Ameen: Government neglecting ‘soft’ measures against criminality

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

St Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen and Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee during a recent sitting of Parliament. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

ST Augustine MP Khadijah Ameen on Wednesday accused the Government of having failed to support “soft” measures to curb the root causes of crime.

She was answering questions at a briefing at the UNC headquarters in Chaguanas.

Newsday recalled Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds recently saying the Government spent billions of dollars on education, healthcare and social welfare but crime was still being rampant, implying some sort of disconnect. Would the Opposition seek a parliamentary debate on the causes of crime?

Ameen replied, “We in the Opposition believe it is important to engage the public in recommendations for crime-fighting and for reducing criminal activities.

“When in government, we successfully reduced the number of murders and serious crimes tremendously over our tenure both under the Basdeo Panday-led government as well as recently by the Kamla Persad-Bissessar-led government. So we do not speak just in theory.”

She said the UNC was effective in reducing crime.

“It is a multi-pronged approach. One of the things is that you have the ‘hard approach’ and the ‘soft approach’.”

The hard approach, she said, was boots on the ground, law enforcement, army/police joint patrols, imprisonment and fines, and having an effective justice system.

“But you also have the soft approach, in terms of providing mediation for young offenders and in terms of having opportunities in sport, education and technical/vocational training, particularly for young people, at-risk persons in these areas that are considered vulnerable in terms of a high number of crime and gang-related activity.

“We find that when there is constructive activity, young people will go in a positive direction, as opposed to falling prey to gang leaders and criminal activities.”

Ameen said some youngsters from very poor families felt a need to drop out of school, ending up selling drugs to try to earn a quick income.

“But what alternatives have this Government provided?

“We have seen training programmes – agencies responsible for tertiary education and skills training – shut down.

“We have seen sporting programmes closed. We have seen training facilities – national, local and regional – go into shambles.

“What this means is that our young children with athletic ability end up turning away from sport.

Ameen called on the Government to quickly say when it would engage in the promised crime talks with the Opposition.

“The Leader of the Opposition (Kamla Persad-Bissessar) has indicated that the Opposition stands ready to engage the public in discussions concerning crime, crime prevention and making TT a safer place.”

Pointe-a-Pierre MP David Lee said, “We have in the last eight years I think on three occasions filed a private motion to debate crime.”

He said the Opposition in Parliament had often filed to seek to debate crime as a definite matter of urgent public importance, such as the time when five people were killed within one weekend, plus no-confidence motions against Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds.

“The Leader of the Opposition has said we will go out to the stakeholders, go out to our communities, go out to the five or four different areas using the corporation or the map, to hear the views of people on crime.

“Then maybe we will file another motion to debate crime in its fullness, given what you have just mentioned to us. So we take that on advisement.”

Lee said he has been touched by home invasion as his aunt and uncle were victims and had to flee the country. He said Opposition MPs walk the road without security guards.

Newsday asked the Opposition’s views on Hinds saying a new forensic science centre (FSC), funded by China Aid, will be built at Farm Road, St Joseph.

Ameen replied, “The Opposition made strong objections to the use of that St Augustine Nurseries at Farm Road being utilised for anything except agriculture purposes. The PNM first proposed to use that farm for a multi-storey housing complex, which she claimed was an attempt at voter-padding.

“Residents and stakeholders came out and objected strongly.”

She said the UNC’s position remained the same. “We believe in securing agriculture land for agriculture purposes. We believe we must strengthen TT so we can feed ourselves.

“We believe the Government must re-evaluate the use of agriculture land for anything except agriculture including housing. We’d ask them to re-evaluate.”

Ameen said the UNC has been asking for improvements at the existing FSC including staffing, equipment and accommodation.

“But certainly our position has not changed with regard to agricultural land being used for non-agricultural purposes.”

Lee said the Government has bandied about the idea of a new FSC for eight years. He said that while it was much-needed to help fight crime and while it was a gift from China, he couldn’t understand why the Government wished to build it on agricultural land when there were so many other places it could be placed.

Earlier, Ameen said the Opposition supported law-abiding efforts to deem certain areas as gated communities. She introduced Seema Ramsaran-Augustine, councillor for Valsayn/ St Joseph on the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation, who described the steps to liaise with the authorities to so designate an area.