It has been five months since an investigation began into a bridge being built along the west By pass road near the Sir Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw Airport collapsed, killing one man and injuring two others. A Vincentian national, Allick Toney, 64, was killed and two Guyanese nationals, Ian “Shatta” Warde and Murtland Watterton were injured on May 14 when the span fell on them. Minister of Public Works, Utilities, Transport and Postal Services, the Hon. Earl Assim Martin, has failed to give a modicum of information to the public about the “full and thorough investigation into what went wrong” as he had promised on the day of the fatal accident. Mr.. Martin needs to come clean on the bridge investigation. Why have this investigation and a report taken so long? Who is to be held accountable for the collapse? No one? Was the bridge collapse a result of human error and negligence? What are the recommendations from the report? Why does Mr. Martin continue to stonewall the press on the matter as if to say, “Mind your own business?” What kind of compensation was the dead man’s family given and how have the injured men been cared for apart from Social Security? Care and concern would have required that something more than Social Security be involved here. It is the business of the general public to know, since this was a government project funded by taxpayers” money. The government is accountable to the people. A democracy is founded on the principles of accountability and transparency. Without these two principles, there can be no real democracy. Mr. Martin to date has failed to be transparent and accountable to the general public about what went wrong in the bridge collapse. The closest thing to an explanation that the public has heard is what Prime Minister Douglas said at his monthly press conference on July 9. “One thing that I can say is that there was some element of surprise that the bridge had collapsed because I understand (from an engineering standpoint) that the props or whatever they call them”were more than adequate. But I understand further that maybe it was the pouring and distribution of concrete, the rate of pouring and the rate of spreading that could have led to the collapse,” Dr. Douglas said. “The Prime Minister said a preliminary report on the investigation into the bridge collapse had been presented to Mr. Martin. “Minister Martin has refused to comment on the preliminary report saying that he prefers to wait on the final report because he doesn’t want information to be muddied or misconstrued by the general public. “Asked when the final report is, Mr. Martin said soon. It has been over two months later. What is soon? “I don’t understand the logic. What is there to be misconstrued or muddied? Is Mr. Martin indicating that he doesn’t trust the people of this country whom he serves? Is he controlling and censoring information to suit himself? We live in a democracy. Give the public the information. If they muddy it or misconstrue it, that is the price of democracy. But do not sacrifice your obligation to be transparent and accountable. “Doesn’t government muddy and misconstrue things themselves? There are so many examples of that in so many places. That is why there is a dire need to be transparent and accountable. A lack of transparency leads to suspicion. “We can only build bridges that do not collapse with the people if there is transparency and accountability. To fail to do so is to burn bridges with the people whom we serve and those bridges will eventually collapse. “When asked who was doing the investigation, Mr. Martin declined to answer and said that that would be in the final report. What is so difficult about revealing who is conducting an investigation into a bridge collapse? It makes it seem as though there is something to hide. “The International Community celebrated the “International Right-to-Know Day” which is celebrated annually in some 60 countries, by promoting public access to information (PATI) legislation for unencumbered public access to government-held information. “The purpose of such a day is to raise awareness that every individual has a right of access to information under the control of government institutions: a right to access information on how public money is being spent and how elected officials exercise their power. I cannot help but to refer to Observer Columnist, Washington Archibald’s article, “Inexcusable Incompetence” time and time again.” “”The announcement by Minister Assim Martin that there will be a comprehensive enquiry into the matter does not console some people. These people are skeptical. They have already assumed that the result of the Enquiry will be business as usual. The dead man will be buried; his family will probably receive some kind of compensation. The injured may receive some money to salve their wounds, and nothing else will change.” Mr. Archibald in the same article said that he was surprised that the “massive tragedy was not followed by a louder crescendo of outrage from the general public.” “I wonder whether the muted response to a fiasco of this magnitude was because our public has become so saturated with pain that one more degree yields diminishing returns in its response,” Mr. Archibald wrote in his article.” Mr. Archibald alluded to the fact that perhaps there was not a louder outrage from the general public because the victim of the fatality was a Vincentian and the injured victims were Guyanese. “Whatever is the reason for our approach to this tragedy, there is no question that it is indeed very serious. For a new brand bridge to collapse before even the first vehicle crossed it is such a serious matter that it is going to be for a long time, one of our more serious national embarrassments,” Mr. Archibald expressed in his article. Mr. Martin has again promised a full and thorough investigation into an accident. This time it is the fire at the Needsmust Power Station, which has resulted in extensive damage to two main engines; load shedding is scheduled for weeks until the problem can be fixed. “As Minister of Public Works, I have made it an absolute priority to get to the bottom of this development. I have requested that all of the facts be uncovered and presented to me. My ministry issues sincere apologies for the inconveniences that the fire has caused,” Mr. Martin said at a press conference at Needsmust on the afternoon of Oct. 2. We will wait and see. I know that I will continue to be stonewalled. It is the price of being a member the “Fourth Estate.” Such is democracy in St. Kitts and Nevis.
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