Response of the Leader of the Opposition to the Budget Speech of the Minister Finance 2005-2006 Monday, October 3, 2005
Mr. Speaker, I respond to this Budget of the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance for fiscal year 2005-2006 in the context of a nation that is on the brink of collapse. In a three-hour long Speech he devotes less than ten minutes to the issue of crime, the most serious problem facing the country, and in the end gave no hope to the citizenry that there will be any abatement of this PNM inspired scourge that has afflicted this once peaceful and beautiful nation.
Having convinced himself that the solution to all the country's problems is to lock down this or lock down that the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance seems to have locked down his brain and made it impenetrable to any new ideas. With foot in mouth not only does he frequently utter nonsense, (as for example, his recent advice on family planning was to watch TV instead), but he has also failed to come to terms with the realities of the 21st century, and he is blissfully unaware of the priorities of the good citizens of T&T.
In previous responses to the Budget presentation of the Hon. Minister of Finance, I have tried to follow convention. I have analyzed the key international trends and developments, looked at T&T in the context of the global challenges that we face, researched what the international institutions are saying about us and then made recommendations for moving our nation forward.
This approach, Mr. Speaker, makes sense if one is speaking to people who are willing to listen and learn. But more importantly, it requires that there be a measure of credibility on the other side. By what criteria shall we assess the credibility of this Minister of Finance? Surely, not by what he says he is going to do, but rather by what he has done in the past.
The PNM carries on as if the population must accept what they say and do simply because they occupy office. And the Prime Minister speaks as though the test of truth is whether something comes out of his mouth whether or not he has his foot in it.
. Kouzes and Posner, in their book 'Credibility' wrote under the heading 'Earning Credibility':
"Credibility, like reputation, is something that is earned over time. It does not come automatically with the job or the title."
In an extensive survey of several thousand persons, the authors said that the most frequent responses of people when asked to define credibility of their leaders were:
"They do what they say they will do".
"They practice what they preach".
"They walk the talk".
"Their actions are consistent with their words".
No one would expect the PNM to get a positive response to any of these descriptions of credible leaders. It is, therefore, very difficult to work up any enthusiasm for responding to this Budget when we know that those opposite have no intention of walking the talk; they are neither practicing what they preach nor preaching what they practice; their actions are not consistent with their words and they completely disregard the cries of the population.
Mr. Speaker, let us see how they performed on the promises made in the past Budgets. The 2005/2006 budget promises to do a lot of things. However, when we examine the Budgets delivered by this Minister of Finance since he was undeservedly handed office in 2001 on a platter, we begin to see that he and his administration have a deep seated pathology for non delivery, non-performance and for making promises and not delivering on them. No wonder the members of the business community, among others, view with a high degree of skepticism the promises made in this Budget.
Two years ago, in the 2003/2004 Budget presentation of the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the self same Patrick Manning, Member for San Fernando East, promised to build a bridge to Tobago. What has happened to that bridge? The last time I was in Tobago I looked for the bridge; I did not see any bridge, so I came back to Trinidad and went to Toco; if there was a bridge between Toco and Tobago that bridge must have been built under water. In that same Budget speech the promising Prime Minister promised to begin construction of a highway to Point Fortin in 2005. The promise was repeated a year later in the 2004/2005 Budget. In this Budget for 2005/2006 we now hear that the Solomon Hochoy Highway will be extended from Golconda to Debe. It seems that as the years roll by this highway is getting shorter and shorter with every succeeding Budget speech of the promising Prime Minister.
Mr. Speaker, the rapid industrialization of the South West Peninsula demands a highway to Point Fortin. While we are in the South West we reluctantly recall that in the two (2) Budgets that preceded this one the Minister promised to build a hospital there. What has become of the Point Fortin hospital? Maybe it has gone the way of the San Fernando transit hub that was promised 2 years ago. Or maybe it has suffered the faith of the Mamoral Dam. Mr. Speaker, last week the Minister promised that work will begin on the Mamoral Dam. The Mamoral dam is quite possibly the most abused of PNM promises. It has featured in every Budget speech delivered by this promising Prime Minister since 2002. My advice to the good people of Mamoral is not to go looking for any damn dam; the Mamoral Dam has the dubious honour of being the recurring decimal of PNM promises.
