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Brown on PM’s task force: What about Daniel Guerra?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Opposition MP Dr Amery Browne says he is glad Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has broken her silence on the murder of six-year-old Keyana Cumberbatch and has joined those who have offered condolences to her family. But he has little faith in the new task force she is setting up to protect children because of her poor track record of implementing the recommendations of committees she has set up.


“We are living in tragic times and there is an increase in horrific acts against children,” said Browne, a former social development minister, “and the Prime Minister is fully within her powers to establish any task force she desires.” “The Prime Minister has a very poor track record when it comes to implementing the recommendations from committees.” 



Listing some examples, Browne recalled the James Armstrong committee set up to review the San Fernando to Point Fortin highway project after protests by the Highway Re-route Movement. “They did the work and presented the report to her. It appears it was totally ignored,” he added. Browne also referred to the Daniel Guerra report of two-and-a-half years ago. He said after the murder of eight-year-old Daniel, the PM said she was writing a letter to him (Daniel) and promised to unveil a “Daniel Decree.”


“She also announced the convening of a high-level committee, chaired by Stephen Cadiz, Transport Minister, which would manage the implementation of the Daniel Decree. Since then there has been no action whatsoever with the implementation of the decree and the public does not know of a single meeting.” 



Browne also noted that Cadiz last September said the decree might have sadly fallen by the wayside with the changing of ministers. The Daniel Decree involved NGOs partnering with the Government, the police, army and the private sector to deal with child neglect and abuse. “We can’t afford this task force to be heading in the same direction. The public must remain extremely vigilant,” he added.


The MP also observed that the terms and reference of the new task force were almost the same as in the case of Daniel. He also recalled that Persad-Bissessar, while in opposition, was a fervent champion of the cause of abused children. He said every week she came to Parliament and read out the names of children who were killed, even giving all the sordid details. Charging the approach as a sensational one, he said it was not the one he would use.


Asked his response to child-rights activist Verna St Rose-Greaves’ disruption of Parliament last Friday to call for debate on child protection and her protests in front of Parliament, Browne said that was her style. He said St Rose-Greaves acted in a similar manner against the last administration and the PM was fully aware of her modus operandi when it appointed her a minister. Her actions, he said, did draw attention to the issue.


Browne called for the Children’s Authority to be strengthened with immediate effect and said it must take the lead in advising the public on how to protect children. “The authority has not been supported and empowered,” he added. Children’s Authority chair Stephanie Daly said last week nothing could have been done to save Keyana, no matter what legislation was proclaimed. Daly said there would always be people who would be abused because it happened in their homes.


Responding to questions on whether the authority could actually prevent child abuse, Browne said: “After four years in office, the authority is in the best position to educate the public on its role.” He said as in the UK and other countries where there were also other agencies, including the police, to help in protecting children and defending their rights, a national authority was needed to take the lead in co-ordinating and monitoring those groups. Browne said the UNC and the PNM were united on the need for such an entity.


“The Children’s Authority is not a magical solution to child abuse. That is a societal problem but there are steps to be taken and one is the Children’s Authority,” he said. Giving an update on legislation, Browne said all the pieces of legislation have been updated and passed unanimously with only one to be proclaimed. He said the proclamation of laws was out of Parliament’s ambit. Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, who has a long history of advocacy against violence to women and children, has been tipped to head the task force.


“Nobody has asked me,” Mahabir-Wyatt said yesterday when asked about it. “If I find out about it, I will let you know about that too.” She was asked by the T&T Guardian if she felt the task force would make a difference. “I would like to believe it would be something useful. The need is enormous,” she said. She added, however, she needed to see the terms and reference of the task force, its mandate and deadline before she commented.


“I don’t know who’s on the committee and I don’t like to venture an opinion out of the blue sky,” she said. Last Friday, Mahabir-Wyatt said since 11-year-old Akiel Chambers was murdered in 1998, 20 small children have been killed and nobody had been convicted. She said the Children’s Authority could not do anything in its present state because it had no staff and no premises.


Mahabir-Wyatt also felt the abuse of children was a deep-rooted cultural problem and said preventative programmes on anger management, parenting and child development may have prevented the problem. Verna St Rose-Greaves, who disrupted Parliament last Friday calling for all business to be put on the back-burner and for the protection of children to be discussed, said yesterday she was still recovering. Gender, Youth and Child Development Minister Clifton De Coteau could not be reached for comment. 


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