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It’s time to get real

Sunday, March 4, 2018

It’s time to get real. And grow up too. At the launch of the Transparency Institute 2017 Corruption Index, the British High Commissioner, Mr Tim Stew, MBE, said, “Terrorist financing, whether small or large, brings new threats to our shores. As we have seen to my regret most recently here in Trinidad. Simply, without funding, terrorists cannot carry out their evil acts. I’ve followed the local media debate on the threat to Carnival. To those who question whether that threat was real, I have one message: it’s time to get real.”

On February 8, the Police Service announced that it had credible information of a threat to disrupt Carnival activities. It detained several people. Based on media conversations some people didn’t believe there was a threat.

Days later, in response to the doubters and accusations that the Government and police were targeting a specific group, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said, “There are some people who believe this is a joke and people who believe this is personal persecution. Claims of religious and ethnic persecution hold no water. If you engage in criminal conduct, you are subject to monitoring and intervention by security services.”

What have we learnt from the attempted coup in 1990 and the commission of enquiry into it? The Government and the police had information and didn’t act on it. The insurrection shut down the country, held parliamentarians hostage, caused the deaths of 26 people, and shot and wounded Prime Minister ANR Robinson and Attorney General Selwyn Richardson. Had the Government taken the information seriously and warned us, they would have saved lives.

If successive governments had resolved to prosecute the insurrectionists for murder and treason rather than giving contracts to them then perhaps the high level of crime and our vulnerability to terrorism would not be as acute as it is now.

Many questioned the credibility of the Carnival warning and voiced their disgust that once again, people who were detained based on information we were told was “credible” were freed within days after Carnival. It can be argued speculatively that “credible information, or a credible tip-off, or information from a credible source differ in meaning and in some cases, may not always amount to hard, incontestable evidence to imprison suspects beyond the legal requirement of 72 hours and successfully prosecute their cases. But, such limited information would be more than sufficient if acted upon immediately to disrupt criminal activities and save lives. Time is needed to gather hard evidence—a reason why the Bail Bill and the Anti-Gang legislation came about, but that’s another reason to get real about our competencies to fight crime.

Back in November 2011, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar claimed that people were plotting to assassinate her as a result of the State of Emergency (SOE) that was declared months earlier in August 2011, presumably to fight crime. She was “confident that history will record the day on which the State of Emergency was declared as one in which democracy and freedom were preserved and protected in our nation.”

MP Keith Rowley, then leader of the Opposition, responded that “any threat against her or any public office holder was unacceptable.” He wanted cogent reasons for the SOE, which was declared about three months before the alleged assassination attempt. Many citizens believed it was a devious attempt by the UNC government to extend the SOE. The result? Detained people were freed. The State now has to pay over $400,000 for wrongful arrests in 2011. Many of those suspects were held under the Anti-Gang law of 2011, which had a sunset clause of five years. The renewal of that very law proposed by the PNM Government in 2017 was not supported by the UNC party now in opposition, ostensibly, over the sunset clause. Understand how dysfunctional and deceitful political behaviour undermines national security and weakens our democracy.

To the Government’s credit, it is prepared to accept a two-and-a-half-years sunset clause. Some people say it has “caved in” to the Opposition. No. The Government got real. Opposition politics remain in Jurassic Park.


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