Here’s a mere sampling from the last few months:
* A prominent government minister, Marlene McDonald, who had been removed from Cabinet twice—and later reinstated—over what the Prime Minister said was a lack of judgment, was arrested by police last week for questioning on corruption allegations.
*In a mass murder, seven fishermen from Carli Bay were killed—five bodies have washed ashore—after their boats were boarded by attackers wielding guns and cutlasses.
* Former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and his associate Gerald Ramdeen were charged in a kickback scheme that involved almost $1 billion in legal fees paid to private practitioners during Ramlogan’s tenure as attorney general. They have pleaded not guilty.
* Last month, Vaughn ‘Sandman’ Mieres, his wife and two other men were killed in an early morning attack at his Las Cuevas home. Mieres was known for controlling a large swathe of the North Coast for many years. His so-called Maracas Bay gang has been involved in arms, the drug trade, human trafficking and several murders over the years.
* On August 4, the Sunday Guardian published an investigative report detailing how police intelligence agents have linked some 40 prominent businessmen to major drug and human traffickers, gun runners, gang leaders and murderers fuelling the multi-million dollar criminal enterprises in this country. Many of them have police officers at their “beck and call.”
* Last week, people driving to work in Cocorite saw the dead body of a gunshot victim on the side of the road, blood still oozing from his head. In years past, motorists would stop and try to help. Now they keep driving.
* Almost every day on social media, we see videos of robbers bursting into homes and businesses, assaulting innocents. In broad daylight, without fear of police, gang members brazenly show off their arsenal. Some neighbourhoods have become no-go zones where even the police fear to tread.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks with residents of Big Yard, Carenage, during his visit to the area in July.
It is no longer a stretch to say that Trinidad and Tobago has many areas that resemble narco-states where drug cartels, not the government, call the shots. Search online for “failed state” and the Encyclopedia Britannica will give you this description: “Failed state, a state that is unable to perform the two fundamental functions of the sovereign nation-state in the modern world system: it cannot project authority over its territory and peoples, and it cannot protect its national boundaries.”
It hurts but it’s true: if we are not there yet, we are but a hair’s breadth away.
Trinbagonians have been feeling it in their daily routines. Homeowners and businessowners have installed the best burglarproofing and high-tech security equipment to thwart intruders. Many still end up the victims of crime.
Others have adopted the strictest routines to avoid becoming victims of crime: Don’t go anywhere after 6 pm. Take private taxis not private hire vehicles. Hire security guards with guns if you want to spend a weekend in Mayaro or other beach spots.
There’s no way to measure the terror that daily strikes the hearts of many Trinbagonians. A media executive recently told Guardian Media that she sometimes drives her car home in the evening with the fuel gauge on empty and pray that she could make it back to the gas station at daylight.
“I have an electric gate. As I wait in my street for it to open, I get visions of masked men running up to my car while I’m in park. As I pull inside my yard, I sit, engine running, doors locked, and hurriedly press the remote control to close the gate, ready to beep the hell out of the horn if an attacker runs inside.”
Remember 1984 when we had a crime wave and Penguin penned the ditty, We Living in Jail. For those of us who were around back then, that period now looks like the good ole days compared to our current state where the murder toll now stands at 327. Some predict that the toll could top the 516 murders recorded last year. When you add the daily robberies, rapes, cutlass choppings and other gruesome violence, we are not merely living in jail, we are living in hell.
As we say, pressure will buss pipe. In those days, many Trinbagonians fled to Toronto, New York and South Florida, among other places. But migrating has become much harder—even though people here still defy the odds.
For those of us who choose to remain, what are we to do?
We can start by holding our elected leaders to account. And that starts with the Prime Minister.
Dr Rowley was elected more than four years ago partly on his promise to staunch the soaring crime rate. He justifiably blasted the previous UNC-led government for not doing enough to halt the murder toll and keep citizens safe.
Here’s what he said as Opposition Leader in early January, 2014 after a spate of killings: “I cannot recall anytime in this country, a bloodbath taking place like this week.”
Three weeks later, he sought to offer hope: “People said they are beginning to lose faith that we could ever pull it back. We gave the assurance we will our put our hands to the tiller and steer the ship of T&T. We in the opposition are preparing to understand the situation and prepare responses.”
Not long after, the PNM manifesto detailed how Rowley and his ministers would tackle crime, from passing new legislation to partnering with the judiciary.
