KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, March 20, IWN — This country continues to play catch up in terms of reports of theft of agricultural produce and livestock and convictions.

And Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said he thinks the magistracy is not using the full range of sentencing options in relations to this crime.

Gonsalves, in response to a question to opposition senator, Dr. Linton Lewis, told Parliament last week that in 2008, 2009, and 2012, respectively, this country recorded 174, 222, and 198 cases of theft of agricultural produce.

In each of those years, 29, 44, and 34 cases of theft of produce were brought to court and there were 22, 31, and nine convictions, respectively.

In 2008, 2011, and 2012, respectively, the number of reported cases of theft of livestock was 247, 316, and 199.

Those same years, 18, 24, and 14 cases were brought to court, and there were 10, 16, and 10 convictions, respectively.

“Mr. Speaker, we had introduced the law, procedurally, to address the question of theft of produce and of livestock. We have persons who you have to register,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security and Legal Affairs.

He, however, said that during the last consultation, farmers said the arrangement assumes that persons who are registered farmers do not steal.

“They have reported that … some persons who farm are themselves responsible for stealing. So that they will have the produce because they say it comes form their land.

“So, that is a weakness that we have to deal with…” Gonsalves further said, adding that the 20 rural constables hired to deal with predial larceny “have to be sensitive to this issue, and very much so the police…

“Be assured, I have realised the issue over and over with the Commissioner [of Police] and the people on the ground to see how we can get this done better…”

Gonsalves further said he was not satisfied that the working between the police and the rural constables is the best.

“I know it has improved since I have spoken out against it,” he further said, as he reiterated that female rural constables had been treated as maid at “one or two” rural police stations.

He said there are some issues related to sentencing, but added, this “is not an area in which I should put my mouth”.

“…But I think many of us form the impression that the sentencing options available to the magistracy they are not used to the extent. I am not just talking about jail.”

He said a person convicted of predial larceny could be put under a curfew.

“He can be put under curfew for a year and he has to report to the police station,” he said.

“He further said that while other countries have looked at the legislation here and the idea of rural constables, “there are always difficulties”.