With escalating crime in Trinidad & Tobago threatening to stymie the government’s priority to attract new foreign investment, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar hopes the senate will support the crime plan to give soldiers – in joint patrols with police officers – the same power to stop, detain, search and seize anyone suspected of criminal activities.
The Defence (Amendment) Bill has already being passed in the House of Representatives.
“When I came back from the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting last March, there was a spate of murders and I said we had to do something,” said Persad-Bissessar at a press conference in Toronto during her official visit to Canada last week. “The number of serious crimes has dropped in the last two months. We have an Army of 5,000 who are paid, so I don’t have to find new money for crime-fighting. The police and soldiers’ combination will give us a stronger force so I hope that reason will prevail in the Senate.”
As part of its crime-fighting plan, Persad-Bissessar said the twin-island republic is in the process of establishing a forensic centre and she has requested Canadian help for training and other technical assistance as part of an overall strategy to modernize criminal investigations.
Last August, former Edmonton Police Services superintendent Dwayne Gibbs and ex-Winnipeg police head and Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police president, Jack Ewatski, resigned as commissioner and deputy commissioner, respectively, of the twin-island republic’s police service. They were recruited in 2009 to tackle rising crime.
When asked about the Canadians’ impact, Persad-Bissessar said the proof is in the pudding.
“The performance of the two Canadians officers is debatable,” she said. “There are some who are of the view that they did OK while others do not share that opinion. The statistics, which basically are empirical evidence, show that crime rose. I think they served as best as they could, but there were many others who felt we needed to do better in improving crime fighting.”
Controversial National Security Minister, Austin “Jack” Warner, who publicly criticized the two Canadian police officials for their law enforcement strategies, last week quit as the United Congress Party chair, a Member of Parliament for Chaguanas West and his ministerial portfolio amid fraud allegations.
A Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) ethics panel last month accused Warner and former secretary general Chuck Blazer of enriching themselves through fraud during their tenure with the International Soccer Federation (FIFA).
They are accused of failing to disclose that a $25.9 million centre of excellence was built on Warner’s land and that Blazer received $20 million from the regional soccer federation.
Persad-Bissessar accepted Warner’s resignation two days before coming to Canada.
“There were very serious concerns and Mr. Warner took the high road and tendered his resignation that I accepted,” said Persad-Bissessar. “In the interim, he could have those matters sorted out. Every day, there was an issue. You could do the best thing in the world, but there was something happening daily. He was a very hardworking minister and MP, but in politics, sometimes things appear different to different people.
“Mr. Warner took the approach that he should sort his business and himself out with respect to these numerous allegations made against him. It gives breathing space to him and time to allow him to clear his name.”
As Trinidad & Tobago prepares to take up the rotating Caribbean Community (CARICOM) chair in July, Persad-Bissessar shared a key idea on how she intends to play a leadership role and increase the regional organization’s strength.
“There are 15 nations with about 18 million people,” she said. “If we can bring into the fold non-English speaking countries, it will place a certain expense on us because of language translations. However, the increase will mean we will have within our region a market which comprises 40 million people. It means we will have a stronger voice because we will have a bloc of votes in any international fora.”
While T & T’s energy sector accounts for almost 45 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, Persad-Bissessar said the time has come to diversify the economy beyond oil and gas.
“We have been very dependent on our energy sector, but putting all your eggs in one basket is a very dangerous thing,” she said. “While we are happy for the oil and gas revenues, we need to diversify the economy.”
She said the government has identified priority sectors for development, including information communications technology; light manufacturing; clean technologies and alternative energy; maritime industries/logistics; creative sectors such as fashion, film, animation, music and carnival arts; tourism; agribusiness and financial services.
Ministers Christlyn Moore (justice), Chandresh Sharma (transport), Kevin Ramnarine (energy) and Vasant Bharath (industry) accompanied Persad-Bissessar to Canada.
BY RON FANFAIR