Mr. Speaker, in the 2004/2005 Budget the Minister of Finance promised to build 12 new police stations and to introduce an integrated IT platform for the police service. Our checks indicate that these promises have never been implemented. In fact his Government has not built a single new Police Station since he assumed office. While the UNC was in office we built 22 new police stations and renovated and /refurbished numerous others.
Mr. Speaker, following closely on the heels of her illustrious husband, by far the next most promising Minister is the one in the Ministry of Education. Last year the Minister of Finance promised that 43 early childhood centers would be established, and that 3,000 computers would be distributed at the primary school level. How many we ask were distributed? He and the Minister of Education promised to establish IT Units in each educational district and to implementation a Wide Area Network (WAN) connecting all schools. This is a project they dubbed "Schoolnet". What has happened to "Schoolnet"? Has it fallen through the net? The promising Minister of Finance also promised to double the number of 'A' level places in the Nation's Secondary School System- that too has not happened. Last year he promised to build 16 new Secondary Schools and upgrade 100 others; not a single secondary school has been built and there is no evidence of 100 schools being upgraded. In fact the Ministry of Education has earned the dubious reputation of being the Ministry of bungling non-delivery. Twenty five schools failed to re-open at the beginning of this school term because of the failure of the Ministry to repair the said schools. Of course they blame the Public servants and threaten to set up a parallel organization to do the Ministry's work. The irony of all this is that the Ministry of Education continues to receive the largest budgetary allocation. It has become painfully obvious to all of us that the Minister of Education has not and will not implement these projects because she cannot.
In the Ministry of agriculture they failed to launch the national agriculture information database, to strengthen the agriculture incentive programmes, to set up the veterinary diagnostic laboratory, and a phyto-saitary system.
Mr. Speaker, the list of promises that have never materialized goes on and on and can themselves be the subject of an entire Parliamentary debate.
I have said before that the Budget is one of the most important tools of good governance in a democratic society. An approved Budget gives the Executive authority to spend the tax-payers money and to use the national patrimony in the interest of the people. The Budget then becomes a tool of accountability since the Executive can account for its spending in the context of the approved Budget. But behind all of this, Mr. Speaker, is the foundation of credibility. Unless the population believes that the Executive will act on their promises and in their best interest, the Budget is an exercise in arithmetic- it merely adds up all the revenues the government will receive and all the expenses of running the country for a year and then sees if the difference is positive or negative. Without credibility, we are wasting time and the fact that there is no credibility on the other side is the reason for the nation's impatience and despair.
Mr. Speaker, no one believes that this Government will do what it says, especially with respect to crime, the most crippling problem in this country. How do we intelligently debate a Budget when the whole nation is under siege? People cannot go out at night, bombs are exploding in the city, the schools are hotbeds of violence, business people are sending their children abroad, good hard working people have to pay their life savings in ransom to get back kidnapped members of their family, the simple shop-keeper and small businessman is being robbed of their sweat with numbing frequency. While institutions of the society are losing their credibility, there is no one to guard the guards and our Prime Minister is busy looking after the problems of our CARICOM neighbours.
Behind all of this, Mr. Speaker, is the foundation of credibility. Without credibility, we are wasting time and the fact that the population does not believe they will do what they say is the reason for the nation's impatience and despair.
CRIME is the most critical issue facing the country; that has been so since this PNM Government came to power under suspicious circumstances in December 2001. This country will never forgive Robinson for that. The credibility of the PNM (or lack of it) is no doubt influenced by their illegitimacy. They have absolutely no credibility when it comes to dealing with crime in this small country of ours. This Government has failed so miserably in managing crime that it is a travesty to mention their name and the word management in the same breath. Everywhere in this society people are expressing their frustration, anger and fear with respect to this Government's relationship to crime and criminals. This PNM will go down in history as having created the "Fearsome Age of Crime" in this once safe and peaceful land. A Government Minister once told me that the UNC gloats over the crime situation because it makes the PNM look bad. Nothing could be further the truth. In this my response, therefore, I shall quote extensively from what others have said to prove my point on the dismal failure of the PNM Government to deal with the issue of crime that is plaguing the country.
