(UNC Opposition’s Press Conference held Sunday 2nd April, 2023)
Last week I ended with good tidings of our multi-religious observances and celebrations. Today is the 10th day of Ramadan, Hindus quickly approach the celebration of Hanuman Jayanti, and Christian brothers and sisters continue through the season of Lent. Today, however, is Palm Sunday, the day that commemorates Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Today is a reminder of the welcoming of Jesus Christ into our hearts and of our willingness to follow him.
So today, I start on a positive note to show that we are indeed a blessed people. We are already a praying people. Remember the times when we went out, whether by day or by night, and we greeted each other with pleasantries. Now we greet each other in anxious relief, exclamations of ‘glad to see you reached safely’. We take early leave from family gatherings and dinners with friends with hopeful watchwords, ‘reach home safe’.
How times have changed over the past seven years!
Ladies and gentlemen, I am both a Hindu Priest and a Member of Parliament. But I am not here this morning to talk about the value of prayer and the blessings of the Lord. I am here to talk about the responsibilities of Government officials and arms of the state.
The role and function of Government officials is to help improve the lives of the citizens of our nation. In so doing, it must maintain law and order and ensure our peace and security. To do this Government officials must craft policy, not preach sermons!
Last year our nation witnessed a horrendous surge of violent crime which saw over 600 people murdered. This was the highest recorded number of murders in our history. Ladies and Gentlemen this is a national crisis. As of today, T&T has already seen over 140 people being murdered. At this same time last year the murder toll was 125. I saw one media house cite the figures as being 142 in 2023 versus 132 in 2022. This means 2023 is shaping up to be a more violent and bloody year.
In Opposition Dr Rowley told the nation that he would measure the war on crime by how the population felt. Today, seven years later as Prime Minister, he is telling us that his plan is for us to get on our knees and pray more.
Dr Rowley, the only prayer people across our nation want the almighty to answer is to rid this country of you and your backward and incompetent government!
But regarding the direct response to crime, I want to first address the Commissioner of Police Ms Erla Harewood Christopher. I understand that this PNM Government has done all it can to deprive the TTPS of resources as well as lower morale, which programme reached a peak with the fiasco of Rowley intercepting a Police Service Commission’s merit list at President’s House so he could remove then Commissioner Gary Griffth.
So I do not blame Ms. Harewood-Christopher for the very difficult task she is confronted with. She must manage an under-resourced and demoralized TTPS while this PNM Government continues to attack its independence.
However I would offer a word of caution to Mrs Harewood Christopher. You have started off on the wrong foot by parroting this Rowley-led PNM Government’s excuses for failing to instil public confidence that there is a serious plan to tackle violent crime!
I just want to remind people of what the CoP said recently: “An evil has spread over the land and we must recognise, those of you who are spiritually inclined, you must recognise that this is beyond the physical …. Because the police can come up with whatever strategy, but unless we enlist the help of God, we will be working in vain.”
This is exactly what Rowley and Hinds started saying back in 2022, when they realized that they had failed miserably to tackle crime and the number of murders were set to reach a record high of 600 plus. This is all part of a worrying trend on the part of this Rowley led Government to find a bogeyman to blame for every problem.
We must never forget that this Government attempted to blame doubles men for our Forex Shortage.
Rowley even blamed what he termed “the recalcitrant minority” for being the main drivers of the Covid pandemic.
Rowley even blamed victims of crime for their own murder by saying that “women should have chosen their men wisely”.
So the CoP is following suit by making God the bogeyman, by saying that the TTPS is powerless without God. Ladies and gentlemen, if we allow the Top Cop to continue on her present trajectory, we could very well face a situation where, if you are being robbed, if criminals are breaking down your door, and you dial 999 for help, instead of officers deploying response teams they will call upon you to join them in a prayer.
Perhaps we should just abandon the idea of developing the National Forensic Science Center and just call the local priest, imam and pundit to conduct forensic examinations. I want to remind the Commissioner that crime fighting involves data and scientific investigation of crimes, pursuit and apprehension of criminals and proactive solutions to curb crime. So I again call on the CoP to start relying on POLICY and not providence.
CoP’s TEN POINT PLAN
Now, today, I have seen reports that the Top Cop unleashed a ten point crime plan. At first I was intrigued and wondered what was the 10-point anti-crime plan. But after reading it and seeing as one of the initiatives, “Among her initiatives will be precision policing, focusing the resources of the police to address violent crime, dismantling of gangs by using precision policing legislation, targeting communities with high reports of crime and retrieval of illegal guns”, I thought that this had to be an April Fools joke! Because there is absolutely nothing of any substance in her word salad with platitude of garnish. I cannot help but think that what has been unveiled illustrates how utterly destitute of original ideas the TTPS top brass really is. They seem reduced to putting a coat of paint on the time worn methods that have been passed out as ‘policing’ and that have proven to be useless in stemming the rapid increase in crime. However, however, before I say it is time for the Top Cop to declare bankruptcy and close up shop, (and in such event she should definitely take Minister Fitzgerald Hinds with her), I am prepared to await some further details or deeper fleshing out of her crime plans.
