South Trinidad highway project to continue despite hunger strike by UWI lecturer
PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Friday November 23, 2012 - As the hunger strike by university lecturer Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh continues, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, says the multi million dollar highway project in South Trinidad will continue.
Addressing journalists at Thursday’s annual Christmas media function, the Prime Minister insisted that Kublalsingh, who is now on his eight day of a hunger strike - has refused to meet with her .
“Many have asked me to visit him and I wish to clarify this once again. Wayne Kublalsingh insists that he does not wish to see me, his demands are for a technical review committee to evaluate the Solomon Hochoy Extension project and that while this committee is being established that the roadwork be halted”
She added that “His inappropriate and aggressive rejection of the Minister of Health and others whom the government sent in his interest is consistent with this stance. In fact, Wayne has made it clear on more than one occasion and continues to do so today that he has no desire to see me. So the failure to meet with him is not of my own making but of Wayne’s refusal”.
However, in an immediate response a weak Kublalsingh said the Prime Minister was not speaking the truth and vowed to continue his hunger strike.
The Prime Minister went on to dismiss reports that she reneged on a promise made to the University of the West Indies lecturer who heads the Highway Reroute Movement.
She said that following a meeting with Kublalsingh and members of the movement, she suspended work on a section of the highway project pending deliberations and the review the appointed technical committee.
“The Highway Reroute Movement walked out of several meetings with the Minister of Works and the technical team. And when finally a report was made on the evaluation that included compromises based upon the group’s views, the results were again rejected by the Highway Reroute Movement. At this stage we simply could not give into the demands of Wayne Kublalsingh and his group to stop a project that would benefit hundreds of thousands of citizens for generations to come”
According to Persad-Bissessar, based on advice given, if the project is halted the government could be sued by the contractors who have contractual obligations to meet.
“Wayne’s view is that the project is a bad one and must be stopped at all costs. His demand is not to meet me. So as Prime Minister what am I expected to do? Simply give into his demands to protect his life and give up the livelihood and future of hundreds of thousands of others who want the development but choose not to protest in that fashion in favour of it?”
While noting that Kablalsingh’s health is of great concern, she also expressed concern about the development of the nation and that she has made arrangements for his well-being .
“I have penned a note to his mother in reply to one she sent me, I have sent emissaries to his side, I have placed an ambulance on standby.
“Naturally, Wayne’s health is of concern to me but what is also of concern is the development of the nation I lead. We have tried to reason with the Highway Reroute Movement, more than many would have allowed. Wayne chooses to deprive himself of food and water but as Prime Minister I cannot choose to deprive generations of the nations citizens of the development which the Solomon Hochoy Highway Extension would bring”
“I therefore make another appeal to Wayne’s dear Parents, Ray and Vilma, and his wife and brothers and sisters to take seriously their obligation for the action of their beloved son and not transfer this parental duty to the state” the Prime Minister stated.
Meanwhile, the Opposition has also weighed in on the issue, in a letter to the Prime Minister on Thursday, Opposition leader , Dr. Keith Rowley said the situation has escalated to a point where a life might be at risk and pleaded for her intervention.
“It is now a matter transcending the objectors of Delhi-Mon Desir to one of the national conscience relating to how we deal with one another and how the might and patience of the State is exercised in service to the people, all the people, even those who may be perceived to be stubborn, unreasonable or taxing”
The Opposition leader voiced concern about Kublalsingh’s health , stating that “if something positive is not done very soon the ultimate tragedy of irreparable harm would most certainly occur”
“I asked Dr. Kublalsingh what is the minimum condition attached to his request and he informed that the announcement of a multi-component technical group with some element of independent professional/technical, input, detailed to review the alternatives will suffice to break his fast”
Rowley called on the Prime Minister to revisit the issue in an effort to ‘save a life and disembark us all from the pathway of destruction upon we may have wittingly or unwillingly entered.
“This is not a time for anger, blame or bombast. This is a time for reaching out and protecting us all from the pain of failure. Ultimately this is a matter of the State versus the people where numbers and dollars may not be all that matter. It may finally boil down to who we are, how much we understand each other and how well we would have served all the people”
Kublalsingh and the Re-Route Movement have been protesting the construction of the Debe to Mon Desir section of the highway on the grounds that the environment would be affected and families dislodged.
Since last Thursday, the environmentalist has since positioned himself outside the offices of the Prime Minister and his 79-year-old father, Ray Kublalsingh told the Trinidad Express newspaper that his son has not been eating or drinking anything.