A recent survey by the Ansa McAl Psychological and Research Centre pointed out:
"In a week marked by drug arrests, more gang related murders and kidnappings, today's polls show that the people feel that violence is fast becoming a way of life in T&T, and they generally feel very unsafe.
Crime, the main problem confronting the country in recent years, has become worse in the past few months with new, frightening developments like bomb blasts in the capital, reports of senior members of the police service being involved in kidnappings and an increase in the number of police killing civilians".
In the wake of this, the polls also reflect a high level of distrust of the police by the people and they expressed fear of victimization. They supported the replacement of the Special Anti-Crime Unit with a local version of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
When questioned, the majority - 58% - said that they supported this initiative.
The majority of the population - 54% - also expressed fear of being victimized by police.
Asked how safe they would feel going out at night, a notable 73% of the majority of respondents indicated that they would feel unsafe going out at night.
Asked whether they felt violence was becoming a way of life in T&T, an overwhelming 85% of respondents said "yes".
Mr. Speaker, one cannot help but ask oneself, why are we debating a Budget in these circumstances? If by the end of the year you are kidnapped or killed of what use is the rest of this Budget to you? If you cannot leave your home; if you cannot enjoy the meager fruits of your labour of what use are tax cuts? If you cannot sit in your own porch or be safe in your own business place what is the point of striving for a home or to set up a business, small or large? Planning, strategizing and budgeting make sense when the basic needs of the population are satisfied. We can make sense of a Budget debate when people have food, clothes, shelter and, most of all, when they feel safe and secure as they go about their business. The first and primary function of any Government is the protection of the life, limb and property of its citizens. That is why in ancient times the Chinese, the Indians, the Greeks and the Romans built huge impregnable walls around their cities so as to protect their citizens. Protection and safety of the citizens were and still is the first priority of any Government... But today in our once peaceful twin islands 24% of the population is living in poverty and 100% of the population in fear.
Mr. Speaker, I am not exaggerating when I say 100% of the population is afraid. The fear is in the media, on our roads, in the churches, in the business community, the Parliament, the Judiciary, the academic community and, indeed, the international community. Even the Head of State, our President, has expressed his fear and frustration in this matter.
While the Prime Minister is boasting that T&T is on the brink of attaining first world status let me tell you, Mr. Speaker, what the media is saying about crime. In an article titled: 'T&T on the Brink of Collapse', the Guardian of August 12, 2005 wrote:
"So far this year, there have been more than 8000 serious crimes reported to the police, with 234 persons murdered and well over 120 others kidnapped. At today's date last year, there were 160 killings and 164 kidnappings. Murder and kidnapping now appear out of control and the authorities have demonstrated that they are powerless in making the country safe again".
Mr. Speaker, that was August 12; the figures today (30, September) 30, the figures are 285 murders plus 15 unclassified killings, 14 alleged police killings, 186 kidnappings - -46 for ransom.
The article went on to say also:
"We are dismayed by the ineffectiveness of the police in curbing crime, worried about their lack of progress in the investigation into the July 11 explosion and very concerned about their ability to solve the bombing on the rainy August 10".
The article concluded:
"T&T is on the brink of collapse. The authorities appear incapable of finding effective solutions. Despite their promises, they have not been able to deliver the security and protection the country needs and demands. They must get their act together and save T&T".
Permit me to rephrase that last line: Get your act together or get out! We are calling in the promissory note.
Mr. Speaker, what was the Government's response to these cries in the wilderness? Predictable. They buried their heads in the sands of denial and accused the Guardian of bias against the PNM. So let us look at what another newspaper said - one which tends to be more PNM friendly.
In the Newsday of August 17, 2005, in an article titled "The Cocaine Untouchables", George Alleyne, well known journalist, wrote:
"T&T's major cocaine importers and distributors, merchants of death all of them, appear for the most part, immune from arrest and prosecution, whether the arrest and prosecution should be initiated by the Ministry of National Security's growing legions of agencies or from the Ministry of Finance's Inland Revenue Department".
