February 24, 2002
By Raffique Shah
PRIME Minister Patrick Manning must know by now that his meetings with UNC leader Basdeo Panday in a bid to resolve the electoral crisis are an exercise in futility. Panday will never agree to any reasonable solution to the impasse. Make him Prime Minister tomorrow and he will be happy-like-pappy. There will be no crisis then, no questions about the 18-18 tie, and more than that, no charge that President Robinson erred in law. In other words, once Panday has his way, there is no problem.
In view of the above-and especially now that Panday has declared war in the guise of a civil disobedience campaign against the duly appointed government-Manning should abandon discussions with Panday. He should govern for as long as is practical under the Constitution, which will take him as far as September, and prepare the way for fresh general elections. Forget Panday for the hour, as Trinis say, move swiftly to restore some integrity to the electoral lists, accelerate investigations into allegations of corruption, and get on with the business of governing. Let Panday rant, rave and misbehave to his heart's delight-or demise. And if he crosses the thin red line, lock him up.
If Manning chooses to be detracted, not to add insulted, by the UNC leader, that's his business. I am not an advisor to the PM, and in any event I don't know that prime ministers heed advice, even when they pay for it. I wish, though, to return to the scene of the crime, in a manner of speaking, where I left off last week. Note that precisely what I had forecasted has come to pass. Under the code name "Anaconda", armed policemen and soldiers have been set loose on the streets of districts that are considered "high risk" in a bid to "encircle and strangle" the criminals, to quote National Security Minister Howard Chin Lee.
Most people who have seen the army/police patrols at work have expressed a sense of gratitude, understandably so. Criminals, who comprise no more than five per cent of the population, have held law-abiding citizens to ransom for too long. While the government is hesitant to declare a limited state of emergency to restrict people's freedom of movement, and in the process hopefully nab some criminals, the bandits have no such compunction. They have put numerous parts of the country under curfew. People are afraid to come out of their homes, and even entering their premises is risky business nowadays, as a friend of mine found out a few days ago when a gun-toting car thief waited for him when he returned home.
But "Anaconda", for all its hype, while it offers temporary relief from crime to some sections of the population, is merely plastering social sores in the society that have developed over many years. It does not address the root causes of crime, leaving too many young people exposed to an almost irresistible lure of the underworld. These children grow up in communities where crime bosses have more stature than community leaders or politicians or priests, and where criminal underlings seem to thrive better than those who have burnt the proverbial midnight oil to achieve academic qualifications.
Let's assume that "Anaconda" rids the streets of 25 per cent of criminals, which is being highly optimistic. What happens to the other 75 per cent? Are they not free to roam and rob and rape and murder? Hell, even as the assault on crime was launched, bandits raided a bank a stone's throw away from Defence Force headquarters. Because of manpower limitations, the joint army/police operations could only cover miniscule parts of the country, leaving vast areas exposed to criminals. In fact, smart criminals need only to monitor where Chin Lee's "Anaconda" is striking to determine what their "soft targets" of the day are.
Which brings me back to the point that both government and civil society must come together, not just to flush out the criminals, but to eradicate the environments that breed crime and criminals. I've already mentioned homes and communities, where crime starts and where it can, or must, be stopped. At this level, the authorities must deal with delinquent parents who literally nurture criminals, almost the way other parents work hard to mould their children into decent citizens. The former, those who inculcate warped values among their children, who help them fall prey to the consumerism that often fuels crime, must be made to pay. It is unfair to prosecute the children and leave their irresponsible parents unscathed.
Another point is this: businessmen complain most about the state of crime, and cry out loudest for eradicating it by any means necessary. But they are also part of the problem. If only they would pay their employees reasonable wages and treat them as human beings, that alone will help stem the tide of crime. Also, they must understand that when they promote expensive clothing, footwear, etc., as being vogue, then every teenager, regardless of his parents' financial circumstances, wants them, whatever the means he or she uses to get them.
Worse than that, there are businessmen who are among the most notorious "fences" in the country. Most car thieves work for big dealers, supplying them with stolen vehicles, which the dealers then strip and sell as "parts". And do you think the amount of jewelry that's stolen on a daily basis remain on the necks or in the hands of bandits? How much of that gold is melted, and then reappears on the shelves of some of the finest shops in the country? Also, how many "good citizens" purchase stolen goods, a market that facilitates banditry? If thieves cannot get rid of their loot, then they have little reason to steal.
Only last week, for example, a woman fell for the age-old, downtown trick of rushing to buy "hot" jewelry from some "thieves". She was saved by the intervention of a few alert citizens and the police. In my view she should have been arrested-along with the "con men". So when we speak of crime, we must not focus only on the gun-toting bandits, on burglars, and worst of all, on helpless and hapless cocaine addicts. There are too many accomplices to crime who must be dealt with if we are really serious about eliminating the problem.
What I've written is not meant to dampen the National Security Minister's efforts to stem the crime wave. But I wish he, and citizens who see salvation in "Anaconda", would ponder on the wider problem and look for long-term solutions. There are no short-cuts when it comes to dealing with something as cancerous as crime.
Copyright © Raffique Shah