and Marine Ecology Report of the impacted area.

 

(iv)        Receive oral and written submissions from members of the HRM as well as other citizens in the Debe to Mon Desir communities.

 

No work shall be done on the proposed Debe to Mon Desir Highway since this has not been officially handed over to the contractors.

 

The review committee has accepted these requests of the HRM and therefore has brought this action that began on November 15th to an end.

 

Dr Kublalsingh’s hunger strike terminated at 6.30pm this evening.

 

The HRM thanks all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago for their compassionate support of this action.

 

Addendum:

NIDCO has communicated to the review committee that preliminary works will be done on the Fyzabad and Siparia exchanges but that no compulsory acquisitions will take place and no homes removed during the period of the review. The HRM expects that NIDCO and its contractors will respect the sensitivities of residents in this area and confine its works to earth-grubbing and earth removal solely.