Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP, is expressing concern that after four months of the Anti-Gang legislation under the Rowley PNM Government there has not been a single arrest, charge or prosecution, and there has been no reduction in gang violence.
In a statement issued today, the Opposition Leader said:
This Government told the country that the Anti-Gang legislation would bring relief, protection and safety to our citizens, but it has only brought more grief, pain and suffering due to the incompetence of this Rowley regime.
Citizens of our country fear for their safety now more than ever before. Kidnapping for ransom has resumed. Our children and elderly are under brutal attack by the criminal element and citizens live as prisoners in their homes.
Just a few days ago, in what police described as a gang-related incident, a man was gunned down near a popular pharmacy in Gulf View, La Romaine, in full view of customers, leaving them traumatized. Also last week, 27-year-old Steven Gonzales, of Petit Valley, and his driving instructor Naresh Harrilal, 50, of Cunupia were shot in the head and eye by what was alleged to be stray bullets from rival gangs while driving along the Western Main Road in the vicinity of Cocorite.
It is truly sad to see what our country has become, that this is what law-abiding citizens must face as they go about their daily lives.
The ultimate and primary duty of every responsible government is to protect the life, limb and property of its citizens. In the last three years this Rowley government has demonstrated beyond a doubt that it is unable to discharge this duty.
This government has spent in excess of 25 billion dollars on national security over the past three (3) years and today our citizens live in fear for their safety more than any other time in the history of our country.
When the Anti-Gang legislation was being debated we were told by the Attorney General:
“We then, Madam Speaker, in our publication to the country, in the press conference, we identified North-Eastern Division has 15 gangs with 256 members; Port of Spain Division, 41 gangs with 574 members; Central Division, 10 gangs with 106 members; Southern Division, 19 gangs with 202 members; Eastern Division, 9 gangs with approximately 121 members; Northern Division, 23 gangs with 324 members; South-Western Division, 21 gangs with 178 members; Western Division, 49 gangs with 533 members; Tobago, 24 gangs with 190 members.
We then, Madam Speaker, informed the population that the intelligence agencies know by street name, by gang leader identification, by member identification throughout the nine divisions in Trinidad and Tobago, all the gang members suspected to be gang members. We were able to do that because the country is well aware that this Government came and amended the SSA Act, and specifically changed the focus of the SSA away from narcotics only and into something which we defined in law as “serious crime”, and serious crime includes gang activity, anti-terrorism, money laundering, et cetera, because we changed the focus of intelligence.”
If the government is to be believed how is it that after four (4) months of this legislation coming into effect not a single person has been arrested, charged or prosecuted for being a member of a gang or being involved in gang activity.
When the legislation was being debated we were told that the police have all the information, all they need is the enactment of the legislation and the gangs will be under siege. Unfortunately, since the passage of this legislation, it is only the law-abiding, hardworking citizens of this country who continue to be under siege from the criminal element.
The Opposition that I lead gave the government the required constitutional support for the passage of this legislation into law, but their incompetence and ineptitude has once again been revealed by their inability to effectively operationalize this legislation to combat the gangs in our country.
The evidence is clear that Prime Minister Rowley and his government simply used the Anti-Gang legislation as a public relations exercise to deceive and mislead the population into believing that they were addressing the rampant criminality that the citizens of our country face on a daily basis.
This Rowley-led government is prepared to politicize the issue of crime because they are unable to provide the people of our country with any real solution to the most important issue that faces our country today, the protection, safety and security of our people.
I warned the government when this legislation was being debated that the passage of this legislation will have no impact upon the scourge of criminality and will not serve as a deterrent to anyone to join a gang or engage in gang-related activity if the infrastructure for the operationalization of this legislation was not in place. As I predicted so it has come to pass.
After spending more than 25 billion dollars on national security we still do not have an effective witness protection programme that can allow persons who have critical information to provide that intelligence to law enforcement and receive protection in exchange. After spending more than 25 billion dollars on national security we still have not addressed the rogue elements in the protective services that undermine effective law enforcement. After spending more than 25 billion dollars on national security we still do not have an effective, dedicated and specially trained unit of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service that has the ability to infiltrate and gather information and intelligence on criminal gangs that could be used as evidence to prosecute persons under this legislation.
Minister Stuart Young in the Anti-Gang debate told the country,
“This is legislation that the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and other law enforcement agencies are screaming, begging and pleading with us to bring to the Parliament”.
While the protective services may now be silent due to the passage of this legislation the people of our country are screaming, begging and pleading more than ever for protection and safety as the murder toll has crossed 400 for 2018 with three months left in the year.
Dr Rowley declared in December last year that “blood was on the UNC’s hands” when the Anti-Gang Bill failed to receive the constitutionally required support to ensure its passage into law. Now he should take responsibility for his government’s failure to protect our citizens and accept that the blood is on his hands and that of his government for every life that has been lost since his government assumed office in 2015.
The innocent and hardworking people of our country deserve better. We deserve a government that treats as a priority the safety and security of our people and that of their families. We deserve to feel safe in our homes and communities, in our business places and in our workplaces. We deserve to feel comfortable that when our children leave their homes to go to school or work they will return safely.
This Rowley regime has proven over the last three years that they are unable to provide these basic necessities to citizens and so we must now ensure that we take back our country before it is too late, for our sake and that of our children and grandchildren.