By RON FANFAIR
Concerned about escalating violent crime and a burgeoning murder rate, the Trinidad & Tobago government is taking drastic measures to curb extreme criminal behaviour that threatens to impede development in the twin-island republic.
T & T recorded 550 homicides last year which was an increase of 38 per cent from the previous year. The murder rate for the first seven months of the year has surpassed the 250-mark with gang-related homicides leading the way.
Information Minister Neil Parsanlal said the government will introduce tough new anti-crime legislation before the end of the year to crack down on gangs and make the country safer.
“The police has intercepted large amount of drugs worth millions of dollars in recent months,” Parsanlal told nationals at a meeting in Toronto last week. “The very success of that is now causing the gangs to splinter because there are less drugs coming in so the gangs are now fighting among themselves.”
Parsanlal estimates the gangs have increased from about 50 to nearly 80 in the past year.
He said amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act were recently passed that provide law enforcement officers with the power to confiscate the proceeds of drug trafficking.
“In addition, the Police Commissioner’s portfolio has been expanded to the point that he can now hire and fire officers, a special anti-crime unit has been set up, forensic training has been enhanced and community safety programs have been implemented in 22 communities,” Parsanlal said.
“None of us is comfortable. All the good things we are trying to do to raise the standard of living and make our nationals feel good about themselves will come to nothing if we are not able to hold crime in check.”
T & T is set to host its second major international conference in seven months with the staging of the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in late November. A total of 53 countries will attend the meeting to be held November 27-29.
The fifth Summit of the Americas took place in the twin-island republic last April.
“The world is coming to Trinidad & Tobago,” said Parsanlal, the Member of Parliament for Lopinot/Bon Air West. “For us, that’s a fantastic achievement and something we need to be proud of. We can boast to our children that on two occasions in one year, nearly the entire free world met in Trinidad & Tobago.”
The opening ceremony will take place at the newly constructed 1,500-seat National Centre of the Performing Arts located opposite the Queen’s Park Savannah while Heads of State and foreign ministers will be accommodated at the Hyatt Regency and Hilton hotels.
Other delegates, including the youth forum participants and the media, will be housed on two cruise ships that will be docked in the recently-dredged Port-of-Spain harbour.
U.S. President Barack Obama attended the Summit of the Americas that Parsanlal described as a “fantastic celebration and a success”.
“We are already seeing the benefits of hosting the summit,” said Parsanlal, a former teacher and newspaper editor who lived in Jamaica for five years.
“Countries who we were not trading with or did not have a history of external relations with us are now seeing our country as a possible option. Traditionally, we have looked at the North for our exports. Now, we are looking to alternative markets like Spain, Japan and Brazil where we ship gas. We have literally maxed out the Caribbean market that accounts for nearly 85 per cent our manufacturing exports.”
Parsanlal, who was in Toronto for a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting, also addressed the proposed political union involving T &T and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
“You are dealing with countries’ sovereignty and people’s rights and to enter into something like that without giving it the requisite thought could be damaging in the end,” he said. “We prefer to err on the side of caution.
“That’s a work in progress. We don’t anticipate anything coming to any degree of finality before 2011 because there are political and economic integration that have to take place. The political integration is moving. They have signed most of the declarations of commitment, but there is still a lot more to be done with respect to that.”
Parsanlal said it’s in T & T’s best interest to pursue the union with OECS countries Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, Grenada, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Dominica, Montserrat, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.