The issue of alleged gang leader Kenneth "Spanish" Rodriguez being awarded a $2 million contract to build the Duncan Street police post took on a new twist yesterday, after Attorney General Anand Ramlogan warned the Police Service to "stop passing the buck" and instead arrest gang leaders it claims to have information on.Further, Ramlogan said the blacklisting of alleged gang leaders and members from acquiring government contracts could present problems for the State, as this could lead to an increase in crime and millions of taxpayers' dollars being spent to defend discriminatory lawsuits."If these people do not get work, what will they do and how will they live? Will it result in a further spike in the crime assuming you are correct in the branding in the first place," Ramlogan said at yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.
Another issue, he warned, was the possibility of the State being sued by purported gang members and leaders if there was no evidence to prove their involvement in crime. Ramlogan said if a list of the names of these individuals was circulated "without" having the evidence to charge and prosecute them, this would be detrimental to the State."I, as Attorney General, would have a very grave concern which I must frankly share with the commissioner of police," he said."If you brand these individuals by publishing their names and pictures in the absence of cogent, clear and compelling evidence that is admissible on behalf of the prosecution in a court of law, then all of these persons will come to sue the Attorney General and the State for defamation of character and discrimination and breach of their constitutional right to equality of treatment and equality and protection of the law."
He highlighted the arrests of 21 residents of Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain, during the state of emergency in 2011. The men, Ramlogan said, were freed after Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard told Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar there was insufficient evidence against them to sustain the charges.Ramlogan said if they were targeted unfairly, such individuals could also seek redress by going to the Equal Opportunity Commission to file a complaint about the inequality of treatment "by a high state functionary, namely the commissioner of police."
"The commissioner of police cannot pass the buck for fighting crime," he said."The Government cannot put handcuffs on any citizen and we cannot investigate any crime. That is the function of the Police Service." Ramlogan's comments came a day after Housing Development Corporation (HDC) managing director Jearlean John denied Rodriguez was either a contractor or sub-contractor on the police post.Last Friday, however, Rodriguez had featured prominently on a tour of the project with John, Housing Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, National Security Minister Gary Griffith and acting Police Commissioner Stephen Williams. He subsequently addressed members of the media at the assignment and denied claims being circulated that a gang leader had been awarded the contract. He said he was a community leader who owned his own construction company and was a hard worker.
But at the launch of an anti-bullying campaign on Tuesday, Williams told members of the media the police had intelligence Rodriguez was involved in gang activity and had passed on this information to the Government. Yesterday, Ramlogan said this was not enough."The obvious question is if the police know who the gang leaders and the gang members are, why is it they are not behind bars and why is it they are not being charged with credible evidence so that they can be prosecuted and put behind bars?" he said."If the commissioner of police knows who the gang leaders are, then they must go and put handcuffs on them and the Government will applaud them and the Government will salute them and the people of this country will pay tribute to them."
He said in the absence of that evidence, he would "urge caution" to Williams before he made "such sweeping statements and putting it in the framework and manner that he (Williams) has, as it could lead to an avalanche of litigation against the State."Saying the Government's position remained "clear," Ramlogan said if there was evidence of gang-related activity or "gang membership" involved in any facet of "public or private life," then the Police Service must arrest or prosecute."That is the position when we assumed office, it remains a position today and it will never change," Ramlogan added.
No one entitled to contracts
Contacted yesterday, National Security Minister Gary Griffith said the granting of government contracts was not an "entitlement" to anyone. However, he reiterated his intention to root out criminal elements from state contracts.Drawing reference to the United States visa system, Griffith said not everyone was guaranteed a visa as there were various intelligence agencies who gathered information on people which were then passed on and scrutinised before a visa was awarded."The US government has its own watchlist, for example those suspected of being terrorists and other criminals, and they certainly do not give out visas to each and everybody," he said."So the awarding of a contract certainly is not an entitlement to anyone. What I intend to do is get the names of those who are gang leaders and gang members and pass them out to the relevant agencies so they would be aware of this, especially where the awarding of contracts was concerned."Williams said yesterday that he had not heard Ramlogan's comments and therefore could not comment.