As the PNM administration prepares to ask the population for a second term in office, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is asking that citizens not judge his administration solely on the out of control murder rate even though he admitted that his government has not been successful on crime.
Runaway crime has been one of the failings that have tarnished the PNM administration’s record of office with more than 2000 citizens being killed under their watch. Since the PNM took office in 2015, murders moved from 463 in 2016 to 538 in 2019. Last year’s figure represented the second highest murder toll in this country’s history. Although Dr Keith Rowley is optimistic that citizens will notice results in the coming weeks and months, he also believes the entire country is underestimating the challenge posed by criminals.
“It would not be fair to the government to be measured by this situation that didn’t arise overnight, and is not a feature of this administration,” Dr Rowley said.
“While we would not have eliminated or even reduced murders as we have embarked upon, there are a lot of other things that the government has been successful at, so I would hope that the population will judge us on the broader canvas than this chronic problem that we are grappling with,” said the prime minister.
That position contrasts that taken in the PNM’s 2015 manifesto where it criticised the UNC for a murder count that exceeded 400, lamenting that violent crime was “out of control.” When questioned on this, Dr Rowley credited that statement to an expression of optimism about the effort that his administration intended to make. But in a one-on-one interview at the Prime Minister’s office at Whitehall, he admitted that enthusiasm had not yet yielded the desired results.
“We have not made the level of progress that the citizens expect and demand and are entitled to,” the Prime Minister conceded in a noticeably calm tone. “We are in fact facing an ongoing crime wave.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Dr Rowley fielded questions on crime, the economy, marijuana decriminalisation, succession planning, among other topics. The interview request was accepted under the strict agreement that no topic or question would be off the table, Guardian Media would have complete control over the line of questioning, and that the interview would be aired without edits.
Despite the abysmal result, Dr Rowley has given National Security Minister Stuart Young his full support. “I don’t see a ministerial change as the response,” Dr Rowley asserted when questioned whether Young would continue in the national security post.
“The energy he brings and the dedication are what is required,” he continued.
He said Minister Stuart Young has “a very difficult job” but he is satisfied that he is making the required effort with some room for improvement. Young is the second minister to hold the post, succeeding Edmund Dillon whose tenure was marred by a rise in murders well above the 400 figure.
In the one and a half-hour long sit down, Dr Rowley would not admit that he and his government underestimated the job of getting the crime situation under control. ‘If the government is not part of the solution, then it is part of the problem’ was one of Dr Rowley’s most forceful statements on crime while in opposition.
After failing to reduce crime in the last four years, we asked whether his own statement should be applied to his government. But Dr Rowley said it was not applicable if the government was “making the effort that is required.”
PM never smoked weed
Despite spending many years living in Jamaica, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said he has never smoked marijuana.
“No sir,” he responded when asked directly whether he had ever smoked marijuana.
“It was never my ambition, it is not my ambition,” he responded forcefully in a sit down interview at Whitehall on Friday. On December 23rd, the Dangerous Drugs Act officially became law, allowing adults to have in their possession up to 30 grammes of marijuana and each adult in every home can own up to four plants.
But even with the laxing of the laws, Dr. Rowley had a warning, especially for young people.
“I want to appeal to our young people, especially those easily influenced at the high school level, that marijuana smoking is not to be recommended,” he said. According to him, it is classified for good reason under the heading of dangerous drug because “it could harm you.”
Dr. Rowley said he has had first-hand experience of people who have “ruined their lives on marijuana.”
“It [decriminalisation] is not a license to go and burn as many acres as you could,” the PM said.
He denied that the legislation was accelerated to coincide with the local government elections. It is also likely that the secondary piece of legislation will also be passed this year, but dr. Rowley insisted none of this was programmed in the context of an election.
Demonetisation revealed ‘unacceptable behaviour’
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has revealed that the $100 demonetisation process was a success as it has exposed ‘the level of unacceptable behaviour of some citizens in this country.
Dr Rowley did not provide details about some of the major findings of the exercise, saying there would be a process of review. He also noted that various ministries would address some of the findings directly.
‘The exercise was worth it,’ Dr Rowley said, adding it was necessary and placed the country in a much better position to “treat with white-collar crime, to treat with elements of general criminality across the country.”
He noted that as chairman of the National Security Council, he was “absolutely satisfied” that the decision was necessary.
Citizens, including the elderly, faced long lines at banks during the busy Christmas season to change over their old cotton notes. The government insisted it was a matter of national security and needed to be done urgently. The Prime Minister is of the view that “the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience that some people would have experienced.”
Businesses complained that the exercise adversely affected their operations at one of the busiest and most profitable periods of the year.
However, the Prime Minister believes the exercise “meshed” well with the Christmas period. Dr Rowley suggested that “a lot of money that would otherwise not have been brought into the economy came in.” He said many people who commented on the process did not have all the facts as, he said, “many business houses will tell you that they had surprisingly good sales this year.”
Dr Rowley said no time would have been ideal for the changeover and the government had to decide on the interest of the country.