A forensic pathologist from India will arrive in Trinidad and Tobago soon, the Coast Guard’s two Australian vessels will be commissioned in a few days and prison officers will be getting a “safe house.”
This was revealed by National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds before Parliament’s Standing Finance Committee yesterday, but he lost his cool when grilled by the Opposition on the reported lack of fuel for Coast Guard vessels.
Hinds’ ministry has been allocated $2.2 billion in the 2022 Budget.
Hinds was interrogated for several hours by UNC MPs Saddam Hosein, Rodney Charles, Dr Roodal Moonilal, Ravi Rajcoomar, Rudy Indarsingh, Dave Tancoo, David Lee, Dr Rai Ragbir, Dinesh Rambally and Kadijah Ameen.
He received support from Ministers Colm Imbert (Finance), Marvin Gonzales (Public Utilities) and Faris Al-Rawi (Attorney General).
Many Opposition queries concerned decreases in estimated funding and perceived “underestimated” allocations.
Hinds had to repeatedly explain budgeting procedures, including how more funds are obtained.
On forensic pathologists – of which T&T only has two of the required four – Hinds said the United Nations Development Programme had started a recruitment process and out of this, a highly-qualified doctor from India was identified.
“He’ll be promptly here. We’ve also issued invitations for young bright T&T citizens for scholarships which will be advertised,” he added.
Hinds said he hasn’t received reports of any backlog of autopsies.
Charles pressed Hinds on reports of a body found on a south beach recently and Coast Guard vessels being unable to go to the scene since they had no fuel.
Hinds said he didn’t reply on “somebody saying something in a newspaper, since that wasn’t the way a Government behaves.”
He said he relied on what the Coast Guard said and “may’’ pay attention to newspaper articles.
Charles queried if a lack of fuel prevented the Coast Guard from being able to deal with the Mauritanian vessel which drifted into T&T waters with dead bodies on board earlier this year.
Hinds said the vessel was seen by fishermen, who contacted the Coast Guard. He said maritime procedure includes rendering assistance to vessels and fishermen were asked to lend any assistance. They brought the vessel to shore, where he said the police and Coast Guard took charge.
“It was wrong to suggest it had anything to do with absence of fuel, as the scandal-mongering suggests,” Hinds declared.
“We have here (in the Parliament chamber) the senior Coast Guard commander and he said there have been no reports of any lack of fuel for any Coast Guard vessel. So you can continue this ‘who say, dem say and she say’ drunkeness!
“My friends on the other side behave as though there are no constraints on the Exchequer! The Minister (Finance) has to take into account T&T’s circumstances but they pretend COVID-19 doesn’t exist…it’s reckless!’’
Hinds continued loudly saying how he’d had to repeat ad nauseum how ministries present plans seeking allocations in the face of Budget division’s constraints and priorities and how funds can be wired from other ministries or be sought in the mid-year review.
“T&T isn’t earning as she used to… we’re not in a place where everything yuh want, you going to get! We in a different time to the heady days of 2010, 2011 to 2015!” Hinds added.
Hinds, citing the Riverine and Coast Guard patrols, technical help and training for fishermen, also denied there were issues with fishermen’s security, since he said UNC’s Rajcoomar recently complimented him on this. Rajcoomar said, “That’s misleading.”
Hinds denied Rajcoomar’s claim he promised to build a Coast Guard base in Central. Rajcoomar, who then lobbied for a direct Ministry line for Central fishermen, said Hinds was asleep recently when his security’s jeep hit a Maraval dog, Marley.
Hinds countered, saying Rajcoomar might need the direct line to “call one of his Venezuelan business friends.”
Hinds also confirmed:
• The Ministry is currently indebted to the NIS on certain sums for the Defence Force; debt figures are being audited by the TTDF to ensure they‘re in accordance with NIS level. Efforts are being made to ensure the last change of NIS rates is reflected in what is owed. He said it wasn’t that money was deducted and not paid.
• Australian personnel are here and have trained Coast Guard staff to operate the two new vessels.
• A building’s being repurposed as a safe house for prison officers.
• The Maximum Security Prison’s alarm is now being redone. Improvement on Remand block is 50 per cent finished.
• 84 per cent of CCTV cameras are working. This will be increased.
•Three people so far have been fitted with electronic monitoring “bracelets”.
•The Fire Chief confirms there’s no situation where only “half of the fire trucks” are working.