Accused gang bosses can bid for contracts, Trinidad PM says


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(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) –Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley says if he acts un­fair­ly against in­di­vid­u­als who have not been con­vict­ed of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ty he will be in breach of his oath of of­fice.

Speak­ing to re­porters in Moru­ga yes­ter­day, Row­ley said if such per­sons are en­gag­ing in crime the po­lice must take ac­tion.

“At the end of the day, those of us who hold the post that I hold, we do some­thing that none of you have to do in this coun­try, ex­cept for Bar, those on the Ju­di­cia­ry, is to swear the oath of of­fice: to act with­out fear or favour, with­out mal­ice or ill will,” Row­ley said.

“So if a per­son has a crim­i­nal record and I act against that per­son with ill will, I would be in breach of my oath of of­fice. But if the per­son is en­gag­ing in crim­i­nal con­duct, well that is a mat­ter for this (po­lice) of­fi­cer and his staff. He will fol­low the law and the po­lice will and must take ac­tion.”

Row­ley said while he does not know who gets or who does not get a gov­ern­ment con­tract, if there is im­pro­pri­ety the Gov­ern­ment can iden­ti­fy it and act on it.

The PM’s com­ment came in the wake of a Sun­day Guardian ar­ti­cle which high­light­ed re­port com­piled by Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Gary Grif­fith, while he was na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty min­is­ter in the Peo­ple’s Part­ner­ship gov­ern­ment, which re­vealed crim­i­nal gang lead­ers were ben­e­fit­ing from state con­tracts. The 17-page re­port not­ed that the gang mem­bers, many of whom op­er­at­ed along the East-West Cor­ri­dor, were us­ing their in­flu­ence to ob­tain lu­cra­tive con­tracts from the Hous­ing De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, Un­em­ploy­ment Re­lief Pro­gramme, CEPEP and Life­S­port pro­gramme.

Some of the gang lead­ers iden­ti­fied in Grif­fith’s re­port were held dur­ing last week’s an­ti-gang op­er­a­tion. While the op­er­a­tion has been ap­plaud­ed, there has been pub­lic con­cern over the sus­pects’ quick re­lease from cus­tody. De­spite this, Row­ley said it does not mean that the po­lice’s process has not worked. He said the po­lice had to fol­low a pro­ce­dure, where­by they de­tain those sus­pect­ed of a crime for up to 48 hours.

“You can be ar­rest­ed for 48 hours and not be charged be­cause of the strength of the ev­i­dence. It does not mean that you did not do any­thing wrong, but the strength of the ev­i­dence to get you suc­cess­ful­ly pros­e­cut­ed might not be there… Un­der our laws, you can be ar­rest­ed on sus­pi­cion.

“But if it is on­ly sus­pi­cion that caused you to be ar­rest­ed, the po­lice has the au­thor­i­ty to keep you for 48 hours or go to the court and ask for an ex­ten­sion. Your lawyer will come and ar­gue against it. Be­cause you have been ar­rest­ed and you have been re­leased, it does not mean that the process has not worked.”

Row­ley al­so com­mend­ed Grif­fith, say­ing he was a hard-work­ing com­mis­sion­er who was fac­ing the re­al­i­ty of T&T’s sit­u­a­tion. He said the morale of the po­lice ser­vice was strength­en­ing and polic­ing was be­com­ing more suc­cess­ful.

No PNM ties to crim­i­nals

On Sun­day, Oropouche East MP Dr Roodal Mooni­lal said the lu­cra­tive con­tracts be­ing giv­en to gang lead­ers was un­der­min­ing the po­lice’s war against gangs. He called on Row­ley to ter­mi­nate con­tracts with gang lead­ers and take ac­tion against any min­is­ter who gave such con­tracts. He said Row­ley con­tin­ued to har­bour se­nior gov­ern­ment min­is­ters with known links to peo­ple be­fore the courts and oth­er al­leg­ed gang lead­ers.

Asked about Mooni­lal’s claim yes­ter­day, a vis­i­bly up­set Row­ley said if he is giv­en ev­i­dence that shows any of his min­is­ters hav­ing close ties with any gang leader he will take ac­tion.

When asked about the “close ties” be­tween Min­is­ter of Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion Mar­lene Mc­Don­ald and Sea Lots res­i­dent Cedric “Burkie” Burke, who was ar­rest­ed dur­ing last week’s an­ti-gang op­er­a­tion, Row­ley said he did not know what “close ties” meant. He said he knew Mc­Don­ald was the MP for the com­mu­ni­ty where Burke re­sides. He al­so said there were peo­ple in his Diego Mar­tin West con­stituen­cy who were of “great in­ter­est to the po­lice.” He clar­i­fied that Mc­Don­ald was not pre­vi­ous­ly dis­missed from his Cab­i­net for hav­ing close ties with a gang leader, but for be­ing ac­com­pa­nied by Burke dur­ing a swear­ing-in func­tion at Pres­i­dent’s House.

The PM said the me­dia was la­belling all politi­cians as the same when the truth was that the Peo­ple’s Na­tion­al Move­ment had a dif­fer­ent track record to the Unit­ed Na­tion­al Con­gress. He said MPs have all kinds of peo­ple with­in their con­stituen­cies, in­clud­ing crim­i­nals. But when a par­ty choos­es those peo­ple through a screen­ing process and put them as can­di­dates for gov­ern­ment, there was some­thing wrong. He said the records would show that kind of se­lec­tion was not the PNM way.

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