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TCI: Press Statement from the Leader of the Opposition

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#Providenciales, October 15, 2019 – Turks and Caicos – “The threat of crime is real, and the long-term peace of the TCI is at risk. It is past time to trade rhetoric for action.”

On Saturday, 12th October 2019, we woke up to a report of the 13th murder of the year. This came after 10 days of brazen and unchecked violence at the hands of cowards.

On 6th March 2017, in a press statement I lamented and condemned the growing incident of violent crimes perpetrated against innocent persons.  In that press statement I pledged solidarity with the Government (not silence) in the fight against crime and have since then repeatedly affirmed my belief that the fight against crime must not be a political one.  On 29th July 2017, in yet another press statement, I was forced to acknowledged that our peaceful homeland was facing a crisis as both the incidence and gravity of criminal acts ballooned.

Then, on 31st July 2019 I was compelled to reluctantly issue another press statement addressing the escalation in gun crimes resulting in deaths.  However, the situation in the last ten days has been the most troubling to date. Those who would rob, maim and kill us have shown that they are prepared to act in the light of day without regard for the police. 

Unfortunately, the response to this threat has been routine and lukewarm, while the fate of our families and communities are being threatened. Local law enforcement is out gunned and outmanned. Law abiding citizens are imprisoned in their own homes and all the while there is a deafening silence and inaction from those who are elected to protect us, or who bear constitutional responsibility for the security of these Islands.

Fear and anxiety in our communities are running high amid calls for drastic and immediate action.  We must now spare no cost or concern ourselves about individual egos in an effort to protect and bring the country back to a sense of normalcy; this calls for engagement with all stakeholders.

The structures in place to engage with stakeholders are woefully inadequate; as the Leader of the Opposition, I have no direct role in the security of the islands nor am I privy to decisions of the National Security Council.  I am, however, a member of the National Security Council Advisory Group, which last met briefly on the 13th March 2019. Despite this, I have tried to provide advice to those with responsibility for direct security of these islands through press statements and monthly bilateral meetings with the Governor.  While not exhaustive, the suggestions that I have made are practical, reasonable, affordable and implementable immediately.

In my July 2019 press release, I called for the following interim measures subject to the development of longer term strategies:

1.         The Government to make available through supplementary appropriation, additional resources to increase police presence in the communities and places where violent crimes are prevalent;

2.         The Government to pass legislation to require all residents to always carry a TCIG issued picture ID, and for visitors to provide IDs and an address on the islands when required to do so by law enforcement officers;

3.         The Government to consider limited curfews at designated hours of the night in high risk areas;

4.         Government to make available container and handheld scanning equipment at all ports to detect guns and other contraband;

5.         The police to institute a system of surprise rolling roadblocks at strategic locations to search for firearms and other contrabands;

6.         The police to make routine the search for unlicensed motor vehicles and unlicensed drivers; and    

7.         The cancelling of operating licences for businesses that have a history of violence on property.

In addition to the above, today I am advising the Government to take the following steps immediately. 

•           Re-establish the Police Training School for the training of recruits and continuous education for police officers;

•           Immediately hire an additional 30 tactical trained police officers in addition to the 20 new recruits recently budgeted for;

•           Institute a 90-day intensive training program for new recruits and initially deploy them on beat duty in the various communities;

•           Install check points on all roads in/out of high-risk communities;

•           Open at least 3 additional Police Stations/Posts  – Blue Hills, Five Cays and Kew Town;

•           Acquire and deploy at least twenty unmarked police cars manned by plain clothes police officers for undercover duty;

•           Expedite the introduction of a biometric unique identifier system for every person legally entitled to reside in the islands;

•           Create a database of Turks & Caicos Islanders deported from foreign countries;

•           Introduce a witness protection legislative and support framework system for informers of violent crimes;

•           Introduce Electronic Monitoring legislation to allow for the monitoring of persons on bail and parole; and

•           Introduce Telephone Intercept Communications legislation like that used in the Cayman Islands.

I am fully aware that my suggestions do not take into consideration the root cause of crime in our country and therefore the measures suggested are containment, abatement and control responses.  The root causes of crime are largely economic and social constructs and the political directorate must now come to grips with the need to balance rapid economic growth with home grown social development goals, economic fairness and inclusiveness to rebuild the social capital of the TCI.

Crime impacts everyone, and the solution requires active sectoral representation.  The current situation demands an immediate meeting of the National Security Council Advisory Group to receive detail updates on the recently announced National Security Strategy, and to provide input into security enhancement measures to protect our communities.

Going forward it is of critical importance that the National Security Council Advisory Group is routinely engaged as critical partners in the security of the Turks and Caicos Islands.– the threat of crime is real, and the long-term peace of the TCI is at risk.  It is past time to trade rhetoric for action!!!  The PNP call on HMG in the UK to take strong measures now to protect the people and economy of the TCI.  We call on this PDM Administration to stand with us and let us begin a non-violent protest movement until our justifiable security concerns are addressed.

