Saturday 30th April 2005
Opposition Senator Dr Jennifer Jones-Kernahan yesterday painted a grim picture of gang activity within the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and Community, Environmental and Protection Enhancement Programme (CEPEP). At a press conference at the Office of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, Kernahan said former CEPEP supervisor, Kirk Walker, is receiving death threats because he "went to the authorities with evidence, to reveal the truth" about corruption in both welfare programmes.
She also produced a copy of a Government cheque in Walker's name, in the sum of $710.30 from the "Unemployment Fund Account," which Kernahan said was "an attempt to shut him up," since, "he has not worked a day in the URP." According to Kernahan, this proves that the URP is a source of funding for people who do not do any work. According to the UNC, like PNM Councillor Dansam Dhansook, Walker is in danger and in need of police protection. Kernahan explained that URP is used to channel funds to gang leaders, whom "Prime Minister Patrick Manning dubbed 'community leaders.'"
She lamented, "These gang leaders are provided with funds, through URP, to control the young men, and pay them to go out and commit horrible crimes such as extortion, kidnapping, murder and revenge." Kernahan also said that in addition to the young men, young women are losing interest in education and legitimate jobs, preferring to seek the patronage of the "community leaders" instead. She recounted a conversation she had with two young women from Bonaire. One said that she would vote for the PNM because she does not have to work, since she is under the "protection" of one of the gang leaders. She justified her political affiliation, saying the situation is allowed under the PNM, but was not tolerated by the UNC.
The other young woman disagreed with her friend, stating that she would support the UNC because they enabled her younger cousins to have the opportunity to attend secondary school, an opportunity that she never had. Local Government Minister Rennie Dumas has denied reports of gang activity within URP ranks. Last Friday, Dumas told Newsday: "I am not aware of any gangs in URP, except the work gangs." He rationalised the murders of URP workers, including Oba Jones who was gunned down on the Brian Lara Promenade on April 22, saying, "As far as I know, people will fight and kill for a significant flow of funds." He denied that the URP provided such financial resources. He also stated that there is "no link between shooting people and the URP."
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