Now let me say Ms Christopher was not totally wrong when she said an evil has spread over the land. There is an evil across our land; this evil is called Keith Rowley and his incompetent government. And no, I am not being hyperbolic by using the term evil to describe this Rowley government.
It was an evil act for Keith Rowley to under-handedly snatch the merit list at President’s House in order to remove Gary Griffith as Police Commissioner.
It was evil for Keith Rowley’s government to undermine the office of the DPP and the Judiciary by crafting an illegal indemnity to a state witness Vincent Nelson with the apparent attempt to influence the testimony of that witness.
It is evil of Keith Rowley to inflict pain and suffering on the people of our nation by refusing to remove a blatantly incompetent and out-of-touch Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds.
It is evil of Keith Rowley to hoodwink the population into thinking the problem of crime lies with the Houses of God and not his elected office.
It is evil of Keith Rowley to deny the reality of the hardships being faced by hundreds of thousands of our citizens. Whether it’s rampant crime, high unemployment, inadequate housing, lack of pipe borne water, rising food prices, escalating rents and mortgages, lack of access to higher education, the list goes on and on.
Evil inflicted upon our Children
Evil, is an incompetence which leads to neglect of children and failing to take them out of harm’s way. We have a situation where Children’s Homes have become unlicensed because the facilities and amenities in these homes are not meeting the standards required under law. The government is contented with its own incompetence in failing to prevent harm to foster and vulnerable children.
Today’s Guardian Newspaper speaks to statistics for 2020 to 2022 suggesting that during this period some 2800 children dropped out from school. According to the article, at least 151 primary school pupils dropped out of government schools while another 2,663 students dropped out of government secondary schools.
Retired Teacher Shirazudeen Mohammed is quoted in the article as speaking about connectivity issues during the pandemic as a contributing factor and access to devices. Remember the Rowley led Government took away children’s laptops from 2015 after the Kamla Persad Bissessar’s UNC led Government had invested 5 years of laptops for secondary school students.
So the real evil here is an incompetent, uncaring, neglectful government which is quite happy to have thousands of children drop out of school.
And bringing back the discussion to crime, what the hell does this government think is going to happen to the majority of these school drop outs?
Recently, the High Court, the Children Court Division ruled that the Children’s Authority had failed to adhere to statutory requirements of Section 23 of the Children’s Authority Act thereby resulting in severe prejudice and hardship to the child.
See paragraphs This child was a victim of human trafficking. The Court discouraged the Children’s Authority arbitrary approach with dealing with these children in need of care and protection.
Imagine the Court had to tell the Authority what is the meaning of “immediately”, that it meant no delay whatever.
Maybe I should make a call on this Palm Sunday to all religious persons, all Priests, Imams , Pundits , Pastors, all Churches, all Temples, all Mosques, all religious leaders, to pray in union and purpose to rid our beautiful country of this Evil that is incompetence!
As I move on I have to say that it has now become fashionable for so-called “Independents”, so-called “objective commentators,” so-called “impartial Business Chambers” to call for the Opposition to work together with the Government to solve crime.
This amounts to parroting a government talking point, a distraction. Surely these commentators must know that Opposition members do not sit on the National Security Council nor does the Opposition have the power to implement government policy.
The responsibility of the Opposition is to scrutinize government policy and ensure the Government acts within the bounds of the Constitution and the law. In this capacity, the Opposition has more than fulfilled its mandate.
I wish to remind the nation that it was the Opposition who exposed the sordid affair of the POLSC Merit List Affair, and Nelson Gate, which struck at the heart of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
When a government is bent on using state powers to prosecute political opponents and undermine independent institutions, you would no doubt agree that a call to cooperate with said government rings hollow.
How can the Rowley government that breaks the law be expected to restore law and order in our land?