Mr. Alleyne further stated:
"The authorities have turned and continue to turn a blind eye (forgive the cliché) to involvement by the drug trade principals, even as they express horror at the growing number of young men killing and maiming each other as they battle for the crumbs on the new slave master's table".
Mr. Alleyne was very charitable in his column. He did not directly call the authorities hypocrites but he described them perfectly.
I now ask the PNM Government: Is the Newsday also biased and against the Government? Or is it Mr. Alleyne?
Mr. Speaker, I said earlier that Parliament is also expressing its fear and frustration on the matter of crime.
Speaking in the Senate on June 28, 2005, Independent Senator Professor Ramesh Deosaran said that: ..."murder and kidnapping were increasing and that even senior police officers were fearful about walking the streets". He noted that "in the last 24 hours, one murder had taken place in Maracas, St. Joseph, where the President Max Richards lived, and the kidnapping of the Nath brothers had taken place in Sangre Grande with apparent links with the Jamaat al Musilmeen, which operated an illegal quarry in Valencia with the blessing of the State. Since money was not the problem, management had to be the key issue".
He also warned that people were ready to take the law into their own hands, perhaps even to hire assassins to seek revenge against persons who offended them. He said foreign experts were not necessary and that the statistics of increasing crime with lower detection rates in all spheres spoke for themselves as a dire indictment of the police. Professor Deosaran also noted that the conviction rate for murder and kidnapping was also depressingly low and that judges and magistrates' laxness in granting bail to repeat offenders must be dealt with by the State. The Senator said that "the Police Complaints Authority had failed to clean up the Police Service regarding policemen who were clearly guilty of malicious prosecution, framing persons, nepotism and delinquency."
But, Mr. Speaker, what is the point of Professor Deosaran (or anyone else for that matter) speaking out? Is the Government listening? What has been done about illegal quarrying in Valencia? Does Mr. Abu Bakr still have a Priority Bus Route pass? Does he still enjoy the status of community leader who is awarded contracts by state-owned Petrotrin? How many kidnapping cases have been solved? Does the Prime Minister still think that kidnappings are bogus? What is his definition now of collateral damage? Does he still think that crime is temporary?
It would seem that the Prime Minister may have changed his position on kidnappings being bogus. Recently the Minister of National Security announced that Government had agreed to accept help from the US FBI to train our own Anti-Kidnapping Squad. Recognising that the incompetence of this PNM Government is terminal and incurable the UNC has been recommending that we get outside help since 2002 but this Government is a slow learner; the tragedy is that the population has to pay the price for their inadequacies and incompetence with their lives, limbs and property.
Mr. Speaker, listen to what the judiciary is saying. High Court, Justice Alice Yorke-Soo Hon in passing sentence in a robbery case said that the Court had a duty to protect citizens from robberies and gun-related offences which now occur on a "daily basis". She also said "There was a time when one sought refuge in the sanctuary of his home. That is no longer the case. Even in homes, citizens live in terror because they were being invaded by those who commit acts of brutality. Fear and terror now grip citizens. Citizens live in fear and terror".
Mr. Speaker, what is the Government's response to all this? Business as usual. They simply continue with heads buried in the proverbial sand to mamaguy the public; they pass the blame to someone else and accuse everyone of exaggerating about how bad things are.
What will it take Mr. Speaker, to make this callous PNM Government stand up and do something about crime? Mr. Speaker, you know and I know that the PNM will do nothing. To act against the criminals will be to cut their noses to appear to spite their faces; do you think they will put in jail the very persons they used as muscle to terrorise the Opposition in the last general elections? Never. These are the people who put them in power and now it is pay-back time. Added to that it would seem that they get a kind of perverse pleasure from the kidnapping epidemic because they thought the victims were the supporters of the UNC and the perpetrators were their supporters. It this a kind of State sponsored terrorism? But you will recall, Mr. Speaker that I have often said that in a country as small and compact as ours you cannot inflict terror on one section of the society without hurting the entire body politic. In attempting to "Mugabe-ise" this country the PNM has gone too far. All that remains is for them now is to start confiscating the properties or the jobs of people who do not support them as they have done to the sugar workers and cane farmers and the employees of TTT.
