The crackdown of the multi-million-dollar illegal quarrying operations has resulted in a criminal backlash where gunshots were repeatedly fired at the home of a public official and death threats sent to another.
Minister of the Environment and Water Resources Ganga Singh has expressed disappointment at the police response to the matter, saying this was an attack on the State and linked to the crime scourge in East Port of Spain.
The Sunday Express understands that a relative of a slain gang leader from East Port of Spain was one of the key players in an illegal quarrying business which is estimated to rake in some $100,000 a day.
Both Singh and Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine will be meeting with National Security officials this week to discuss the issue.
The ministers confirmed to the Sunday Express that the house of director of Minerals Monty Beharry was fired at over a dozen times at around 12.35 a.m. on August 18.
Beharry and his family were at home at the time when gunmen opened fire on his house and two cars parked in his driveway.
The Sunday Express learnt that chairman of the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) Dr Allan Bachan has also received death threats with a death threat note recently being sent to him.
“This has to be dealt with as an attack on the State because you have senior public servants doing their work and the criminal elements are after them,” said Singh.
He said the EMA recently went unannounced and stopped an illegal quarrying operation at Runway Drive, Piarco and on the heels of that clampdown, Bachan was sent a death threat and Beharry’s home fired on.
“We believe there is a direct relationship between the EMA stopping that illegal quarrying operation in Runway Drive and what is transpiring now (the crime increase),” said Singh.
He questioned why the police seemed to be dragging their feet on the issues.
“The police know who are the perpetrators of that illegal quarry, they are known criminals and they also have an impact on the East Port of Spain criminality that is taking place and I am really disappointed that the police have not moved with that measure of alacrity required in situations like this,” said Singh.
The police, he said, cannot be fearful and need to place added pressure on these perpetrators.
“When you hold the position they cannot be fearful, our public servants have demonstrated that they intend to enforce the law,” said Singh.
He said he visited Beharry and his family on August 18 where two police constables were present taking a report from him.
“I know that DCP (Mervyn) Richardson is aware of the circumstances but I feel there has to be an urgent and compelling response to this attack on this senior public servant and also on the threats to the chairman of the EMA,” said Singh.
He said the Environment Ministry will not be intimidated by criminals and the clampdown on the illegal quarrying industry will continue.
“Our position is clear, we have to put an end to illegal quarrying, we intend to work with the enforcement authorities with a view to bringing them to an end and we will not be thwarted in our approach by any kind of criminal activity,” said Singh.
Ramnarine told the Sunday Express that the attack on public servants was an “act of terror” and strong police force was needed.
“I strongly condemn this as an act of terrorism against high ranking and hard working public servants who have been at the forefront of the ministry’s drive to clamp down on illegal quarrying,” said Ramnarine.
“The ministry has since taken steps to provide Mr Beharry with private security, This also follows on the heels of an arson attack on the home of chairman of (National Petroleum) Neil Gosine in February,” he added.
Ramnarine said illegal quarrying and illegal diesel sales were both central to financing criminal operations.
“I also want to commend the EMA and Minister Ganga Singh for adopting a no-nonsense approach to illegal quarrying. I am working closely with Minister Singh on this matter and I have also been speaking with Attorney General (Anand) Ramlogan,” said Ramnarine.
He said the Energy Ministry and the relevant agencies will not relent in dealing with these matters.
DCP Richardson, speaking to the Sunday Express by phone confirmed that police were investigating the incidents against the public officials.
Richardson gave the assurance that the police were on the case.
“I am not happy with the current crime situation, I wish it could be better, I am not happy at all with it. But I am satisfied with the response of the police on the field thus far. I am satisfied with the police in the way they have been handling the matter and I want to give assurance to the public that we will continue to do so in a very robust and a very focused manner,” he said.
“I know that the police are doing their best with respect to the whole issue of illegal quarrying. There are a number of matters before the courts and a lot of equipment have been seized thus far, so we are doing what we could but we could always ask for additional support in these areas,” he added.