PM: No easy fix to gangs benefitting from State $

The in­fil­tra­tion of crim­i­nal gangs which have been si­phon­ing mil­lions of tax­pay­ers dol­lars from Gov­ern­ment projects and con­trac­tors has been a prob­lem for over two decades, ac­cord­ing to Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley.

And he con­ced­ed that there was no easy so­lu­tion to the prob­lem but he in­tends to stamp it out.

 

The head of the Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Coun­cil com­ments came even as one of his own MP’s com­plained about death threats as a crim­i­nal gang de­mand­ed a share in a $176 m road paving project in Moru­ga and a damn­ing Spe­cial Branch re­port which de­tailed the dis­tri­b­u­tion of $6 m in con­tracts to sev­en gang lead­ers from two PNM-con­trolled re­gion­al cor­po­ra­tions.

His po­si­tion was stronger than his com­ment last week where he put the re­spon­si­bil­i­ty on the po­lice to charge gang mem­bers when ques­tioned about gang­sters get­ting State con­tracts.

In the past weeks, the Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice has linked State fund­ing of gangs to the out-of-con­trol mur­der spike.

The Prime Min­is­ter spoke on the is­sue of crim­i­nals ben­e­fit­ing from gov­ern­ment con­tracts while giv­ing re­marks at the sod-turn­ing cer­e­mo­ny for the Care­nage Po­lice Sta­tion, on Tues­day.

Row­ley traced the growth of crim­i­nals ben­e­fit­ing from State pro­grammes to as far back as the Un­em­ploy­ment Re­lief Pro­gramme.

“Be­cause pro­grammes like URP and to a less­er ex­tent CEPEP and oth­er small pro­grammes like in the HDC, in­stead of be­ing done by the State, un­der the hands of pub­lic of­fi­cials, we moved in­to this new en­vi­ron­ment of award­ing con­tracts.

We jumped from the fry­ing pan in­to the fire,” said Row­ley who said back then, work­ers in those pro­grammes would cash cheques at the Cen­tral Bank, then hand mon­ey to gang­sters wait­ing out­side ei­ther out of fear or col­lu­sion.

But he said the sit­u­a­tion has wors­ened since State con­tracts were be­ing is­sued in­stead.

“And if you don’t un­der­stand that, you don’t un­der­stand your coun­try. Be­cause every project has a project own­er that won a con­tract. But when a clerk four or a clerk three was in charge, they too were a part of the prob­lem be­cause they were act­ing out of fear in some in­stance, in some in­stance out of wot­less­ness. Some peo­ple who didn’t come to work were signed off as hav­ing worked, peo­ple were on the gang and didn’t work but get pay and then pet­ty crim­i­nals were there,” said Row­ley.

“Re­mem­ber ghost gangs, the gang that didn’t ex­ist but on the paysheet. But at least that gang wasn’t killing you.

This one killing you.

And then com­pe­ti­tion start­ed for this largest,” he ad­mit­ted.

The Prime Min­is­ter ac­knowl­edged the se­vere crit­i­cism aimed at him over the award of con­tracts to gangs but stat­ed much of the ut­ter­ances did not re­veal a prob­lem un­known to the gov­ern­ment or the wider pop­u­la­tion. He said the Gov­ern­ment was work­ing to ad­dress the is­sue.

“So any­body here come telling you that is this gov­ern­ment or this Prime Min­is­ter or this so and so, they are sim­ply try­ing to score points on a prob­lem that we are aware of. It’s been with us for quite some time. It is not a sim­ple prob­lem to get rid of be­cause it has worked in­to our ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tems. And we have to work our way out of it. And we will cer­tain­ly do so,” said the Prime Min­is­ter, who did not elab­o­rate on how he in­tends to go about the mis­sion.

Over the past month, Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Gary Grif­fith had said his of­fi­cers were placed in a dis­ad­van­taged po­si­tion be­cause State con­tracts had been award­ed to gang lead­ers, al­low­ing them to fi­nance their crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ty fur­ther. Grif­fith said the award­ing of con­tracts to gang­sters could be con­nect­ed to the rise of homi­cides over the past 15 years.

Dur­ing his ad­dress, Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Stu­art Young said law en­force­ment of­fi­cials in­tend­ed to clamp down on re­ports of ex­tor­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly in con­nec­tion with gov­ern­ment-is­sued con­tracts.

Reporter: Peter Christopher

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