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Progress on some plans

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In the next few weeks, the Sunday Guardian intends to explore the promises made by the Government and look into the extent to which those promises have been kept. Taking a close look at policies mapped out in the past two budgets, we intend to take a look at the progress made and speak to ministers about the progress on delivery, stagnance or delays in those plans. This week we begin with the Ministry of National Security.

Between January and up to Friday, the T&T Police Service recorded 299 murders, already close to the 305 recorded by the end of August last year. The murder toll in 2016

Calls on the Government to make an effective intervention to deal with the spiralling crime rate have been answered with statements that the police service needs to do its job.

In February, after a man slit a woman’s throat at MovieTowne, Port-of-Spain, the entire country was stunned that the killing could be carried out in such a public place. The murder was shocking, but was one of several similar acts this year, the most recent of which included those of 13-year-old schoolboy Videsh Subar, who was killed along with his babysitter Rose Mohammed and 17-year-old David Sancaro, who was run over by a van moments after he rushed to assist a woman who was being physically abused.

The Government’s position on eradicating crime was most clearly articulated during the reading of the 2017 budget by Finance Minister Colm Imbert, who said: “These anti-social activities cannot continue: non-stop killings from the revenge murders among organised criminal gangs to the ever-too-frequent tragedies of domestic violence to the violation of our children and the elderly. We are committed to aggressively confront and contain those elements who choose such criminal activities as their way of life.”

In February, while participating in a walk against crime in Point Fortin, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon added: “Crime is too much even if there is one murder. Once there is crime there is work for us to do. We will continue to pursue criminals vigorously as well as treat with crime through the Ministry of Sport and the Ministry of Social Development.”

But crime remains something the Government and the police service are still struggling to control, despite a recent claim by the police that four out of nine policing divisions across T&T had surpassed the international benchmark for crime detection over the past six months.

The T&T Police Service is also dealing with the fact that there has been no substantive appointment to the post of Commissioner of Police since 2012. Acting Commissioner Stephen Williams has been in the post since former commissioner Dwayne Gibbs resigned and has received ten extensions.

A manpower audit of the service is also under way and head of the committee conducting it, Prof Ramesh Deosaran, told the Sunday Guardian the committee is working toward the final report.

“We’ve gathered a lot of information so far. There are other meetings we have to hold but we are finalising all the data from inside and outside the police service. We are now tabulating the numbers. We aren’t only writing the report but also looking at specific recommendations,” Deosaran said.

In the past two budgets under the People’s National Movement administration, National Security received allocations of $10.81 billion and $7.625 billion respectively, the largest share of the pie and a large increase compared to the $6.994 billion budgeted in financial year 2015.

During that time, the Government has, on numerous occasions, made commitments to provide more resources to assist, while holding the Police Service accountable for the implementation of crime reduction strategies.

While this has been the Government’s position, citizens have been faced with murders which have grown increasingly heinous, police officers citing a lack of vehicles for quick responses, and fear for personal security has now taken a stranglehold on the national community.

The police service apart, both the Fire and Prisons Services have also been clamouring for more resources to conduct their operations efficiently. Government would have brought a little comfort to the prisons service last week when it announced $53 million had been allocated for upgrade works at the Golden Grove remand facility.

The Government has reported achievements on some of its national security objectives, including strengthening the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) with a Threat Assessment Centre (TAC) in the Office of the Prime Minister.

The Government has also signed a Model 1A Inter-governmental Agreement with the United States, which would facilitate the implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca) enacted in the United States in 2010 and which would now allow for the automatic exchange of information between both countries. Fatca legislation was passed in both houses of Parliament in March.

A Customs information sharing agreement with the USA was also announced in the 2017 budget presentation in order to benefit from shared intelligence on customs offences with the USA. The agreement was intended to assist this country in obtaining convictions for smuggling, drug trafficking and gun-running.

Stakeholders speak:

President of the Prison Officers’

Association Cerron Richards

When the Sunday Guardian spoke to Prison Officers’ Association president Cerron Richards last week, he said prisons in T&T were no better off today than they were two years ago.

In a telephone interview, Richards said prisons officers were still waiting to see new projects get off the ground.

“Where we hoped the impact would have been we were not fortunate to see it. Under the PSIP, the water situation in Carerra was supposed to be treated with but we haven’t seen the fruits of that.”

He said to make matters worse, more and more promises were being added to the incomplete ones.

“Overall, when you look at prison service you get a lot of promises but allocations for projects do not come. We have heard that money would be sourced to refurbish the Golden Grove prison but no real allocations to fund it. They added the promise of a new prison in Tobago. We will see what happens there.”

Following Dillon’s announcement that $53 million had been allocated for upgrade works at the Golden Grove remand facility on Thursday, however, Richards was much more optimistic.

“We want to commend the Government and the minister for taking the bold step for allocating for the remand prison. We hope the Government continues to focus on the prison service in T&T,” he said.

“We want Government to look to look at Maximum Security Prison and the other prisons as there are problems there as well.”

Richards said the allocation for upgrades to the remand facility signalled a new type of thinking and direction.

“This is the first time any Government has sought to embark on an undertaking to upgrade the facility to that extent. We know the ideal will always be a new purpose built remand facility in T&T but we understand the economic and financial constraints by the country.”

Seales:

President of the Police Social and Welfare Association Inspector Michael Seales, in an interview last week, said they needed more resources and training.

“The association cannot speak about what the minister is doing but we have seen what the commissioner has done. The police service benefited from the use of body cameras and we applaud that,” Seales said.

He said, however, that the association was still waiting on the implementation of tasers and pepper spray, which would bring the police service in line with more modern, first world strategies.

“We would like to see Government get involved and put cameras for all policemen. We know the commissioner says he has to wait on budgetary allocations to roll out tasers and pepper spray but we would like National Security to ensure it is provided.”

Seales said last year the budget for the police service also saw a reduction of funds for training from $18 million to $2 million.

“We think it is important that law enforcement get resources and training to align with international best practice.”

Asked to comment on the Government’s anti-crime proposals, former commissioner of police Everard Snaggs said he had to assume Government had done its research before proposing any of the measures.

With the Police Management Agency and Police Service Inspectorate in particular, Snaggs said maybe there was a lack of something in the service that needed to be fixed.

But he said the decision to partner closely with regional corporations was a great decision, as the police needed to get closer to the people.

“You would have the institution integrated closer with the community and that could affect public trust. Trust is something we need in any initiative. Any strategy that would look to build trust in the public is a good initiative.”

Another former national security minister, Gary Griffith, said the proposals by the PNM administration could be of immense value and could prove critical aspects for the protective services.

“The problem is they are trying to reinvent the wheel. There are several policies that were done previously which could have done the same thing.”

He said, however, that he felt the Government fell short in ensuring that accountability in the protective services was monitored.

“The NOC (National Operations Centre) was there to ensure the police service was accountable and their response time was measured but that has now been scrapped,” Griffith said.

“What is required is not increase in manpower strength but a better quality. Two years ago people were seeing police every few minutes on the nation’s highway, you were getting an immediate response because the vehicles were monitored.

“That took away the perception of fear of crime. There must be systems to measure their performance and make them accountable. I don’t think this administration understands the measure of performance. Increasing numbers will not help. What the country needs is enhanced quality.”

Several other commitments made by the Government remain incomplete, including:

Joint Border Patrol Agency

corporations through

inter-agency approach

to combat crime

“Crime is too much even if there is one murder. Once there is crime there is work for us to do. We will continue to pursue criminals vigorously as well as treat with crime through the Ministry of Sport and the Ministry of Social Development.”