Government ministers mounted a stout defence of National Security Minister Jack Warner’s involvement in the dawn raid on Wednesday to destroy the Highway Re-Route Movement’s protest camp, Debe. Attorney General Anand Ramlogan led a ministerial “defence team” at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing and said the Opposition PNM had no moral or political credibility to protest Government’s action on the issue. He was flanked by embattled National Security Minister Jack Warner, Oropouche MP Roodal Moonilal, in whose constituency the camp was set up, and Works Minister Emmanuel George, whose ministry was dealing with the issue. All supported Warner’s action, saying the camp, on the land earmarked for part of the highway, was hampering national development. In his turn at the podium Warner shouldered the responsibility of the events, removing Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar from the line of fire.
He said he had not received any instruction or advice from Persad-Bissessar to remove the camp and didn’t tell her of the impending action. Although he said he had discussed the issue with Ramlogan on previous occasions, in his former Works Ministry, he said he did not tell Ramlogan the camp was going to be removed on Wednesday. He also said he had called George to discuss the issue. He added: “Whether I will rise or fall or get a backlash from it, I’m prepared for it.” Under questioning from reporters, however, Warner appeared irritated and gave the floor to the other ministers. Ramlogan said Warner was within his rights to be at the Debe site on Wednesday, since people might have said the security forces were not sensitive to religious items in the camp. He said it was acceptable for an MP or National Security Minister to be there “to deal with the political and social relationship dynamics.” He said Warner did not direct the army since the Defence Force commander was present and that the separation of powers was not mutually exclusive, since “points of intersection” were necessary for the “practical administration of constitutional arrangements.”
Ramlogan said when a fence around the Jamaat al-Muslimeen was demolished by the army under the UNC administration in 1998, the then National Security Minister was present. He said no eviction notice was required to be served on the protestors since they were not squatters. Ramlogan said the State was in danger of litigation over hundreds of millions of dollars if the contractors were delayed. He added: “The State cannot be held to ransom by a handful of people. As AG if I see a train coming to hit me, I can’t worry about a handful of people trying to harass, bully, intimidate and blackmail Government into stopping a multi-million-dollar project.” George is expected to meet with Nidco officials today, who are the project managers of the highway, to ascertain how much the delay caused by the protest action has cost the State so far. Moonilal claimed some constituents wanted to throw out the protesting group but he warned against it since he felt it would lead to unrest.