The Government has broken its promises to the people with regard to dealing with crime, and has failed to bring any measure of comfort to citizens, who continue to live in fear. This, according to Leader of the Opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar, SC, MP – Siparia, who today criticized the Rowley-led Government over its failure to address the country’s spiralling crime problem.
Speaking during debate on the Private Members’ Motion on Crime in the House of Representatives on Friday 30th June 2017, the Opposition Leader expressed her concern over the state of the country, highlighting the recent brutal murders of a young boy and his care-giver. “When the country woke yesterday, after 21 months of brutality, and saw those images – every woman, every mother, every parent – you felt that pain in your belly,” she said. Mrs Persad-Bissessar was highly critical of the Government’s response during the debate, saying that they have shown “lack of caring, of compassion for the victims of crime in this country.”
Please find below some highlights of the Opposition Leader’s contribution on the motion:
When you see where we have reached – with the slaughter of innocents, women, the elderly. This motion is about bringing to light the horror and the fear that ordinary citizens of this country undergo on a daily basis.
The Member (Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds) said he is aware of these gruesome, heinous, criminal acts, but gave no plan, not an idea, nothing as to how we can deal with this problem. He failed to offer any comfort or hope to citizens.
All they can do is continue to blame the People’s Partnership. But what has happened from September 2015 to now is in your hands. The blood is on your hands.
This is what the motion says: BE IT RESOLVED that this House take note and express its horror at the exponential growth in the crime rate manifested by historic murder rates, violence against the person and property and the inexplicable disappearance of citizens. Did we hear of any plan? The motion goes further to say: BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this House condemn the Prime Minister and the Government for failure to address the rising crime epidemic, and inability to present a credible Anti-Crime Plan aimed at preventing, detecting, prosecuting and rehabilitating the criminal elements. This is what we are aiming to do here today, and I think anyone who listened to the Member for Laventille West would have been so disappointed.
The Member told us nothing about what would be done to prevent the slaughter of innocent children; the brutality that we are facing at this point in time. He claimed that the only Law the Partnership focused on was Section 34. Not one person was freed or taken out of the justice system because of that Section 34. It was brought to our attention and we came here and we repealed it.
This takes me into the Attorney General’s legislative agenda, and you will see that some 49 items were identified for the period 2015-2017. We are nearing the end of the second session of Parliament and 15 Bills would have been passed, assented to or proclaimed – out of their target of 46. And when you compare this to the People’s Partnership, by the end of the second session, 32 Bills were passed and proclaimed, and out of those a large number had to do with the criminal justice system.
PNM Broken Promises
This Government has not kept its own promises in the fight against crime. While in Opposition, they produced a 10-point crime plan, which was translated into their 2015 Manifesto, and some of that translated into Budget 2015 and Budget 2016. But apart from some of the legislative items, those other initiatives in the fight against crime have not materialized.
1. Commissioner of Police to be appointed. 21 months into the administration, that has not happened
2. Manpower audit of the Police Service – this, I understand, is in progress
3. Activate laws to establish Municipal Police in the Regional Corporations – This was in the 10-point plan, also in the Manifesto, and also in the Budget, but has not happened. Broken promise.
4. Amend laws to give greater powers to the Police Complaints Authority. Thus far – failed. Another broken promise by this Government in the fight against crime.
5. Establish a Joint Select Committee to oversee the police, and monitor effectiveness of security systems. The Government continues to use the existing JSC on National Security. When we went to the crime talks with the Government, last year, they agreed to hand over the Chairmanship of this Committee, because it was felt that a member of the Executive should not be in charge of the Parliamentary Committee dealing with such a sensitive matter. But they have not done so – another broken promise.
6. Create a witness tampering offense – another broken promise.
7. Create the offense of Unlawful Eviction– another broken promise.
8. Sustain the implementation of the Ryan Report for the development of Laventille – nothing – another broken promise.
9. Acceptance of the CCJ as the final Court of Appeal – nothing. Another broken promise.
10. Review anti-gang legislation and ensure it is effective – it was not reviewed; it was brought exactly as it was.
PNM Manifesto promises:
· Establish community partnerships – broken promise by the Government
· Establish Police Management Agency– broken promise by the Government
· Establish a Joint Protection Agency– broken promise by the Government
· Establish a Police Inspectorate– broken promise by the Government
· Establish the office of the DNA Custodian – that is now being done
· Pursue ISO certification of the Forensic Science Centre – another broken promise
· Develop a policy on prison management – another broken promise
Even on their own targets in the fight against crime we have seen a failure by the Government to implement any measures.
