By Susan Mohammed
PRIME MINISTER Kamla Persad-Bissessar last night declared a limited State of Emergency in "hot spots" across the country which took effect from midnight.
Persad-Bissessar did not say where the State of Emergency's regulations would apply or when they would cease, saying she would give more details today. However sources indicated that it should apply in several areas across the country.
She said there was a need to implement strict conditions because of the crime spree over the weekend where 11 persons were killed in just over 48 hours. The Prime Minister said: "The current crime spree dictates that more must be done and stronger action has to be employed now. The situation cannot continue like this without a response commensurate with the wanton acts of violence and lawlessness; it must be a response as well that will halt the current spike in gang activity and crime in general in the shortest possible time".
The Prime Minister, who has been recuperating at her home since Wednesday suffering from a bout of dengue, yesterday held emergency meetings at her home from 4 p.m., first with the National Security Council consisting of commanding officer of the Army Colonel Anthony Phillips Spencer, Chief Defence of Staff Brigadier Kenrick Maharaj, Deputy Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams, Brigadier Colonel Albert Griffith, and Deputy Commissioner of Police Mervyn Richardson, and Commissioner of Prisons John Rougier and selected members of the Cabinet including Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, Minister of National Security John Sandy, and Minister of Legal Affairs Prakash Ramadhar. After that meeting she then met with members of Cabinet for over an hour.
While she made her statement which was broadcasted live on the electronic media, she said the proclamation and its regulations were on their way to President George Maxwell Richards for his signature.
Persad-Bissessar said that the State of Emergency was agreed to by the Cabinet and National Security Council because: "The limited State of Emergency, pursuant to Section 8:1 of our Constitution, and Section 8:2, will take effect from midnight tonight. The limited State of Emergency will allow us to achieve a number of things in relation to crime reduction which would not be prudent for me to disclose in advance of the action taken. We are aware that such a decision will have an impact on the daily lives of innocent, law abiding citizens in these areas but I feel confident that they will recognise and appreciate the need to protect them and bring the current crime surge affecting them under control".
The Prime Minister expressed confidence that the State of Emergency would be successful in the Government's war against crime. "I say we have the will to tackle the crime problem in Trinidad and Tobago. We have the commitment to place every resource at our disposal towards waging and winning this war on crime. We will succeed. The nation must not be held to ransom by marauding groups of thugs bent on creating havoc on our society. We will hunt them down search them out and we will bring them to justice. "
She said the limited State of Emergency in hot spots across Trinidad and Tobago is merely part of a larger aggressive response by the government.
The Prime Minister said that the measures implemented were provided for in the Constitution, as the Government was not only mindful of the rights of citizens to freedom, but also it was important for citizens "to be protected and to enjoy a life of peace and tranquility".
"Whilst it is true that our Constitution gives us rights and freedom it is that very Constitution which provided, as the framers in their wisdom decided, to include provision that would allow for the measure that we are taking today. This measure is not extra constitutional—it is indeed within the body of our Constitution", she said.
She added that an "Emergency Powers Curfew" Order will also be put into place, to enable for curfews within the designated areas for certain time periods.
The Prime Minister explained that the limited State of Emergency: "Would allow for the members of the Defence Force and for persons from the military to have certain powers which allow for powers of search and seizure for powers of arrest, which they do not at present have. What this would do, amongst many other things, is to augment the manpower of the police service. We have 5,000 members of the Defence Force, able bodied men who are trained, who can assist at this time in the greatest battle that we are facing in the war against crime. This is part of this battle, this is part of the war, and this is one of the mechanisms that we are using, this is one of the mechanisms. There are others which we discussed which I prefer not to disclose at this time".
Persad-Bissessar said that she would meet with Leader of the Opposition Dr. Keith Rowley to not only discuss the State of Emergency, but also would be seeking the Opposition's cooperation in the defeated Capital Punishment (Death Penalty) Bill, among others, as well as the establishment of a gun court.
The Prime Minister said the Ministry of National Security John Sandy had measures to implement which would not allow the migration of criminals from the "hot spots", but she did not want to elaborate on those measures.