Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Highway to Point Fortin - some observations by Dr Suruj Rambachan

The recent impasse between the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM) and the Government was an important incident in the life of the nation. 

Over the last three weeks the national mind was tested in terms of how mature we are as a nation to deal with serious issues. It also gave us an opportunity to examine whether the government is living up to its much touted philosophy that it listens before it acts and that its approach to governance is based upon achieving consensus. Further, it allowed us to examine whether the government is people centered.

On the matter of the “mature national mind” let me say that it was refreshing to see people unafraid to take a position on this matter, although it is still doubtful as to whether the position taken by the likes of FITUN, OWTU, Sheep and Goat Farmers Association and by individuals like Basdeo Panday, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj amongst others were really positions which identified with the cause which Dr Kublalsingh purportedly stood for, or whether these groups and individuals coalesced around Dr Kublalsingh because they wanted a platform to continue to launch their assault on the Prime Minister and her Government. 

In fact I will also venture to say that Dr Kublalsingh’s cause was overshadowed by these political dissidents and in the process he lost a large potential support from Civil Society than he eventually got. Those politicians and individuals nursing grouses against the PP Govt soiled his cause. They did not really care about Dr Kublalsingh. They cared about their own selfish motives. Whether he lived or died was not really a concern of these persons. 

It is further of immense interest that the PNM claimed that the HRM sent them a message that the hunger strike was over etc etc. It begs the question as to whether this was a political ploy. We note also the regular visits of the Mayor of POS to the camp of HRM in POS. 

I venture to say boldly that people were unafraid to take a side because the PP Governmentt has established an environment in which political discrimination for having a different point of view is non-existent. 

This is a change in the political culture which has been brought into effect by this government. That is the reality. It never happened under the PNM where people were afraid to speak out. This also demonstrates the kind and quality of the democracy which this government is building. 

Whether you like Dr Kublalsingh or not, his loss of weight was genuine though many have lingering doubts as to whether he did not drink water. From his own lips we have also learnt that he was taking intravenous drips. It is even more interesting that both his wife and sister have said that he never intended to die. 

It is also noteworthy that he himself said that he had given instructions to his family to hospitalize him when he felt it would be necessary to do so. That aside Dr Kublalsingh’s actions ought to be commended. Whether he has given civil society a voice remains to be seen. 

However, Civil Society must also know that when and where they have concerns, it will be far better to engage in a proper dialogue with the government rather than try to disrupt the life of the nation. 

It is noteworthy that it will cost a minimum of US$70,000 per day to shut down the highway project, according to NIDCO. The country has to decide whether after TRINTOPLAN, a well-established Engineering Consulting Firm, did the designs, it should be stopped. Can the country afford this? Surely not!
This morning (Friday) on CNC3 I referred to the consulting firms who are doing the design works for the highway. There are two such firms: AECOM and HALCROW. Who are they? What is their track record? On the 17th September 2012 the following appeared in Canada. It can be checked out at Here on this web site are descriptions of the world wide projects being done by AECOM. Note well that AECOM is building across the Saskatchewan River. 

"AECOM has been awarded a design contract for the final leg of Anthony Henday Drive in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The Alberta government signed a 34-year public-private partnership (P3) contract with the Capital City Link General Partnership to design, build, operate and partially finance the highway project, commonly known as a ring road. 

"The P3 contract is worth US$1.8 billion — the largest single contract ever awarded by Alberta Transportation for a highway project."

AECOM is the lead designer of the ring road, which includes 17 miles of six-and eight-lane divided roadways, nine interchanges, two road flyovers, eight rail crossings, and 46 bridge structures, including two bridges across the North Saskatchewan River.

The other company involved in consultancy services on the highway is HALCROW. 

The following article describes one of HALCROW’S experience’s including hydrology.

Halcrow was commissioned by the Water Directorate of Siret to draw up a plan for ‘the prevention, protection and mitigation of flooding events’ in the basin of the Siret River in Eastern Romania. The Siret is one of the Danube’s most important tributaries in Romania and its basin covers an area of 42,890km².

We used one and two dimensional hydro-dynamic modelling to provide the client with critical data that could be used to assess flood risk and identify the most effective mitigation measures. We produced flood hazard maps using cartographic equipment and provided an estimate of future trends in hazard levels for different areas of the basin. 
During the five year programme we drew on our expertise in hydrology to produce the following outcomes:

  • an integrated database and information system 
  • a hydrological rainfall and runoff model for the basin 
  • flood simulation designs for a range of 10 per cent to 0.1 per cent annual probability 
  • transfer of know-how including training in project activities for the client 
I have made reference to these two consulting firms if only to show the world renowned consultancy companies engaged in this highway project. It is hoped that in the analysis of the project the team will take into consideration the reputable companies who have been dealing with this project. We should note also both companies have been doing hydrology studies as well as dealing with flood mitigation.

On the other matters as to whether the PM and the government have been keeping their promise of consensus and transparency here are the facts:
  • Government has handed over all the docs to the JCC 
  • Government also made the docs available to the media
  • Government took the media on an aerial tour of the highway to show the route and its relationship to the Oropouche Lagoon 
  • when the media met NIDCO for the tour and media presentation there were no politicians present. The technical staff interacted with the media. This also is transparency
  • Government accepted the decision of JC to use an Independent Senator to head the review 
  • Government has noted publicly its intention to abide by the review Government has noted its intention to abide by the court decision 
  • Government met with the JCC on their request on two occasions Government signed a terms of reference as a sign of good faith 
  • Government has been showing to the public via its Monday night meetings and on CNMG TV both routes and have given reasons why the choice of the Government is better for the SW Peninsula 
This level of openness is unprecedented in this country and is a demonstration that Government is intent upon bringing civil society into the developmental agenda. 

In this matter the PM has shown immense courage and leadership. She stood on the principle that she governs in the interest of the nation and the public good and not in the interest of any single group or individual. 

This is not an easy position to take given the hunger strike. However it should make all citizens proud to know that we have a PM who is that strong. While some members of the Government were prone to yielding to the pressures generated by the hunger strike, she held firm. When she was criticized for lacking compassion she held firm.

It is this kind of leadership which the society needs at her level. In all that she said and did during this time, an examination of her speeches would reveal a conciliatory and concerned tone but at the same time a refusal to yield in a way which would be disadvantageous to the national interest. 

She placed her arguments forward at each point in time and did so with dignity and reason. The majority of this country admires her even more after the way she handled this situation.

At the end she said that there were no winners and losers. This was a most humble statement and spoke volumes of her as a leader.

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai