“We are not giving up.” This was the declaration by Hugh Howard, president of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) about crime and doing business in T&T. Howard was speaking to Business Guardian on Tuesday after AmCham’s business-networking luncheon meeting, which was held at Hyatt Regency Trinidad. He said as long as crime continues to plague T&T it would have an impact on society, businesses and even local and foreign investment. “We continue to support whatever party that is in government. I am always of the belief that any government would want to get a handle on crime. What methods the Government uses that would be effective?” Assistance to fight crime, he said, should be embraced, even though T&T can’t fully adopt a particular system a country has, but “certainly if there is a framework, if there is some guideline, if there is some foundation, then we can tailor that to the requirements of our country. AmCham is ready to support.” Asked for suggestions regarding what method should be used for fighting crime, he said crime is a much broader hindrance and no one method of combating it would work. “Crime is multifaceted, you have violent crime, you have white-collar crime and you have those in between. I believe what one has to do is to develop a plan that recognises that one size does not fit all and take the necessary action to deal with the various aspects of crime and that’s what we would like to see.”
Howard said AmCham, the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce and the Manufacturers’ Association have been meeting with many national security ministers over the years. Proposals were submitted three years ago and they were revisited when Brig John Sandy was Minister of National Security. Howard said they would be revisited again with Jack Warner, the current National Security Minister. With millions of dollars spent on prevention methods, such as CCTV cameras, security guards and other initiatives to protect their businesses, frustration looms for hundreds of businesses across the country, but for Howard and his membership it is not frustrating. “If we become frustrated then we cannot see the input (the Government’s resources and effort towards fighting crime). What I would say is that we would definitely be expecting that there would be an acceleration of the process because the longer it stays, the more difficult it becomes.” Asked what would AmCham like to see spent on the upcoming budget, Howard said, “Our philosophy is that when you spend money, it must be with a plan, it must be against an objective. I prefer to look at what is necessary in order to get crime under control. Having looked at that, we can then put a costing on it. Too often we hear so many billions have been allocated for so-and-so and everybody says ‘wonderful,’ and at the end of the day the problem remains because it is not just about money.”
AmCham would continue to hold talks so that “hopefully we can see a vast improvement soon.” Lara Quentrall-Thomas, founder and chief executive officer of Regency Recruitment and Resources, said she was hopeful that National Security Minister Jack Warner would find a solution to curb the spate of crime. “It is affecting not just how we live our lives but how people perceive us as a country to come in and do business. I think that is really the greatest tragedy and obviously, we in our day-to-day lives are still unsafe but it is really the global picture of what people out there really think.” While she said that curbing crime should not involve drastic action, she continues to hope that Warner “has solutions that are going to fix the root of the problem, like, why did these youngsters become gangsters? Why did they get into drug trafficking? What are we doing to fix the root of the problem, just by removing a criminal from a community then two or three more spring up where he (Warner) left off?” she said. Quentrall-Thomas said she hopes Warner’s plan is holistic. Referring to foreign direct investment, she said investors need to come to T&T directly to get a clear picture of the investment climate rather than pay heed to the reports. She believes that the crime picture in T&T is not grim. “It’s an interesting dilemma because when you get here it really isn’t as bad as you think. By that I mean that very few business people are really affected by crime in the sense of the gang killings, drug wars or anything like that. Certainly the corruption that exists in some places and bureaucracy, those things would hurt business. There is a lot of potential here but, once you get to T&T it is not as bad as you think. The problem is convincing them (foreign investors) to come here in the first place,” she said.
Quentrall-Thomas said if potential investors in T&T were to do research about T&T, it sends the message that “It’s a place not to come, it’s unsafe.” Trade missions are also a means of showing foreign investors that crime is only in certain areas. “It’s a nationwide problem because it affects all of us but it is not geographically situated around the nation but once they (the foreign investors) are encouraged to do business.” Crime should be the Government’s number one priority, therefore, “the most amount of money should be put behind crime because it impacts everything.” The starting point for the Government should be small crime, such as traffic violations and public urination, so that civility returns to T&T. Angela Lee Loy, chairman for Aegis Business Solutions Ltd said it is unbelievable that crime cannot be controlled in a small island like T&T. “Frankly, a lot of it is media. I think the more and more it is pushed (reported), the more and more it is in front of people’s line you do more of something when you see it.” She said that Warner should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to curbing crime. “Fighting crime is not about money alone, there are fundamentals that are required. Social programmes would be a plus in keeping crime low,” she said.