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Taking Armstrong’s advice
Opposition Leader Keith Rowley’s quip that he took great pleasure in speaking about women, on International Women’s Day, was one of the last few light moments in the House of Representatives yesterday. After that, it was on to duelling arguments from Government and Opposition on the Defence Act to precept soldiers to assist police in the anti-crime fight.
Government, heeding concerns, proposed the legislation for a two-year period via sunset clause, instituting a special majority vote for passage, hoping to convince the objecting PNM. But even Attorney General Anand Ramlogan’s disclosures that the PNM government had also used soldiers frequently in its own anti-crime exercises, didn’t appear to change the PNM’s mind on the bill.
Despite the Opposition’s recent acknowledgement that the crime problem was a national one, not only in Opposition seats, and requiring everyone’s efforts, the PNM and Roundtable colleagues have shied away from supporting the legislation while citizens await some plan. If Dr James Armstrong said Monday he still sensed a combative spirit among parties in the Debe-Mon Desir highway segment issue, calling for them to work it out together, he should probably render similar advice with this matter.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, with regional and international colleagues in Venezuela, missed yesterday’s debate on the Defence bill. The crime situation is particularly awkward for Persad-Bissessar, who chairs Caricom’s crime and security committee and who assumes chairmanship of Caricom in July, following which T&T is expected to host the next Caricom summit.
Government already has, in neighbouring Venezuela, examples of what excesses of populist governments can cause. Activities may heat up soon as interim President Nicholas Maduro seeks to win late President Hugo Chavez’s minions following his death. The mourning period has provided Maduro opportunity for campaigning on the image of his mentor.
Venezuelan Opposition forces obtained 10 per cent less than Chavez’s winning 55 per cent vote last year. The story there will unfold in an environment where Chavez’s opponent, the US, recently admitting to arming the Syrian Opposition, is monitoring the country with the world’s largest oil reserves and has sought an olive branch approach after Chavez’s death. While PNM’s alternatives to the soldier defence are being debated, certain Opposition MPs have tried to itemise the causes of crime to find solutions.
PNM Laventille West MP Nileung Hypolite believes the current spike is drug-trade related more than concerning project turf. PNM Senator Penny Beckles said young men “out there” are angry. PNM Port-of-Spain MP Marlene McDonald believes youths in her area are angry over unemployment.
Laventille East MP Donna Cox added: “The anger’s due in part because youths are unemployed, some are unskilled, but not necessarily only because of projects. I’ve had the highest number coming to me for jobs in the last year. But anger is also largely due to the social issues unaddressed.”
“Some of it is due to poor parenting or absent fathers and misplaced anger over this. Some people feel since their parents were strict they shouldn’t be strict with their kids. I’ve seen kids without school supplies or missing school, yet they’re at every bazaar in the latest weave, most expensive sneakers and Louis Vuitton purse.”
Cox added, “So simply throwing money at the crime problem isn’t the solution or Government input alone. Some areas complain known criminals are getting contracts and that causes some of the killing. Sustainable employment is needed. Communities have a big role to do in supporting situations where parents fail. Churches in the relevant areas need to reach out more—it takes all of us.”
Whether or not Government has misdiagnosed the solution to the problem or is seeking a quick fix via the army defence plan, both sides must work some solution out together or both risk losing credibility. One Opposition MP, anticipating a late night debate yesterday, put it, however: “This legislation will be as dead as fried chicken by the weekend.” Hopefully that would not have to read, “as dead as T&T” in the near future.
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