May God bless us all; and may God bless the TCI.

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PNP Government not prepared for this work!

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#TurksandCaicos, September 16, 2021 – This is exactly what the PDM was warning the new PNP Administration about, hoping that this did not occur; COVID-19 being spread in our schools amongst our babies. My fears are from the positions of a Parent, a citizen, a Member of Parliament, a former Minister of Health, and a Scientist.

In my press release from a week ago I stated “And we know how critical it is to get our children back to school. It is especially critical for their mental health and their development. In achieving this, the Government must ensure that schools can open with confidence, both in capacity and in the broader public health indicators that exist. Safety of our children and our families should be driving the decisions of the Government every step of the way.”

I then went on to say “Our first job must be to care for our children, and provide a safe learning environment. However, the PNP Administration’s readiness for the reopening of Schools this week was frightening to observe. All occurrences showed that this PNP Administration was not adequately prepared, and did not provide the schools, through the Department of Education, the much-needed budgetary support in human resources, adequate safety materials, supplies and early provision of book-list. In addition, they did not provide the schools with any enhanced and improved health and safety guidelines.  They should not put your child and your family at risk.”

And now our worse fears are coming through. This new Government should immediately adjust protocols, execute their contingency plans, if any, and take all mitigating actions to prevent further spread. Immediate action is needed.

I had also stated that; “The Government had every opportunity to be more than ready to mitigate against all the known challenges that the Pandemic presents. It would have been in everyone’s best interest if the Government had budgeted for the hiring of more teachers, and more staff for the schools, which would enable decreasing class sizes, hence providing our students and teachers with a safer environment.”

It is not a bad thing to admit that you got something wrong, and then immediately correct the mistakes, especially when the lives at risk are our children.  It is bad when no immediate action or adjustments are made to correct the mistakes.  The Government has fell down in many areas while executing the re-opening of schools under a covid-19 environment.

The new PNP administration must take urgent actions, and after, immediately address the issues of overcrowding, class sizes, number of teachers, Cohort groups/school hours, and school health and surveillance systems.

Do not fail our children, our future, our parents, our families, and our country.

 

Hon. Edwin A. Astwood

Leader of the Opposition

 

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PDM’s Robert Been speaks out, calls Premier to forefront

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#TurksandCaicos, September 13, 2021 – The people are not getting what they voted for. The momentum initially shown by the Progressive National Party’s administration is slowing down day by day – and we are only seven months from February 2021 elections. In general, the PNP party is accused of being arrogant, inaccessible, untrustworthy, unresponsive and displaying clear favoritism to their party supporters first, and I am encouraging the PNP to stick to the promises made to the TCI people that you will not continue in this way. Elections are over.

The voters gave you another chance to prove that you can do what you promised – to serve the entire Turks and Caicos Islands, but sadly, I don’t see enough of the work going on like it was promised.

Education

While it is clear some work has gone into seeing better in our school system, Turks and Caicos Islands children are still being shared out of the spaces in their own country. We don’t want any child left behind, and definitely not our own children in their own land.

Why is this happening? With new schools, the Education Minister said these problems would be addressed, but the narrative continues. On behalf of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, I am calling for there to be an investigation into why our children cannot get into schools the government builds and staffs. We need real answers, progressive action, so that we understand what is going wrong and make it right… and this includes our special needs children.

Minister, you say you want the people to feel that you really do love them, well I call on you to immediately investigate every avenue to determine why many TCI families are still at the short end of the stick when it comes to securing sound education for all of our children – special needs or not, and enact productive plans that see a final end to these concerns.

Tourism

A major policy change came into force since September 1st 2021, which impacted our tourism industry and investors – domestic and foreign. The Minister of Health is leading on this, but we also need the Minister of Tourism to step out and thoroughly review all aspects of this decision to thoroughly address the valid concerns being expressed by our citizens. Ego should have no room in managing our economy in a way that is best for our economy.

There is integrity in reconsidering the negative effects of a decision, and moving forward with a better plan. Only God is perfect. Let us look around the world and learn from their mistakes, as well as glean from their wise decisions. There are other ways to achieve a desired goal – Minister of Health and Minister of Tourism, I appeal to you, before things get worse, work together and please explore this in other ways as well.

As a stakeholder, and someone whom you both are familiar with, I am happy to make myself available to put forth my ideas if it means the better of our nation. Finally about tourism, it has been since March 2020 that Grand Turk and Salt Cay have lost their tourism slice.

Plans to revive this industry always seem to get pushed back with no updates since June 2021. Millions of dollars sit in the joint infrastructure fund and even though they had a meeting with Carnival Cruise Line in June, we have not heard anything about projects, incentives, the new dock or the new cruise line company. Meanwhile Grand Turk people are leaving the island and businesses have to shut down, which makes job opportunities even harder to find there.

