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Slipping into the abyss

Slipping into the abyss
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Photo by:Tamika Amora

Last Sunday morning I asked the guy behind the counter at Richard's Bake and Shark to borrow his newspapers. He said "sure, but it's all bad news." I gathered that what was in those newspapers affected him. He was not alone but was simply reflecting the broad national sentiment.

He may have been ruminating on the murder of 15-year-old Abiela Adams who was found with her throat slit. The sight of yet another young woman murdered is unbearable, unacceptable and untenable. Her grandmother called for the death penalty to be implemented. Crime has the entire country on edge. Responsible parents (and there are many) now suffer from anxiety when they take their children to malls. You can't take your eye off your children in the grocery. People have taken to Facebook to tell of encounters with suspicious individuals in public spaces. Every day on Whatsapp there are voice notes and videos circulating pertaining to criminal activity.

Where are we going as a country? Are we headed in the direction of Honduras (the most murderous nation on Earth)? In an attempt to do something, the Prime Minister had a national conversation. This backfired badly. His "Trumpian" remarks about him not being in women's bedrooms incensed the women of T&T as never before and rightly so.

Where does the buck stop when it comes to crime? At the national conversation, the Attorney General managed to get an opportunity to update the country on efforts at implementing the death penalty. He lamented the under resourcing of the DPP's office but assured it was being fixed.

The argument that we need to first catch people to implement the death penalty is misplaced. There are currently people on death row who have not yet made the five-year Pratt and Morgan limit. If there is an effective management of the time lines related to appeals, some of those can be executed. It was done in 1999 and with the correct focus and resourcing it can happen again. To those that don't like the death penalty-it's the law.

The death penalty was last implemented 18 years ago (1999). In that year ten persons were hanged including the entire Dole Chadee gang. That year we recorded 93 murders. Those of us who recall those days in mid-1999 will remember the eerie cloud of silence that descended over Port-of-Spain. In 1999, the State demonstrated that it was in control. In 2017, the criminals are in control. Sadly, at the current rate of murder, we will probably surpass the 1999 figure sometime in March 2017.

It is noteworthy too, that while in 1999 we recorded 93 murders, by 2008 that figure leaped to 550 murders. What caused the almost six-fold increase in murders? Any attempt in dealing with crime needs to answer that question. We need to get to the root of the problem. We have been treating the symptoms of a deeper malaise.

Crime is a product of an ecosystem. Twenty-one-year-old boys don't wake up and suddenly become bandits. They are the product of an ecosystem that has social, economic and political dimensions. Theories abound transnational narcotics trade, influx of guns, emergence of gangs, single-parent homes and failed education system etc. The list is long.

In an earlier column, I posited that it was interesting to note that in the same period we experienced the greatest economic expansion in our history (1999 to 2008), we also experienced an explosion in crime. There was in that period a quadrupling of GDP at current prices. So, in a nutshell, as we got richer, crime increased.

The sub-period 2002 to 2008 also saw a spate of kidnappings for ransom that traumatised the country and more so its businessmen. In many ways, the forces that shaped the six-fold increase in murders from 1999 to 2008 are still here.

What is the issue-is it a problem of resource deficit or resource allocation? Are we using technology as we should? Is it a lack of leadership? We don't need any more laws. Laws are pieces of paper that have no effect unless they are enforced.

The Offences Against the Person Act says the penalty for murder is death. The law must be implemented. At the same time, hanging people should not be seen as a panacea for criminality. The Police Service, the administration of justice and the prison system need to be fixed. I suspect the courts, the police and the prisons are operating with the same resource bases that they had in the year 2000. In the last 17 years their capacities would have therefore been overwhelmed.

The Government cannot abdicate its responsibility to provide a safe environment for the people of this country. It cannot stand helplessly by with a laundry list of excuses. We are failing our children and it starts in the homes and in the schools.

The Government must sit with the NGO community, especially those that operate in high risk areas, and empower them. Dealing with crime is the biggest challenge we face. We must draw a line in the sand and deal with it lest the country slip into the abyss.

Kevin Ramnarine is a former Minister of Energy of Trinidad and Tobago

What is the issue is it a problem of resource deficit or resource allocation? Are we using technology as we should? Is it a lack of leadership? We don't need any more laws. Laws are pieces of paper that have no effect unless they are enforced.