Mr. Speaker, even the business community is has begun to cry out against crime. The Guardian reported on August 16, 2005, in an article titled "UNDP Report: Crime costing T&T business big $$ - TTMA wants PM to address issue" as follows:
"A study of all countries shows that T&T suffers the third highest cost to business as a result of excessive crime and violence, the TTMA has told Government in its 2006 budget submission.
The TTMA's call for action against crime was at the top of its submission said Paul Quesnel.
TTMA feels strongly that the number one issue affecting the country now is the unacceptable level of crime. Already there has been capital flight, migration of business people and a hesitance to reinvest in the economy. People are afraid - they don't know what to expect next after murders, kidnappings and now bombings".
Mr. Speaker, even the church is also crying out. Listen to what Father Garfield Rochard told his congregation about a month ago. Worshippers at the Church of Assumption at Maraval were told that due to three break-ins of vehicles at the compound for the year, persons having weddings and funerals there may soon have to arrange their own security. Father Rochard told his parishioners that new security measures may involve closing the gates during worship, weddings and funerals to ensure that no car drives out before the end of the function without identification and/or authorization. He revealed that Bell Vue and Dibe have a self imposed curfew because of gun activity in the neighborhood.
What a shame Mr. Speaker! What a disgrace when peace loving citizens cannot enjoy their wedding or worship in peace. That is state into which this PNM Government has brought this once peaceful and beloved country. How much lower can we sink when we must hire security to protect us against criminals even as we pray our pay our last respects to our departed ones with some sense of dignity? What will it take, Mr. Speaker, to make this callous PNM Government stand up and do something about crime?
In the Express of August 12, 2005, the Manufacturers Association is reported to have said:
"This country is on the edge and the Government must act now before its citizens reach a point of no return. Kidnappings continue unabated, crime is in a free fall and now, almost exactly one month after the first explosion in Port of Spain, we have a second, equally traumatic bombing on George Street"
The Association continued:
"We live in a state of national insecurity....our fundamental right to live in safety has been totally compromised by the spiraling crime situation epitomized by this senseless act".
While all of this is happening, the Hon. Minister of National Security claims that the "police have turned the corner". My response to this, Mr. Speaker, is how loud do you want the population to laugh? The police may have turned the corner, indeed! But in what direction there were going he did not say. Clearly, Mr. Speaker, the Hon. Minister of National Security, Mr. Martin Joseph, should not be allowed out of the company of his family members Learie Joseph and Tommy Joseph. It is such a tragedy, Mr. Speaker, when the joker Minister of National Security becomes the joke.
Mr. Speaker, the maxi taxi drivers have also joined the chorus of good people in T&T who are crying out for protection against criminals.
The Route Two Maxi Association have expressed frustration over the lack of security protection blamed for the robbery and shooting of maxi operator, David Reid, who was treated for a punctured lung.
The Association said that he was the third maxi operator, and the second in a week to be robbed at gunpoint along the Priority Bus Route. The Association expressed its frustration over the promise given by the Minister of National Security to improve security.
Mr. Speaker, people of T&T, the country has spoken; the PNM refuses or is unable to act; what do we do? President Richards in his address at the opening of Parliament probably gave us a clue to the answer; 'Call in the promissory note'. They promised to do something about crime; they have failed to keep their promise; it is time to call in the promissory note. But that is easier said than done without constitutional reform how are you going to do that? You shall have to wait until 2007 or earlier, God willing.
The whole country is suffering; it is not only the businessmen and women of a particular ethnic group that is under siege. Granted the PNM is deliberately trying to chase this group out of the country what about the poor people who support their party? Day after day the blood of their sons and daughters stain the streets of Laventille, Morvant and Diego Martin. Not even the profusion of tears of mothers and grandmothers, sons and daughters cousins and nieces, friends and family can wash away the blood stains of so many youths fallen in the prime of their lives. How could the PNM be so cruel, so hard hearted even to their supporters.
Mr. Speaker, when I suggested that the Minister of National Security should join his relatives in the entertainment arena, I was not only referring to his performance in respect of crime. He has done no better when it comes to the Fire Services. When Port of Spain suffered its huge fire loss in April of this year, one of the problems was the lack of water in the hydrants. It was a big embarrassment for the Government. Each State agency was blaming the other. Even the Mayor of Port of Spain was sharing out blame left right and centre.
