Charles warns permanent secretaries to demand mandate for crime initiative

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Naparima MP Rodney Charles.

Naparima MP Rodney Charles is warning the permanent secretaries, who have been assigned to co-chair the PM’s multi-agency approach to fighting crime as a public health issue, to ensure they have a clear mandate, lest they be blamed for the continued escalation of crime.

On July 18, the Prime Minister announced the creation of an anti-crime initiative which would treat crime as a public health emergency. He said it would be led by the permanent secretaries of the Ministries of Social Development and Health, and involve the Office of the Prime Minister, police service, Tobago House of Assembly and Ministries of National Security, Sport and Education.

Speaking at the UNC’s weekly media briefing at the Office of the Opposition Leader in Port of Spain on Sunday, Charles asked whether the officials had been informed of the initiative before they were given the assignment.

He asked what qualifications the officials brought to the crime de-escalation table.

“Some questions they need to ask are: what are the exact details of this pie in the sky proposal to treat crime as a public health issue, and force the PM to provide details. What are the expectations of this committee given that TT is reported to have the sixth highest murder rate in the world? What plans can the committee develop that have not been tried before?”

Charles said they should ask whether they would be relieved of their daily functions while developing or implementing the plans, given the enormity of the task before them. He also asked whether the new plans developed would present vague, qualitative and generalised recommendations like previous committees, or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely (SMART) recommendations.

“Would they treat the problem as a health, national security, or all-of-government matter? How will this approach succeed when thousands of students will enter secondary schools in September totally unprepared to succeed; when hundreds of Venezuelan migrant youths are not integrated into our society; when poverty is increasing daily, while guns are readily available; when income inequality is rising; when youth are easily fooled by the money, blandishments, and bling of gang leaders; where our social safety net exists in absentia and where the curricula in our schools are not designed to produce productive, employable and civic minded citizens?”

Charles noted that previous reports such as the Watkins and Scott-Young reports contain all the solutions to crime in TT.

“The problem is all of government. We need to solve our education problem, our social safety net. We need to give our citizens in the school curricula a certain civic-mindedness; we need to deal with the guns, the rogue police; we need to have proper management structures in our coast guard in order to prevent guns, drugs, and illegal migrants from coming into our country; we need a refugee policy that is based on our commitments to international criteria and standards that fits into our absorptive capacity, that must be humane and consistently operationalised. “If we don’t do that, we will be spinning top in mud.”

Charles said the committee is an attempt to obfuscate the issue, buy time, and shows clearly that Dr Rowley has no plan to fight crime.

He noted that the US had made note of the government’s inability to fight crime, citing the fact that TT remains on the Tier Two watch list on the US Trafficking in Persons Report 2022, suggesting that the country made no substantial progress in improving its horrendous track record on human trafficking.

He noted that in November 2021, during the 39th session of the United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the US raised a number of concerns regarding TT’s human rights record, including reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by police and human trafficking, and also the need for TT to deal with corruption by implementing transparent procurement processes and the persecution of police officers who took or solicited bribes.

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