My son Kyle’s first word was “Car”. His second word was “Bang”. So I’m hoping this isn’t a harbinger of things to come.
Catherine Kumar, CEO of the T&T Chamber of Commerce, says the high murder rate is of great concern to the business community. She made the comment after Wednesday’s Social Dialogue Task Force meeting at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain. Leaders from the trade union movement, Government, business community and even the Tobago House of Assembly have formed themselves into a Social Dialogue Task Force and came together Wednesday for their first round of talks. T&T ranked among the highest in the Latin America region in economic freedom, but if the crime rate is not reduced it could turn off foreign investment, she warned. “If the social infrastructure is not in place and people can’t earn a living, this is of great concern for business.”
Asked if she felt another state of emergency was necessary, she replied, “Certainly not.” As for Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s threat to hold every national security agency head accountable, Kumar responded with a series of questions. “Accountable for what? Getting crime down? But how?” She said solving crime was not just about national security forces, it needed wider collective effort. “Our concern is seeing how they can do this,” she added. Responding to National Security Minister Gary Griffith’s comment that criminals were killing criminals, she said, “We still need to be alarmed, no matter who is killing who. In any case, criminals should not be outside.”
Referring to the killing of a Cedros couple, Krishna and Radha Ramdeen, Kumar said, “Murder has spread into many other areas, it’s not just the hot spots.” Finance Minister Larry Howai, also part of the Social Dialogue Task Force, said he is yet to read a recent story in the Financial Times which said T&T’s gas riches gave the country no escape from crime and violence. The Guardian spoke to Howai about the story, but he said he only knew about an article on the Caribbean. The January 6 Financial Times story by Robin Wigglesworth covered Port-of-Spain up to the time when 13 murders were committed for the new year. Wigglesworth described T&T as a “wealthy island federation in the Caribbean” and “one of the richer parts of the western hemisphere, with a per capita gross domestic product of about $18,000, second only to the Bahamas. “The UN’s Human Development Index classifies T&T as a highly developed country, government debts are among the lowest in the western hemisphere, and energy exports, predominantly natural gas, nets the state roughly $4.5 billion a year.”
But Wigglesworth also wrote that T&T’s crime rate is one of the worst in the world and the country’s homicide rate exceeded that of Mexico for more than a decade. He spoke to Kirk Waithe of Fixin’ T&T, who said governance failure was to blame, and did a lengthy interview with a weeping Helen Squires of Beetham Gardens, Laventille. Squires told the Financial Times, “I sometimes wake up and just cry my eyes out. Things could be so much better for our country.” Wigglesworth linked crime in the Beetham and the country in general with its proximity to South America and its drug cartels, which form links with local gangs and use Trinidad as a transshipment point for smuggling cocaine to Europe and the US. But he also quoted criminologist Renee Cummings, who said T&T was really “a society that is suffused by violence.”
No request for money
Fielding questions from the media on crime Wednesday, Howai said he has not been approached by Minister of National Security Gary Griffith for more money to fight crime. He said the Government had made a very large allocation to national security in this year’s budget and all the money has not been spent yet. He said it was a 12-month budget and only about 25 per cent was spent. Howai said unless there were new crime-fighting initiatives which required additional funding, he did not see any immediate need to allocate more money to national security. He said if the minister and the National Security Council come up with new initiatives and there was a need for extra funding, the Finance Ministry would certainly put the resources in, since crime was a high priority. “But at this stage, there is no immediate request.”