But history was to repeat itself on August 25, 2005 when fire struck AS Bryden in San Juan. On that occasion it was felt that the fire services took too long to come to the scene and once more even the Chief Fire Officer was heard to complain about inadequate water supply.
The same thing happened again when fire struck in San Fernando at Seukeran's Mall. Here is how the Guardian reported the matter:
"For close to an hour firemen tried to overcome low water pressure which slowed their efforts.
San Fernando Mayor, Ian Atherly, said he and San Fernando West MP Diane Seukeran arrived well before WASA responded to a request to boost the water supply from a hydrant.
An upset Atherly said he had been led to believe that the water pressure was good and that the city had a fire lorry, which is used to transport fire hoses.
By 8:30 pm, the water pressure was boosted but by then the entire upper floor was alight.
Atherly said: "I am appalled by this. We are not prepared for any such disaster. Look at this! The water pressure is no more than that of a garden hose." They could have put out the fire with his crocodile tears which flowed so profusely. This is the same Atherly who breaks down vendors stalls while he illegally occupies the pavement in front his rum shop opposite Skinner's Park in San Fernando.
The Ministry of National Security was allocated almost $2 Billion in 2004, $2,5Billion in 2005 and will get almost $3 Billion in 2006. As usual, Mr. Speaker, the Minister set-up an enquiry after the POS fire but to date he has not told the public why this fiasco occurred in the first place. Think of the loss of property, the insurance costs, and loss of jobs, the loss of business and how long it will take to recover from these fires.
How does the Minister of National Security respond to all of this Mr. Speaker? He said he will resign if the PM asks him to do so, and he then promptly proceeds to pat himself on the back as if he has made himself honorable merely by uttering those empty words. Like all the rest of his cabinet colleagues he does not begin to understand what is meant by accountability and responsibility. As long as this continues to be so, T&T will languish in the mediocrity and non-performance of the PNM that has now become legendary.
Mr. Speaker, the advent of a new kind of crime in T&T is a cause for more fear among the population. Bombings are now the 2005 new year phenomenon.
In an editorial dated July 12, 2005, the Newsday raised some very pertinent questions about this new crime. They noted that fingers will be pointed at a criminal organization which masquerades as a religious body. I want to add Mr. Speaker that this organization is facilitated by the PNM and that Senator Joan Yuille Williams has been identified as the major facilitator of this group.
The editorial observed that they knew that a Bomb Squad exists but opined that their expertise was confined to locating and disarming explosives. They noted : "The timing of this incident may also be significant - or at least ironic - in relation to Prime Minister Patrick Manning who just last Saturday was talking about throwing a security net around the country - a net that is so significant that it is with difficulty that such a net can be penetrated," . The editorial also said: "It was only a few months ago that Attorney General John Jeremie was making vague noises about collecting the $20 million owed to the State by the Jamaat - but since then he has apparently been devoting his energies to legislation mostly designed, it seems, to limit citizens' rights. And then last week, Energy Minister Eric Williams was saying that illegal quarrying in Valencia couldn't be stopped because of loopholes in the law - which, even if true, doesn't explain why the Government continues to buy aggregate from the Jamaat-run operations".
Mr. Speaker, the Guardian editorial of July 7, 2005 also addressed the issue of bombings in very strong terms. They deemed it an act of terrorism. They said: "Some of those who should have been offering leadership and guidance in the aftermath of the explosion failed to rise to the occasion. Why did the Prime Minister merely issue a statement from Whitehall and not address the nation? This task was instead undertaken by the National Security Minister Martin Joseph, who first appeared in downtown Port of Spain, at a spot where the blood of the injured could still be seen - wearing shockingly, a broad grin. This inept reaction was followed many hours later by an address to the nation close to 10pm - too late for inclusion in yesterday's newspapers. Why was Mr. Joseph's response so slow"?
The editorial continued: "Similarly, Police Commissioner Trevor Paul took three hours to reach the scene, although he was no further away than Tobago. Mr. Paul thought it necessary to make a grand entrance by helicopter, landing practically on the site of the explosion and blowing dust and debris all over it, thus possibly making futile the work of his own investigators".
