PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago government and environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh appear headed for another confrontation after Works and Infrastructure Minister Emmanuel George described as “good news” an unsigned report by an independent committee on the controversial seven billion (One TT dollar = US$0.37 cents) highway south of here.
But Kublalsingh, who staged a 21 day hunger strike outside the Office of the Prime Minister over the portion of the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the San Fernando to Point Fortin Highway, is urging the government not to deliberately misinterpret the report of the committee chaired by Independent senator Dr James Armstrong.
George, speaking at the end of the weekly Cabinet meeting, said that his interpretation of the 257 page report “indicates that the highway should be built.
“I want to say that on my reading of the report, I think that whatever else it does...it brings good news to the population in that it indicates the highway should be built,” George said, identifying three key recommendations of the report.
“The report finds that the chosen route is considered superior from an overall perspective and that is from an overall perspective and I quote from the document. Secondly, the report states the finding of a recent traffic study concludes that the Highway Reroute Movement’s proposal is not the preferable one as it does not provide for traffic growth into the future and in turn up to 2030."
George told reporters that thirdly, the report “highlighted, in my view, that a hydrology report for the highway — which was done in 2007 — as adequate for the bridge and culvert design for the highway crossing. In essence therefore, the issue of flooding is set aside by that report and the findings of the committee."
George said that the committee also found no issues with the environmental impact.
“The committee’s findings, as indicated in their report, have no issue with the route of the highway or impact on the environment,” he said, adding “the report finds that there is no significant threat, so to speak, to wetlands.”
But Kublalsingh, who heads the Highway Reroute Movement (HRM) said that the report should be released later on Friday but was cautioning the government “to speak truthfully about the report.
“It will be published... in the full glare of the public. It has 10 recommendations and an additional five telling government how to proceed with projects in the future.
“I’ll leave it up to the public and media to look at the report. I caution government not to take liberties, talk the truth about the document, study it and treat it with great seriousness,” he told the local media.
“A team of 19 professionals in the fields of economics, transport economics, cost benefit analysis and social impact analysis have got together to achieve something that is a landmark document. The government needs to treat it seriously, not wave it as a smokescreen,” he said, indicating that he is not allowed to publicly comment on the document until later Friday.
“ But the document is very clear. There are 15 recommendations that give excellent advice to the Government as to what to do,” Kublalsingh added.
Meanwhile, George says the Kamla Persad Bissessar administration is cautious about the unsigned report.
“We take this report guardedly because it does not seem, in my view, to be a final one as it does not seem to be signed by the chairman or any members of the committee. So we are thinking it is more than likely a preliminary report. It is perhaps a work in progress.
“I want to allay the fears of the population that the report’s findings would have been negative in respect of construction of the Highway and in particular Mon Desir. We thought we should bring the good news to the population. I know people will be asking questions and so on and so we felt we should give them some bit of information as to what the report has revealed. There is some good news in the report.”