Kublalsingh’s protest with five other activists took place on the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, at which the environment and climate change are to be main topics discussed by world leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen ahead of a climate summit in Denmark next month.
Kublalsingh staged a sit-in at the lobby of the IFC, on Wrightson Road, along with five others over the issue of the controversial Alutrint aluminium smelter plant at Point Fortin.
At one point in the stand-off, reporters were denied entry to the IFC, which will host the media centre for CHOGM, when they attempted to re-enter the lobby for more interviews with Kublalsingh yesterday afternoon.
Reporters were locked-out by a lone guard and appeared to momentarily come second to a delivery of KFC which was allowed into the building. Earlier in the day, from 11 am, reporters were allowed into the lobby and interviewed Kublalsingh as he sat on the bare tiled floor.
Kublalsingh said he had applied under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information about the financial viability of the smelter project, which he argued was important information needed in order to weigh whether the project can be justified given its health and environmental risks.
“Under the FOI Act, letters were written to the National Energy Company and Alutrint, and copied to the Ministries of Finance and Energy,” he said. “The letter sought to have these state entities provide an accounting, a cost benefit analysis of Alutrint. They have not released the information.”
Kublalsingh was joined on the floor by Cathal Healy-Singh, an environmental engineer, Peter Vine, a physicist and Point Fortin residents Allen Fraser and wife and husband Abigail and Leon Modest. Asst Supt Joanne James asked the group to change positions within the lobby so as to not be in the way of incoming traffic. The group complied, moving to the northeast corner of the lobby.
By 12.30 pm, however, about 20 riot police officers were ordered to the lobby and a stand-off with Kublalsingh and company ensued as the media watched from close proximity inside the building.
“This is a small thing,” Kublalsingh said as the riot officers piled into the lobby. “The State cannot intimidate us.”
One officer asked Kublalsingh to leave the building. Kublalsingh replied, “this is a public space built by our people.”
“There is nothing more that we can do, so can you kindly get up and go outside?” another officer said. “We are being very, very kind. If you want to stand here we have no problem with that. We all understand what you are trying to do. We are trying to get the minister down.”
Kublalsingh insisted on staying and eventually it was agreed that he would be allowed to meet the minister along with members of his contingent. At the time, Minister of Energy Conrad Enill was at a Cabinet meeting in St Ann’s.
Enill eventually returned from Cabinet at about 1.45 pm. Questioned outside of the IFC lobby by reporters about the environmentalists’ claim that their requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act had been blanked, Enill said, “on what basis should that information be made available to them? Let them apply for it appropriately and we will respond.”
When it was pointed out that the environmentalists said that they had applied for the information unsuccessfully for the last four years, Enill said: “So? What’s the point?”
“Where is the request under the Freedom of Information Act? If a request is made properly then the Government will respond. What is the issue?” He defended his administration’s record of accounting to the people on the smelter project, saying, “we go into the Parliament every Tuesday...we account to the people through the Parliament.”
Enill and Kublalsingh then met briefly inside the building on one of its upper floors. But minutes later, Kublalsingh returned to the lobby.
Reporters who attempted to go into the lobby to speak to Kublalsingh were denied entry by a guard who would not give his name. He also would not say why he was denying the media entry to a public government office, or who had issued the order to lock-out the media. He would not say whether or not Enill had given the order to bar the media.
“I will not be eating or drinking anything and I can do that for three days, I am not moving until they throw me out or give me the information,” Kublalsingh told Newsday from inside speaking on his mobile phone. But mere hours later he was forcibly removed by James and an officer by the name of Arjoon Singh, once the head of Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s private security detail. Both grabbed Kublalsingh by his arms and dragged him out at about 6.15 pm with the aid of other officers.
“It seems to me that this whole project is loaded with malfeasance and corruption of the highest order,” Kublalsingh said after thrown out. “It is now up to the responsible people in our society to engage with that problem.”
The Ministry of Energy yesterday evening issued a press release saying Enill “met a small group of concerned citizens” but noted that “Dr Wayne Kublalsingh declined to be involved in the discussions and left before the discussions were concluded.”