Mr. Speaker, even the most incompetent of governments would have known that this new kind of crime had to be dealt with swiftly if they were going to put an end to it. It has to be nipped in the bud. But to date we see no resolve on the part of the Government to attack the perpetrators. And the perpetrators seem to be having a good laugh at the Government as their third bomb exploded on September 10, 2005 at KFC on Independence Square right under the nose of 'the eye in the sky'. Is it again because their friends are involved? Is it somehow not in their best interest to find the perpetrators? Given their cozy relationship with certain terrorists, the population can be forgiven for thinking that the Government "like it so".
Mr. Speaker, this feeling is compounded by the refusal of the Prime Minister to launch an enquiry into the events of July 1990. His reasons for refusing are nothing short of nonsensical. It ranks with the advice he has given for family planning: watch television instead; instead of doing what, I am not sure... He is now the local expert at talking absolute rubbish. He claims that people would have forgotten. When it comes to memory, the PM must speak for himself. There are too many unanswered questions about July 1990 to let it go uninvestigated and the PM should get on with the job - unless, of course, he has something to hide.
Mr. Speaker, when speaking of the Jamaat, the question of gangs also comes into play. Recently when Mr. Glenroy Charles was shot, it came to be known that he ran the URP in the West and controlled all the gangs in the Diego Martin, Petit Valley, Carenage and the Maraval areas. It was reported that on the morning following his shooting, every gang leader and their followers were in Diego Martin. Such was the fear in the area that the Guard and Emergency Branch had to be called out.
Earlier in the year Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Security revealed that there were 66 known gangs in the country with an estimated 500 hard core members. The Minister boasted: "Government will not allow a small group of criminals to threaten the safety, security and well being of our nation...we will not allow these criminals to ruin or compromise this country's inexorable drive to developed nation status by 2020".
Fat talk after fat talk. Mr. Speaker, within hours of the shooting of Mr. Charles, a reprisal shooting occurred in the area...so much for the Minister's boast. Once more this comedian has given us justification for our recommendation that he should not let him out of the company of his relatives and why he should find a career in the entertainment business.
In an editorial dated August 25, 2005, the Newsday raised some very pertinent questions with respect to gangs. This is what they said:
"The young men killing one another are not just mindless psychopaths, but casualties in a battle for significant resources. Moreover, the conflict is not over drug money alone. It appears that the State has also contributed to the situation by its mishandling of the largesse of the URP". When I said the same thing, they accused me of making irresponsible statements.
The editorial concluded as follows:
"The solution, obviously, is not to help gang leaders - or as some now call them, community leaders - to become more powerful, but to cut the heart out of the drug trade. It is also becoming apparent that something has to be done about the URP. Only if the authorities take action to make both unprofitable, and to give the young men involved other options, will we reduce the violent crime in our country."
The Prime Minister vaguely hints at tackling the dependency syndromewhen he intimated that he may re-introduce the UNC concept of training into the programme. You will recall that when we came into office we changed the name of the URP (Unemployment Relief Programme) to ETP - Education and Training Programme. When the PNM came to office in 2000 they promptly reverted to URP. How can believe this Government is genuine when they say they are going to introduce a training element in the Programme. And how can you introduce it into the CEPEP when there is no relationship between the employees of CEPEP and the government. Their relationship is with the contractor. They are the employees of the contractor.
The issue now is what is the Government doing if it knows that there are 66 criminal gangs with 500 members? If you know who the criminals are and where they are how come the crime spree is not abating? On the contrary, the spree continues at an even faster pace. Mr. Speaker, are people in high places protecting the gang leaders and their members? Is it of any significance that one Minister owns a boat that makes regular trips to Venezuela and that he also seems to have his own private port? Is it wise that such a person should have been a Minister of National Security? How did the Columbian women enter this country? Is it through the same pier as the guns and cocaine? Is that not part of the crime scene in the country? Maybe these Colombian women are part of the new Tourist thrust? Credibility, Mr. Speaker, credibility.
Mr. Speaker, I now turn to what the international community is saying about crime in T&T.
Business Monitor International, (BMI), in its September edition said about T&T:
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