September 7, 2011 issue

Trinidad & Tobago

Blame put on Manning's door
for crime woes

Former T&T Prime Minister Patrick Manning

Port-of-Spain - On Sunday, some nine hours before the State of Emergency was due to expire, House Speaker Wade Mark recorded that there were 29 votes for and ten against the motion for an extension. All Government MPs were present but absent from the Parliament were PNM MPs, former prime minister Patrick Manning and Patricia McIntosh. Manning chose not speak in the debate on either the President's statement setting out the basis for the declaration of the State of Emergency or the motion to extend it.
However, Manning was very much part of the debate as his name was called frequently by every government speaker as bearing a huge responsibility for "plunging the nation in a state of turmoil and lawlessness".
Persad-Bissessar, in a solid contribution, examined the genesis of the crime situation and concluded that it was Manning's befriending of gang leaders which laid the foundation. She cited his promise to give Abu Bakr land; the Muslimeen campaigning for the PNM "while terrorising supporters of the Opposition in Tunapuna and San Fernando"; the billions spent in URP and CEPEP to fund ghost gangs and the contracts that gang leaders received through the PNM.
"The political support (of the Muslimeen) for the PNM had come at a price and this nation is still today paying for it," the Prime Minister declared.
She said the "unholy partnership" meant that state resources were distributed to the people via gang leaders, who became the de facto councillors and representatives of the people. As the PNM government "incredibly" conferred the title of 'community leaders' on gang leaders, Manning, when one of the gang leaders died, dubbed him a national hero, she noted. Recalling the meeting between Manning and gang leaders at a fancy hotel, she said it signalled the "surrender and transfer of state power to gangsters and bandits".
"We do not negotiate and wine and dine with gang leaders at hotels, as that last administration did... just to stay in power," the Prime Minister stated.

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar

"The moment the PNM government of the day took the decision to negotiate with criminal elements in exchange for political support, that set off a dangerous course of events from which this country is still reeling today," Persad-Bissessar opined.
"He (Manning) knew who Mr Big was and left him out there and today you (PNM MPs) want to come here, and talk about guabine and sardine and anchovies and fry dry," the Prime Minister thundered, dismissing the PNM's argument that the current dragnet had not caught any big fish.
The Prime Minister asserted that every murderer was a big fish, as was every gang leader and every bandit who terrorised innocent citizens. The gangs were the spine of the drug trade, she added.
But the Prime Minister said one of the most disturbing allegations from the PNM during this debate was the charge of ethnic profiling.
"It is mischievous and designed to create division in our society," she said, to deskthumping. She said it also represented a "direct and unfair attack on the police officers and soldiers, who had placed their lives on the line to defend innocent citizens.
"No government minister selects which persons are to be arrested or detained. That is the work and intelligence of the police and soldiers who are out there on the streets," she emphasised.
And she noted, criminals had no respect for their victim's race, religion or colour. "As a mother I know that the cry that comes from... the depth of your womb when you cradle your lifeless son or daughter... it doesn't matter what race", she said, adding that the same blood flowed from every murdered victim.
On the charge that the hot spots were only in PNM areas, she said the municipal corporations —Arima, Chaguanas, San Juan/Laventille, San Fernando and Diego Martin were all controlled by the People's Partnership and were defined as hot spots and were under curfew. She added that with the exception of Sangre Grande and Carrera, the hot spots identified under the PNM and the People's Partnership administration were the same.
The Prime Minister said although the PNM identified as early as 2003 that there was a problem with young Afro-Trinidadian males and a consequent need to pay attention to this group, it did nothing. She said if the PNM had done something about the problem, its members would not have to cry now, some eight years later, that this administration was profiling and targeting Afro-Trinidadian males.
She said when National Security Minister John Sandy read the statistics on crime with respect to Afro-Trinidadians, "I felt it in my stomach and thought what could we do."
In this regard, she announced a team headed by political scientist Selwyn Ryan "to enquire into the root cause of the problems identified as shown by the statistics". The statistics show that the majority of murders are committed by Afro-Trinidadians and they are also the main victims.
Noting that a State of Emergency was a constitutional weapon put there by the framers to enable a government to protect the people and the country, the Prime Minister reiterated that there was a real threat to public safety, law and order. The criminal underworld was "bound to retaliate" as their wholesale and retail networks were disrupted by law enforcement which seized over half a billion dollars of illegal drugs between 2010 and 2011. The drug seizures, she said, included 6,750 kilos of cocaine, valued at (TT) $236.3 million last year and 8,477 kilos of cocaine valued at $296.7 million this year; 3295 kilos of marijuana valued at $49.5 million last year and 1,229 kilos of marijuana valued at $18.5 million this year.
The Prime Minister said the state of emergency had worked, with a substantial reduction in murders and serious crimes down to virtually zero. There have been 1,356 arrests to date, of which 420 were gang related, 252 drug-related, 285 were serious offences, 91 breach of curfew and 33 homicides.
Noting that under the UNC administration (1995-2001) there were 789 murders while from 2002 to 2009 under the PNM there were 2,853 murders, a 218 percent increase per year, Persad-Bissessar stated: "Mr Speaker I saw the sanctimonious hypocrisy on the other side. I saw it when they were washing their hands and saying they would not support this state of emergency, when they were saying they had done everything... as the crime rate continued to increase (under their watch)," she said.


