Way clear for Government, Opposition collaboration – GRIFFITH OUT OF CRIME TALKS

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

National Transformation Alliance political leader Gary Griffith –

RONEIL WALCOTT

After weeks of speculation about whether crime talks between Government and the Opposition would happen, former police commissioner Gary Griffith says he is clearing the way for the discussions by bowing out of the Opposition’s team.

On Monday, Griffith issued a press release which accused the Prime Minister of “seeking excuses” and making him the scapegoat in stalling crime discussions.

The political leader of the National Transformation Alliance (NTA) said, “Politics should be in the best interest of the people, not personalities.”

“I am a patriot first, and I always put my country above everything else. This is why, after consultations with Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar,…I have agreed to forgo my inclusion in anti-crime talks with the government.”

Griffith said he is disappointed with Dr Rowley’s narrow focus, and he hopes his withdrawal can pave the way for the important discussions. Griffith said he will continue to render support to the Opposition regardless of his political affiliation, but there must be open conversations on the “100-plus policies” and different implementations, shut down since his tenure as police commissioner ended in August 2021.

“It was clear that Prime Minister Rowley, fuelled by bitterness and rage, or maybe simply being intimidated to face me, was prepared to use my inclusion as an excuse, falsely depicting it as a ‘deal breaker.’

“It is now hoped that maturity takes precedence over emotion, and he not only agrees to terms for the anti-crime talks with the Opposition but that he also attends and leads his team.”

Speaking last Monday during a media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, Rowley said the Opposition viewed the current crime rate as helpful to its chances of regaining office.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley –

He said the Opposition was not serious about crime as they had not submitted their list of names for the crime talks, although Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, had written to the opposition requesting their list.

He also accused the Opposition of using the back-and-forth over the crime talks as “self-promotion.”

On Monday, Persad-Bissessar also released a statement, saying she hopes Griffith’s decision “will assuage the fears and insecurities of the Prime Minister” to engage the opposition.

She said it was not the time to take stubborn stances when the citizens are terrorised by violent criminals.

She called for humility and co-operation on behalf of the nation’s leaders, who must have love for people and country.

Persad-Bissessar urged the Prime Minister to invite stakeholders to contribute to crime talks, broaden the topics beyond legislation and desist from using anti-crime talks to push political propaganda.

She also wants Rowley to implement numerous policies presented by the Opposition and lead a credible team to represent the government in the crime talks.

Earlier this month, Prof Ramesh Deosaran and criminologist Daurius Figuera slammed the Government and the Opposition for “continuing to pursue petty political agendas” in the face of more serious matters.

Ramsaran called on the ruling party and the Opposition to stop the pappyshow to which the crime talks have amounted.

In a letter on October 12, Rowley wrote to Persad-Bissessar about scheduling bipartisan crime talks immediately after the budget debate in Parliament. The debate ended in the House on October 12 and in the Senate on October 24.

In the letter, Rowley proposed a five-member government team led by Armour to meet with a four-member opposition team to discuss several pieces of anti-crime legislation for passage in Parliament.

Among the legislation proposed by Rowley for discussion was whistleblower protection, anti-gang, bail, interception of communication, cybercrime, and polygraph tests for law-enforcement officers.

The other members identified as part of Government’s team were Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds, Housing Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales and Tourism, Culture, and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell.

In response to Rowley’s letter, Persad-Bissessar criticised the PM for not being part of the Government’s team for the talks.

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar –

On November 3, Armour wrote to Persad-Bissessar to arrange the crime talks. He invited  her to name the members of the Opposition’s team for the talks and said he hoped Persad-Bissessar would reply on or before November 9. A day before that deadline, a senior government official told Newsday the door had been opened for crime talks with the Opposition, but the invitation was not accepted.

“No idea (why the talks have not happened), the ball is in their (UNC) court.”

Last week, Rowley knocked the Opposition for its failure to submit a list of names for the crime talks. He said this was due to his own planned absence from the discussion.

He complained of a lack of support by the Opposition for the Government’s Bail Bill and Anti-Gang Bill until the former became so watered down in Parliament as to garner any opposition support. He also accused the Opposition of refusing to participate in a joint select committee on health.