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Pay row over Debe-Mon Desir report
A dispute over payment to the technical team that reviewed the Debe to Mon Desir section of the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension is delaying the official release of the report.
Sources close to the issue said yesterday the review cost just over $700,000 and the Government, through Works and Infrastructure Minister Emmanuel George, had agreed to pay for the review if it cost less than $1 million.
That agreement, the T&T Guardian was told, was made at a meeting between civil-society groups and the Government on December 3 last year. Civil-society organisations at the meeting were: The Joint Consultative Council (JCC), The Federation of Independent Trade Unions (Fitun), The T&T Transparency Institute (TTTI) and Women Working for Social Progress (Working Women).
Sources said, however, that when the report was completed, the Government reneged on its promise to pay. The outstanding payment was cited as the reason for the continuing delay in its release. The JCC set up the review team in December last year which effectively ended a 21-day hunger strike by leader of the Highway Re-Route Movement, Dr Wayne Kublalsingh.
The team was given a two-month time frame to complete its review and submit a report. The committee was chaired by Independent Senator James Armstrong. The JCC promised to release the report last Friday but did not. The report was expected to be published on the JCC Web site over the weekend but that too did not materialise.
Yesterday the JCC sought even more time to ensure the report was reviewed and signed. But a source close to Armstrong said the document was already signed; the Guardian understands the cover letter of the report contained Armstrong’s signature. The report was presented to George last week.
George, in commenting on aspects of the report at the post-Cabinet news conference, said it was not signed, but that it listed no major issues to prevent the resumption of construction on the controversial section of the highway. A reliable source dismissed claims that the report gave Government the green light for work on the project to resume and said the report clearly stated that work could resume on condition that certain specific issues were addressed by the Government.
But president of the National Infrastructure Company (Nidco) Dr Carson Charles said yesterday there was never any agreement to halt work on the site. He said the contractor and Nidco were being very generous and co-operative to allow more time for the JCC to complete its review to ensure that the document could stand up to public scrutiny. He said the document could be used in legal battles brought by the Highway Re-route Movement and therefore needed to be carefully addressed. Charles said the delay in resumption of work on the project was happening at great cost to the State, and it was only because of the goodwill of Nidco and the contractor that work had not as yet resumed on the $7.5 billion project.
Meanwhile, Kublalsingh is threatening to engage in “serious and unmitigated action” if Government did not take heed of the findings of the report. He said the protest would be “peaceful, but severe.”
He maintained his opposition to the construction of the section of the highway on the ground that it would have an adverse impact on the environment.
Read the technical team’s full report at http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2013-02-18/download-highway-review-committee-technical-report
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