THE PRIME MINISTER has appointed a new committee to examine and establish the causes of disquiet and dissatisfaction among disenfranchised communities throughout the country.
Its aim will be to find a solution to the systemic socio-economic challenges faced by people living there and end them once and for all.
The people in these areas, glibly called “hotspots,” he said, have the same ambition, require the same services and want peace and prosperity in the same way as everyone else.
“(Calling) these areas hotspots and dismissing it is not how we will approach this. We will approach it as special areas requiring special attention,” he said at a media briefing at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s on Thursday.
The committee will be headed by Anthony Watkins, whom the Prime Minister described as having spent his life working in social pathology, mental health, correctional services and psychiatric forensic assessment.
Joining him will be radio personality Hans Des Vignes; community activist and former national football coach Jamaal Shabazz; life coach Curtis Toussaint; Culture Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly; social entrepreneur Akosua Edwards; and community activist Nicola Harvey of Laventille.
“And maybe (we will) add one or two others in the coming days,” Dr Rowley said.
The committee will be an appendage to the Roadmap to Recovery team charged with charting an economic sustainability course for the country post-covid19.
The committee echoes an initiative the Prime Minister championed in Parliament in 2004 as a way to connect to at-risk youth. That plan, he said, was passed in the House but shot down in the Senate by Opposition Senator Wade Mark, who suggested it was discriminatory because it focused on a specific group.
Rowley said only he had defended that plan, which could have alleviated some of the tensions in these communities today and positively affected protesters who demonstrated against the police on Tuesday and Wednesday.
He said he was called a racist then, but “would not be dissuaded to change course from this by any person who believes this has to do with race, religion or geography.
“It has to do with the peace, security, good order and opportunity for all the people in TT, particularly those who live this experience. We aim to change that experience.”
PM: I’ve been here all along
Thursday’s briefing was the first time the PM had addressed the protests in Port of Spain and elsewhere by those angered by the police killings of three men in the area over the weekend.
Some of the protests on Tuesday were fiery, with roads blocked and one woman killed allegedly by police. Wednesday’s march through downtown Port of Spain was mostly peaceful, although the police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Rowley insisted he had not been missing in action. He returned from Tobago on Monday night and as head of the National Security Council he was briefed on intelligence suggesting possible unrest the next morning.
He said he allowed Minister of National Security Stuart Young and Police Commissioner Gary Griffith to speak first because they had primary responsibility “but I was present all along.”
He also met on Tuesday night with the heads of the various protective services.
“I am integrally involved...I am here now talking about what (has happened) and I have a view on how it’s turned out.
“And I am hoping the response from the government to the people who are hurting will be one of conciliation: we’ve heard you and we are ready to take action,” he said.
Justice not revenge
The Prime Minister offered condolences for those who had died.
The situation was not uncommon, he said, because of the profusion of illegal firearms.
In response, people throughout the country have expressed anger that civilian killings by the police have been too prevalent.
But there was also a hope for justice and that “we would find a way out of this situation…where our young people...would not be resorting to the kind of mob behaviour or worse designed by the criminal element in the search for justice or revenge.”
There is a big difference between the two, he said.
“Justice requires that people who have been wronged should be able to determine that their concerns are met and that there is a certain amount of recompense. But for justice to be served there is the little business of evidence. Evidence is required to be gathered properly to be justiciable.”
This was a free country, he said, and the right to protest is constitutionally protected. But it must be done in a particular way, within the law, and certainly without violence and destruction.
He said there were “hardened criminals and two-by-four politicians” instigating the violence and worsening an already bad situation.
He also suggested that it was Life Sport, a $400 million failed initiative by the former UNC-coalition government, that facilitated these criminal elements.
Sunday Newsday recently reported that former sports minister Anil Roberts, who started the programme, is being investigated by police in relation to the project. Former prime minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar terminated Life Sport for, among other things, allegations of criminal involvement.