Wednesday 28th September, 2005

 
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Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present the National Budget for the fiscal year 2005-2006.

Before proceeding, however, I must thank all those who participated in the pre-Budget activities. I especially want to express my gratitude to the private sector and civil society groups for sharing their perspectives and recommendations on so many issues; and my Cabinet colleagues and other members of the Government for their work in shaping the strategies and programmes that form the core of the Budget. I also salute those public officers who continue to demonstrate the highest levels of professionalism and dedication in preparing all the documents laid before this Honourable House today.

Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding our immediate challenges, we approach a new financial year with a great sense of optimism in the future of Trinidad and Tobago. In recent times, we have had the deep satisfaction of seeing this country evolve to become a global leader in the gas and petrochemical markets; the centre for financial services, business and manufacturing in the Caribbean; a preferred destination for investment in the Western Hemisphere; and one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America and the Caribbean.

I am pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, that the journey to a society to which all citizens can aspire has begun. The initial phase of planning has been completed. A Draft National Strategic Plan has been prepared by the Multisectoral Group, which was given full autonomy in this exercise. May I take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago to thank the members of that Group which was chaired by Mr. Arthur Lok Jack and all those who contributed to the formulation of the Draft Plan and participated in the various Vision 2020 exercises undertaken throughout the country. Your efforts, in spite of the cynicism and lack of faith of some, demonstrate that you are indeed true sons and daughters of this blessed Nation.

This Budget continues to strengthen the platform for achieving the goals of Vision 2020 by responding to those fundamental needs that we desire and deserve to have fulfilled. It gives priority to the issues affecting the family as well as our collective concerns for security and safety, a relevant education system, quality health care services, adequate housing and poverty reduction.

Mr. Speaker, achieving Vision 2020 will require a great deal of introspection on the part of all of us in this country. As a people, we must re-examine our values and attitudes. We must develop a greater sense of national and personal pride, community ownership, environmental sensitivity, respect, discipline, tolerance, responsibility and a culture of performance and excellence. If we want to enjoy a higher quality of life, we must also be prepared to work harder and be more productive.

This Budget, therefore, zeros in on those basic elements that will ensure our future prosperity and, ultimately, our ascension to the standards of the developed world.

But Mr. Speaker, while we work towards this development, we must continue to deal with the issue of crime and safety of our citizens.

SAFE COMMUNITIES

Mr. Speaker, the escalation of violent crime and anti-social behaviour constitute the most fundamental threat to the economic and social development of our country and the well-being of our people.

Understanding the Problem

Any effective strategy to control crime must be based on the fullest understanding of the dimensions of the problem. Trinidad and Tobago and other islands of the Caribbean are located directly between the major cocaine producers of South America and the major consumers of North America and Western Europe. The recent seizure of nearly six tons of cocaine in our territorial waters has been described by our international partners in the fight against drug trafficking as possibly less than 10 percent of the amount being trans-shipped through our waters.

This illicit trade in drugs has created a criminal elite with considerable financial resources with which they corrupt public institutions and officials and recruit our sons and daughters for all forms of criminal activities. The proceeds from this trade are also used to finance the procurement of illegal arms and as a result sophisticated arsenals end up in the hands of competing gangs which in turn fuel the murder rate. Over time, other criminal activities emerge, the most sinister is kidnapping. There can be no doubt as to the debilitating effect of kidnapping on the law-abiding majority, the fear and anxiety it creates and the extent to which it contributes to the perception that our country is not safe.

Mr. Speaker, the situation is further compounded by criminal deportations from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. These add significantly to the challenge of law enforcement by bringing to our country the sophistication and expertise of the most advanced international criminal networks.

In the face of this, we are experiencing a significant increase in all forms of anti-social behaviour. The carnage on the roads which directly leads to a depreciation of the value of life, the disruption of commercial and social life, the bomb scares, and the tendency to resort to violence in settling the most minor dispute are all indicators of the deteriorating fabric of our society.

Within this context, therefore, crime, although manifested nationally, is co-ordinated and directed both locally and internationally. Accordingly, solutions must go beyond the community and national borders to regional and international cooperation. The corruption, intimidation and violence, which go hand-in-hand with organised crime, undermine law and order and threaten the very essence of democratic governance.

