All was not as it seemed with scrap iron yards which were found to conceal thousands of gallons of diesel fuel in an “underground bunker,” Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday maintained, following continued Beetham Gardens’ concerns on the issue. Persad-Bissessar insisted on the situation yesterday when she spoke at a function at Beetham Gardens where scrap iron yards were cleared out and the iron confiscated by security forces over a week ago. The issue arose at the launch of the Making Life Important (MLI) project at Excel School, Beetham Gardens, Port-of- Spain. It is the first of Government’s projects to start rebuilding communities after criminals elements had been removed. It also is geared at strengthening ties between residents and police to keep crime under control.
Persad-Bissessar visited Beetham Gardens yesterday following recent search-and-seizure exercises by security forces in the state of emergency. There had been outcries against the situation by some in Beetham Gardens. During yesterday’s launch, one of the speakers, activist Wayne Jordan, appealed for a plan for scrap iron dealers who had lost their materials. He said the National Security Ministry and dealers needed to get together on the issue. Jordon called on Government to replace the “little” which residents had lost with something better. Persad-Bissessar, speaking after Jordan, added several statements on the issue to her prepared speech to deal with it. She reiterated a claim which Government made in the Parliament on the weekend during debate on the emergency: That thousands of gallons of diesel fuel had been found buried under scrap iron yards.
Persad-Bissessar said: “Let it be known that not everything is always as they seem. I’m advised that when the scrapyard was raided a bunker was found underground with 18,000 gallons of diesel fuel which was being kept to be transmitted illegally. “We have not targeted any person or persons. Our targets are those bent on criminal activity.” Following the function, Beetham Estates’ scrap iron dealers, including Joel Lee, were among residents who denied the “bunker” claim and raised concerns about Persad-Bissessar’s visit to the area yesterday.
Lee, who had attended the function where Persad- Bissessar spoke, told reporters: “There is no ‘underground bunker’ in Beetham Estates. They might have found something in Sea Lots west. They sent out invitations to this function to us and we didn’t even get a chance to raise our concerns with the Prime Minister, so why invite us? “They say every creed and race find an equal place so we want to know where is such a place for us on the Beetham? “We are being victimised. They are coming with false evidence on the seizure of our scrap metals,” Lee added. Another operator, who was very agitated, complained: “I have three children and I go on the dump and hustle scrap metal, now you come and close down everything. What am I to do?”
Persad-Bissessar, in her address at the function, said the decision to impose the emergency was not an easy one “and there was much deliberation upon it.” She reiterated that a “crisis of immense proportions” was averted “So when I hear critics of this decision measuring what success the state of emergency has had or will have over time, I know that it was successful from the moment we averted the crisis,” the PM said, admitting Government has had to make some tough decisions. She said 56 guns have been seized by police in the two weeks of the emergency as compared with 213 guns found in the last year. Persad-Bissessar said there had therefore been a 400 per cent increase in gun confiscation since the emergency.
She said the MLI plan was another anti-crime plan, apart from the emergency. The PM said Government was aware some communities, particularly within Port-of-Spain, faced challenges from poverty, joblessness, collapse of supportive family structures and lack of father figures. Persad-Bissessar said challenges also included the proliferation of street gangs “which offer nurturing, protection, friendship, emotional support and other distractions for unattended, unchaperoned resident youths.” Announcing plans for Beetham Gardens, Persad-Bissessar said the Ministry of the People would operate a social services desk in the area.