The newly appointed Police Minister Doug Singh, Leader of Government Business in the Senate, chairman of the United Democratic Party and owner of an offshore business,International Corporate Services, made his debut at a Government Press Conference on Wednesday, at the unveiling of the Government’s latest crime plan, RESTORE Belize, immediately taking the hot seat as the media probed to find out if he can really make a difference in the fight against crime.
On Tuesday, the Barrow administration created a new Ministry of Police and Public Security and put Singh in charge of it. “I hived off the Police Ministry from the larger Ministry of National Security, because I wanted concentrated firepower with respect to the Police Ministry so that’s what it is… no magic! …The thinking behind it is to have this dedicated, completely super-intensive effort made by the Minister of the Police,” Prime Minister Dean Barrow explained to us Wednesday.
The new Police Minister, who is the big brother of Tourism and Culture CEO Mike Singh, told Amandala, in an interview, that he was part of the team that worked on RESTORE Belize over the past two months.
“There are three fundamentally weak areas that really need addressing at this point in time,” said Singh.
Among them, he named public confidence in the police: “The police is really at a zero level or below zero level with respect to public confidence at this point in time — whether it is deserved or undeserved. That has to be worked on,” he told us.
While the former Minister of National Security (Police), Carlos Perdomo, was criticized by members of the public for being nearly invisible, Singh, who describes himself as a very public person, says he hopes to be “a bit more visible.” “I don’t shy away from anything,” he commented.
The public sentiment is that the Police portfolio – given the current state of affairs – should be given to someone who can be tough on crime! “What type are you?,” we asked Singh, “soft or tough?”
“Well, I think we have to be a combination. I don’t think anybody can be any one or the other. We must be soft when it’s necessary; and we have to be tough when it’s necessary. As a business person, I have learned that that is a very necessary formula – not just in business, but it’s necessary just about everywhere.”
As to the timeframes announced by the Prime Minister for effecting elements of the crime plan, and specifically to get the Southside Safe Zones designated by August 2010, Singh said those aren’t written in stone and may be subject to change, because they must get the community’s agreement first.
“We want to see very rapid results, but we can’t ‘rush the brush’ at the expense of undermining the whole program,” he said.
The police, said Singh, have to work hand-in-hand with the community, “because we can’t go very far without that community support.”
He also noted the need to improve the conviction rate – which we have previously reported, has been estimated at 7% for murder. The Minister of Police said that, as areas of priority, they need to focus on improving the taking of witness statements, training for police, and ensuring that a lot of resources are put into the forensics so that the police become less dependent on witness testimony.
The Belize City Council recently held a one-day Crime Summit, at which various community groups and interest groups were drawn into a multi-sectoral strategy for the Old Capital.
“A combined initiative between what the City Council is doing and what the government is doing should certainly have some very positive results for the City,” said Singh.