He made the comment in the context of a “stretched” Police Service as he participated in a panel discussion at the Prayers Plus: Finding Solutions to Crime Meeting of Heads of the Christian Faith held at the Hilton Trinidad and Conference Centre, St Ann’s. The meeting began yesterday and will close tomorrow.

“The Defence Force at some point in time in the future will have to contemplate the idea, the notion, of being able to do independent operations given the fact that the Police Service is so stretched — with its resources on the streets, in the communities and so on - that we have to treat with how we more effectively engage borders (including) those rural areas,” he said.

He noted that on policing borders they have more than a partnership, a oneness of effort, with the Police Service. He added that one aspect of improvement and capacity strengthening which he has been advocating is legislative support to conduct independent operations.

Noting that at this point the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force is still a Defence Force, he added, “We do not enjoy the primacy of law enforcement or the authority to arrest and so on and so forth. So it is something that we will continue to engage.”

Last year Government introduced the Miscellaneous Provisions (Defence and Police Complaints) Act 2013 to provide soldiers with police powers including powers of arrest. The bill received strong opposition from the Opposition bench and lapsed in early July. Commenting on the porous nature of the country’s borders, Maharaj noted that the Defence Force, and more specifically the Coast Guard, have to contend with an area of responsibility in the maritime domain of 62,500 square nautical miles. He also pointed out that they have to treat with the extensive energy structure laid out around the two islands and a search and rescue area that expands all the way up to St Lucia. “Anyone with any degree of appreciation and understanding of that particular challenge would understand the dynamics of movement in that space,” he said.

On the illicit trafficking of drugs, arms and people, Maharaj noted that they have been engaged in several joint foray with the police as well as with regional and international partners regarding “this very daunting challenge”.

He said the issue was not only about pirogues from Venezuela or elsewhere easily landing at vulnerable entry points, but was also about how robust and effective the arrangements were for scanning, checking and controlling movement of goods through established ports, both air and sea.

He said in the fight against crime the Defence Force has a supporting role to the police and other agencies and do not duplicate efforts of the other law enforcement agencies. He noted that the Defence Force engages in programmes with the youth such as MILAT and MYPART, and will soon be taking over the Life Sport programme. Life Sport has been removed from the Sports Ministry to the National Security Ministry following allegations of financial impropriety and links to criminals. National Security Minister Gary Griffith had reported that the Defence Force will assist with the restructuring of the programme and would not be intimidated by any potential criminal elements.

Maharaj also spoke of the Defence Force work with natural disasters and the sub-units that assist the police.

“The Defence all things to all people at all times,” he said.

He said the Defence Force will not stand on ceremony but reaffirms its commitment to finding solutions to national challenges.

He said what is giving criminal gang leaders the legitimacy to thrive in this country and extend their influence across religious and ethnic lines is “ruthlessness and shared discontent with authority”.

In order to counter this Maharaj said we must strengthen State and non-State institutions, and political and social structures to reduce or remove conditions for marginalisation and social disengagement.

“Sanctions established by the State to deter crime are useless if we do not have systems, structures and mechanisms to replace those on the other side that we intend to remove or destroy,” he advised. He noted to combat crime we have to fight on multiple fronts the combined effects of marginalisation, unemployment, a culture of disinterest and disenchantment, conflicting messages from leaders across all strata of society, failed parenting, the pervasiveness of social media, and the “new normal of rugged individualism versus the collective”.

He said that for trust and confidence for people to comply with orders “you must be viewed as a legitimate leader and the institution you represent must be deemed to be legitimate”. He noted that to mobilise the collective will of the people, State resources, business sector and NGOs to solve crime “people must believe, truly believe in their consciousness, that there is an unquestionable pure motive to be shared and led and worth bleeding for in order to attain success”. He stressed that attaining legitimacy of character and competence was “not easy” but required a “discernible consistency” between messages and actions and the adherence to values.

During the question and answer segment one man suggested utilising former military personnel to assist with communities, and Maharaj responded that was a future plan that would also include serving members. He noted that eventually every community group will have a serving military member. He said the symposium was unprecedented in that it featured both State and non-State actors.



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