Opposition Leader says 2024 Budget irrelevant and ignores realities facing citizens

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Opposition Leader says 2024 Budget irrelevant and ignores realities facing citizens

Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar used the bulk of her response to the 2024 Budget presentation to speak on T&T’s crime crisis.

During her time in the spotlight on Friday, Persad-Bissessar said there can be no prosperity without safety in T&T.

She said the Government’s 2024 Budget completely ignored the reality of the nation’s brutal violent crime crisis and she offered several anti-crime recommendations.

During her three hour and 38-minute address, Persad-Bissessar said the Budget completely ignores the realities facing citizens. “And what was most concerning is that the brutal, violent crime crisis was mainly ignored.”

Citing nationwide concern on the issue, she also noted Chief Justice Ivor Archie spoke of the increasing murders at yesterday’s new law term launch.

But Persad-Bissessar said the Finance Minister didn’t address any tangible new plans for the crime crisis.

“As has happened before, Budget 2024 contains some new promises by this Government, which hasn’t even kept the promises of yesteryear. Instead of addressing promises made over the last eight years, the minister ignores those commitments, re-promises them, and makes new ones,” she said.

“But this Government fails to understand there can be no prosperity without safety and security. This budget is irrelevant … Criminals are at war with innocent citizens, whom the Government has left to fend for themselves. There can be no prosperity without safety! And our people aren’t safe!

“Only yesterday, the TTPS said they solve 13 out of every 100 murders! This means that 87 per cent of the murderers are never caught.”

Persad-Bissessar dismissed Government’s claim of “containing crime,” citing newspaper reports of 60 murders in September, extortion and police being targeted by criminals.

“Where’s the ‘containment? As Trinis say, it’s getting ‘wosser’ and ‘wosser’. While Government boasts about how to prosper, all I see is how people suffer,” she added.

Persad-Bissessar said there are more murders annually than good local songs, bright inventions and trophies.

“Murder and pain daily, are the new culture of T&T. But we don’t make glib statements like ‘we’re a violent society ’and leave it at that. We identify the problems and causes and find solutions. While violent crime is like a giant, terrifying monster that keeps changing shape it’s a monster that can—and must- be tackled. We must be humble. When offered help, we must take it … ”

Persad-Bissessar said she’s still awaiting a reply from the Prime Minister on the planned anti-crime talks. She said she thought information on anti-crime plans were coming in the Budget.

“But as (UNC’s) Anita Haynes said to me, the Budget was just more money, no new ideas. The Minister gave not a single new idea or plan how the Government will rescue the population from this nightmare of crime. Yet, they have the unmitigated gall and temerity to blame the Opposition and citizens claiming non-cooperation.”

Persad-Bissessar said she is recommending immediately, implementable initiatives to reduce crime. She called on Government to consider these initiatives ASAP and others will be presented at the anti-crime talks.

Among recommendations, Persad-Bissessar urged a review of the legislation allowing marijuana use.

“There is an exponential increase in marijuana usage and addiction among teens and young adults. Due to the absence of state agency oversight and control of supply, users are smoking marijuana laced with cocaine illegally imported,” she said.

“And they wonder why crime is so high. My government gave youth laptops to learn, this government gave them marijuana.”

She recommended a team to address the imminent arrival and use of Fentanyl.

Another suggestion was that via the Local Government Ministry, councillors oversee formation of a community support council in each polling division of their district. These councils will act like the old village councils, providing guidance, mentorship and support to children, young adults, and parents, and serve as a direct link with police and government representatives.

Citing criminals threats, Persad-Bissessar also urged, “Knock it on them … we need Stand Your Ground Law … ”

She said National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds’ claim that he’s not responsible for citizens’ safety “… is an official admission that they’re a failed Government … ”

“If a government cannot provide this legal guarantee of safety and protection for citizens’ lives, limbs, families, and homes, it is no longer a government for the people that stands by the people.”

Persad-Bissessar said due to Government’s “inaction,” some members of the fake elite funded by narco-money have embedded themselves into parts of the economy, thus fuelling crime.

“A large portion of our economy, mainly the underground economy, is financed by drug money,” she said.

She said the fight against crime must be holistic, including prevention, detection, conviction, and rehabilitation.

Her recommendations include:

• Increase covert operations at seaports, airports.

• Install Security Electronic Billboards

• Reactivate community comfort patrols; strengthen a rebranded highway patrol unit

• Properly staff the severely understaffed E999 call centre, where citizens are forced to wait for over 45 minutes at times, and no one answers

• Increase/maintain CCTV cameras throughout T&T

• Restructure social programmes that have become gang and criminal activity havens.

• Introduce the anonymous anti-bullying app for students to make reports.

• Introduce parent patrols in schools to maintain discipline with deans, teachers, and Student Support Services.

• All students must undergo free, mandatory, annual physical and medical screening by state-approved public and private medical doctors to examine for physical abuse, substance abuse, sexual abuse, malnutrition, and diseases.

• Enforced zero-tolerance approach to physical violence in schools. Any student physically attacking another student must be immediately removed and only be allowed to return after completing neuro-diagnostic testing and a proper counselling programme

• Short-term assessment to identify the scale of involvement of illegal immigrants in criminal activity to develop a plan on this

• Properly support the poorly utilised, understaffed Transnational Organised Crime Unit

• Enhance/fully reimplement the National Operations Centre.

• Immediately implement electronic data access in all police vehicles; integrate a fully computerised crime statistics and reporting system; computerisation of all police stations.

• Stand your ground laws, creation of the offence of home invasions. Allowance for the right to bear arms or modifications to the current legislation to make acquiring firearms by law-abiding citizens easier

• Legislation to make gating communities easier

• Increased municipal police complements

• Police officers full-time in all schools.

• Increased TTDF retirement age

• Personal licensed firearms to all active TTPS and prison officers

• Electronic ankle bracelets and house arrest

• State support for children of incarcerated persons

• Revamped witness protection programme.

• A forensic science complex/training facility at the UWI Debe campus.

• Review legislation to enable citizens to hire private attorneys representing their interests at hearings for party and bar licences. The current system is corrupted.

• Legislation for mandatory cut-off time for all public events requiring dancehall licences not held within an enclosed building. Exceptions to be made during the carnival season.

Persad-Bissessar suggested the reinforcement of the National Student Hotline (free talk) 800-4321 to provide professional counselling to students, the “Circle of Hope,” where students speak with trained teachers on issues, and the Retirees Adolescent Partnership programme to aid/supervise low-school performers and out–of–school adolescents.