Soldiers uncover diesel bunker
in scrap yard

Port-of-Spain - Soldiers entering the scrap iron yards came upon an underground bunker that held 80,000 gallons of diesel, bought at the subsidised price but meant for export illegally.
This disclosure was made by Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal Sunday, who noted that the persons involved were "making money off the taxpayer".
Moonilal was speaking during the debate in the House of Representatives on the motion to extend the State of Emergency.
Noting that the PNM MPs had made an issue of the search of the Beetham scrap iron yards, Moonilal said the bunker may have been there for some time but the conditions where the army had certain powers under the Emergency regulations allowed them to find it. "They went looking for articles but when you go looking for guns and ammunition, you would confront other illegal activities and you discover 80,000 gallons of diesel stored under a scrap heap," he said.
For years, citizens have spoken out on the illegal exportation of diesel and have called on the government to clamp down on this trade.
Moonilal said many scrap iron yards were illegal and some hid weapons.
He said he was shocked when he heard the PNM MPs talking about where the guns were entering the country, where the illegal trade in ammunition was and where the marijuana fields were.
"In fact members were queuing up to tell us the hot spots, some with envy that their areas deserved a lockdown... where was that intelligence before May 2010 when a Cabinet colleague of yours who has become the patron saint of insecurity, Martin Joseph… (was in office)?" Moonilal asked.
He said Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert in particular "had a panoramic view of all criminal activities and where they were happening," whether it was in Tunapuna, Moruga or Cedros.
Noting that the PNM was calling on the government to go after the "big fish", Moonilal said sometimes one saw people in "jacket and tie.... and when you open their briefcase, all it have is a newspaper and a piece of roti".
"The kingpins don't always wear Armani suits, or drive luxury cars, because they want to stay off the radar," he said. Moonilal said the PNM all of a sudden knew where "big fish" living. He said Manning boasted in 2005 that he knew where "Mr Big" was but five years later in 2010 the PNM left office without getting a "big fish". Moonilal said the last "big fish" was caught and persecuted in the late 1990s and they (Dole Chadee and his gang) were executed.
He said the PNM did not speak of the victims in the debate, even though many of them were from PNM constituencies.
"Today we act on behalf of those citizens who desire to live in peace," he said.
On the argument that the State of Emergency was aimed at putting a damper on trade union activity, Moonilal said if the members of the trade unions wanted to coddle themselves and think that in their self-importance the state of emergency was called because of them that was fine "but a boy scout club could also have said that". We said despite the state of emergency there was industrial action at Santa Flora, Petrotrin and there was even fasting. "I think they miss lunch one day," he said jocularly.
Moonilal said the PNM called a State of Emergency to lock up one person (former speaker Occah Seapaul). "They had a little lady drinking coconut water for five days on Mary Street," he said. Quoting from the Hansard in that debate (relating to declaration of the state of emergency in August 1995), Moonilal said when the point was made that Seapaul had no food in the house during that period, one PNM member said: "If the Speaker knew she had no food, she should have behaved herself."
"Who was that?" government MPs asked. "Dr Keith Rowley!" Moonilal said emphatically. "What! Shame! Shame!" Government members chorused. "And today we hearing (from the PNM) about the rights of prisoners."
Quoting further from that debate, Moonilal said when former MP Arthur NR Robinson raised objections to the declaration of the state of emergency, Rowley chastised him, saying that when the NAR had intelligence about the build-up of guns in the country, it did nothing and allowed (July) 1990 to happen by so doing.
"That is the fundamental difference between the PNM and the NAR... if the PNM government perceives that there is a threat to the State, pre-emptive action is taken to protect the State," Moonilal quoted Rowley as saying. "And today they come for 14 hours, asking 'what is the reason (for the State of Emergency)?" Moonilal said the government would probably have to speak to the PNM in Hindi or Spanish for them to understand that the Minister of National Security gave the reason hours after the declaration- that the government needed to find guns, drugs, to get at the gang leaders and to provide order.
"What about that is so incomprehensible? 11 murders in three days. Should we have waited until there were 24, 44, murders in three days?"
Moonilal chided the PNM for making light of the seizures. He said the arms seized included an Italian-made high-powered rifle and a belt-fed machine gun, weapons which could do untold harm.


Electronic bracelets to monitor accuseds, drug levels

Port of Spain - One thousand electronic monitoring bracelets, which will use GPS and sensor technology to track the whereabouts and drug levels of persons accused or guilty of crimes, will be deployed before Christmas, Minister of Justice Herbert Volney said over the weekend.
The bracelets will allow the police to keep track of tagged persons released by the courts on bail and act as an alternative form of sentencing in some cases. They will also use sensors to read drug levels by relaying information gleaned from the sweat of persons wearing them.
In the coming weeks, the courts are to be empowered by special legislation to order persons to wear the bracelets as a condition for the granting of bail or as a penalty in lieu of a custodial sentence at the nation's overcrowded prisons.
"I think the pilot project will involve a thousand bracelets and that should be in effect before Christmas and in time for the end of the year," Volney told the press. The pilot project, after a review, could later be expanded.
"It would send a signal if there is an intake of drugs or alcohol. It works by taking readings through the sweat of the body. Persons will be monitored not only for their location but in relation to parole. This measure will be useful in aiding offender management when convicted persons are conditionally on release," he added.
Policy relating to the legislation to authorise the use of the bracelets was considered at the Cabinet's Finance and General Purpose Committee and is to be forwarded to Cabinet for approval on Thursday. Drafting of the legislation, the Electronic Monitoring Bill 2011, is to be completed "within the next three weeks" Volney said. The bill could be tabled in Parliament by October.
The tabling of the Electronic Monitoring Bill was one of several initiatives announced by Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar in Parliament on Sunday as part of a larger "plan of action" to deal with crime.
Speaking on a motion to extend the state of emergency, the Prime Minister outlined the function of the new tagging measures.


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