PORT OF SPAIN – A national crisis. That is how Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has described the unacceptable level of criminal conduct in the country.
Speaking at the People’s National Movement (PNM) special convention at the St John’s Ambulance Brigade Hall, in Port of Spain on Sunday, Rowley said with 122 murders to date, if it continued unabated, the country could be looking at 500 murders for 2016.
He said for those who felt that they could make this a political issue and talk about the Government and the Minister of National Security: “I am putting it to you today that that level of unacceptable conduct is a national crisis.”
The Prime Minister said this was why the Government brought to the Parliament amendments to the Strategic Services Agency and Interception of Communications bills in order to give the SSA greater scope, authority and ability to get involved in collecting information about people who are intent on committing crimes.
Noting that the Opposition was opposing the move, Rowley said: “We invite the Opposition to join us in the battle against the criminals and with or without them, we are going to go ahead and pass that law.”
The Prime Minister said this was the same legislation that the People’s Partnership brought in 2010 and passed with the support of the PNM Opposition, “and to hear them today raising concerns and questions about who will spy on whom”.
Recalling that Kamla Persad-Bissessar had told the country in 2010 that she found evidence of the Manning government spying on a whole range of people, Rowley said, when called upon to produce that evidence, the People’s Partnership Government said “the files had disappeared with some Israelis”.
“What we do know is that the files went down to Siparia on request and people whose names went down there, officers of State who were trained to go and get information on criminal conduct before the crime is committed, all of them were dismissed,” Rowley said, adding that the State had to pay millions to these people.
Rowley said his Government was prepared to do what has to be done to deal with the crime situation. He said addressing the problem of the low detection rates was high on the Government’s priority list.
“You cannot have a detection level, in the face of a killing spree like this, of nine, ten, 12 per cent. The criminals know that the odds are in their favour. We have to improve that,” he said.
He said while the focus was on firearms as the item of choice for murderers, and efforts had been concentrated on trying to get firearms off the street, what was alarming to him within recent times was a number of other situations, including the use of strangulation and gasoline as weapons of murder.