Response of the Government

Mr. Speaker, over the past year, the Government made a number of strategic interventions that we believe, in time, will go a long way to address the current crime wave on a sustainable basis. Some of the more important initiatives are:

* Acquisition of state of the art crime fighting technology. The package includes:

* an aerial surveillance system outfitted with radar and imaging systems;

* a forward-looking infrared camera;

* twenty-four mobile police units;

* sky watch units;

* a 360 degree radar system which will be available in the next few days;

* Four armed helicopters;

* Six fast patrol boats; and

* Three Offshore Patrol Vessels.

Tenders for three Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV's) are to be awarded in the next month; the first two of these are expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2007.

We also established the special anti-crime unit, SAUTT and we have intensified operations of our inter-agency task force in areas where gang warfare is most prevalent.

* We established an Incident Co-ordination Centre to facilitate information sharing and more effective response by law enforcement officers. Several persons from a number of specialized agencies have been selected to staff the Centre.

* We are conducting frequent Police patrols and random searches on the nation's highways and within communities.

In November 2005, the Police Service will take possession of one hundred and forth-nine (149) additional vehicles. Work on five police stations (in Mayaro, Gasparillo, Belmont, Tunapuna and Toco) began this month and the project to rebuild six police stations (Roxborough, St. Joseph, Manzanilla, Maracas, Old Grange and Matelot) has been transferred to NIPDEC.

As part of the initiative to transform the Police Service, we commissioned Professor Stephen Mastrofski whose recommendations to strengthen the Police Complaints Division are being implemented.

Mr. Speaker, prison reform and the rehabilitation of prisoners need to be part of the fight against crime since it is critical that the revolving door syndrome of criminality be arrested. To this end, a Prison Reform and Transformation Unit has been established. Candidates to staff the unit have been selected. Cabinet has also approved the acquisition of a property at Tumpuna Road, Arima, to accommodate the Prisons Training College. The TT Prison Service has taken occupancy and training has commenced.

Mr. Speaker, we feel strongly that our fight against crime must also be integrated with a strategy to provide alternative opportunities for socialization and training for our youth to woo them away from deviant behavior. For this reason, Government is accelerating the implementation of three Military-Led Specialized Youth Programmes which will provide training for 1,100 young persons.

(1) Three hundred and sixty (360) young persons will commence a residential programme of attitudinal and academic training under the Military-Led Academic Training Programme (MILAT);

(2) Two hundred and forty (240) persons between the ages of fourteen to twenty-five will commence a residential programme of skills training in the Military-Led Programme of Apprenticeship and Reorientation Training (MYPART); and

(3) A total of five hundred (500) persons between the ages of eighteen to thirty years will participate in a programme designed to render community service throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

Contracts have been awarded for the refurbishment of the Mt. St. George Youth Camp, the Mausica College and Vessigny High School for start-up of the Programmes.

International Co-operation

All indicators point to the fact that to manage crime successfully in Trinidad and Tobago, our law enforcement agencies require the material support and co-operation of countries with the experience and technical competence.

With the objective of securing this support and co-operation, a series of high-level meetings has taken place between the authorities in the United Kingdom and a team from Trinidad and Tobago. We are also in touch with the American Authorities to provide expert assistance to SAUTT. At a practical level, the Trinidad and Tobago team was able to observe measures currently utilized by the British in their fight against crime and terrorism.

An essential component of the reform is the introduction of state-of-the-art technology and the necessary training of members of the armed forces and police service.

We are targeting Scotland Yard to establish a Unit in Trinidad and Tobago that will provide equipment and expertise to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service. The FBI will be targeted to establish a Unit to assist with the re-organization of the Service.

Disaster Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, natural disasters are now a fact of life. The tragedy on the US Gulf Coast one year after events in Grenada reminds us of our increasing vulnerability to the forces of nature and the importance of preparation and co-ordination for effective relief efforts. We have established an Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management, which is responsible for the development of a Disaster Management Policy to deal effectively with natural and man-made disasters.

Mr. Speaker, we are working on a new regime which will involve:

1. a National Building Code and a Nationwide Early Warning System; and

2. a permanent approach to dealing with the aftermath of a disaster by putting mechanisms in place before hand.

T&TEC has designed a system to increase stand-by power generation capacity, upgrade Emergency Operation Centres; and establish back-up communications systems. The emergency power arrangements would also guarantee a temporary water supply.

The CEPEP manpower resources of approximately 7,000 persons constitute a potential resource which could be put to meeting emergencies in the event of a disaster. This is buttressed by the school feeding programme which has the capability to prepare 100,000 meals in six hours.

 

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