The two day regional crime symposium opened today with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley noting that playing “musical chairs” with the National Security Ministry which has had a number of Ministers over different administrations does not deter the violence pervading the country.
Speaking at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, the Prime Minister stressed the dangers of crime as a public health crisis which threatens the Caribbean paradise.
Violence, he said, has claimed the lives of thousands as he noted in Trinidad and Tobago from 2011 to 2022 some 5,439 lives were lost to violent crimes largely through the use of firearms.
He noted the ballooning murder rate which stood at 351 in 2011 and soared to 600- a new record in 2022.
The Prime Minister admitted that in 2023, there is a challenge for this record.
Rowley said except for the Covid-19 virus, this dangerous disease of crime has taken many lives and is a burden to taxpayers.
He said surgical intervention for a gunshot wound to the head cost $170,000, to the chest $155,000, to the leg $100,000 and non-surgical intervention to the leg cost $40,000.
Rowley said this is a frequent cost incurred, borne by taxpayers and diverted from productive areas.
He noted the increase in the national budget in dealing with crime; in 2008, 32 per cent of the budget went to national security, in 2017- 38 per cent and in 2023 some 43 per cent of the national security allocation goes to policing.
The Prime Minister said there is the belief having the right Minster will have a dent on crime.
HE said in recent years T&T has had 10 National Security Ministers, sourced from career politicians as well as the military.
HE said one PNM administration had a National Security Minister that served for seven unbroken years.
He said the United National Congress (UNC) in a five year term, had five National Security Ministers with junior assistants with tenure ranging from a few months each to a few years.
He said his current administration has had three National Security Ministers in eight years.
“And the one indisputable fact in all these musical chairs is that the violence has not abated. It has many instances increased and become even more cynical, clearly the problem does not exist and grow because of a shortage of Ministers or even Ministerial output” he said.
He said the problem of violence was not sufficiently dealt with in the homes, schools and even the Parliament and deviant behaviour was allowed to creep into society and normalised.
“This is a battle which we must all be engaged, this is a war that we cannot afford to lose,” he said.
He said old talk is cheap but urged that they try and extract some light from the expressions over the next two days in the “fervent hope and expectation that the beast of violence which has stalked us for virtually all our existence in this blue Caribbean sea will be starved of its sustenance, condemned to wither and die so that we all may live in peace, safety and harmony from the home to the streets, from the schools to the borders.”