Monday, March 27, 2006

Chatham/Cap-de-Ville queries deserve answers

Trinidad Express
Saturday March 25, 06

Imagine the wider scene of that published in the Express of March 23 , a small, filled auditorium in the Fernandes Complex, as mixed a grouping of persons as anyone can imagine, citizens of Chatham, Union Village and the south-western peninsula, activists, professionals, trade unionists, university students, writers, teachers and concerned citizens.

Democracy on the move. And the event? A public meeting organised by a new group, the Rights Action Group, to sensitise the public to the issue of establishment of aluminium smelters and other energy-based industries in the southwestern peninsula. And picture the scene of the young woman facing the audience proudly singing the National Anthem, and halfway through, the appearance of another person who slowly wraps the singer with a roll of aluminium foil about her body and eventually her head, and at the end of the Anthem the singer explosively tearing herself out of the enveloping shrouds of aluminium foil.

The messages? We certainly do have an imaginative new generation carrying the torch for meaningful sustainable development, some highly creative young people, a group of young people who understand the direction in which we appear to be heading, and, are prepared to question it.

We are inclined to share their concerns, if only to be appraised of the facts surrounding the proposal. There is much that goes on in this country ostensibly on behalf of its citizens the origins and details of which are shrouded by the mists of Cabinet or other decisions, many of them beyond the ken of Parliament itself; the sale of BWIA to Acker, Inncogen and the desalination plant, and now aluminium smelters.

Hearing of the self-reliant lifestyles of the villagers of Union and Chatham and others on the southwestern peninsula, the numbers that will be involved, we think that the Government must openly communicate with all citizens on the safety of aluminium smelters for workers, the possible effects on the environment, and particularly the displacement of citizens and destruction of rural community life. But there are other questions that must be answered with a comprehensive written statement, followed by an open national consultation chaired by an experienced and independent commissioner.

In addition to the key questions regarding the health of workers and residents, and that of the wastes, others should include the question of what Alutrint and Alcoa will pay for either the gas, or the electricity. Aluminium smelting devours energy. And what infrastructure will the country provide Alutrint and Alcoa? A harbour and port? An electricity generating plant? And especially, what incentives have in fact been offered to the companies, particularly Alcoa? Participatory democracy demands this response.


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