“Something is not right with the SSA’s budget.”
That’s according to Naparima MP, Rodney Charles, during the debate on the Budget 2024 in the House of Representatives on Monday.
He said government is pumping $270 million (an additional $20M from last budget) into the spy unit, the Strategic Services Agency (SSA), but not properly funding measures for people’s daily safety, such as lifeguards and fire trucks.
Charles said the Lifeguards Association said last week no lifeguards were patrolling TT’s beaches. owing to dilapidated accommodation and lack of transport, amid a staff shortage.
“Our national security personnel beg, they cry, and they bawl for the same things every year, begging this Government to do the job for which they are paid handsomely. They are repeatedly disregarded.”
He said the Government was incompetent in allocating funds.
“They are versed in fancy talk. It is no wonder that systems are failing miserably.”
Charles said the fire service, across the entire country, has only ten sets of breathing apparatus.
“We have 11 stations in North Trinidad, but only six have tenders.”
He said the newly-elected head of the Prison Officers Association, Gerald Gordon, had dubbed the maximum security prison (MSP) “a ticking time bomb,” owing to ageing infrastructure such as its alarm system and air-conditioning.
“Year after year we get the PNM list, ‘We doing this, we doing that,’ but the equipment never reaches the Prison Service,” Charles said.
“Yet today we hear the minister giving us the list of all the things they are doing and they are not doing one thing to improve the security of Trinidad and Tobago. It is hard to take.
“Nothing in this budget to address these issues at the maximum security prison, only one meagre allocation for the MSP for an alarm system.”
Charles also knocked the Government for allegedly prioritising crime suppression over crime prevention and criminal rehabilitation.
He alleged that instead of preventing citizens becoming criminals, the PNM administration had used crime as” a money-making enterprise to fill the pockets of friends and financiers,” with millions paid to take prisoners to court and millions spent on legal briefs exempt from procurement oversight.
Amid this expenditure, Vision on Mission, a rehabilitation NGO for ex-prisoners, got a budget cut this year, he lamented.
“$50,000 for the 4H clubs, but $270 million for the SSA!
“Police youth clubs, $1.5 million, but you could find money for the SSA!”
Charles said the Government had caused irreparable damage to TT’s international image.
He said TT needs port scanners and a 24/7 active coast guard to stop the influx of illegal guns, rather than the Prime Minister appealing to the US Government for help in his recent speech at the UN General Assembly.
“It is our job and our job alone to secure our borders.”
He said the Government was versed at spending money without reaping any benefit.
Charles also pointed out that some $999,000 had been spent to buy 20 wooden ladders for the fire service at $50,000 each. He noted the sum was just under $1 million, seemingly alluding to the floor at which procurement oversight is triggered.
“I want to tell the Government, I will make the wooden ladders for $10,000 (each), so you will save $40,000.”