THE country’s fiscal position is preventing government from doing some of the things that it would like to enhance security and the rule of law. However, the government is still pressing ahead with the little that it can do.
National Security Minister Hermangild Francis last acknowledged the problem as he addressed members of the Chamber of Commerce at their luncheon at Coco Palm Hotel.
“The reality is such that our fiscal position does not allow us to do some of the things that we needed to do in this fiscal space. But as a Ministry, we cannot lie down and play dead and as such we will fight as hard as possible to do the things we expect will enhance security and justice in our country,” Francis said.
Crime, he said, is a real problem in the country and must be dealt with diligently, adding that dealing with sexual offenses is high on government’s list, especially child sexual abuse.
“Sexual offenses seem to be a culture of acceptance when it comes to child abused and unlawful carnal knowledge with children. We intend to strengthen legislation to deal with that scourge,” Francis said.
The Minister added that government is presently looking at the building at Coubaril which once housed the St. Lucia Social Development Fund (SSDF) as a home for young women “who have been abused and lost their way in society”.
Government, he said, is working on establishing paternity tests, particularly for times when under-aged girl are pregnant and the male responsible cannot be found. The forensic laboratory at Tapion will be fitted to perform such a test.
Francis said government is attempting to enhance laws to make it mandatory for males suspected of sexual interference with an under-aged girl to provide blood samples for a paternity test.
He added: “The forensic lab will provide additional services in toxicology, which will allow us to deal with the prevalence of drunk driving. We will also deal with paternity tests — and I say paternity test because we allow young people to get pregnant at an early age and we are never able to find the fathers of those children.”
Francis also spoke of plans to beef up the country’s ability to tackle crime generally, including the training of crime scene officers, taking of fingerprints off dead persons and the creation of the new Border Control, which will be the amalgamation of the Customs Department, Immigration Department, Marine Unit of the Royal St. Lucia Police Force and the section of the Ministry of Agriculture that deals with plants and animals. He said Border Control will enhance the collection of the country’s finances and protect its borders, something the Americans are pleased with.
“The Americans have given us the assurance that if we were to do that, they intend to fund again the Marine Unit fully. By doing that, the Marine Unit will be able to patrol our waters and be able to stop the influx of firearms from places like Martinique, Venezuela and others,” Francis said.
He spoke of America’s withdrawal of assistance from the police force and the Marine Unit as an area of national security in need of enhancement which, could come via regional sources.
“I am presently the Chairman of the regional security team, RSS, and in that regard I have spoken to the Director to devise ways and means to have our police officers trained, although we are still not allowed to participate in training sponsored by the U.S.”, Francis said.
The Minister also spoke of “Operation Restore Confidence”, which resulted in the shooting deaths of 12 individuals between 2010 and 2011 and the changes those years brought to police procedures and tactics in combating crime.
Francis said that in an effort to improve the effeciency in the justice system the government had appointed an additional judge to continue to pursue the backlog of cases in the courts.
“We have also increased the jurisdiction of the magistrate by giving them the power to address cases from the sum of $5,000 to $25, 000. This, we believe, will allow the magistrate to clear up some of the backlog. The Adjudicator’s Office has been strengthened to allow for personal documents like birth certificates and marriage certificates to be produced in a more timely fashion. We intend to purchase a programme called ‘Vital Wear’, which will enhance the security of our files. We also intend to open a second office in the south of the island,” Francis said.
Cybercrime and cyber security, Francis said, are high on government’s agenda. To that end, the regional security force will form a unit to train police officers and other government officials in combating this emerging threat.
Francis expressed regret that government was unable to have a comprehensive CCTV programme, blaming the country’s fiscal situation. However, he applauded some businesses for putting up their own security systems which, he said, the government may have to piggyback on. He also hoped that government embarked on the CCTV programme next year.