For the edification of all those who say the Opposition must cooperate with the Government I repeat the list of Government special majority Bills that were passed with Opposition support
1. The Tax Information Exchange Agreements (United States of America) Act, 2016 (FATCA) was Passed in the HoR on 23-Feb-2017 and Passed in the Senate on 07-Mar-2017
2. The Anti-Gang Act, 2018 Passed in the HoR on 09-Mar-2018 Passed in the Senate on 11-Apr-2018
3. The Insurance Act, 2016 was Passed in the HoR on 16-Feb-2018 and Passed in the Senate on 18-May-2018
4. The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Act, 2018 was Passed in the HoR on 03-Jul-2018 and Passed in the Senate on 05-Jul-2018
5. The Licensing Committee (Validation) Act, 201 was Passed in the Senate on 21 May 2019 and Passed in the HoR on 18-Jun-2019
I further provide a list of Anti Crime Bills which the Opposition also supported:
● The Bail (Access to Bail) (Amendment) Bill, 2017- made extensive amendments
● The Miscellaneous Provisions (Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, Proceeds of Crime, Financial Intelligence Unit of Trinidad and Tobago, Customs and Exchange Control) Bill, 2017- made extensive amendments
● The Miscellaneous Provisions (Supreme Court of Judicature and Children) Bill, 2018- made extensive amendments
● The Payments into Court Bill, 2018- made extensive amendments
● The Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2019- made extensive amendments
● The Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) (Amendment) Bill, 2018- made extensive amendments
● The Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 2019- Opposition support was not needed but it was still supported.
● The Civil Asset Recovery and Management and Unexplained Wealth Bill, 2019- Opposition support was not needed but it was still supported.
Furthermore, on two occasions, in 2016 and 2018, the Leader of the Opposition Mrs Kamla Persad-Bissessar personally reached out to the Prime Minister, via letter and offered to meet with him so that she could find common ground on ways in which we could create a united front in the fight against crime.
Sadly, these meetings bore little fruit as the Prime Minister made it clear he had no real interest in listening to her proposals.
Let me also say that the Government does not require the Opposition to ensure that CCTV cameras are properly maintained and working, that scanners are operational at our Ports, that our borders are properly secured, or that the Police Service Commission can properly do its job and recommend a substantive Police Commissioner to lead the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. The failure to do these basic things is all down to this negligent government and no one else.
I want to remind you that the Leader of the Opposition Mrs Kamla Persad Bissessar SC delivered a comprehensive Economic Transformation Master Plan giving details about how the Opposition intends to restore our economy and reduce crime and violence.
You see, in our society, violent crime is a complex issue that requires a holistic approach, with modern approaches to policing, criminal justice, education as well as early child care.
So, some of the proposals in our plans also include:
• The Ministry of National Security will be split into a modern Ministry of Home Affairs and a Ministry of Defense.
• All new police recruits will have to possess at least a diploma in policing. We will develop these diplomas,)which involve investigation, procedures criminology, law, etc ) undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs and implement them at the UWI campus.
• Often without parental support children of offenders become victims of abuse and subsequent criminal offenders. We will introduce programs for the financial, psychological and emotional support of these children for the duration of their parent’s incarceration. We plan to utilise the support of the police youth clubs, religious organisations, schools, social services etc.
In the interest of time, I refer to these plans in a summary manner but we are quite prepared to detail our solution driven plans in any forum, any day, at any time.
I wish to end by reminding the nation that it was a UNC led Government that reduced violent crime by forty-five per cent. (45%). In fact, by 2015 T&T had the lowest number of serious crimes reported since 1984. That was not achieved by throwing our hands up in the air and saying ‘let’s pray’. It was achieved by collaborating with stakeholders, listening to expert advice and especially listening to the public rather than blaming them.
Before I conclude, and hand over to Senator Mark, every year on 2nd April we observe World Autism Awareness Day in order to increase awareness, encourage worldwide support, promote acceptance of autism and inspire individuals.
According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated about 1 in 100 children has autism world-wide.
This year’s theme is “Transformation- Towards a Neuro-Inclusive World for All”.
(The United Nations is holding a global virtual event on April 2, 2023, that will focus on the contributions people with autism make at work, at home, in the arts, and in determining public policy. It will also shed light on how to continue transforming the way people think about neurodiversity by removing barriers and improving the lives of autistic people everywhere, and achieving Sustainable Development Goals.)
Autism is a spectrum, which means that each child with Autism will see, hear and experience the world differently from those without it. Autism generally affect behaviour in the following areas:
1. Social relationships and interactions.
2. Language processing and communication.
3. Activities and interests.
4. Processing sensory information.
A common misconception about autism is that it is inextricably linked to intellectual disability. However, many of the world’s great thinkers and innovators displayed characteristics of autism.
With help and understanding, Autism can bring out the very best in young children and adults. Despite the challenges, a person with autism may have unique strengths such as logical thinking, intense focus and attention to detail and strong memory skills.
Let’s not put people in small boxes, rather it’s time to break the box. The world needs people who think differently. In a world where everyone thinks the same, nothing would ever change. Through inclusiveness and support, lets make this world a better place for every human being.