BY ANY standards, the portfolio of Minister of National Security is a difficult one to occupy.
But when Fitzgerald Hinds assumed the post in April, he also did so amid an unprecedented public health challenge which has placed pressure not only on the health system, but the systems of law and order themselves, given the threat posed by this disease to the rank and file of law enforcement, as well as the significant diversion of resources into policing public health regulations.
How Mr Hinds, who previously served as a minister of state in the Ministry of National Security, has performed so far must be set against this unusual backdrop.
But after seven months, it is clear his honeymoon period is over.
On the horizon are perhaps the minister’s most pressing challenges yet: a predictable upswing in criminal activity accompanying the removal of the state of emergency, as well as the advent of the Christmas season – which is annually characterised by greater instances of crimes of opportunity; and an electioneering season which is already trying the patience of the law-enforcement authorities in Tobago.
Mr Hinds would do well to avoid the kinds of gaffes he’s been guilty of in the past (his off-key social media posts during his tenure as Minister of Youth Development and National Service in particular come to mind). But the minister’s recent tangle over comments made on the radio with regard to the crime rate doesn’t offer much hope with regard to his awareness of the full import of his words.
More promising, though, was Mr Hinds’s appearance in the Senate on Tuesday, in which he acknowledged the undesirable state of affairs at the Forensic Science Centre as well as the infrastructural deficiencies of that facility.
This was a refreshing dose of reality in a situation in which government ministers are often under pressure to gloss over the failures of the State.
Mr Hinds should build on his candour in this regard and go further to spell out a bold and definitive plan to tackle the years-old backlog at the centre, which remains a huge barrier to the effective administration of justice. This is not only in relation to testing samples, but also the carrying out of post-mortems. As a former police officer, Mr Hinds better than many will appreciate the vital nature of all of these issues.
Another immediate challenge will be the lifting of the curfew, as well as the fact that we remain without a substantive police commissioner – the latter of which places a greater requirement on Mr Hinds to ensure he is and appears to be in the loop and in command of the matters falling within his remit.
It is not the minister’s job to police the country, but it is his job to inspire confidence and he needs to take the latter function even more seriously.