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T&T: A worrying experience

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In less than six weeks from now, the voters in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago will go to the polls to elect a new government.

The five-year term of what was originally called the “Peoples Partnership” government has been served out in full, in spite of a number of incidents and political mishaps, which might have brought down many another incumbent.{{more}}

It is indeed remarkable that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar has lasted her full term of office, for there has been no shortage of scandals, forcing the Prime Minister to fire a record number of her ministers in the process. The much-vaunted “Partnership” seemed to crack at its seams, leading to the departure of the labour and civil society components of the grand coalition forged in 2010, and even her predecessors in the United National Congress, former PM Basdeo Panday and Attorney General Lawrence Maharaj, did not spare her public criticism.

To her credit, Ms Persad-Bissessar stuck to her guns, insisting to the end that she had kept her 2010 manifesto promises and that her government “had delivered”. It is on this basis that she is now facing the judgement of the electorate, hoping for a renewed mandate. This, in spite of a slew of accusations being hurled against her by one-time close confidant and deputy prime minister, the former all-powerful football boss Austin ‘Jack’ Warner, currently facing corruption charges and possible extradition to the USA to face those charges.

‘Jack’, forced out of the government on account of his alleged misdeeds, with his back against the wall, has come out swinging, vowing to take down the PM and her government with him. From week to week, he has been making allegations, trying to implicate the Prime Minister and her colleagues in complicity with his acts. It is left to be seen how damaging his allegations will be when the voters cast their ballots.

The hope held by Ms Persad-Bissessar is much more than that in which many citizens of the twin-island states view their future. The country is embroiled in political and industrial conflict; not a single day passes without reports of vile acts of murder; and even though official crime statistics may not seem as drastic as perceived, the security of the citizens of the Republic is a major public issue. Innocent babes are among the victims of the vicious spate of violent crime.

Most worryingly, there appears to be a breakdown in the maintenance of law and order. Recently, even the police staged a massive stop and search action, which appeared not to have the sanction of leading National Security officials. Prison officers, under attack from criminals inside and outside the prisons, have been threatening industrial action, as have been doctors, nurses and civil servants.

Last week there was a dramatic escalation in security concerns. Yasin Abu Bakr, the leader of an infamous attempted coup in 1990, and still head of the Jamaat al Muslimeen, was taken into custody with some of his colleagues in connection with the murder of a state prosecutor last year. They were later released without charge, but a couple days later, three prisoners, including a Jamaat member, staged a daring breakout, armed with 9mm firearms and a hand grenade, from prison, where they faced a range of serious charges. This took place in full daylight, on Frederick Street, the capital’s busiest, and ended with one police officer killed, a shootout in the public hospital in which one escapee was killed, while the second prisoner was reportedly murdered elsewhere. The third finally surrendered.

This has put a new twist on the situation which has fuelled public insecurity, especially in view of the closeness of the incidents to the 25th anniversary of the failed 1990 coup. While there is no evidence of a similar armed insurrection, nor of any connection with external elements, the juxtaposition of these events must be a source of grave worry to all concerned. Adding to the insecurity, are allegations that nationals of Trinidad and Tobago are among foreign fighters who have joined Isis in the Middle East.

What do all these developments mean for the security of Trinidad and Tobago, and for the region as a whole? And how are the political leaders responding to this grave challenge?

A look at these in the second part of this article next week.

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