Leader of the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM) Dr Wayne Kublalsingh has issued his own challenge to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, calling on her to make the names of the contractors involve
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Kublalsingh must stay alive
In the end, however that end turns out, Dr Wayne Kublalsingh’s hunger strike struck a decisive (not fatal) blow against the centuries-old political culture of domination by a few.
It has been a major strike against party fanaticism, tribal loyalty to a political leadership, against the political culture in which governments could spend billions on major projects and dramatically intervene in the lives of people, all without consultation and information, without scientific study and without more than a passing concern for the welfare of a people, their history and culture.
Effectively, what the valiant hunger-striker has so selflessly done is to say that a government in power cannot do what it chooses to simply on the basis of self-proclaimed fiat, or because it is a passion of the leader to “serve the people.” Rather, Dr Kublalsingh has demonstrated that it is the population that ultimately has the power to say to a government that in seeking to exercise power, it must have the authority of the people.
Such authority can only be had and exercised after people have been consulted on matters of vital importance and been provided with an assessment of the scientific and human considerations in a project that will displace hundreds of people and affect the environment while it produces benefits.
The objective of the hunger strike must be placed in the historical context of attempting to change governments and the governance practices of monarchs, feudal overlords, emirs, brutal dictatorships of the far right and far left varieties and modern parliamentary democracies which have but the appearance of democracy.
Dr Kublalsingh, the HRM, the segment of the population in support of logic, transparency, compassion and intelligence, and those government ministers who want change to the nature of politics and governance have achieved much.
It is not going to be a first, second or third-round knockout; rather Dr Kublalsingh, the protesters and those who want change must use the opening created by the hunger strike to advance the cause for open Government, responsive and responsible to the people.
Because of Dr Kublalsingh’s actions it will now be impossible for governments to ever conceive of such a project as the San Fernando to Point Fortin highway, stretching 27 miles through at times sensitive environment and through traditional communities that have built up a life, a culture, a sense of their place in the world without first consulting with them and being honest and transparent with the national population. People participation is at the heart of the political transformation that has to take place.
Belatedly responding to the months of concerns and contention expressed in different forms and fora, president of Nidco Dr Carson Charles released on Sunday the report the Government says has been prepared.
Having read the 11-page statement, it amounts to no more than a press release. It records the history of the highway, the award of the contract, responds to the contentions of the HRM, and makes sweeping generalisations about benefits and promises to counter the difficulties when they arise in an ad hoc manner.
No wonder the Government, the Ministry of Works and Nidco have been reluctant to release the document following calls for scientific survey and analysis of how the human condition is to be affected and mediated by the construction of the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway.
Dr Charles referred also to what he said were the voluminous technical studies done. The absence of a detailed technical summary report to reflect the science and humanity is indicative of a government that never intended to communicate with the population on the construction of the highway and the pros and cons of it.
And this is the importance of the Kublalsingh hunger strike: he has been able to force change in governance processes. Having made the breakthrough, my preference, and I say this respectful of Dr Kublalsingh’s position, is for him to preserve his life for the sake of his loving family.
He must do so too, not to save the PM and her Government from the stain of his blood on their regime, but because of the even more demanding task of being around to lead many other battles against governments when they seek to violate the rights of others and to continue the practice of might being right.
Dr Kublalsingh must stay alive to lead battles against ravenous corporate interests and other Philistines. He must be around as a living symbol to the nation of the value of self-sacrifice in the interest of others. Alive and active, Wayne Kublalsingh can say to the society that it is not without hope; he can demonstrate that life does not start and end with eat-ah-food politics.