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Let’s support state of emergency

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s announcement on Sunday night that the National Security Council had decided to implement a limited state of emergency would have come as a surprise to many people. This was one of the most important decisions that the Government, in general, and the Prime Minister, in particular, has taken. In implementing a state of emergency, the Government has given police officers and soldiers enhanced powers to search people and seize goods without a warrant. The state of emergency gives the armed forces the ability to detain or arrest alleged criminals whose activities may have brought them to the attention of the authorities. The Prime Minister’s decision—and it would have been her’s to make as the chairman of the National Security Council—was taken in the context of a particularly brazen and callous murder spree in a community called Jonestown in Arima on Thursday night. In that incident, two gunmen carrying high-powered machine guns sprayed more than 50 bullets in a parlour.

That would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back but it would only have been the culmination of increasingly brazen acts of violence perpetrated against law-abiding citizens of the country. Clearly, the onslaught against the citizenry required some firm and decisive action from the Government—if only to send a message to the killers that the State is capable of action. Sometimes in a crisis situation, leadership demands action and tough decision-making because to do nothing, or to continue with the status quo, is unacceptable. It is clear that following the Jonestown Massacre, as this newspaper labelled Thursday night’s murder spree in Arima, the Government could not allow the current situation of absolute lawlessness and criminality to continue. In response to the loud outcry from the citizenry for the Government to take some action, the Prime Minister decided that the most appropriate course of action would be this state of emergency.

The citizenry, therefore, have a responsibility to give this latest crime-fighting measure an opportunity to work—even in the context of the considerable inconvenience that the implementation of the limited state of emergency will cause. And there is no doubt about the inconvenience and the impact that the measure will have on T&T’s productivity. The emergency powers regulations prescribe that no one should be in the areas defined as hot spots within the curfew hours without a permit in writing from the Commissioner of Police or such other person or authority. There is little doubt that the implementation of the curfew in the country’s three main cities of Port-of-Spain, Arima and San Fernando will have a serious impact on the country’s thriving entertainment business. There will also be a negative impact on the multi-shift operations at some of the country’s manufacturers and in the petrochemical sector and the country’s reputation as a business-friendly destination for investment in the petrochemical sector may also take a beating.
But this is only for a limited time and in limited and defined parts of the country.

At the end of the day, the population’s hope is that the end result of this limited state of emergency is a significant reduction in the levels of criminality in the country. It is the responsibility of the armed forces—who have been given free rein to go after and apprehend the drug lords and Mr Bigs—to ensure that the action of the Government yields the appropriate and expected results. But the efforts of the country’s police and soldiers in the next fortnight are likely to come to naught if they do not have the support of the citizenry—who are under so much pressure from the criminals. In conclusion, we would like to recognise and salute the efforts of the police officers and soldiers, who have been called upon by the Government to sacrifice time away from their loved ones in this period. We call on them to exercise their enhanced powers with some measure of discretion and fairness.


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