To achieve progress, a society or country must address its shortcomings realistically and determine the best way to overcome those shortcomings or challenges. Every country, developed or developing, must address its existential challenges be it a natural disaster or man-made problems like crime or the proliferation of a drug culture. Often these challenges are interrelated and become self-reinforcing. In T&T, violent crime and murder are hot-button topics that are affecting everyone and every institution’s capacity to respond in meaningful ways.
A school is meant to be an oasis of learning and nurturing for future generations. Ignoring the issue of curriculum, the quality of teaching, or what students bring with them into the school environment, the issue of the safety and security of students is a matter of grave concern. In the past few weeks, there has been at least one reported gunfight outside at least one primary school. Then came a report of gunmen in a school and last week of a wounded man running through a school to escape assassins. There have also been reports of violent conduct in the schools, or children coming to schools with weapons.
Last week came the disturbing news that postal workers were being advised not to wear garments with certain numbers lest they be identified as members of a rival gang and provoke retaliatory attacks. There have been instances where utility companies’ employees have been attacked. It is now routine that they deploy security personnel to protect crews doing fieldwork. And last week shots were fired in a government licensing office.
The pervasive violence indicates that the country is losing control, a troubling sign of a continuing existential crisis.
The police cannot be everywhere to respond to every incident or be in every school or every government office. The organisation and discipline of a school’s ecosystem are the responsibility of the teachers, the school administration, and the communities in which they operate. That means that our approach to addressing the current crime situation must be reconsidered. Societal discipline depends on what people are prepared to tolerate, in developing normative behaviours that citizens are willing to live by and encourage others to adopt.
In this context, a society is built on trust. Trust in institutions and trust that those institutions are doing the right thing and will do the right thing when challenged. Where does this trust start? Where are the examples to engender a sense of belief that the system will work if we abide by the rules? This belief is created and reinforced by the positive examples given by public officials who are in the spotlight.
When a Police Commissioner praises her performance in public where the evidence clearly shows that improvement is required, it diminishes public confidence in the office and in the person. When a National Security Minister avoids accountability for what is his area or when he ridicules the Judiciary it undermines public confidence in him and in the system. When the Attorney General warns of contempt of court but speaks in Parliament on sub judice matters, it undermines public confidence.
These public demonstrations of impotence disguised as self-praise with the intent to deceive only serve to deepen the sense of despair and hopelessness in the population. Public officials must live up to the demands of office and lead by example. The world changes by the power of our example, not our opinion.