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Serious revelations in highway report
If the Minister of Works wanted, on behalf of the Government, to say that the administration only agreed to establish the Highway Review Committee as a mamaguy to spare itself the consequences of Wayne Kublasingh dying outside the office of the Prime Minister, he could not have been clearer in his statements on the report.
Very selectively and partially, Mr Emmanuel George quoted the document seemingly with the intention to make as if the Government had received the all-clear from the HRC to continue as is with the Debe to Mon Desir segment. Secondly, the minister stressed on the HRC saying that the alternative route proposed by the villagers was inferior to the one chosen. Those who have not had an opportunity to peruse the report in part or in its entirety should not be fooled about the core observations and recommendations of the report.
Yes, the document does not seek to prevent the construction of the highway; what it does say is that construction should not be proceeded with until and unless there is serious review of the present approach, inclusive of the CEC that was obtained for construction: “It is recommended that no further work be undertaken on the Highway site until all of the conditions contained in the CEC have been fulfilled,” states the HRC report.
Further, the recommendation of the HRC concerning proceeding with the work that the minister seems so eager to re-start is quite clear: “In accordance with the TCP ACT no further construction work should be carried out on the site until all of the conditions attached to Notice of Grant (etc) have been fulfilled.”
Also, the report states that “it is imperative that a proper Social Impact Assessment be undertaken before a decision is made whether or not to continue the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Highway given the potential for severe adverse impacts on the resident population and other stakeholders including the potential for severe adverse impacts within the immediate and wider area of impact, including the potential severing of extended family ties.”
On other critical issues raised by the villagers, the HRC recommends the conduct of a hydrology study; an environmental and economic impact study “of this Project must also be undertaken to inform a decision whether or not to proceed with this Highway segment. This should include a cost benefit analysis, comparing economic costs of the various alignment alternatives that were assessed to demonstrate the costs of the adverse effects compared with the proposed benefits.”
This is a frightening revelation as it means that the present and previous governments committed to spending over $7 billion without proper feasibility and planning; no wonder succeeding governments have fritted large quantities of the energy patrimony.
Further, the HRC notes that consultation with the stakeholders was inadequate and that no proper arrangements had been made with regard to payment for the private property to be acquired by the State. Sure, the State has the power to acquire in the best public interest, but in doing so it must be directed by the constitutional provisions.
Then there is the observation by the HRC that the approach adopted to finance and construct the highway initiated by the previous Government and pursued by the incumbents is all wrong for the a highway. One militating factor is that construction can only be engaged and completed after a series of approvals, including checks and balances such as consultation and the expression of the national political will.
The particular importance of this observation is that having pursued the finance and construct method, the State is subject to penalties if it does not continue on the construction schedule agreed to with the contractor. The constitutional madness of this approach is that it ignores the fact that the Government is not the owner of the project, even if it may want to give that impression, but is proceeding without consultation and more with the owners of the resources. That is a fundamentally flawed aspect of our governance systems.
Here is the conclusion of the committee:
“The HRC found that there were significant shortcomings which warrant further interrogation to determine the way forward. The complex and sensitive issues involved in this project certainly could not be addressed within the confines of this 60-day review period. Should the Government decide to proceed with the construction of the Debe-Mon Desir segment, the HRC is of the considered opinion that shortcomings resulting from the inadequacies of proper assessment of the likely impacts on the human and natural environment must first be determined and resolved.”
The challenge facing the Government is whether or not it will demonstrate good faith with a process that it agreed to or experience a further erosion of its credibility. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is the holder of the Government’s bank account containing invaluable public political assets such as trust, credibility, integrity, adherence to constitutional governance, and a willingness to protect the rights of individuals.
An electorate does not wake up one morning and decide to fire a Government; it is a cumulative process.
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