T&T extends curfew
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago government Sunday used its majority to extend a state of emergency imposed on the country since August 21 by a further three months and assured citizens that the crisis which had brought about the measure in the first instance had been averted.
By a margin of 29-10, with two opposition legislators not being present, the Parliament also agreed to reduce the curfew from 9.00 pm to 5. 00 am to 11.00 pm to 4.00 am (local time) as of Tuesday.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, wrapping up more than 18 hours of debate by legislators on the need to extend the state of emergency, said the measure had caught those engaged in the illegal drugs trade by surprise especially those who had been planning retaliation that “could only result in senseless, violent bloodshed and mayhem.
She told legislators that illegal drugs were the “stock in trade” of the various gangs operating here and that once the business is deprived of its stock, their ability to meet customer demand is adversely affected.
She said that the entire supply and distribution network, which utiluse Trinidad and Tobago as a trans-shipment point and customer base had been jolted and weakened by recent police seizures and as a result “the criminal underworld was bound to retaliate”.
The Prime Minister told legislators that “the threat to public safety, law and order was real and imminent” and that the “planned retaliation by the gangs involved in the drug trade represented a clear and present danger to national security and innocent law-abiding citizens”.
But she assured the country that “the crisis has been averted” and that the “firm and decisive action taken by the government by declaring this state of public emergency caught them by surprise.
“The declaration of war by the State on criminals who terrorize our citizens was something they did not expect,” she said, adding “while her administration is not at liberty to disclose the sensitive details of national security “it is a matter of public record the security services, have, in recent times, made a number of important drug seizures”.
Opposition legislators had argued that there was no need for the country to be placed under a state of emergency since various pieces of legislation, such as the anti gang act, the bail act provided law enforcement authorities with the ammunition needed to confront the gang situation in the country.
Former works and transport minister Colm Imbert told legislators that since the two week old state of emergency had resulted in a 30 per cent “across the board” decline in business here with the restaurant and hospitality sectors among those most affected.
“people are out of jobs in certain establishments, the working hours of other persons are being reduced in hotels and restaurants because people can’t work at night anymore,” Imbert said of the effects of the eigh hour curfew, adding “there is a concomitant effect on their income and they can’t make their payments to the banks for loans….
“From the research we have done, the consensus from the business people who have been speaking to us privately…what the business people tell us is that small businesses cannot sustain a three month state of emergency.
“Medium sized businesses would be very hard hit and only large businesses and conglomerates are going to to be able to sustain the negative effects of this three month extension. That is going to the economic impact of the state of emergency. You going to have a number of small business people who are going to have to close down their businesses and retrench their employees,” he warned.
But Finance Minister, Winston Dookeran, who urged opposition legislators to support the extension of the state of emergency, said that “physical safety is the first and primary responsibility of the State.
“… anyone who attempts to compromise that physical safety of the citizen…is indeed not upholding what is the primary responsibility of the State and a government of that State,” he said .
The government has said that since the state of emergency was imposed, 1, 356 people had been detained including 420 on gang related activities and 252 for drug offences. They said that 33 firearms and 1, 700 rounds of ammunition had also been seized.
But Imbert questioned why “people in high places” were not being arrested, while former social development minister Dr. Amery Browne said that the authorities needed to look at some of the individuals who made large contributions’ to the government during the election campaign.
“Just take a look and you might be filing your trucks with a different type of individual,” he said, adding that the authorities needed to raid the “casinos, the real estate agency, the fancy restaurants and the big businesses” which could conceal the roots of the drug industry.
But the Prime Minister defended the state of emergency saying it has worked and accused the opposition of doing nothing over the past 10 years when “the violent and heartless criminal element responsible for rivers of blood that flowed through our streets” moved freely across the country.