At least one political scientist believes Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s offer to hold crime talks with Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar may be nothing more than a distraction.
In an interview with Guardian Media yesterday, Professor Hamid Ghany described the tone of Dr Rowley’s letter to Persad-Bissessar, which was dated September 16, as conciliatory and collaborative.
He said while the meeting may become a talkshop, he does not expect Dr Rowley to be concerned over the United National Congress’s (UNC) plan to include National Transformation Alliance leader Gary Griffith on its team. However, he suggested that the timing of these proposed discussions is calculated.
“I think it’s a useful distraction because one of the real big issues that’s looming right now is what’s going on with foreign exchange in the country and I think this will provide a nice sub-issue to be able to spend time talking about violent crime and proposals and so on,” he said.
Ghany was referring to Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s plan to meet with key business stakeholders in light of a forex supply shortage.
In a statement over the weekend announcing his intentions, Imbert blamed the shortage on an unprecedented surge in demand, which he said was partly due to “an explosion in online shopping over the last several years”.
Meanwhile, criminologist Dr Randy Seepersad wants the Government to include more than just politicians to cooperate with the Opposition on crime. He said independents andother arms of the State should be engaged.
“They should consider bringing in somebody, maybe an expert, somebody who has expertise in criminology or criminologists. It shouldn’t be just political because political persons, that’s a very positive step, but of course, quite often politicians are non-specialists. I’m talking about people like the police and the prison service and the judiciary and all these kinds of actors that play a role,” he said.
Dr Seepersad is, however, worried about the implementation of any proposals made.
“I suspect that’s a big part of our problem right now. We don’t have funding to implement even some of the things (legislation) which are amazing,” he said.
He cited the Cure Violence Health Model, which, according to the Organisation of American States (OAS), is a data-driven, research-based, community-centric approach to violence prevention. It was implemented in Trinidad and Tobago from July 2015 to August 2017 and led to significant reductions in violent crimes in areas in and around Port-of-Spain. The programme was reintroduced as Project Building Blocks, which concluded at the end of 2022.
As such, Seepersad urged the Government to seek funding for these initiatives via USAID, the European Union or the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
Dr Seepersad also shut down the UNC’s call for a Ministry of Homeland Security to be created to take control of the Immigration Division, to allow the Ministry of National Security to focus on its gun, gang and human trafficking fight.
“I don’t necessarily see it as something of paramount importance. Really to create more bureaucracy, it just adds perhaps unnecessary cost to create an entirely brand-new ministry. That’s a very expensive thing,” he said.
Meanwhile, noting that some of the population may see Dr Rowley’s proposal as window dressing, political analyst Dr Bishnu Ragoonath said there was room for hope.
Unlike Ghany, Dr Ragoonath was sceptical of Dr Rowley’s ability to accept Griffith as a member of the UNC’s team. As such, he could not say whether the former police commissioner’s involvement would help or hurt the talks.
In August last year, Dr Rowley described Griffith’s appointment as CoP as “the biggest mistake of my life”. At the time, he said he was troubled by the contents of an audit into the Firearms Unit of the TTPS. The two have traded words since then.