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Sunday 18 August 2019
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Commentary

The mongoose and the snake

PAOLO KERNAHAN
PAOLO KERNAHAN

Quote:

‘Gary Griffith, regardless of what people may think about him, did not take that job to fail. He gave a commitment to reduce violent crime in one year. There is no way he is going to allow his reputation to be tarnished with political shenanigans’

PAOLO KERNAHAN

THE GOVERNMENT was caught on the back foot recently as Police Commissioner Gary Griffith admitted before a parliamentary Public Administration and Appropriation Committee (PAAC) that financing challenges in the Police Service stopped his anti-crime juggernaut in its tracks. To lose the war for want of a nail; this certainly has chilling repercussions for us all.

“I’ve had to put all our projects on hold in order to pay bills to ensure the Police Service doesn’t become stagnated and shuts down. This is the extent of how serious it is.” Griffith pulled no punches in creating an image of trickling funds insufficient to keep crime suppression strategies from dying on the vine. He revealed the Police Service hadn’t received any funding other than officers’ salaries for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. This has reportedly prevented the service from meeting other expenses.

“What I am trying to get now is $47 million to pay off the bills the TTPS owes debtors, approved in fiscal 2017-2018.”

As a side note, Griffith probably meant to say creditors and not debtors. A minor slip of the tongue no doubt. Given his frank revelations, though, the Police Service is very much the debtor in this equation.

Prior to the CoP’s PAAC confessional, this newspaper reported that the Police Service was running out of money. An article disclosed that the Finance Ministry acknowledged it received a request from the commissioner for $80 million and had released $20 million for equipment, services, materials and supplies. The balance of the requested sum was supposed to have been disbursed in installments.

Griffith acknowledged receipt of the $20 million for projects and equipment including tasers, vehicles and new uniforms, presumably the latest in camo-chic street wear. However, the commissioner had to pilfer that $20 million to pay old debts.

Griffith described playing catch up with finances, paying outstanding debts and salaries with scarce funds and awaiting further releases to get up to date. For his part, the Finance Minister, Colm Imbert, painted a very different spreadsheet.

He disclosed in Parliament that $1 billion was given to the service to meet debts. Thus began a back-and-forth disputation of facts and figures that reads like pillow talk for randy accountants. Just by the by, the normally loquacious and omnipresent Stuart Young was conspicuously absent from this simmering dispute. In a season of drought, though, one must be thankful for even the most fleeting drizzle.

As the population nodded off over the circuitous wrangling with numbers, a flint was struck in the dark. The word “standoff” appeared in the not-OK-corral. The Finance Minister rubbished suggestions that the Police Service was being starved of funds. In responding to opposition MP Roodal Moonilal, Imbert invoked the wildly popular “fake news” epithet to describe reports of police projects sidelined by meagre funds.

When Imbert was asked whether he was concluding the TTPS’s accounting office misled the country, he emphatically said, “I am concluding no such thing.” Except, he was. The media merely reported the words of the Police Commissioner and his accounting officer to the PAAC.

In a mildly churlish response to an offer from the Finance Minister for “assistance with paperwork,” Griffith said the finance department of the TTPS is perfectly capable of handling their accounts. “This is form three accounting. We don’t need any help with basic accounting. We need them to do their job and release the funds.” So sayeth the lord.

Hardly a clash of titans, but the Government should appreciate this: Gary Griffith, regardless of what people may think about him, did not take that job to fail. He gave a commitment to reduce violent crime in one year. There is no way he is going to allow his reputation to be tarnished with political shenanigans.

The Government is using a flawed political calculus if it’s reading Griffith as another “go along to get along PNM appointee” happy to take a bullet for the party if his crime pledge founders for lack of resources; for want of that nail.

The two men reportedly met over the money crunch. The Finance Minister subsequently tweeted that further funds will be released. Imbert’s determination to provide all necessary support to combat crime is entirely believable.

The availability of funds to do so, however, is another matter.

Hopefully, their tete-a-tete wasn’t merely to secure the CoP’s silence. The Government should know by now, as do the rest of us, that silence isn’t Griffith’s strong suit.

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