EDUCATION Minister Anthony Garcia seemed to blame the police over the massive theft of materials and fittings from the new building at St Joseph Secondary School, where gun-toting criminals have ensconced themselves and recently threatened teachers.
He replied to queries on the unfinished building, at a briefing at his Port of Spain ministry yesterday.
“What has been reported to us is that the new structure has been vandalised.
“In spite of the fact that it exists in close proximity to the St Joseph Police Station, we find that the school continues to be vandalised.”
Reporters pressed about the worrisome state of the new St Joseph Secondary School (formerly Curepe Junior Secondary School.)
“That is a construction site. It is in the hands of the contractor. The ministry does not have the jurisdiction to enter into any construction site that is under the jurisdiction of a particular contractor. We enter into negotiations with the contractor.”
Newsday asked if the ministry would sue the contractor for negligence in failing to secure the site, given the thefts.
“The contractor has abandoned the job. That is one of the things we are looking at.” Garcia said there are many legal issues to unravel at that school and others also on a priority list of 27 schools earmarked for completion.
“In fact some of the contractors have taken us to court, and we’ve had judgment against the government and ministry. So it’s something we have to tread carefully.”
Newsday asked if more should have been done to secure the school, if the contractor had walked off a job in a very socially-vulnerable area.
“Well I assure you something is being done now. That something will be explained later on, but something is being done.”
Newsday asked if the ministry had contacted the police have about criminal elements lodged in the new school building who intimidate staff and pupils.
“The police have been informed and the police have told us they will provide regular checks to ensure the criminal element, to use your own words, will no longer have access to the property.”
Asked if criminals were still ensconced there, after recent reports of them waving guns at school staff, Garcia replied.
“There was a situation last week (which) has been attended to by the police where it was reported that at least three persons who were armed with guns were intimidating students. That was reported to the police. When the police came on site the persons had disappeared.
“But again as I’ve said, the police have informed us that they are watching this school on a continuous basis.”
Asked if classes had been suspended, Garcia said no, saying neither he, his permanent secretary or chief education officer were aware of that claim.
Newsday asked if those criminals would return to the school if there is no accountability in the whole situation, having enjoyed a free hand up to now.
“I can’t say they’ve been given a free hand. That’s a matter for the police to determine.
“The police station is within walking distance of the school. St Joseph Police Station about two minutes walk from the school.”
Newsday said that did not stop the criminality from starting the first time, so why not put a police post in the school.
“If you have a police post, that won’t change it. We are working with the police to resolve the situation.”
Newsday asked what new initiative will stop a recurrence of thefts and intimidation.
“I cannot say that anything will be done to ensure there is no recurrence. What I can simply say is that we are in close and constant contact with the police and the police have assured us that they are going to provide constant and consistent patrols.
“But this is a police matter. It is not an education matter.”
Garcia said it is one of 27 schools on a priority list for construction to be completed as soon as possible, under the management of MTS and with funding from the Finance Ministry.