Indeed, the number of murders in the first eight months of this year has already exceeded the number reported in the entire 12 months of last year and has, in fact, reached record levels. This situation has been very distressing to me and has been dominating my attention and thought processes on an ongoing basis.
Fellow citizens, notwithstanding the economic crisis that continues to haunt the entire globe, we have been making great progress in addressing our fiscal imbalances, and we are on the verge of reducing our debt substantially through a debt restructuring programme that we are implementing with the assistance of the International Monetary Fund. Indeed we believe that our efforts in this regard would lay a solid foundation for the attainment of sustained growth over the medium-term and long-term.
Unfortunately, the current levels of crime in our country, if continued for an extended period, could undermine our programme of debt reduction, growth and development; and bring all of our efforts to naught. We run the risk of shattering the confidence of our many foreign investors, scaring away potential tourists and depleting our confidence in ourselves as a people and our willingness to engage in investment and other economic activities critical to the development of our nation.
I am aware that the Ministry of National Security under the leadership of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable Sam Condor has been working assiduously to combat crime and I am certain that many of the initiatives that have been introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister will bear fruit over time. However, I believe that crime in our country has reached the stage where the people of St. Kitts and Nevis must be able to definitively and unequivocally hold its Prime Minister responsible for its resolution over a reasonable period of time. We cannot continue to pass blame from one person to another, and to randomly pick and choose the persons and entities on which we would wish to lay blame.
The buck stops with the Prime Minister whom you elected to serve you and protect you with the help of the Cabinet and the various organs and institutions of Government. Indeed I am convinced that crime represents such a huge risk to our society and to all of our achievements as a Nation, that it must be addressed at the very highest level of our Government.
Tomorrow, our newly recruited Police Commissioner, a proud and distinguished son of the soil, will formally assume the mantle of leadership of the St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force and we expect that he will help to modernize the Force; enhance discipline among the various ranks in the Force; and boost the effectiveness of the Force in fighting crime, bringing criminals to justice and carrying out the overall mandate of the Police Force. In addition, today by our Parliamentary debates, we are passing the Gang (Prohibition and Prevention) Act, 2011, which will dramatically enhance our capacity to undermine and counter dysfunctional gang activities including the many crimes committed by our young people in gangs. But these actions along with the many initiatives that we have been introducing in recent months to combat crime, must be bolstered by even greater accountability to our people, through the monitoring, general policy oversight, and regular reporting to the people by policy-makers occupying the highest levels of Government.
It is in this context that I have decided to establish a Ministerial Task Force that will be comprised of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the Minister of Works, and myself, as Chairman, to provide general oversight and policy guidance in relation to all crime fighting activities in our Federation. This Task Force will ensure that the security forces are provided the resources that they require to effectively fight crime, and will monitor the implementation of a comprehensive crime reduction plan that we intend to publish shortly. We expect that the new Commissioner will take the lead in formulating this plan which will consolidate all of the initiatives and plans that we have announced in recent times, take full account of the many views and opinions expressed by our people through various media, and bring on board many of the Commissioner’s own ideas and strategies, based on his vast experience and outstanding credentials as a Law Enforcement Officer in the United States of America.
This plan will identify clear and concrete objectives and targets, timelines for each planned activity, the person or entity responsible for the implementation of each activity, and critical milestones and indicators of success in the implementation of the plan. This would allow me, as Chairman of the Ministerial Task Force, to report to the public at least quarterly in very clear and precise terms, as to the progress being made in implementing the plan and in combating crime and violence generally.
This Task Force will also liaise with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Crime and Violence, which establishment was recently announced by the Minister of National Security, and will seek to ensure that all plans and initiatives in relation to crime are subjected meaningful bipartisan consultations and supported by appropriate legislation in Parliament. As Chairman of the Ministerial Task Force on Crime, I will keep the Parliamentary Select Committee updated on a regular basis on the progress that we are making in respect of the fight against crime and take full account of their views and comments in relation to the fight against crime and violence.
To ensure that the fight against crime is given maximum support at the highest level of Government I also propose to establish a Special Anti-Crime Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister that would provide administrative and secretarial support to the Ministerial Task Force, monitor the implementation of the crime plan, coordinate the activities of the various law enforcement agencies, and provide an effective administrative interface between the policymakers and the security forces. This Unit would be headed by a Permanent Secretary who would be assigned specifically to the management of the Anti-Crime Unit and would be responsible for the discharge of administrative functions in relation to the Police and the Defence Force.
Hence, to give effect to this new arrangement, His Excellency the Governor General, Sir Cuthbert Sebastian, acting on my advice and in keeping with our Constitution, has assigned the subjects of Police and Defence Force to me. This would enable me to effectively carry out my duties as Chairman of the Ministerial Task Force and to provide policy directions in relation to the fight against crime. It would also give the Anti-Crime Unit in the Office of the Prime Minister the necessary authority to discharge its administrative functions in relation to the Police and Defence Force.
It is intended that the Hon. Sam Condor, our Deputy Prime Minister, will continue to hold all of his other portfolios in a restructured Ministry, restyled the Ministry of Home Land Security, Foreign Affairs, Labour and Social Security. The Department of Home Land Security will include Immigration, Passports, Prisons, Fire & Rescue Services, and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). He will also continue to play a major role in the fight against crime through his involvement in the Ministerial Task Force. Hence, he would be able to provide help in carrying forward many of the crime fighting activities and programmes that he initiated. Indeed, the Government and the entire nation owes the Hon Sam Condor a great debt of gratitude for his hard work in the fight against crime to date, and for the devotion and commitment that he displays in the discharge of his mandate as Minister of National Security.
Fellow Citizens, my Government will do its part to eradicate this scourge of crime and violence in our beloved country. We take full responsibility for effective law enforcement in our country. Indeed, we have always identified law and order as well as the protection of our people and their property as a critical objective of the Government. We are convinced that the initiatives we have introduced, and will continue to introduce, should reduce crime dramatically.
It is a fact that the criminals are responsible for the crimes they have committed. Those who have committed these heinous crimes, especially homicides, will not be allowed to rest easy. No option under the law will be excluded in tracking down these killers, in charging them and punishing them. The tears, pain and suffering of the families of the victims must not be in vain.
However, our law enforcement agencies require the full support of our community. Moreover, we must continue to pursue our long-term initiatives aimed at crime prevention and remove the culture of fear from our communities. It is our homes and our schools that are the factories that produce criminals. Hence, my Government will continue to refine our education system and support our families through training in parenting and appropriate intervention where necessary. We are also pursuing an expansive social agenda aimed at getting to the root of crime and violence and countering deviant behaviour. I encourage our people, our families, our institutions, our Non-Governmental Organizations, our Churches, our Schools, our political parties to lend a helping hand. This is not the time for political haggling. It is time for Action on every front.
I thank you.