Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and her Government took probably their most important and perhaps courageous decision of their 15 months in office with the declaration of the state of emergency. It is a decision full of potential for a major reduction in the criminal menace that has terrorised us all for over 15 years. Understandably, it is much too early to say definitively that the effects of the SoE would break the back of the criminal infrastructure (and that is what is going to ultimately matter) but the Government has shown itself prepared to allow the security forces to deal decisively with criminals. Lee Falk, the creator of the Phantom comic series, used to insert in sotto voce that "Phantom is rough with rough necks." That seems to fit the need of the present; with the important caveat that it is done within the ambit of the law.
Criminals and their gangs have prospered for nearly two decades because succeeding governments never had the courage to take the fight to them in any meaningful manner out on the streets. That is not said without recognition of the various management strategies, legislation passed, consultations between the government and opposition that have taken place over the period of trauma. However, they all failed to make the decisive and muscular intervention required. That is not a thirst for blood but, like Phantom, there must be a measure of fear driven into the hearts of criminals by law enforcement officers. I make a further qualification here that this column is not advocating extra-judicial shootings and killings by police officers, but rather structured, legal and intelligence-driven frontal interventions where the criminals feel safe.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani (NY 1994-2001) was never in doubt about what was required. To achieve it he pursued an overall plan that included "rough-stuff" strategic strikes, an array of management programmes and also tackled in a serious manner commercial crime. His philosophy was to do what was required and face the courts afterwards.
On the issue of white collar criminals, the Attorney General sought to divert attention from the fact that for many decades there have been those in the society, including members of the UNC, who have noted that given the nature of criminal operations, there must be those with large capital resources and influence at the apex of the sector involved. Two or three gang leaders living it up at a five-star hotel do not belong to the white collar criminal organisations. Once again it is reiterated that this column is not advocating unconstitutional usurping of rights, but rather definitive legal action required to smash the criminal network.
For many years during the Manning regime, columnists, including this one, commentators, opposition politicians and ordinary people in the street called for a state of emergency to permit the police and the army to penetrate the lairs of the criminals, remove them from circulation and force them to relinquish their weapons.
Manning offered merely arrogant retorts to justify his hopelessly incapable approach to countering crime. He forever promised that his Government's plans and programmes would soon achieve results; fact is they never did. Indeed, what transpired over the years was even greater entrenchment of criminality. Then National Security Minister Martin Joseph (who I insist had good intentions), wittingly or not, admitted to the expansion of criminality by giving figures which showed that the number of gangs and gang members was increasing. Inevitably, the reach of the gangs expanded. This country must reach the point of political maturity where it will never allow any prime minister from any political organisation to so offend their common sense, intelligence and violate their right to influence significant decisions in the life of the country by so refusing to heed the wisdom of the many for the political agendas of the few. It is important for the security forces to demonstrate that they have the capability to approach crime fighting with vigour and certainty, helped by the SoE. And there is little point in seeking to minimise the efforts of the police and army by saying they are playing with an advantage; the law allows for such an advantage and that must be allowed and recognised.
A couple startling news stories over the last week indicated the growing strength and boldness of the criminals. One story claimed that the criminals were considering hiring public relations firms to press their case to the country; the other that a few gang leaders had installed themselves at the Hyatt, throwing curfew parties, making out with women and flaunting the loot gained from their crimes. Those are indications of the emergence of a gangster state. But clearly notwithstanding the potential of the SoE, its declaration and the holding of people under emergency powers are far from being the ultimate answers to crime. The infrastructure of the gangs must be dismantled; the links they now have to what seems to be an unending supply of sophisticated weaponry must be found and broken, and the Government must use the opportunity to minimise if not completely undermine the easy influence the criminals have to recruit young people to their criminal gangs. For one thing, the young would-be gangsters must be made aware that they do not share in the real "bling" lifestyle of their leaders; in fact they are merely used by the few to allow them to "play" themselves at the Hyatt.
This column also agrees with the senior attorneys who argue that the Government has to get the legal elements of the emergency correct. So too must they achieve clarity and unanimity in their public communications. How a Government manages the administrative structure is as important as the results it achieves from positive decisions taken. Legal errors and poor communications strategies undermine the credibility of the Government and often cause negative reactions. The Prime Minister, if not the rest of her Government, has to get it through her head that this population cannot be successfully bullied. The quality of governance is one of the most significant issues in modern political and management systems. That is at the core of what is happening in the Middle East and indeed everywhere else where modern political democracy is vigorous.