Opposition Leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar SC

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called on the government to be more transparent in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a media release, she said, “The Government’s flip flop on the move to hire private security firms to complement police patrols during the national shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic highlights the need for greater transparency and accountability in all Government’s spending on measures aimed at mitigating COVID-19.”

She added that in less than 24 hours of the decision being made public, the Government was forced to rescind it. She said this happened following widespread criticism and concerns over what she called, the lack of transparency and accountability over the use of taxpayers’ monies from the Heritage and Stabilization Fund, the role of the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force and Police— in particular, the under-use of the former— in providing security for citizens at this time, the legal implications/jurisdiction of the initiative which could result in abuse of power against citizens and the apparent ongoing lack of communication among key national security agencies, in light of the Police Commissioner’s statement that the TTPS did not make such a request of Government.

She again questioned the use of HSF funds for such initiatives, instead of being used to provide increased financial and social support for citizens and small business during this time of unexpected mass unemployment and loss of income.

The Opposition leader said, “the explanation given by National Security Minister Stuart Young that citizens feel safe and there is no need for additional security does not hold any weight and it is clear that no one believes that this is the reason for the about-turn.”

She said the Government must be transparent and accountable to the citizens, especially when it comes to national security decisions and state spending.

She said, “issues of national security should never be so ad hoc that you could rescind a decision overnight.”

Persad-Bissessar went on to recommend that the Cabinet adopts a policy of clearly informing citizens at its daily news conference on all its decisions relating to the spending of the $10 billion accessed from the HSF fund and the $10 billion in borrowings under the Development Loans Act, use the various technological platforms to consult with all relevant stakeholders regarding any proposed emergency measures it intends to take, to get necessary feedback and consensus, utilizes the monies accessed from the HSF to focus on providing much needed social, medical and financial assistance to the very large segment of the population which now faces unemployment and loss of income as a result of the current crisis, and undertakes to, as best as possible, remove the bureaucracy in the relief grant process, which is currently preventing many citizens from accessing the programme.