We acknowledge that Dr Rowley didn’t create the crime problem. But on his watch, crime has soared. (See the accompanying graphic of the murder toll in the last 10 years.)
There is little doubt that Dr Rowley knows the main source of the problem.
Flashback— December 19th 2016, former Police Commissioner Stephen Williams and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley shake hands after unveiling the plaque at the official handover ceremony of the Besson Street Police Station.
In opening the Besson Street Police Station on December 19, 2016, Dr Rowley declared: “The one thing we cannot do is allow imps to believe that they have control of any street or any quarter in this country and that the State recognises that. The police cannot accept that and the government will not accept it.”
During a debate on the Anti-Gang bill on December 6, 2017, he expanded on that statement: “Nobody in this country, nobody, not man, not woman, not child could present an argument that we do not have a serious gang culture. We can apportion blame and reasons, that is academic, but also nobody could advance an argument that is believable that we do not—across Trinidad and Tobago, we are learning—have a serious problem rooted largely in the gang culture.”
There is general consensus that gang members controlled by crime bosses commit much of the violent crime and about a third of the murders.
These crime bosses are also known as ‘’community leaders.” Recently, none other than Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith disclosed that these community leaders were reaping government contracts to the tune of millions of dollars. In turn, they used taxpayers’ money to buy higher capacity guns to kill their rivals and innocent victims.
To say that contracts to gangs were not awarded by the central government but by other municipal agencies—controlled by the PNM—is a distinction without a difference. We all know that all it would take is one call from the Prime Minister to halt this practice tomorrow.
What we cannot yet assess is Dr Rowley’s resolve to make unpopular but crucial decisions and work with the police to get to the heart of the crime problem: the crime bosses and their gangs.
We cannot declare that the Prime Minister has exercised the best judgment in the situation involving Minister McDonald. We are basing our own analysis on the high standards that then Opposition Leader Rowley espoused when he repeatedly called on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to remove Works Minister Jack Warner—who had been suspended as FIFA vice president—in the interest of good governance.
“The last thing the Government should want to do is send a message to the misguided youth that some people are above the law or their office is too high for the law.”
Warner ended up resigning in 2013 after a Concacaf investigation accused him of embezzlement. He has denied the allegation.
Flashback - June 30, 2017, former President Anthony Carmona pose for a picture with Cedric “Burkie” Burke and Marlene Mc Donald after Mc Donald was sworn in as a government minister at the Office of the President.
Now Dr Rowley, for a third time, has had to deal with his own minister facing allegations of impropriety. In March 2016, he fired McDonald, then housing minister, after the Integrity Commission opened a probe into her involvement with a foundation that secured government contracts.
In June, 2017, the Prime Minister reappointed her as Public Utilities Minister after the commission found no wrongdoing. The next month, Dr Rowley fired McDonald a second time after “community leader” Cedric “Burkie” Burke was her specially invited guest at her swearing-in ceremony. Less than a year later, Rowley reappointed McDonald as Public Administration Minister.
Last week, she and her husband, Michael Carew, were taken into police custody after the resurrection of a six-year-old investigation into the alleged siphoning of over $1 million from a government ministry to three organisations linked to family and friends.
Dr Rowley told Guardian Media that he would await the outcome of the police investigation and did not want to speculate because he was not “an impatient person.”
We endorse patience and cannot opine on the guilt or innocence of Minister McDonald. We do wonder if Dr Rowley, who has always insisted on transparency and railed against the appearance of impropriety, is meeting his own standard of “good governance.”
If he refuses to take decisive action, what message would that send to the “misguided youth?”
The McDonald issue is not Dr Rowley’s biggest problem. But how he handles it will tell the nation if he’s serious about taking on the biggest problem facing Trinbagonians: the crime bosses who daily murder, rob and terrorise the people.
Dr Rowley is not merely the head of government, but he is also chairman of the National Security Council, which is responsible for coming up with strategies to protect citizens.
We have called on Dr Rowley before to address the nation on the crime situation. Go on TV and tell us how your government plans to end this nightmare. Articulate a national crime fighting strategy, not just for the police, but for the entire country. Be seen as the leader who will rally the country to take on the people who are killing others with impunity.
People cannot, and will not, accept that the crime problem is intractable. We need assurance that one day it will be safe again to walk the streets, to go shopping, or to go home at night without having to take severe defensive measures.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And the authorities must do everything in their power to defeat the gangs and liberate communities they now terrorise.
Mr Prime Minister, a crime-weary nation waits to hear from you.