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Ramkissoon blasts Gov't over vehicles, teen's death

Monday, November 26, 2012    

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THE Government continues to receive flak for its purchase of 16 expensive sport utility vehicles for Cabinet ministers and the continuing housing of teenagers in adult prisons, this time from respected Catholic priest Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon.

Known for his untiring work with the country's poor and dispossessed, Ramkissoon described both issues as "a travesty of justice" and slammed the Government for spending on unnecessary luxuries at a time when the country was experiencing hard economic times.

"If we say we don't have enough money to look after teenagers, why are we spending so much money on cars that are really not needed?" he asked.

"The word minister means to serve, and if I can go around this country in a four-wheel pickup, with all the potholes — and I travel all over the place — why does a minister need a limit of US$35,000 to buy a car?"

Ramkissoon is the latest to criticise the Government for the purchase of the high-end vehicles, a move which has been stoutly defended by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

Last week, at a public forum in St James, the prime minister said that ministers should not be made to live below the standard to which they were accustomed before entering politics.

"Being a politician does not mean you should not live the life which you have lived before," she said. "A number of politicians who were professionals before they entered politics were living better than they are living now and were earning much more in terms of salaries," she added.

However, in his response, Ramkissoon said that Simpson Miller's attempt at a justification does not make sense.

"If ministers have the same level of life that they had before, why get in to serve? We are serving a poor nation, we're not serving America," he said.

The Administration has also soaked up additional criticism for holding teenagers in adult correctional centres following the suspected suicide last week of 16-year-old Vanessa Wint at the Horizon Remand Centre in Kingston.

Wint's relatives said that she had become a ward of the State after fleeing her home in 2009 to prevent an adult male who molested her from carrying out his threat to harm her parents if she told them of the abuse.

In his broadside against the Government on Saturday, Ramkissoon said that the $60 million spent to purchase the SUVs could have been used to either rent or acquire space in an empty Government building to accommodate teenagers in trouble.

He said that the justice system should not be putting teenagers in adult correctional facilities and accused the Child Development Agency, as well as the Children's Advocate of not doing their jobs.

"What are all these people doing?" Ramkissoon asked.

He expressed fear that other teenagers will commit suicide, given what is happening to them in their communities.

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