Saturday 28th August, 2004

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War footing plans

When the various defence forces heed the order to come to attention at Tuesday’s Independence Day parade, they will do so as major national security development plans by these units begin falling into place.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s No 1 headache—crime—has taken a back seat to more pressing medical matters for him recently.

But others like former Senate President Michael J Williams, still saddled with the problem, remain hopeful of feasible solutions.

In Williams’ case, he hopes he does not suffer the same fate as his predecessor colleague, Dr Wahid Ali, did recently.

And it’s for that reason Williams is hoping the Prime Minister returns from his surgery in Cuba today with a properly working heart.

Williams expressed his concerns about the Government’s lack of consultation on various national issues—including crime—in a colourful letter this week hoping the Prime Minister’s pacemaker surgery and projected improved health will foster a change of attitude in the Manning administration.

“The Prime Minister isn’t properly consulting with the population on many things, and within his own party there are many top-level people who tell me privately, there is no consultation with them either,” Williams added Thursday.

Certainly, there seemed to be no shortage during the Prime Minister’s absence of PNM Ministers who said they did not know anything about his surgery, his subsequent delay and the reasons behind all of it.

Several days over schedule, at last notice the Prime Minister was expected to return home tonight.

Just how much of a “satisfactory condition” (as Whitehall stated) he’s in is left to be seen.

Also, details of his Cuba stay to be heard (one would hope) and how much hurricane damage, airline flights or new medications really figured in this.

Meanwhile, new anti-crime strategies adopted by Manning’s administration this week were still left “wanting” in the view of some.

But agencies other than the police have been sprucing up as well.

Last Tuesday, prior to the Defence Force anniversary parade, heads of the various armed forces delivered a power point presentation to their commander-in-chief at President’s House on long-term plans for T&T’s security.

Defence Force head Ancil Antoine, Col Phillip Spencer and several Coast Guard captains based their presentation on a document entitled “T&T and the Defence Force on the Road to 2020.”

The contents, meant to align historical and current development initiatives, include the following:

n Shifting of Camp Ogden in the north to central Trinidad.

n Moving the Mausica battalion to San Fernando.

n Strengthening of Camp Hope in Tobago.

n Armed light aircraft for the Coast Guard (plus attack helicopter and fast patrol boats).

n Leasing of helicopters within a few months, augmented by US pilots on contract.

n Projections of guarding oilfield, offshore energy sites and LNG docking locations via helicopter.

n Acquisition of more Coast Guard vehicles.

n The suggestion has also been made by the Coast Guard for a separation of power to establish a new CG air wing with different uniforms and crew.

The presentation was impressive enough to prompt President George Maxwell Richards—addressing the Defence Force’s anniversary parade the day after—to put officers on notice that T&T is on a “war footing.”

Observations at the meeting were also made about the intelligence aspect and several constraints in this area, including in current operations with the police, a source confirmed.

Government’s anti-crime battle from all evidence is proceeding based largely on intelligence. But certain grey areas exist.

National Security Minister Martin Joseph has been short on details regarding the recent creation of another post of Police Commissioner (Intelligence).

In the last budget, the Government announced the Peter Joseph Special Anti-Crime Unit of T&T (SAUTT). At a June press briefing, former Police Commissioner Everald Snaggs said police had merged intelligence gathering with SAUTT.

Considering the merged SAUTT/ police intelligence operation headed by Brig Joseph, some police officials have queried the need for the new PC (Intelligence) and how the situation will work.

Legislative moves, however, continue to figure in the plan.

Parliament resumes next Friday with a few bills from the last couple months to be concluded, along with the 2005 Budget, possibly.

At least one anti-crime measure will be on the next parliamentary schedule expected to start in October after Parliament prorogues and reconvenes.

This will be a revised version of the Anti-Kidnapping Bill which the Government signalled intention to present in July.

Business groups, though, are still preparing for a possible re-emergence of the foiled police reform bills.

Various groups, mainly in north, commissioned a legal opinion from attorneys last month. It is not complete, they said Wednesday.

Prior to the unsuccessful debate, Public Administration Minister Lenny Saith had said the Government could always bring the bills back to Parliament if they failed. But not before six months, according to parliamentary regulations.

On Wednesday, Saith did not confirm or deny that the bills may be brought back to Parliament early in 2005.

“There’s been no decision on that move—it has not come up yet,” he said.

Former Senate President Williams, who supported the legislation, believes the bills should be brought back to Parliament. But only after “proper” consultation with the public.

Noting the fate of former Senate President Dr Ali—mugged recently while exercising— Williams said: “The situation is worrisome. The police must be brought under control, but by whom is the question. I don’t think the Prime Minister and his team are competent to handle it. The Government has to accept responsibility.

“The population wasn’t properly consulted on the bills. They should have been articulated more thoroughly to them. I find nothing wrong with the bills as they are and I’d agree they should be brought back to Parliament again. But the public must be consulted.”

Williams added: “The Government must also apply the principle of consultation wider on national issues and major matters such as resiting one’s Parliament—there’s been no consultation on that either.”

He also said: “Before general election several persons were persuaded to support the Prime Minister. Some of them now on State boards. Tell me, however, that he hasn’t changed from what he was. I hope his improved health now will change this.”





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