The much-anticipated bipartisan crime talks proposed by President Christine Kangaloo may not happen after all.
This is as both the Government and the Opposition are pointing fingers of blame at each other for the delay.
However, if the meeting does convene, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has made it clear that he will not be present and accused the UNC of using gimmicks.
Speaking during a media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s yesterday, Rowley said the Government’s focus for the meeting was on the legislative agenda while the Opposition outlined issues such as the Commissioner of Police’s role and stand your ground laws.
However, he noted that it was the participants, namely Attorney General Reginald Armour, suggested as the chair of the meeting, that upset Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The other members of his team include National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales, Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell and Minister of Energy and Energy Industries and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young.
Rowley said, “This is not about me. It is about the Government meeting the Opposition. They deal with personalities. We deal with institutions. This is not for me to promote myself. Self-promotion is for them. I have work up to my eyeball. I can guarantee you, when I am not there, the team that is sent there from this PNM Government will do exactly what the people’s interest requires, which is to look after the people’s interest.
“To tell me and to make it a condition, apparently, she wants to talk to me. She has my phone number. She knows where I live. If the Opposition Leader says she wants to come see me now, I’ll tell her come. But don’t come to tell me that if we have to come to talk about an issue, don’t tell me that if I am not there, it cannot go forward... She wants to promote herself through crime talks. I want the Government to talk to the Opposition. If she can’t find four people to say talk to the Government, then say so,” he added.
The Prime Minister accused the Opposition of wanting crime to continue for its own political gain.
“It is my view, having worked with the people in the Opposition, that they do not want any improvement in the crime situation in this country, because they believe that the country is being beaten down by regular, frequent, outrageous, criminal conduct, that is a political bonanza for them to engage verbally and for them to engage and campaign on electorally. So, they don’t really want any change,” he said.
Rowley added, that his Government’s responsibility is to fight crime.
“If anybody is desperate for a change in this country, in this matter, is the Government. Because the Government is held responsible for the safety and security and the personal conduct of everybody in the country. So, when you tell me that you’re not going to name people unless the Prime Minister is chairing it, you couldn’t be serious.”
He said it was not the first time the UNC refused to partake in crucial meetings and cited the Health Joint Select Committee.
And, while the Opposition did not name all four of its members for the talks, Persad-Bissessar wanted former commissioner of police and leader of the National Transformation Alliance Gary Griffith to take part.
To that, Rowley added, “When the Opposition Leader is telling me that unless the condition is met where Gary Griffith is part of a team to talk, that should tell you all that you need to know.”
He said the Opposition could not dictate the terms and conditions of the talks as the meeting was not about optics.
During her inaugural speech at the ceremonial opening of the Parliament in September, President Kangaloo said the national crime response must be a collaborative effort as she called for unity in Parliament to deal with crime fighting.