As the country grapples with a murder rate of 408, which is 10 deaths shy of the figure recorded at the same time last year, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has refused to rate the performance of Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds and Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher.
Dr Rowley was asked his thoughts on the crime situation and the murder rate during an interview at the cocktail reception in the Rotunda of the Red House following the ceremonial opening of the Fourth Session of the 12th Parliament yesterday.
“As you would have observed, I have not joined that conversation of counting murders—and the National Security Minister, the National Security Minister works with me and I understand what he is doing, what we are doing, and what the nation’s problem is so I’m not going to join that conversation of measuring one or two here or there because if we have 10 murders, that is 10 too many,” he said.
During her maiden speech in the Parliament, President Christine Kangaloo also urged members of both Houses to unite in the fight against crime.
Addressing this, Dr Rowley said the People’s National Movement (PNM) will continue to encourage the United National Congress (UNC) to put country first, but he expressed doubt that this would be possible, citing a parliamentarian who displayed less than honourable behaviour during the formal opening.
“What I saw today, a Member of Parliament attempting to insult the President in the chamber, while she’s addressing the nation, I don’t see that change,” Rowley said.
“I would like to see it (collaboration on crime) but there are Members of Parliament who, as far as I’m concerned, are not prepared to see beyond what they believe is their prospect in the next election,” he added.
Although he did not name the political figure, Guardian Media captured footage of Opposition Senator Anil Roberts with his back turned for the duration of the President’s speech. When members of both sides stood at the end of her address, he also remained seated until the national anthem was played.
However, the Prime Minister said he recognised the urgency of Kangaloo’s call for unity among politicians to combat crime, which remains a serious issue.
“The President is attuned to the fact that we have a very serious crime problem, and we have to keep working at it, whether it is five things or fifteen things, we do all that we can to get the better of the criminal element,” he said.
On another issue, Dr Rowley, who called himself a “pan aficionado”, said the Government will “do what we can do” and seek legal advice towards officially declaring the steelpan the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago. He said his administration had already invested significantly in creating facilities, training and introducing the instrument in schools, as well as outside of the country.
Shifting his attention to the President’s acknowledgement that some people believe parliamentarians should not be paid at all, Rowley said it was a sentiment as old as time. He noted that parliamentarians in Trinidad and Tobago had not had a pay increase in the eight years since he has been in office, which was a promise he kept.
With the Cabinet on a working retreat from last evening until Wednesday, Rowley shied away from comments on whether a Cabinet reshuffle was pending.
Asked if he would disclose anything about rumours of a reshuffle which surfaced on social media recently, Rowley replied, “Are you available for an appointment?” The PM then walked away with a smile.