· Establish a Joint Protection Agency – promised in the 2015/2016 Budget, promised again in the 2017/2018 Budget, another broken promise
· Establish Police Management Agency – again promised in the 2015/2016 Budget, promised again in the 2017/2018 Budget, again, not done
· Establish community partnerships – again mentioned in the 10-point plan, Manifesto, 2015 Budget, again 2017 Budget, nothing.
· Establish a Police Inspectorate – sound familiar? It was promised in the Manifesto, 2015 Budget and 2017 Budget and again not there.
· Re-engineer the Criminal Justice System. I wish the AG good luck with that, I see he now has some help.
· Strengthen prison management – to the best of my knowledge, only one consultation was held in April 2016.
It is clear that the Government’s attack on criminals and crime is focused on legislation. While there is nothing wrong with that, but you come every year in the Budget with the same thing. When we look at the billions being spent, we are not seeing any of these plans bearing any fruit.
I note the editorial of the Newsday today, June 30th, titled: “Deadly state of madness”, which states, “No number of Cabinet changes will make a difference to the population of Trinidad and Tobago unless they affect the ability of the State to effectively combat the crime situation. That situation is one which, judging from what unfolded in Malabar on Wednesday, continues to reach new lows.”
The editorial goes on to state, “The murder toll for this year is higher than it was for the same time last year.”
The murder toll in this country in 2013 as at June, is estimated at 186. Estimated for June 2014 – 216, as at June 2015 – 196. As at June 2016 – enter the Red and Ready – 229. Where are we today? As at June 2017 – 248. When we look at since 2015: September to December – 141, 2016 – 463, 2017 – 248, a total of 852 murders since September 2015, an average of over 40 persons murdered per month.
So obviously something is not working, and obviously you cannot say it is the Partnership because we are not in charge. The Government is in charge and needs to step up to the plate and deal with this “deadly state of madness” in our country.
The statistics show that every time the PNM is in power the murder rate increases. The highest ever was in 2008 – 550. 2009 – 508. It fell in 2013, 407, 2014 – 403, with the PNM back in power in 2016 – 463, and in 2017 248 and climbing.
All those promises in the 10-point plan, the Manifesto, and Budgets – the Government has failed to keep any of its own promises.
There is a serious issue in our country about equity and equitable distribution of resources. What is the role of the Government? It is to act in such a manner that you try to give an equitable distribution of resources of the country, in so far as the State has control of those. You cannot have that when you are sending in people to break down the homes of squatters – that is not equitable. Once we continue with policies that are not people centred, you are going to end up with exclusion and tension in society.
All the measures of this Government have to do with legislation – looking at the justice system. It is not about prevention of crime.
The Partnership’s Record
I’ve spoken about the broken promises of this Government, and so what did we do? The statistics are there – the Partnership brought serious crime down to the lowest in 31 years. There were non-legislative measures that we put in place that unfortunately this Government has shut down. We set up the Community Comfort Patrol which provided high visibility and acted as a deterrent to crime in many communities. This has been scrapped.
We established the National Operations Centre as a backbone for intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing for collaboration within law enforcement agencies. That contributed to a notable reduction in crime in our time, but this Government has taken the NOC and dropped it into the “spying” agency, the SSA. With the last flood emergency there was no major coordination of the agencies.
We established a National Security Specialized Operations Group comprising members of various law enforcement agencies to respond to events that require a higher level of response. We established the Energy Sector Security Initiative (ESSI), which looked into the protection of the Critical Energy Infrastructure. I am told this has also been scrapped.
We had the re-launch of the E999, and the population of Trinidad and Tobago had a powerful tool when reporting crimes. The Soldier Bill was intended to ensure a heavy increase in visible law enforcement presence throughout the country. This led to Inter-Agency Joint Patrols between the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force to have a greater presence on the ground to act as a deterrent.
The establishment of a Rapid Response Unit, the establishment of a Counter Human Trafficking Unit. We took the savings from the illegal SAUTT and gave each law enforcement officer a one-thousand-dollar special allowance.
Some of these measures, the former Minister of National Security under the Partnership passed on to the new Minister so the Government is fully aware.
This Government is not coming forward with what are its plans. As I close, I ask Members to support this Motion on the horrible, deadly issue of crime.