Minister of National Security Jack Warner did not act on his own accord when he instructed the demolition of the Highway Re-route Movement's camp, to allow works to resume on the $7.2 billion Point Fortin Highway. In fact, Sunday Guardian learnt that only two weeks before Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar reshuffled her Cabinet, Brazilian firm Construtora OAS Ltd had issued a $3.5 million claim against the Government for breach of the contractual agreement caused by the protesters.
Warner yesterday admitted to Sunday Guardian that at the time of the demolition, he, along with other Cabinet members, were aware of the claim. "I have copies of the claim in my possession. I knew the company is asking for more than $3 million for breach of the agreement but I did not want that to be the justification for demolishing the camp. The point is those people were occupying state lands illegally and they had to be removed," Warner said.
The firm is demanding the additional payment for the delay of works at Seebaran Drive, caused by the Highway Re-route Movement's protest action. Works grounded to a halt on April 21 at the construction site. The claim was submitted on June 12, citing financial losses due to ineffective or idle construction equipment and labour.
In addition, the firm is also claiming the protests caused construction to be pushed into the rainy season, which may result in further delays and additional costs. The protesters, led by environmentalist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh, had pitched a camp along the Debe route of the highway, obstructing construction and blocking equipment from entering the site for several weeks, until its recent demolition two weeks ago. The protesters are claiming that the construction poses a risk to the environment and communities would be divided.
'Nidco failed to act'
The firm has also taken issue with the National Infrastructure Development Company's (Nidco) handling of the matter. In its claim, the firm stated Nidco and other regulatory agencies had failed to resolve and mitigate the problem that led to the delay. In accordance with International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC) requirements, the contractor is required to submit a notice of claim with supporting documents within 42 days of a situation arising.
According to the claim, dated May 2, the firm wrote to Nidco informing them about the protesters and indicating their inability to continue works. Requesting that Nidco address the community's issues, the firm stated, "The local community is still occupying the right of way with tents and they have ploughed the land and started growing banana and coconut trees and vegetables as a measure to demarcate the land. The contractor requested that the employer address these community issues and keep the contractor (OAS) informed."
Citing grounds for the additional payment, the firm noted the following:
�2 The contractor is unable to carry on works in the area, which will impact the contract as a whole
�2 A lot of large construction equipment was either used ineffectively or stood idle
�2 Due to the delay, earthworks that should have been done in the dry season, between January 1 and May 31, will now have to be executed during the rainy season.
Kublalsingh: I will not give up the fight
Showing no remorse for his actions, Kublalsingh, in an interview yesterday, told Sunday Guardian that he had no regrets for his actions and did not intend to give up the fight. Kublalsingh said while he had not seen documentation proving the claim, he said any increase in construction cost was due to the Government ignoring the concerns of citizens.
"We advised the Government not to proceed with that section of the highway and they have refused to listen, so the Government has to bear the cost," Kublalsingh said. Meanwhile, residents of Debe and environs came out in their numbers yesterday in support of the highway.
AG: I will vigorously assert the rights of the State
Commenting on the development yesterday, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan told Sunday Guardian that the delay of the project has financial implications. "I had warned that the State's risk exposure was quite significant, having regard to the magnitude of this billion-dollar project. The Attorney General's office is still reeling from the financial impact of multiple claims that I am still unravelling today. The country cannot afford to simply expose itself and be vulnerable to litigation.
"I intend to, therefore, vigorously assert the rights of the State to ensure that the wider public interests and purse are protected, so the legal position of the State is not jeopardised and compromised beyond redemption."