One sultry day, journalists went downtown to hear an exciting story. Were it not a serious matter concerning human trafficking, the producers could have billed it as a side-splitting Anansi production. Lights, camera, check mics … ready … curtains open.
Scene one: The lead actor lauds the “exquisite” work the Counter Trafficking Unit and the Police Service are supposed to have done in capturing and convicting a man named Anthony Smith. Delighted that T&T has achieved its first guilty verdict for human trafficking (mind you, that was 12 years after the proclamation of the law, and with several cases pending), the actor heaps praises on the crime fighting institutions. You see, the wily Smith got his tail arrested in 2015, he was charged in 2016, the preliminary inquiry ended in 2017, he was tried in 2023, and wait for it … the scamp absconded when the trial was about to start. On cloud nine, the actor boasts that the law made it possible to prosecute Smith in absentia, that he was found guilty, getting 15 years prison time.
Scene two: Convict escapes. Electronic monitoring bracelet gorn with he. Police cyah find he. He has all kinda records … child abuse, larceny, aiding and abetting lewd dancing, illegal sale of “intoxicating liquor”. Eh.
September 24, 2023, around 6.32 am, when fowl-cock still crowing in Arouca, de electronic bracelet sends an alarm. De monitoring unit operators (probably still sleepy) say dem follow all procedures and called de police (dey didn’t say when dey called), but police say dey see no sign of escapee.
Scene three: Dey say steps taken to “prevent future recurrences”, and “even though there is nobody in jail”, it was a significant “victory for the country’s case against human trafficking”. De police now running helter-skelter to find de felon “wherever he might be in T & T, this region or the world”. Anyone seeing he, call de police.
Oh gawd! You feel for the victims of heinous crimes and yuh truly sorry. Yuh cyah laugh. (Reportedly, the witness in the case against Smith, mentioned complicit officials who are alleged to be police officers.) Fadda!
Scene four: Unmindful of de place where dey live, de players perform superbly. De leader dramatises the incredible feat, saying, “We would have demonstrated to the United States that we took control of this matter and most of all, it is intended to say to our international partners that T&T is doing all that we can, contributing to the world’s effort in dealing with this transnational crime that is now called human trafficking … The system worked particularly well.” “Justice prevailed.”
The audience want tuh dead. Anansi grins. La Diablesse stamp she cow foot. Soucouyant want blood. Douens bolt backward, Mama Dglo spit fire, Lagahoo hide in he coffin, and Papa Bois wonders what bush tea dey drinking. Before the curtains closed, the folksy audience is urged not to see the escape as a “stain on the system”.
Oh my! Breathe out. The lack of human trafficking convictions was a main reason for the country’s Tier 2 probationary rating by the US Department of State, so hopefully, the conviction of Smith will be viewed positively. Smith wasn’t the first escapee with an electronic bracelet, and reasonable people will accept that no system is foolproof. But we know the sad history of non-functioning security equipment, including Port scanners, DNA testing, security cameras, and police vehicles. Nobody is ever held accountable, forecasting the same fate for new systems like lie detectors.
Days after the show, the Minister of National Security introduced “the Testing and Identification Bill” to Parliament, (lie detector legislation). He declared that investigators are “limited” because they cannot apply the “best standards, the best practice, and the best science” to assist them and employers.
No one would argue against investing in viable initiatives, but we don’t need a lie detector to tell us that the biggest lie is that the system will work here as it has in other countries. We don’t have a reputation for efficiently maintaining public property and disciplining management, including by their firing, for preventable system failures. Worse, the lack of transparency and accountability militates against success and is a heavy taxpayer burden.
The credibility of the Police Service and the Ministry of National Security is integral to public confidence. While it is important to give credit for demonstrable good performance and to keep the electorate informed, it is not wise to demonstrate cluelessness about reality.