Environmentalist Dr Wayne Kublalsingh and his Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM) group have lost a lawsuit challenging the Government’s move to restart work on the Debe to Mon Desir segment of the Point Fortin Highway.
Delivering a judgement electronically, yesterday morning, High Court Judge Ricky Rahim dismissed Kublalsingh and the group’s judicial review lawsuit and ordered them to pay the State’s legal costs for defending the claim.
In his judgment, Rahim ruled that although the group had a legitimate expectation that there would have been consultation before the restart, the State could not be held liable for breaching it as it was in the public’s interest to do so.
Rahim said, “There is a high public interest component in ensuring that money already expended is not wasted or thrown away by way of the degradation of existing structures without properly securing them, in this case by completing them.”
Rahim’s decision in the case comes as a similar yet unconnected case brought by Kublalsingh and the group in 2012, while the project was in a preliminary stage, is still pending before High Court Judge James Aboud.
In determining the case, Rahim had to analyse the communication between the group and officials of the Ministry of Works and Transport before the work resumed in 2018.
While Kublalsingh and the group claimed that Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan assured them that they would be consulted before the restart, Sinanan claimed that he only promised to consult if the proposed works went beyond repairing and completing work that was left unfinished when Brazilian construction firm OAS Constructora pulled out of the project in 2014.
Sinanan also claimed that the completion of the work was required based on decisions awarded during arbitration over the project between the Government and OAS Constructora.
In his judgment, Rahim dismissed Sinanan’s claims over his assurance as he stated that the arbitration order would not have been in place when the meeting took place.
Rahim suggested that Sinanan and his advisor Sharon Imbert would have failed to inform Kublalsingh and the group.
“It appears that upon realisation that same was an impossibility, both witnesses attempted to tailor their evidence in cross-examination to suit the circumstances that they say existed at the time,” Rahim said.
Having found that Kublalsingh and the group had been given the undertaking, Rahim ruled that they had a legitimate expectation that it would have prevailed.
“The court is fortified in its view by the fact that the Minister attempted to raise the issue with Kublalsingh later on perhaps having realised that the undertaking should have included same at the time. But by then the damage as it were had already been done,” Rahim said.
While Kublalsingh and the group essentially won most aspects of its lawsuit, Rahim ruled that the Government was able to justify the breach of their legitimate expectation.
“It is in the interest of the public as a whole that the Government abides by its undertaking given in the arbitration proceedings both as a matter of law and as a matter of duty towards the public in relation to the spending of public funds,” Rahim said.
Rahim was careful to note that the work performed thus far related to incomplete works on bridges and interchanges and that the parties were free to engage in consultations over the completion of the remainder of the project.
The Ministry of Works and Transport was represented by Reginald Armour, SC, Raphael Ajodhia, Kelisha Bello and Kendra Mark.
Kublalsingh represented himself and the group.