Providenciales is our pearl, but other islands exist in our Beautiful By Nature island chain. I am challenging you to speak to us about the future of our industry and any changes you are planning for our brand. What are you doing to soften the blow of this pandemic so it does not sink our tourism ship and what actual plans are in place to strengthen our tourism product?

Health

This is my final point. We cannot find spaces for our severely ill people at facilities in nearby countries due to the effect of surges of Covid-19 cases and the ongoing pandemic. We feel it for our regional health partners and are grateful for the open doors the NHIB was able to find.

However, if we are flown to the DR or Colombia, where we can find medical care and we die of the coronavirus – then the remains of our loved ones are cremated. This is a circumstance we cannot change and a heart-wrenching pill to swallow. I heard the Minister of Health say that it is out of his hands. And while that might be case, where is the plan to get Turks and Caicos out of this position? Let’s put our heads together to find a way around this.

No one wants the return of dear loved ones in a jar. We need a hospital which can cater to trauma emergencies. We need a hospital with a fully-functioning ICU. If it takes borrowing, if it takes strategy in finally developing medical tourism – let’s get the plan for it. Let’s get the public informed of that plan and with an agreed approach, let us finally fix healthcare in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Conclusion To the Hon Premier, your experience has earned you this prestigious title.

Your party’s theme was “We come for this wo’k”, and “this work” requires you to be occupied at the helm. Return to the forefront so your people do not feel abandoned in the midst of important health care concerns, the Covid-19 surge, cost of doing business, inflation and this recent mandate which lacked proper consultation by all levels of businesses in tourism and finance.

Your past experience, which you boasted has assisted in our country’s economic development and its thriving, is actively needed now. You have said many times, and I was happy to hear, that this is not about party politics, but about all of us as a people.

My call to you is the same. Turks and Caicos is a topclass destination and we demand top-class delivery on the Contract you wrote.

Just a reminder that the three (3) month stimulus plan is incomplete. The impact of the recent entry requirement is costing so many in hard-earned income – it’s time to deliver in full on this promise.

You wanted the work, you got the work, now do the work – for all of us!

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Bahamas News

Caribbean Wellness Day 2021

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#Caribbean, September 13, 2021 – Health, in every facet, is sought-after, at great expense, by all members of the global community. Though the success of our endeavours in health varies from region to region, it must be emphasised that in our Region, a healthy Caribbean is always the goal for which we strive.

Each year the Caribbean Region observes, Caribbean Wellness Day since it was established at the 2007 landmark summit, ‘Declaration of Port of Spain: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases.’

This year’s commemoration focuses on equitable access to health; an all of society approach to health and well-being, and building healthy communities under the theme, “Power Through Collective Action: In it Together, Building Healthy Communities.”

As health care systems are being taxed by the devastating effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is even more important now to advocate for equitable access to health. Too many of our Caribbean citizens face harsh realities, because of inequities in access – this should not be. Caribbean Wellness Day is the most opportune time for the members of our Caribbean community to ensure that the health of our people is indeed a priority through legislative change, health in all policies and all of society action.

Equitable access to health care in the Caribbean is one of CARPHA’s points of focus as can be seen through our work to ensure equitable access to PPE, equipment, supplies and vaccines through the COVAX facility, a mechanism whose primary function is to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and donations notably the US Government donation of 5.5 million doses of Pfizer BioNTech.

Without the power of voices in chorus, like with the COVAX facility; the Caribbean Cooperation in Health (CCH) and others – many more would be disadvantaged and unserved. Achieving health for all in the Caribbean also means attaining and sustaining healthy environments.

The built environment, which provides for sidewalks, bike lanes, community parks and green spaces, can influence lifestyles, body weight, and improve mental health. As these necessary frameworks are made reality and we avail ourselves of them, we exercise Power through Collective Action showing that we are truly in it together, Building Healthy Communities.

As we speak about the environment, we must mention the effects of climate change. The inaction in the past has set the world on a course of environmental destruction. We need to act now; it is the only way that we can protect the generations to come from even worse realities than those we face today.

As we seek to mitigate the damage done due to inaction on the recommended major climate change interventions, we need to address other pertinent issues. Vector-borne diseases remain a challenge in many Caribbean territories, and unlike the bleak outlook that is presented on climate change, simple adjustments in our behaviour can make the world of difference.

By eradicating breeding grounds of mosquitoes in our immediate environment and communities, we minimize the spread of many vector-borne diseases. Advocacy in health should be the standard operation of every Region, State, and organisation. Sustaining Health and well-being is one of the very few universal desires.

Regardless of creed, culture, or any other divisive line – all organised bodies have a responsibility to promote health. Further to this, we need to take the time to look after ourselves and our families and communities.

Simple actions – increasing our intake of local produce, reading labels of processed foods to make informed decisions, scheduling regular exercise – these actions will drastically improve the health and quality of life of our people.

Working together to this end, will lead to healthier minds, healthier bodies, and a Caribbean that exudes wellness.

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